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EDITOR'S DESK: Is city's 'Action Plan' the warmup for a homeless tax?

By Kenyon Jordan

Dec. 17, 2018
       At least there's a plan.
       Previously, all there seemed to be was a plan to have a plan.
       So (you might ask), we're talking about the homeless here, right?
       No, actually, we're not. Even though this column is largely in response to a city-run meeting Dec. 13 at the Westside Community Center on the city-proposed "2018-19 Action Plan for Homelessness Response."
       I don't mean to be confusing. My contention is that the problems typically ascribed to the "homeless" are actually caused by people who
Kenyon Jordan, Westside Pioneer editor
don't deserve that appelation... and even less so the trendy pet phrase by advocates (and lately the media too): “people experiencing homelessness.”
       Because that term, and that phrase, misrepresent an already convoluted situation.
       Yes, there is a homeless problem. But the reality is that it's mostly private - heart-breaking for those going through it - but private nonetheless. As it should be. And relatively small scale. According to the city's own figures, only about half of 1 percent of the population face that condition.
       They are mostly area residents, according to our nonprofit service providers (although cops have previously said that many who aren't local came here for the marijuana). The providers also tell us these unfortunates are just like the rest of us (except for a bad break or two, the occasional poor decision and inability to pay high housing costs) and are definitely eager to lead normal lives and be helped by said providers.
       But if this column is not about the "real homeless," then who? That's where definitions get fuzzy. There's a whole other type called “homeless” (even under federal regulations). But in truth, they're not. They just like to live that way.
       I call them bums. They're the ones who ruin things, who intimidate shoppers in parking lots, force restrooms to close in parks, scare women off trails, plop themselves on sidewalks, abuse alcohol and drugs, panhandle at intersections, take over bus stops, leave trash wherever they go, steal what they think they need (apparently starting with shopping carts), trespass on private property, spew foul language at anyone who questions them and treat the world like it was one big bathroom. For example, ask anyone at the Old Colorado City History Center, whose volunteers have to clean up human feces on their back patio almost every morning.
       Furthermore, these bums refuse to change their ways, despite the best efforts of cops, social workers and well-meaning citizens. Why should they, really? Piggy-backing on the benefits for
Speaking into a microphone held by Ted Skroback of City Communications, Westside business owner Dave Leinweber asks at the Dec. 13 "Homeless Action Plan" meeting how he and other citizens "can take back our town" so as to help the city in addressing vagrancy problems. The meeting in the Westside Community Center's Hughes Hall was the last of six on the plan that were held this fall around the city. It attracted close to 100 people - about a third less than at the first "Action Plan" session in mid-October, which nearly filled the hall.
Westside Pioneer photo
the unwilling homeless, they can get free meals, free showers, free medical attention, even treatment for their dogs. Food stamps, Social Security and disability checks can help out too. And how about no mortgage, no utilities, no car payments? Meanwhile, compassion-filled donors give them so many tents and sleeping bags that they blithely leave stuff behind, whenever the cops tell them they're camping illegally, so they can travel light to their next campsite 100 yards away. Or wherever. Nobody really knows. ID cards aren't required.
       Even if a bum here and there does wind up being convicted and sentenced for some violation or another, it doesn't matter. Years ago, lawyers with the ACLU figured out an ironclad “golden ticket” that twists our nation's laws so cleverly that communities no longer can exert legal control over scofflaws claiming poverty. No fine. Minimal jail time. And back on the streets again.
       So here's my question for today. Why it is that these individuals, the willing homeless, who shamelessly take advantage of America's freedoms, generosity (and tax base), are not being rejected by the service providers, even when such types would appear to hurt their image?
       I would suppose this question also crossed the minds of many who attended one or more of the "Action Plan" meetings this fall. Because it's a pocketbook issue. Nearly every goal in the plan implies more city money being spent in the “people experiencing homeless” category. Adding more shelter beds. Setting up a “homeless outreach court." Establishing a fund to end veteran homelessness. Pressing for affordable housing, with the hammer of a new city "comprehensive housing plan" to be written in 2019. Supporting a "homeless to work" program. Hiring three more
The remains of an illegal camp were photographed last summer south of Fountain Creek between 31st Street and Ridge Road. Westside volunteers later helped to clean it up.
Courtesy of Steve Bartley
