EDITOR'S DESK: Predicting a 1-way 'chat' Sept. 4By Kenyon Jordan
Aug. 21, 2018
“In 10 years, our community will have a durable system of places and programs to ensure that all people facing homelessness have access to housing and the supportive services to sustain their quality of life.”
- From “The Vision” statement in the Continuum of Care's Strategic Plan document for ending homelessness, 2016.
Who can argue with that? At least not until the Continuum's 10-year plan expires in 2026. Of course, by then it's very possible a much “better” plan will have supplanted the 2016 version, perhaps even extended the time frame to 2036.
But rest assured, despite the amiable “Westside Chat” title for the meeting scheduled at the Buffalo Lodge Sept. 4 (See Westside Pioneer article at this link), the last thing those well-intentioned folks want to hear is points like the above being raised - or for that matter, any kind of chatting about holes in their plan.
Asked in August if he was willing to field comments Sept. 4 from people concerned about the Continuum process, Andy Phelps, the city's homeless coordinator, replied in an e-mail that he was, “as long as the discussions are civil and based in reality.”
This is the same city official who a few weeks ago said he'd like to see a homeless shelter in the Westside Community Center. (See Westside Pioneer article at this link.) His “reality-based” response, when the Pioneer asked him what residents near the center might think, was that they ought to support the idea because of the need.
Which is actually consistent with his thinking that shelters would be a good idea all over the city, not just the downtown area. Hey, do we get to vote on any of this someday?
I've attended previous meetings with the Continuum group, whose leadership involves the city but is guided by the area's various needy-assistance groups. One typical meeting tactic is to start out by focusing on the hardships confronting down-and-outers (being careful not to distinguish between bona fide homeless and willful vagrants). As part of this show, one or two actual homeless people may speak up, somehow knowing just the right catch-phrases to tug on heart-strings. The intent is to pre-shame any complainers in the audience, so that if they do point to bum-related problems, such criticism can be waved off as mean-spirited and non-inclusive,
So don't expect a mountain of sympathy Sept. 4 if you speak up about the problems the Westside faces from vagrants whose numbers - and boldness - keep growing. Especially when the Continuum's answers are looking for new and better ways to support anyone claiming they have needs - accountability be damned.
As the Continuum's own plan states, “Our people-centered focus shifts the approach from agency-specific evaluation of a person's eligibility for the programs/services offered by the particular organization to a common, consistent assessment that identifies appropriate services.”
In other words, you don't even have to prove you qualify. If you show up, we're here to help. This can already be seen in the recent city emphasis on “low-barrier” overnight shelters. That means people with drinking or drug problems potentially being mixed with families and chidren.
According to Matt Parkhouse, who helped organize some of the early homeless assistance efforts 30-some years ago, such was not the case back then. The druggies and alkies knew they might be turned away, regardless of cold nights. Plus, there was a limit on the number of days anyone could stay in even the “high-barrier” shelters, along with fewer services in general, so full-time hobos were less likely to stick around.
Not that things were ideal back then for those truly in need, as Parkhouse cautioned, but at least the compassion was tempered by what was good for the community.
One topic that's scheduled to come up Sept. 4 is “supportive housing.” This is a term for apartment units provided by the government and nonprofits and coupled with personal care. The goal is to help people with serious issues start readjusting to productive lives. But there is one catch the Continuum doesn't spotlight: Such housing is optional. By law, no one can be forced to participate.
This also ties in with the Continuum's iron-clad contention that no one wants to be homeless. Their 2026 vision even paints a picture of a wondrous time when “no one in our community is forced to live on the streets.” To be fair, numerous willing-to-work people on life's fringes will benefit from supportive housing - in addition to other Continuum handouts - but an end to homelessness? Hmm. How about encouraging less of it by coupling assistance with a demand for behavioral improvement?
But the Continuum people, who are arguably more loving than the rest of us, don't want to hear such criticism. They've already made up their minds, based on “best practices” elsewhere in the country. (Side thought: considering that every major city in America has homeless problems, maybe “practice” is the operative word.)
To top it off, they want to prove their love on our dime. They already are. Remember the city money from the feds that used to go to the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), to help with outreach to our part of town? That funding was redirected four years ago to homeless programs and accommodations. And that's just a small part of increasing amounts of local dollars that have been aimed that way in recent years.
City Councilmember Richard Skorman, whose district includes the Westside, has even floated the idea of a city “homeless tax.” He actually asked for a show of hands on that at a Westside meeting last January. I wonder how many of those who put their hands up that night did so in the naïve, wistful hope that such a tax would make the problem go away.
If you plan to attend the Sept. 4 meeting, I'd suggest you take the time to read the Continuum's Strategic Plan. It's only 11 pages, in a slide-show format, findable on the city website at this link. See if you agree with me that it's full of potentially costly mandates that would transform our city and neighborhoods in ways no one can predict (because it's never been done before), while ignoring the problem that's literally staring us in our faces: dozens of people, many of them able-bodied, some of them mental, a few of them dangerous, who like to live the freebooting life. I'm talking about those who don't care what they do, or who they take it from, or what they befoul, or what the community loses (such as public trails, park pavilions, restrooms, urban centers, a sense of safety, etc.), as long as they get theirs.
Until the city and the ever-kindly Continuum recognize that such people will never "come in from the cold" (other than random wintry nights when low-barrier shelters prove handy), their demoralizing brand of homelessness will still be with us… in 2026 and well beyond.
(Opinion: Editor's Desk)
Kenyon Jordan is the editor of the Westside Pioneer.