May 10, 2013 Updated: May 10, 2013 at 8:45 am
The poor and homeless have long been subjects of division in Colorado Springs. Some want to help them or banish them from view. Others say leave them alone, accepting the expenses they create for law enforcement, businesses and other taxpayers.
The community watched homeless shantytowns spring up along creek beds in recent years, a phenomenon mitigated with a citywide camping ban. Beggars on downtown sidewalks and in Acacia Park led city officials to create a no-panhandling zone that a judge struck down.
The issue of poor and homeless people in public has led to discussions about getting Catholic Charities to move the Marian House soup kitchen from its prime location downtown. Critics believe the Marian House attracts undesirables who frighten potential customers away from restaurants and shops.
Mayor Steve Bach and his wife, Suzi, want to help businesses and the homeless by establishing a campus. They would try to centralize housing and services somewhere near downtown. Others want to barcode the homeless, rendering them unable to access charitable services unless a scan ensured each person's compliance with a social worker's rehabilitation plan.
The Gazette respects concerns about the poor and homeless enough that we hosted a community conversation about the dilemma Thursday, with a panel discussion among experts.
The Gazette's editorial board does not know how to resolve this matter but hopes to play a role in facilitating more conversation as the community works through it. In doing so, we'd like to stress a few fundamental principles we hope all will respect:
The homeless and poor may appear frightening to some, but police do not believe they are disproportionately responsible for violent crimes. They have more trouble with bar patrons from all demographics.
The homeless and poor are individuals of no less value to God than any others he has created. As we help them, we must do so in ways that treat them with love, kindness, dignity and respect. Those who would handle them with contempt or disrespect are worse than any homeless problem our community seeks to resolve.
While we may mitigate problems associated with the poor and homeless in public, we will never fully solve them. The homeless and poor have always been with us and likely will be in the future. Free societies restrain authority of governments to control persons. Tyrannical societies lack wealth, a byproduct of freedom, to elevate the poor.
The homeless and poor, no matter how they look, were endowed by a creator with the same constitutional protections from government authority that are afforded business owners, politicians and the rich. We must protect their rights to roam freely, to express themselves, to communicate with others and to appear however they please in public within the boundaries of law.
None of us can enjoy full freedom to succeed and prosper in an environment that does not protect the right to fail. Freedom explains the success of Bill Gates as much as the plight of those with conditions, addictions, personal characteristics and bad breaks that have left them in poverty.
We believe individuals and organizations should try to resolve problems associated with the homeless and poor by offering a hand up. Giving a person a fish will feed her for a day; teaching the person to fish may free her for life.
We cannot treat the poor and homeless as criminals, unless and until they are convicted of crimes. We cannot treat them as subjects who must obey a more financially successful demographic.
As members of a civilized society, we should offer assistance to the homeless and poor and hope they accept it.
Our assistance must respect their rights while offering opportunities to overcome illnesses and addictions. That's the best we can do, however we proceed.