I have visited Iowa City on a number of occasions and enjoyed its hospitality. However, I recently learned about the placing of “armrests” on public benches in Iowa City. This is a sad development that reflects a pattern of hostility toward people experiencing homelessness that I have seen in other cities.
In Atlanta and in Memphis, two cities in which I have worked with people on the streets, the same thing was done to park benches. The intentionality there, as in Iowa City, is to make public spaces inhospitable to those deemed “unwanted” in the city.
In this Advent season, I would remind people that Mary and Joseph were treated as unwanted at the time of the birth of Jesus, and that the adult Jesus identified himself with “the least of these.” Is Jesus welcome on Iowa City’s park benches? Apparently not if he wants to lay down for a rest.