code enforcement (“neighborhood services”) employees, just to clean up camps. Starting an outreach program to lure needful people from the streets. Training more police officers to work with “issues involving the homeless." And helping create “low-barrier” shelters - the type that doesn't turn away drug or alcohol users - for families. (Side point: Do we really want to encourage parents who are like that?)
       Councilmember Richard Skorman has previously tested the waters for a local “homeless tax”; it's not far-fetched to assume that this new plan and these meetings are simply due diligence before such a proposal goes before voters. The money's got to come from somewhere.
       But what about the bums? How do they fit into all this? They spurn the shelters as too confining. (As evidence, when authorities recently broke up a large, illegal camp with about 150 people, only 15 new arrivals were reported that night at local shelters, even though there were plenty of extra beds). They also disdain regular courts; so why would they care about a ruling from a “homeless court” that has zero force of law? As for “homeless to work,” I'd bet two or three might sign up, but only for the joke of getting paid for cleaning up their own trash. As for outreach, the bums already laugh at that. And they could care less about how much it costs for new city employees to deal with the problems they cause.
       So then, why are those willing to be homeless (the bums) bunched together with those who aren't? Social workers came up with the term “chronically homeless” years ago to define people who have no interest in living any other way. (Personally I think that's another euphemism. A more accurate term would be “freeloader.”)
       But I think I've finally figured it out. The bums are like front-line soldiers for the homeless “cause.” Think about it. We see them with their shopping carts, their camps and their panhandling signs - we even painfully interact with them at times - and all this leaves us way beyond turned off. We yearn for our community the way it once was.
       As Westside business owner Dave Leinweber put it at the Dec. 13 meeting, “How do we take back our town?” He should know. When he paid a small fortune over a decad ago to
City Police Lieutenant Mike Lux said at the Dec. 13 "Homeless Action Plan" meeting that what he saw at a recent large-scale illegal camp in Colorado Springs reminded him of a "third world country. It's wrong of us to allow that."
Westside Pioneer photo
place Angler's Covey along Highway 24 at 21st Street, including the creation of a habitat in Fountain Creek behind the store, a planned highlight was customers being able to fish there. Now, he told the meeting, “I've lost my access to the creek.”
       By the way, he didn't get an answer to his question about taking back the town. City homeless coordinator Andy Phelps (the "Action Plan" author), who was running the meeting with Skorman, demurred that he “wouldn't use that term,” after which Skorman, acting as unofficial peace-keeper, simply said that Leinweber had raised a “good point.”
       Anyway, that's the gambit, as I see it, by the homeless service providers, as they essentially lead the city around by the nose on this issue and grow in power. If the issue was only about random people with no place to live - i.e., the truly homeless - then it would hardly be a city government priority. Too bad, so sad, etc., but we have tight budgets and maybe the Housing Authority will have an opening in a couple of years.
       But when the service providers can bring in their bum “soldiers,” defining them as homeless too, they have a winnable political “war.” The mayor and city councilmembers grow weary of the public griping about camps and panhandlers, so they tell staffers to do something. And they did, as this new plan shows.
       Looking ahead, my guess is that enough citizens have grown desperate about the bum impacts, they might even vote in a “homeless tax,” even if there's no real promise of it changing things. (And there isn't - the providers' own statistics predict the city's homeless numbers to keep rising in the years ahead.)
       I've got to give credit where credit's due. The service providers have played this neatly. On the flip side, as long-time homeless advocate-turned-skeptic Matt Parkhouse pointed out at the Dec. 13 meeting, Colorado Springs has gained the reputation of being "the best town to be homeless." (Side note: A city police official has previously said he was told the same thing at a cop conference in California.)
       And then Parkhouse voiced the word that the providers absolutely detest - that their ever-expanding programs, with only limited accountability, are “enabling” people to live the homeless lifestyle and in the process luring more of that ilk to our once-fair city. “We've never had a conversation about enabling vs. helping,” he told Phelps and Skorman.
       And you know what? Such a conversation did not occur at this meeting, either.
       So I'm pretty darn sure I'm just spitting into the wind here when I conclude this opus by saying that I respectfully disagree with the city's Homeless Action Plan. And to say that what's really needed is two plans.
       One for the actual homeless.
       One for the bums.
       At least we'd be calling things by their right names for a change. We might even become “people experiencing progress.”

(Opinion: Editor's Desk)

       Kenyon Jordan is the editor of the Westside Pioneer.

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