Could the homeless be made to pick up their own trash? Can you get blood from a turnip?
Our community of late is not immune from what our city manager has called “a national epidemic.”
We’ve recently seen an influx of folks taking up residence in a wooded section near the town’s entrance.
Even creeping along well below the newly installed radar readout sign that flashes your speed when in excess of 25 mph, trash, though abundant, is unidentifiable and strewn about obviously without regard to maintaining a neat campsite. Ropes stretched among the trees support both tarps and apparent items of clothing – the shelter clearly inadequate to protect from what has become lately an increasingly cold, incessantly persistent and infernally depressing rain.
How many live (or rather, subsist) there?
According to a link provided by the city manager, the number of homeless in Pierce County is 1,762 of which 25 were recorded in Lakewood during this past May’s count.
No longer ‘the other side of the tracks’, a handful of the homeless huddles here in makeshift hovels on the same side of the tracks as those comfortably sheltered, the grand entrances to their gated lake-side communities but a stone’s throw away.
Does the old turnip adage apply to these homeless?
“A turnip cannot be coaxed, squeezed, or cajoled into producing blood. All efforts at obtaining blood from this vegetable will be futile.”
While true of turnips, what if we, collectively, as a community, ‘turn up’ to see if we – and they – can get the blood flowing?
“Why not employ the homeless to help?” was the question asked in an Amarillo Globe-News editorial opinion this past August 31, 2016.
Answering their own question the editorial board opined, “There are layers of government bureaucracy (city and state) that could make such an initiative difficult (not to mention liability issues) but certainly the homeless could be paid to remove the trash and associated debris that hides in tall grass and weeds.”
Two months later, in October, Amarillo’s City Council approved the work program.
Amarillo’s mayor had read an article out of Albuquerque recognizing that city’s national acclaim for its “There’s A Better Way” model of addressing homelessness.
Begun with an allocation of $50,000 late in 2015, Albuquerque just six months laterincreased that to $181,000.
During that time, according to Albuquerque’s website, “over 6,700 people have been connected to services they may not have known about previously; 426 day jobs have been offered; 92 city blocks have been cleaned with over 41,000 pounds of trash and debris cleared.”
Since its inception other cities – “most recently Seattle” – and towns have inquired of Mayor Berry’s office to see how the program can be adapted to their community.
“National press on the program has spread rapidly with features on ‘NBC Nightly News’, ‘PBS Newshour’, ‘NY Times’, ‘Governing Magazine’, and viral success with cumulative 9.5 million views on ‘Upworthy.com’ video highlighting the program.”
Twenty-eight pages of Lakewood’s November 9, 2015 agenda was dedicated to the homeless issue.
“Homeless people with high needs, e.g. currently living in their cars or on the street . . . will be directed immediately to emergency shelter” (p.39).
“Rapidly re-housing those who become homeless,” (p.51) is “Tacoma, Lakewood and Pierce County’s plan to end homelessness.”
As one of the “major reasons and causes for homelessness as documented by many reports and studies” (first listed in fact) is the unavailability of employment opportunities, the “There’s a Better Way” concept that’s catching on across America could very well also work here in addition to Lakewood’s emphasis on housing for the homeless.
Giving the homeless the opportunity to work – certainly in some cases to clean up the mess they evidently created as opposed to fining the property owner – while providing for these otherwise disenfranchised a modicum of dignity and decency in the process – is worth a try.