GUEST COLUMN:
Wrong signal to transients
By Matt Parkhouse

       I have genuine concerns about this recent “backing away” by the city's representatives on the issue of people illegally camping along our public waterways. Yes,

homeless people have rights, but so do Westside residents and citizens of the city. Giving a “green light” to public camping will only increase problems for the areas affected.
       If we allow the present 40 to 100 campers (my best guess) to continue, what will we do when the numbers increase with the return of fairer weather? My many years of experience in social services also tells me: “The warmer the weather, the worse the behavior.”
       This “OK to camp on the trails” turn of events also sends a strong signal to the chronically homeless population that the lifestyle is accepted (promoted even?) by the city. This will certainly interfere with the missions of the many good agencies that are trying to assist these folks OFF our streets. These organizations correctly assume that homelessness is an unhealthy lifestyle and that it should not be encouraged or promoted in any way. Our community has a wonderful network of support for those who are trying to exit this unhealthy state of homelessness. Unfortunately, our community also has become a “great place to be homeless” - with its array of free food, clothing and gear handouts, free showers, and “warming shelter beds”; all unencumbered with ANY requirement to be leaving the streets.
       If a member of YOUR family was out there, whether by choice or due to substance abuse and/or mental illness; what would you want the surrounding community to do for them? Would you want this person to keep receiving “support for the lifestyle” as they slide toward an even deeper bottom? Or, some sort of “tough love” that promotes movement toward a healthier way of life. People do have the right to live as they wish. The residents of this community also have rights. Please put me down as one resident who is “stepping forward and asking for stronger ordinances.”

Matt Parkhouse is a longtime volunteer on homeless issues who helped start the downtown Red Cross shelter in 1984.