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Editorial: What next for city’s homeless?

The anti-panhandling ordinance enacted by the city council last week offers no answers to the problem of homelessness in Concord. The ordinance doesn’t even provide an answer to the problem of panhandling itself – and yet when it passed unanimously, it drew praise from all sides.

Rightly so. In fact, the careful, respectful interaction that brought about the ordinance shows the best way forward on the pressing questions presented by homelessness in the city this summer and the need for a comprehensive, longer-term approach.

The ordinance was drafted in response to legitimate concerns about panhandling outside plazas, along sidewalks and at intersections. Like some panhandlers, the first draft was too aggressive. The second draft was too broad. The third focused on specific behavior: forbidding anyone from exchanging items with people in cars on roads. It’s clear, it’s enforceable, it passed – and we hope it will send a broader message that leads to an overall decline in panhandling.

The ordinance won’t end the practice, though. It doesn’t prohibit anyone from standing on a sidewalk and holding a sign asking for money, and it shouldn’t. Whether that person is a panhandler, a political activist or a young athlete raising money at a team car wash, this is a matter of free speech. Nor, of course, can any ordinance alleviate the very real needs that drive some to beg for money.

So where to go from here?

City officials – from Mayor Jim Bouley to Police Chief John Duval to other members of the city council and administration – must persist in what has been a responsible approach to homelessness and the problems associated with it. Concord’s generosity – think of the Friendly Kitchen and the hundreds of volunteers who prepare the meals it serves – has likely led to an increase in the homeless population here. The state has failed to provide the support the city and others like it need, which, sadly, is just one failure among many.

But the sense of decency that characterizes Concord at its best must not flag in the face of these realities. The city, nonprofits and churches should consider placing and servicing port-a-potties and dumpsters near the latest places where clusters of homeless people have pitched their tents. Unless property owners object, the police should continue to leave those who abide by the law alone in their shelters. Whether the state steps up or not, in terms of supporting a supervised daytime center or the like, city leaders must do just that: lead.

In their drive to fight for the interests of the homeless, advocates must not lose sight of the need to work constructively toward compromises that balance everyone’s interests. Nor should they gloss over the problems that some homeless people inflict upon themselves or others, from alcohol and drug abuse to threatening and violent behavior. To do so will undermine the political support required to bring about change.

Lastly, we all need to resist the temptation to cast a blanket of judgment over the homeless, who are diverse in their capabilities, plights and character, as any population would be. What’s more, no one should demand or expect an easy, rapid or tidy resolution to homelessness. It is a condition as old as civilization itself – and how we respond to it here and now will be one measure of the community in which we live.

Legacy Comments9

I was a first-hand recipient of the compassion and assistance given by the Concord community and in no way mean to dismiss the generosity of those citizens who give freely of their time and money to solve this human issue. We need to be able to differentiate between the majority of the homeless population, and the minority who engage in criminal activity or substance abuse. Yes, folks who camp on private land without permission are trespassing, and guilty of that crime. But in the day to day battle for survival, it's a small risk to take. To protect the rights of property owners, and preserve the dignity of the homeless, it's all the more important to make some public land available. There will always be those who take advantage of the kindness of others, who prey on the naive and helpless. There will always be some who choose alcohol, drugs and crime as an alternative lifestyle. If we can concentrate on the majority who sincerely seek a way out of their predicament, then the minority will stand alone, and can be dealt with individually.

I believe the homeless must put in their personal time and energy to help solve their problem. The sad truth of human nature is people who are comfortable are really motivated to make major life changes. For example, I am told by addiction/alcohol specialists that most of their clients don’t start a serious recovery until after they have really hit rock bottom. When the situation becomes uncomfortable enough, only then do they make real and serious choices to improve their lives. I salute the philanthropic work of our local churches in the friendly kitchen and this is not about us doing less. It’s about homeless people making changes and contributing to their own future. If these well meaning organizations do “too much”, that is, creating a community environment where they are comfortable-in their homeledssd situation- we are just supporting unhealthy lifestyles.

