You’ve likely never heard of Pat Fitzpatrick. But to hundreds of people in the college town of Gainesville, Florida, he’s a hero.
Fitzpatrick worked tirelessly to overturn a local ordinance several years ago requiring a soup kitchen to limit its daily meals for the homeless to 130. The ordinance was packaged as a way to “protect” business in downtown Gainesville, which some feared could be hurt by having too many homeless people hanging around.
Fighting for that 131st person turned away each day, Fitzpatrick was a common sight at local government meetings, many times shooed away because some profanity would creep into his protests, and for simply reminding leaders of things they didn’t want to be reminded about. Yet, he never gave up, and in 2011, the Gainesville city council finally surrendered, allowing St. Francis House to serve every person who was in need.
When he died in 2015, a second kitchen renamed itself “Cafe 131” in his honor. It’s just too bad that when it comes to our elected officials, there aren’t more Pat Fitzpatricks in the world.
Officials like Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Andrew Cohen are livid over a proposal to turn new apartments at 5731 Broadway into units catering to homeless families trying to get back on their feet. While there should absolutely be a better system in terms of notifying a community about such plans — 30 days simply isn’t enough — both Dinowitz and Cohen go too far with rhetoric that helping our fellow man will somehow be detrimental to business, or simply ruin our quite privileged way of life.
We’ve been programmed to believe homeless people are lazy, they’re drunks, they’re addicted to drugs. And while that might be true of some who are homeless, it’s also true of many who aren’t.
Most if not all of us have experienced rough times in our lives. Sometimes we get through it quickly, other times it lingers longer than it should. But every time, we can point to at least one person or maybe even one organization that helped us get through it. And we’re always grateful for that helping hand.
That’s all these families want. They’re not here to destroy businesses, or ruin neighborhoods, or fill up the schools. They are here to get their lives back together.
We shouldn’t need a Pat Fitzpatrick to remind us of our roles as human beings. We should know that already.
Because really, you never know. Someday you might need help, and let’s just hope your neighbors rally around you — and not against you.