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GUEST COLUMN: Managing the problem of homeless migrants

By: Tim Leigh
March 11, 2018 Updated: March 11, 2018 at 4:05 am
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As homelessness throughout the Pikes Peak region spreads, it draws conflicting responses, at times from the same people.

There's sympathy and a desire to help, but at the same time a sense that we're being invaded by an uninvited wash of migrants, who by their growing number physically endanger the general public, impair public health, and strain budgets which should normally not be strained. And, there's the logical conclusion that the rights of the homeless trample rights of everyone else.

Our community must find a way to balance the needs and rights of the homeless against demands and expectations of everyone else. So far, we haven't been able to find that compromise.

Respecting the rights of the homeless shouldn't mean giving the sidewalks, exit ramps, parks, trails, the library or other public and private space over for the permanent encampment of tents, littered with stolen shopping carts, worldly possessions, debris, and human waste. Conversely, obviously, respecting property rights shouldn't mean rousting homeless without cause.

The Gazette's homeless conversation last week was designed to bring disparate parties to a room to begin a dialogue leading actionable compromise solutions. I attended the forum and found, as you'd expect, many statements made as fact without a citation of the source. For example, one statement made as fact was "60 percent to 70 percent of the homeless population in Colorado Springs is home-grown."

That statement (on its face without verification) would lead the uninformed to believe Colorado Springs has a horrible (local) social problem causing homelessness and that it should be the highest priority to solve that problem, taking care of our own. Me thinks the emperor has no clothes, Petruchio.

The home-grown statistic was gathered by asking homeless folks where they called home 90 days ago. Most responded with local ZIP codes. Sure, I can believe most homeless folks have lived here for 90 days, but that's not to say our homeless problem is home-grown. Home grown should possess a minimum standard. To claim locus, maybe the standard should be that you graduated from a local high school.

In fact, Mayor John Suthers said a third-party survey of homeless folks said most migrated to Colorado Springs. His study cited two main reasons: 1) easy pot and 2) "we're friendly."

Another question would be about the statement made as fact without citation, that 40 percent of our homeless are children.

I have no way to debunk or verify the percentage of homeless children in Colorado Springs except to say I've never seen a large number of homeless kids camping along Monument Creek, or the trails, or at the Springs Rescue Mission, or in the library, or anywhere with-or-without parents. Making claims for political benefit (think about budgets and power) are a disingenuous use of a public forum and doesn't add value to the larger conversation.

One of the panelist made a big deal out of poop. He said everyone poops. He said because everyone poops, the city needs to provide port-a-potties along Monument Creek as the best way to mitigate the bacteriological pollution caused by campers who urinate and defecate in Monument Creek. Public urination and defection are root causes of Colorado Springs' new problem, that we send Monument Creek to Pueblo in a biohazard condition contrary to the tone and tenor of our storm water agreements.

After attending the forum, I'm left with few key questions:

- The provision of more housing continues to be the darling-child-solution for most folks who look the homelessness problem. Obviously, the solution to a problem called homelessness is homes. But, what if the problem were couched, not as homelessness, but as an invasion of uninvited migrants? Could a solution be to limit their number?

- How many uninvited migrants do we want to subsidize with our limited tax dollars and resources?

- Are we an attractive community drawing homeless with free services, free food and free housing?

- Should Colorado Springs become less attractive to the homeless and spread that word throughout the homeless pipeline?

My questions are not meant to be mean-spirited but pragmatic. I ask the politically incorrect questions to ensure they and their answers are included in the conversation. How many homeless migrants are we willing to take on and how much of our limited resources do we want to put toward an unsolvable social problem?

-

If you want to join the conversation, email Tim@TimLeigh.com.

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