That was supposed to read, "the Sad truth of human nature is people who are comfortable are RARELY motivated…"

Great letter TCB. If we look at Welfare, we see we are now in the 3rd or 4th generaion of dependency. If that program worked the way it was meant to work, as a temporary leg up to to get those folks out of poverty, we would not be having generations of folks getting on it. That program offered free education, free child care, etc. How many folks took advantage of that and actually got off welfare? The stats stating welfare is now generational would seem to indicate, the program is not working as it should. The amount of folks on it has ballooned. For me the govt runs programs poorly. What is often seen as a great idea, almost always turns out to be just the opposite, creates more dependecy instead of reducing it.

Wow. Now non profits and churches should step up and provide porty potties, day centers etc. My response to that is, would that all of a sudden make these folks keep the area clean. would it stop issues with violence, drugs etc? Even with the friendly kitchen we had folks urinating, drinking, drugging etc in the area where it use to be. You cannot force these folks to use what is already there now. We have agencies that help ex felons with getting jobs, we have agencies that help vets gets help, and we do have shelters. We also have addiction agencies. I also find it pretty hypocritical that the bleeding hearts expect churches to step up. Last time I checked Libs were waging a war on religion. stating that they should change their tenets on BC and if they did not women would have nowhere to turn for BC or abortions. Yet they expect the group they dissaprove of to help them with their agenda. No charity ever survived while trashing the folks they expect donations from.

We know the money is “out there”, as well as the land, and the structures…so, what’s stopping us from fixing the housing shortage problem? As a civilized society, it’s difficult to accept the reality and responsibility of homelessness. It goes against every moral and ethical fiber in our DNA, yet is extremely inconvenient to a commodity-based consumer culture. Our system, through the channels of media, government and finance, requires an elevation of our comfort level, or at the minimum, the illusion of such. You certainly wouldn’t be encouraged or expected to spend money to increase your discomfort. Yet pain and discomfort can also be powerful motivators. We must find a way to turn the discomfort of homelessness, into a warm and fuzzy comfort felt by those who have the ways and means to solve the problem. Fixing the problem could now become an addictive adrenalin rush, and a nearly insatiable lust for what makes us feel good. The energies used in satisfying our own needs for comfort and security can be harnessed to also improve the comfort and security of those less fortunate. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…the golden rule. Golden, because it not only satisfies the lusts and greed of human nature, but cures the ailments of your neighbor. When “the me first” philosophy begets the automatic “and them, too”. So, fix it, already! You have every reason to believe that the process of eliminating homelessness will make you richer, happier, and far more comfortable.

Great editorial, BTW!

AKA Harlan: Concord is not a heartless community and has done a great deal for the homeless. There is nobody, including myself, that is against giving someone a hand up when they need it. However, it has reached the point where we are enabling a lifestyle and not helping many of these folks. The N.H. Hospital never should have closed their doors and thrown these people out on the street. Bad decision! These folks do need our help for sure. Substance abusers, a good majority of the homeless can only help themselves. I am in no way responsible for their bad life choices. They are, period. They are the only ones who can crawl up out of their dark hole and help themselves. We need to let them hit bottom and sink or swim. That is how it works. With this all being stated, the problem we have created is with us. The question still remains! Are we being kind or are we enabling and making folks dependent on us, which is the worst thing one can do to another. That is backhanded abuse of the highest order in my book.

Bravo Collie. What a terrific post. Those of us that in fact have given in many ways, like volunteering, donations and taxes take offense when we are called out as being heartless or cheap. The victim mentality is one that keeps folks down. That assumes that you are stuck, have no choices and it is not your fault, so doing nothing is justified. One would have to ask themselves, if the immigrants that came over here with nothing took the attitude they could do nothing, America just might be a different place. Those of us that have endured poverty, and come out on the other side, know that the only limits you have are the ones that you put on yourself in America. That is why folks come here. They know they can achieve. And many have. The land of opportunity is called that for a reason. Too bad that message has been lost on many.

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