It was just two weeks ago that a group of us sat with a group leader who asked each person to list what he or she believed to be the number one problem in Rome-Floyd County that needs to be addressed. In the group that I sat with, the overwhelming need listed was the plight of the oppressed, the homeless population. Many of us made suggestions about what could be done, which was not a part of the assignment.

With this in mind, one can imagine how shocked and let down I personally felt when the City Commissioners held the first reading on ordinances concerning the panhandlers and those setting up camps in and around the city.

Today, I realize that there were many others who questioned the move. I hope that the crying out of others brought some new light to the situation and, therefore, the second reading was not held as planned. I am still reeling from disappointment about the commissioners’ decision to pass the two ordinances. Since I know all of the commissioners it is hard for me to see that decision being made by them. Most of them do not close their eyes to inhumane steps being taken towards the citizens of any walk of life, so to say the least I was stunned by the suggested move.

About 10 years ago, I recall sitting with a committee created for the purpose of studying the need for a comprehensive plan to deal with the less fortunate population of Rome and Floyd County. I was not present for the final draft, but I do know that plans were started.

At that time, I was working with a social service ministry. As the director, I was facing on a daily basis the less fortunate members of our community. The ministry was eight-fold. We fed on premise, gave assistance for house bills, gave college students money for lunch, assisted those in prison, gave out clothing, distributed raw food, assisted individuals dealing with catastrophic situations and assisted with drug placement. My hand was full, but it was pleasant full. I enjoyed working the ministry. My only pain was to see the suffering of the hopeless, hungry and homeless. Many were able to get on their feet and were willing to return to help. After one minister and his wife got on their feet they donated most of their furniture to the ministry for a yard sale.

Many of the less fortunate individuals still stand out in my memory. Like Robert, a most intelligent young man who had set up his camp off North Broad Street. He had a dog to be responsible for. Robert was most delightful and offered to give me assistance with the mission that I was working. We had a shower in our life center, so I took the liberty to give him and other homeless individuals permission to come and use the bathroom to get cleaned up for the day. Robert had lived outside for so many years that he decided even with financial assistance that he wanted to continue to live on the hill across from where the former Burgers Market was once located. Robert was one of 50-plus homeless individuals who crossed my path weekly as I worked the ministry.

Then there was Carol, who told me that she thumbed a ride to Rome from Shannon every day. She walked the streets daily. Many days I picked her up and took her to the office with me, especially if it was hot or freezing.

According to government experts, the definition of homelessness is any individual who does not have a pillow to call his own at night. If that is the accepted definition, the number I worked with during those 10-plus years is much higher.

I had a few who would come by and ask for bus fare to get to the doctor’s office or to get to another part of town. I did not call that panhandling or soliciting. I called it asking for help. I never had one to steal or take anything without permission. All of the ones that frequented my office had a willingness to work. They were willing to assist with the unloading of food supplies, shelving items, mopping and sweeping and emptying the trash. We operated on the level of humanity. We operated with the attitude of, “You win, I win.”

My mind is a little less cloudy and is not reeling quite as much as when I first saw and heard about the report. I want to thank the commissioners for putting on the brakes until further study and information is compiled.

One should never feel that doing the right thing is out of order. There are times when some people will go along to get along. One should not hesitate to speak truth to power or to speak truth to a wrong idea or decision. Let us not forget that we are here to be God’s spokespersons. We citizens are depending on you commissioners to weigh the situation that is placed before you and examine the consequences of your votes. You did not become a part of a social club. If you are not butting heads and dealing with tough issues, as Sojourner Truth would say, “there must be something out of kilter.”

Every decision that you make as a public servant will affect the life of someone in this community, rich or poor, black or white, male or female, etc.

Give the community a reason to trust that each of you is in the right place, doing the right thing for the right reason. We do not need to go back to the “old buddy, old pal” days. That is a very costly way of operating for the ones who are not in the circle. Make decisions with your better self and realize that it is okay to let your compassion show for those less fortunate.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome. She is the founder and director of American Connection for the Performing Arts Inc.

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