Monday, December 11, 2017

Rabbi Evon's Letter to SLT City Countil - December 11, 2017

On December 12, 2017, the South Lake Tahoe City Council has on the agenda the rental of a city property to the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless.  There are many and varied opinions, running the entire gamut on this issue.

Rabbi Evon J. Yakar

December 11, 2017 -  23rd Kislev  5778

Dear South Lake Tahoe City Council Members:

Over the past three years, I have taken great pride in serving on the Advisory Council of the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless.  This has been a great source of pride in large part because of the relationships cultivated along the journey and because of the strides we have made to serve the needs of our wider community, especially our neighbors struggling with homelessness.  In this work, I have learned a great deal about the growing social ill of insufficient housing, the related community problems and the hearts of our community.  There are countless concerns and challenges in any social justice endeavor AND countless positives and opportunities.  One moment that has stuck with me is the realization that it has become socially acceptable to sweep this problem “under the rug”.  Under the guise of statements like:  I just don’t want “them” near our children, or Those homeless people are just free-loaders, and even Why can’t they just get a job?, we move on to the next topic of conversation.  To accept this is to ignore the reality.  It demonstrates an ignorance of the underlying issues and challenges, as well as of our communal and human responsibility for our neighbors. 

I am deeply concerned for the safety and security of our community members and visitors.  I am well aware of the disturbances caused by people throughout our City and surrounding South Shore community.  Some, in opposition to sheltering the homeless, have mentioned the vagrancy in general as leading to other public nuisances such as defecation and urination as well as public intoxication and violence.  These are very real concerns and not one member of the Advisory Council or Board of the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless, or among the many volunteers, has, in my presence, diminished these very real realities.  There are also very real fears related to our youth and their proximity to our neighbors who may, or may not, display these negative behaviors.  As the father of two young children and a Rabbi in the community responsible for many youth on a regular basis, I, too, share this anxiety.  Yet, when I lump together “the homeless” with these negative behaviors I become guilty of naiveté, at best, and prejudice at worst.  On the community level, we ought to avoid this type of judgment.  So I must learn from this and discover a new way of response.   

It is because of these concerns, fears and anxieties, not despite them, that we, as a community - as a city - must see those struggling with homelessness as our neighbors.  In the
words of Rabbi Joachim Prinz, when he spoke immediately preceding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a Dream” speech who said, “Neighbor is not a geographic term.  It is a moral concept.  It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.”     

It is in this way, that we must allow the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless to find a location for this winter season.  To live our collective responsibility includes the demand to allow local community members to shelter those in need of shelter.  It means stretching beyond our comforts so that basic needs, such as shelter, are met.  This is a commitment I demand of myself and expect of others. 

As someone who holds a position of leadership, I often struggle to move beyond this seat of comfort and strive to demonstrate leadership.  It sometimes happens, in such a role, that I barricade myself with the comfort of the position.  Yet, I know this is not my charge, nor living up to the expectations I hold for myself.  Rather, it is when I rise from that seat of comfort, even when standing in a room full of others still sitting down, and attempt to lead, that my community, both Temple Bat Yam and beyond, and I are succeeding.

This is such a time; it is a time to stand even as others remain seated.  Now, I call on you, our elected leadership, to model for us the ways we can meet the challenges of homelessness, as numerous California and US municipalities are doing,.  I urge you to support, in all ways possible, the rental of the city property on Rufus Allen Boulevard to the Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless. 

I am grateful for your service to our community.


Rabbi Evon J. Yakar