City takes a new run at homeless dilemma
What is the goal of a homeless initiative?
It’s an important question because attacking the problem from different angles puts the community at odds. Some groups are doing the Christian thing and providing resources that may actually draw more transients and vagrants to the area. Others are focused on providing disincentives, for lack of a better term, to discourage any perception that Grand Junction is a good landing place for the houseless by choice.
There’s a huge cost to homelessness. There’s the money that nonprofits and human services agencies spend directly on care, health-care costs for which hospital emergency rooms and clinics will never be compensated, police manpower to deal with a vulnerable and often intimidating population, and legal costs to address the issues through city ordinances. There’s also the hidden cost of damage to the economy — manifested by people who would just as soon avoid shopping or dining downtown or visitors who leave with the impression that Grand Junction is unsavory.
After months of study, the city of Grand Junction’s 3-year-old Homeless and Vagrancy Committee is trying to get at the heart of this dilemma. In proposing 11 recommendations, it took pains to carve out a specific orientation.
“We are in support of programs that attend to the needs and challenges specific to the chronically homeless, to include assistance with shelter, transportation, sustenance, and treatment for addictions and mental/physical health. We are opposed to programs that serve to enable disorderly behavior, or those that become a beacon to others who might travel to Grand Junction solely to obtain those services,” a portion of the statement of purpose of the committee’s recommendations reads.
So, in general, the committee sounds as if it wants to help those who want to be helped and make conditions less welcome for those who have chosen vagrancy and panhandling as a lifestyle.
We think this is the right idea, but it’s still an extremely difficult challenge to differentiate between the two. The recommendations are a good starting point. Each comes with a price tag that will have to be weighed against the potential to put a dent in the numbers of chronically homeless people.
We provided a description of each recommendation in Wednesday’s paper. The City Council is expected to discuss them during a Sept. 19 workshop. Some, like asking the public not to indulge requests from panhandlers, are familiar. Others, like fencing off Whitman Park or closing it during significant portions of the day, reflect a desire to make conditions less conducive to loitering.
Some combination of compassion and tough love is the prescription. It’s not unfair for this community to put forth the message “get help or go elsewhere.”