An Open Letter to Kevin Wolff, Candidate for Mayor of Chapel Hill

After reading an email about Kevin Wolff's "Warning to Chapel Hill Residents", I was inspired by the response from the men of the IFC shelter to write an open letter to Mr. Wolff regarding his allegations about the danger of moving the men's shelter near Homestead Park.

Mr. Wolff:

I am a student of the University of North Carolina and a member of Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication (HOPE), a committee of the Campus Y. Through our innovative projects such as Talking Sidewalks and HOPE Gardens, we strive to educate students and the surrounding community about homelessness in Chapel Hill. We work closely with both residents of the IFC shelters as well as our friends who are living in the streets. The most important aspect of each of HOPE’s projects is the relationships that we form with those experiencing homelessness and poverty. We truly care about each and every person that we come in contact with and do everything in our power to help them whether it’s sharing a monthly meal or educating them about financial literacy.

After reading your warning to the residents of Chapel Hill, I was dismayed and embarrassed. I was dismayed because as a man who is running for a public office to represent Chapel Hill, you have used silly tactics to win favor in your struggling campaign. I was embarrassed because I used to be you. When I first came to Chapel Hill, I shared the same ignorance you have displayed with your “warning”. When I came across a homeless person, I would walk by without acknowledging them even if all they were saying was “Good Morning”. I was afraid of them because in my ignorant mind, I thought they were all potential thieves, kidnappers, etc. I thought that it was their fault for the predicament that they were in and if they just tried a little harder, they wouldn’t be homeless. Looking back on how I used to think, shame on me. And shame on you.

Homelessness is not an individual problem; it’s a community problem. The system that is in place to help these men and women is broken. How can you expect these men to be able to break the cycle of homelessness if they do not even have a decent place to lay their head at night? As the weather changes and nights are colder, many of them have to sleep on the floor. Have we forgotten that these men are human? Are you comfortable knowing that you are attempting to stop a process of bettering people’s lives? You have proposed that there be a better site for the shelter. Well, just what are your suggestions? Or would you just like to ship them out of Chapel Hill like homelessness doesn’t exist? Poverty and homelessness exists in every corner of America, Sir. This is not a problem that we can just sweep under the rug and act like it’s not there.

I understand your concerns as a parent. You have the right to make sure that the area in which your children live in is safe. However, I must ask you this: are you concerned about the 10 sex offenders that are already living within a 3 mile radius of Homestead Park? Of these 10, at least 3 have multiple counts of indecent liberty with a minor. Have you kept your children away from the park because of the potential threat that is already lurking there? If not, then your concern isn’t with public safety, but with having to actually face the issue of homelessness that is a very real problem in Chapel Hill.You cannot close your eyes to this and pretend it's not there.

Mr. Wolff, if I may make a suggestion, why don’t you take a tour of the current building and then tell me if you think it’s suitable for anyone to live in. Have a conversation with these men. Get to know them and find out why they are homeless. Learn about their lives and the vast improvements many of them have made toward independence and bettering their lives in spite of the conditions they live in. Lastly, I want you to read your warning letter to their faces and witness what I did: the hurt, pain, and confusion as to why someone who has never spoken to them would label them with such nasty and vile names. Tell them to their faces that they are not worthy of your respect and worthy of a decent place where they can live to get their lives on track. Tell them to their faces that they are less than human beings and that you wish they did not live here in Chapel Hill. You see, you have forgotten that in spite of their predicaments, in spite of their hardships, and in spite of their stumbling blocks, they are people who deserve love, respect, and a community that cares about them and wants to see them excel. You, Mr. Wolff, do not represent what Chapel Hill is about. Chapel Hill is where I came to fulfill my dreams and to learn to be a better person. They deserve the same.

I can proudly say that when I encounter a homeless person on the street, I no longer have those fears. I am able to respond with “Good Morning. How are you?” I enjoy being on a first name basis with many of these men and women and I enjoy our weekly, and sometimes daily, conversations. I may not have changed your mind about how you feel about homeless people, but I hope I have brought to light that these men are some very special people to a lot of Chapel Hill residents and students. If only your ignorance would let you get to know some of them, then your life may be changed as they have drastically changed mine.




Joyelle Gordon 



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