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GUEST COLUMN: Key distinction between 'bums' and 'homeless'

       By Matthew Parkhouse, RN

Nov. 24, 2017
       Yes, we have a "bum problem" here on the Westside (and throughout Colorado Springs). Actually, we all have a pair of problems. We have a homeless problem that is being addressed by a number of capable agencies. The people involved in
Matthew Parkhouse, RN
Westside Pioneer file photo
this particular problem include those who have suffered any number of setbacks and are trying very hard to get off the street. This population, the majority of those counted as "homeless," do not cause many issues for the people in our community.
       It is the other population, the bum population,that's a minority in numbers but very visible in terms of the problems they cause. Our homeless providers treat "all comers" the same. While this helps the majority homeless population, it enables the bum population.
       Our community has acquired the reputation as a "good place to be homeless" because of the support for the homeless lifestyle that is handed out to one and all. A recent survey, admittedly unscientific, found that one out of six people eating at our downtown soup kitchen either "didn't know if they wanted off our streets" or "did not want to change".
       Part of decent homeless service delivery includes getting to know who you are serving. Once that is done, the providers could address the troublesome minority with something like: "Very sorry sir, we are not in the homelessness-enabling business. No more for now."
       Nobody is banished forever, all are welcome to use our community's largesse to move in a positive direction. If someone is identified as truly disabled and unable to "get it together," that person could be carried along by the community.
       Our "bum problem" is not entirely due to an enabling system, but it IS made worse by the handouts. For a number of years now, our providers ( a growing industry in town) have carefully avoided the "enabling vs. helping" conversation. It is past time to have this discussion - involving our neighborhoods, the providers, the homeless population, our civic leaders and the funders of our non- profits (hello? El Pomar?).
       The federal funding that the agencies use in part totally ignores this issue. The tolerating of criminal behaviour, the money given to panhandlers and the enabling done by our providers have really combined to "diminish the quality of life" for all of us.

       Editor's note: A registered nurse, Parkhouse is a long-time volunteer on homeless issues who helped start the downtown Red Cross shelter in 1984.

(Opinion: Guest Columns)

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