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LETTER: Time to rethink remedies for substance abusers living on streets

Dec. 11, 2017
       A couple of weeks ago, a well-meaning person gave a long-time vagrant on the Westside either a bottle of whiskey or enough money to get one. “TD” (I'll call him) was an affable person if you found him sober, He took the whiskey down to the creek near the liquor store and proceeded to get royally drunk and pass out. “TD” was found some time later, dead from exposure. It's my
In recent times, illegal camps have become commonplace along the Midland Trail through Vermijo Park. In the background are two tents at the bridge just north of Fountain Creek, where the trail west of 26th Street goes past a mural that was created as a community project in 2013. When this photo was taken Dec. 10, the camp had been there for at least a week.
Westside Pioneer photo
understanding that he got enough assistance to live inside if he had chosen to, but rarely did.
       A local TV station recently did a story on another of our long-time vagrants. He appeared to be an older man that was confined to a wheelchair. He said he was a veteran in poor health and could only panhandle about two hours a day. He usually made about $20 a day, but he could get by on that.
       The other day, he had been in his usual spot panhandling, made enough money to buy some booze and went on his way. By the time he got down near Mother Muff's, he was so drunk he fell out of his wheelchair and passed out on the sidewalk. People have gotten so used to this sort of thing that they walked around him until he was discovered the next day to have also died of exposure.
       This story is getting so common it's not even news anymore. If they don't die of exposure in the winter, they pass out in the creek in the summer and drown in three inches of water.
       I try not to use the term “homeless” because it has become such a politically charged term that really doesn't mean very much anymore. It's painting with too broad of a brush. Of course there are people who fall on hard times and need and deserve help, I don't think anyone has a problem with them. There are also people who live in houses and drive cars that put on their homeless costume every day and hold a sign in front of a grocery store for a living. If I did that, I'd go to jail for fraud or tax evasion or something.
       I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of the so-called homeless are people who have chosen to be substance-addicted and are willing to live outside to feed their addiction. Of course, there is also a considerable subset of mentally ill people who self-medicate with alcohol or heroin or meth to make the voices go away, but they also belong in this group because any addict becomes willing to go to any length to get the substance they are addicted to.
       It seems to me that it's time for all of us to rethink just exactly what is help for these people. Do the charities really help or just enable these people to continue a dysfunctional life? Perhaps it's time for us all to stop handing over money and “stuff” just to make ourselves feel better about a tough situation with no easy solution. Maybe it's time to give “tough love” a shot.

       Don Schlarb

       Editor's note: Schlarb is co-owner of Old Town Propane Co., 2725 W. Colorado Ave., which he and his wife Linda started 24 years ago.

(Opinion: Letters)

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