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EDITOR'S DESK: How to solve the bum problem

By Kenyon Jordan

       The years roll by, and our "new normal" features increasing numbers of alarmingly grubby beard people in our commercial districts and neighborhoods. They shuffle about, alone or in groups, seldom engaging with everyday folk except to ask for things, often mumbling to themselves, always leaving messes behind.
       Lately, their legions have been joined by a younger crowd, able-bodied men as well as women, who seem to look on this lifestyle as a new career choice. Not a

total surprise there, their formative years having taken place under Obama and legalized marijuana.
       But they're all bums. They pollute our creeks, set damaging fires, steal what they can, pick through our trash, pass out in public, exploit our emergency services, squat on bus benches, turn public parks and trails into scary places and, when their disability or SSI funds run low, stand on street corners proclaiming they're hungry.
       If you're wondering why the pavilion is being removed from Bancroft Park, it's because of the vagrancy there. A Colorado Springs Parks representative said so at a public meeting. Ever wonder why the pretty landscaping got removed around the Old Colorado City History Center? Bums used it for… well, you figure it out.
       For too long, our governments have foolishly handed off this problem to the most compassionate among us. I'm serious. These are people who fear desperately that our unwashed angels might freeze or starve. This tends to eclipse their common sense. They hand out sleeping bags when they know the recipients will use them to camp outside illegally and unsanitarily. They don't discourage pet ownership, despite the odds that the animals will be ill-used. They devote hours to reform individuals who see them only as a mark. They give money to panhandlers, who (police say) frequently use the freebies to kill themselves with booze and drugs.
       Believe it or not, when the Colorado Springs Parks Board heard that improvements in Bancroft Park would let the city shut off electrical service after hours, the response from two of its members was alarm that their outdoor friends were losing a place to charge their cell phones.
       Many of these enablers are well-meaning Christians. In the old days, churches would at least make lost souls hear a sermon, but nowadays the compassioneers don't even require identification. Who are we helping? We don't know, but it sure feels good.
       In recent years, the bum sympathizers have found an unlikely ally - the atheistic American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I doubt its diversity-minded donors care
Snoozing in the Bancroft Park pavilion. According to the city, the prevalence of vagrants there was key to the pavilion's planned removal.
Westside Pioneer file photo
much about solving mass vagrancy or how that phenomenon drains communities - emotionally and financially - but you can bet they celebrate when ACLU lawyers find dubious enforcement loopholes in the U.S. Constitution. Meanwhile, undoubtedly, many of the ACLU supporters live in gated communities, where hired guards keep out the riff-raff.
       The ACLU also has a love affair with Big Media, who adore stories that let them picture layabouts as innocent victims (“we're all just a paycheck away from homelessness,” etc.), portray cops as bad guys and throw out incendiary accusations - as was done to Colorado Springs a year or so ago - i.e., running “debtors' prisons.” Charles Dickens, who wrote about the true version of that practice in the mid-1800s, would laugh himself hoarse.
       One of the most sensible things I've heard from the compassion crowd is that a big part of the problem is “mental issues.” That's a nice way to say that many members of the grubby gang are off their rockers. Truly, who else but crazy people would choose to live under bridges like trolls, disdain employment and indoor plumbing, beg on street corners and drink or needle themselves into comas?
       Do you think I'm exaggerating? Ask any cop. Or the crews on Cimarron/I-25, who frequently have to call in the CSPD's HOT Team to clear out areas they'll be working in. Or the business owners in Old Colorado City. Or the long-suffering residents in the neighborhoods near the Marian House.
       So my suggestion - which I'm certain will be ignored and/or despised by Decision Makers, big and small - is that we reinvigorate our mental institutions. From what I've read, scaling them back was a trendy thing in the 1950s, and Ronald Reagan sealed the deal during his presidency in the '80s. The pendulum needs to swing the other way.
       Sure it would cost money. But right now, with all our ineffective programs and legal restraints, we're just throwing good money after bad (taxpayer as well as donor) and wasting the energies of well-meaning city officials, church people and other volunteers - not to mention squandering any chances (however slim) of rehabilitating the shuffling mumblers themselves.
       Details? How about requiring that after the third time someone is cited for camping outside with zero prospects, it's off to the institution. It sounds like a win-win to me, moving poor losers off the streets and into the care of specialists who could dry them out, then diagnose whatever's meandering around inside their ailing skulls. Better for them. Better for us.
       Plus, I predict a side benefit. Once the word gets out that uncooperative campers are being shipped away to shrink-land, I think we'll suddenly see a lot of those layabouts acting in ways that aren't so crazy after all. Getting off the streets. Buying a razor. Applying for jobs. Maybe even finding Jesus and joining those churches they've been leeching from.

(Posted 8/30/17; Opinion: Editor's Desk)

       Kenyon Jordan is the editor of the Westside Pioneer.

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