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Washington POST
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Washington, DC

Dear Editor

William Raspberry (Op-Ed January 17, 1986) correctly supposed he "shouldn't get annoyed with Ellen Thomas," but for the wrong reasons.

One good reason for Raspberry not to get annoyed with Thomas is because she can offer some degree of personal experience to support her theories about homeless people. She's been living their life--by choice--for nearly two years.

Mr. Raspberry is, free to believe that street dwellers are nine year-old-children. However, unless he's shared the street life, perhaps Ellen's knowledge outweighs Raspberry's sheltered speculations.

"The woman pushing her shopping cart has a name," says Ellen. "She brings shampoo from the hotel dumpster. She and others like her taught me how to survive in an environment whose worst incompatibility is not the weather, but unkind regulations which are arbitrarily enforced. Anyone who has seen a pregnant woman kicked by a motorcycle cop because she dared to fall asleep in a public park will think twice about arming him with another tool to oppress."

Raspberry's questions are also chillingly clear answers to anyone alert to the danger of too much government: "When some insiders are recommending that outsiders be forced into shelters... is there any real difference...forcibly keeping such People in hospitals or locking them up in jail?" "How are police... to decide which street dwellers have made rational choices (for) freedom, and which are irrationally... unknowingly placing their lives in jeopardy?" No problem. If they are unconscious or unresisting, take them to assistance. If they resist, give them hot chocolate, blankets, coats... a telephone number to call and 20 to cal1 with... and allow them their dignity.

Ellen Thomas might be annoyed that Mr. Raspberry should try to cast himself in the role of the impassioned humanitarian and moral father figure, because he apparently did not read her column carefully. "What... is the reasonable, responsible, and humane thing to do?" he asked, although Mrs. Thomas had clearly suggested: take a homeless person home with you. Be a friend. Surely we don't need to regulate concern.

Of course, it's always easier, as Mr. Raspberry suggests, to hand responsibility over to the government. But frightened, lonely people don't reed paddywagons. Better a stationwagon full of friendly faces, and a basement turned into a home.

Sincerely, William Thomas