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Does school safety trump community service?

Gabi Hyman

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No one on the girls’ soccer team had noticed the man standing by the fence on Memorial Field. It was a particularly sunny October day, and it wasn’t until half way through practice when a player noticed him. He was a rugged looking man, with a white tank top and brown paper bag.

“I actually didn’t notice him hanging out at first… I figured that he was homeless as I had seen that same guy before hanging around by the softball field, but I never had seen him that close,” said soccer coach Kelsey West.

The man was escorted off campus shortly thereafter, but the team was still shaken by his presence.

As alarming as this seems, this is not the first time there have been incidents with the transient community at Bellarmine. While most students are unaware of such events, they are very real and very common. For the past two years, people have been coming to Bellarmine’s campus to sleep in the softball dugouts, look for food and just walk around. These occurrences started to increase as the homeless encampment next to the freeway began to expand upwards towards campus. Bellarmine soon contacted the Police Department and Department of Transportation who cleared it. In words, this seems somewhat senseless, but it’s important to reflect on the immense safety hazards that this encampment had posed on students.

Head of security, Rory Johnson, comments, “This is a huge security risk. We don’t know these people, we don’t know if they have some sort of criminal background, and it’s a huge risk to have our campus open like that.”

He makes a very good point. After all, school is a place students should be able to go and feel safe, and with a unique open campus like Bellarmine’s, we are already more susceptible to outside forces, without adding in the threat from the nearby encampment.

As winter arrives, and the weather gets to freezing levels, a few important questions rise to the surface. Bellarmine has a huge presence in downtown Tacoma devoted to helping the transient community seen in Operation Keep ‘Em Warm and Fed and Nativity House. Yet here was a group of people so close to home, who were being turned away from the services they needed.

Shouldn’t we have an obligation to all homeless people? Why are we going so far off away, when there are members of our community so close to Bellarmine that we ignore?

The answer to this complex moral dilemma seems too simple— safety.

“As Catholics we have an obligation to help those in need,” Johnson notes, “but the other problem is if we start handing out blankets and food here, we’re going to see a huge influx of people entering campus… which is not safe for us at all.”

This answer seems typical from a security officer, but teacher Joshua Barnes who runs Operation agrees. “From a Christian standpoint we have an obligation to help everyone, but we have to balance this with safety. Bellarmine can’t provide aid and service to every single person.” Even more so, Barnes notes that, “We do this service in the places that we do it because that’s where people already know that we are and it builds a certain sense of trust.”

Securing our borders in the intense way that we do is not because we intend to hide from those who are in need. Instead, it’s a matter of safety and duty to protect students and faculty/staff. However, as the weather gets colder,
our service to those less fortunate should grow stronger. Whether it’s donating blankets, food, or time, everyone can do something to help. Homelessnessis a real and serious issue, and while our service does not have to come directly on campus, it needs to come from somewhere.

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Does school safety trump community service?