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Aid to homeless should not be means of allowing destructive lifestyle to continue

Letter to the Editor

11/16/2018 | Comments

I read Andy Barton’s column, “Homeless need more than shelters” in the Oct. 19 Herald.  Indeed they do; and more low-barrier shelter beds are not what they need. 

 First and foremost, each person presenting as “homeless” needs to be able to tell their story.  Each person has their own set of needs and bulk low-barrier housing rarely is what they are needing. In addition, perhaps a quarter to third of people using our community’s homeless services treat them as handouts.  This enabling/promotion of vagrancy negatively impacts the individual, our community and especially the neighborhoods surrounding the enabling agencies.

There is nothing wrong with treating folks as we would a family member in need of tough love. If a loved one is pursuing a destructive lifestyle, the last thing a family wants is to see it enabled. 

The old Homeward Pikes Peak attempted to open conversation on the issue of helping vs. enabling and a system to track homeless folks as they received services (and handouts) from our organized charities in 2007. The idea of a homeless I.D. card was resisted by many of the agencies, the discussion never moved forward and the idea was abandoned. There is nothing “Christian” about enabling people to continue a destructive lifestyle. If I were the brother of some man found dead under a bridge, I doubt if I’d be pleased to hear of all the support he received from our community for his deadly lifestyle. 

The book “Toxic Charity,” written by a minister, details how these handouts fail to help and actually harm the recipient. The story of Salt Lake City’s “Operation Rio Grande” illustrates how paying attention to organizational handouts and providing real help (drug treatment, in this case) reduced the impact of large shelters on the downtown area.

For better or worse, “helping the homeless” has evolved into a rather large industry in our town. If we, as a community, choose to spend large sums of money on this problem, we should at least do so in a manner that is not destructive to homeless individuals, our community and our neighborhoods. There is no reason why the help we offer homeless people cannot be promoting of healthy choices and discouraging of the vagrant lifestyle. Paying attention to this won’t end the vagrancy problem but it would stop increasing it.

                Matthew Parkhouse

                Colorado Springs

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