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EDITOR'S DESK: The History Center and the homeless - a modest proposal

By Kenyon Jordan

       While the City of Colorado Springs looks for more ways to throw money at the homeless issue, we literally have the problem right at our doorstep on the Westside.
       As in the doorstep of the volunteer-run Old Colorado City History Center, the keeper of the flame for this side of town's amazing past. See our news article.
       But the center, that wonder of the human spirit, is surely of zero interest to these self-absorbed slackers who live like shadows in the daytime - stealing, trashing and self-medicating out of view, intersecting our lives only for the predictable “Hey, bro,” followed by “Do you suppose you could…” and ended by the incredibly irritating “God bless.”
       Side note: Exactly what kind of God are they referring to? The one I picture in my mind nods at the expression, “God helps those who help themselves.” And I don't mean “help themselves” to what others have, if clarification is needed.
       And then at night, where do these shadow people go? They hide out wherever they can get away with it - creeks, trails, parks, backyards, fields, industrial properties or, in the case of the History Center, behind a wall that was built to help the wheelchair-bound get inside. And then they dump on history (sorry -- being literal again).
       OK, I can already hear the disapproving clucks of the compassionate that I need to be more caring. Walk a mile in those people's shoes. There but for the grace of God go I. We're all just one paycheck away from the same fate. Etc.
       Yes, I agree… to a point. There are some people who fall on hard times. And some people who truly are disabled. And so it's good to have shelters and food for them. But seriously, have you looked around lately? Are there really, truly that many people who can only exist by bumming on the streets or at shopping-center curb cuts? Think back to the '70s, even the '90s - have things really changed that much? Can you spell S-C-A-M?
       If you get a chance, try talking to any small-business employer on the Westside, or anywhere, really. Ask them what they think of any unskilled labor they have. See how many of them say, oh yeah, they're all great, show up on time, work hard, try to learn about the business, look for proactive ways to help. The point is, jobs are available for anyone willing to give their best effort. If you're sober, reliable and honest, any number of employers would love to have you. You don't even have to be educated.
       Did it ever occur to you, compassionatoes, that you might just be as big a problem as the vagrants? All I ever hear from you is how we need more services to help the homeless. Look how many of them there are, you say, and yet golly gosh, no matter how much we expand our efforts, it's not enough. So how's this for a reason? The more pleasant you make it to be weak and helpless, the more weak and helpless people you have.
       Another side note: One thing that amazes me, from some research I've done, is that homeless care-givers have for years resisted developing a system (although to be factual, the United Way is working on a type of pilot program now) to identify all the people getting freebies. And I'm not talking about “just” food and shelter. Other goodies can include free clothes, medicine, doctoring, dentistry, eyeglasses, even pet care. So you'd think that ID cards of some kind would be automatic. And yet, no. The predominant excuse I've heard is that it would insult the dignity of the care-receivers. Right. So maybe we should just get rid of driver's licenses. No, we can't do that. We need them for (wink, wink) “undocumented immigrants.” Wait. That's another topic. Meanwhile, about the only people who can accurately tell you who's living on the streets at a given time are the members of the CSPD's Homeless Outreach Team. And that info is pretty much just all in their heads.
       The latest thing in the Springs is the mayor's initiative to “end homelessness.” Personally, I think he's just craving a legacy, but what really interests me is: Who are the bulk of the people working on this initiative? Why, it's all the compassionatoes, planning day centers with almost any amenity that homeless people might want. Better than having them filling up the library - that's one argument I've heard. So how does it feel, having our public libraries, used as political hostages?
       There's a curious thing I've found about the compassionatoes. They're nice people as a rule, but they save their true ardor for those fitting the weak-and-helpless stereotype. Watch their reaction, for example, if some transient dies. If it's the result of an alcoholic stupor, so much the better. Watch the candles light up. And woe be it if the cause was being assaulted by some idiot. Either kind of fatality is Page 1 in the Gazette, for example.
       But when I stood up at a homeless-initiative meeting a few months ago to ask what was being done to help the neighborhoods and small businesses that are bearing the brunt of vagrancy fanning out from the current shelters/soup kitchens, all I got were steely stares and indifference. So what if those folks are working hard to make ends meet, was the impression I received. That just doesn't quite put the oomph in the caring glands. Such people should check back when they've given up hope altogether.
       So maybe that's what those History Center volunteers need to do - announce that they've had enough and are ready to become weak and helpless themselves. You know, to throw themselves on the mercy of Big Compassionate.
       But not so fast, I suppose. The caring crowd, justifiably skeptical, might tell the volunteers they need to prove themselves by giving over their building and selling all those Westside relic items on E-Bay, then handing over the proceeds. You know, make the History Center into a shelter for the homeless, inside as well as out. Toilets optional.

(Posted 8/1/14, updated 8/2/14; Opinion: Editor's Desk)

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