The homeless should not be in the downtown area for the simple reason that they should have somewhere else to go. Any attempt to move the homeless is one that needs to be accomplished with a carrot, not a stick. The problem we face as a community is that superficial reasoning dictates that carrots cost money, while sticks are free. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
There are many in this community who believe that any money spent on social services is wasted. They are comfortable in their 'I know what I believe, don't confuse me with the facts ' world.
That said, we have programs that can get chronically homeless individuals off the streets and into treatment programs for a third of the cost of leaving them to run up unpaid bills for ambulance and emergency room services, accrued each time they pass out on a downtown sidewalk.
Programs also exist to treat the 'crisis ' homeless of our city, i.e., those who have lost their housing through layoffs, medical problems, etc. Many clients in these programs exit to stable housing situations and employment. They get a 'hand up, ' not a handout.
At Homeward Pikes Peak, we can treat recovering addicts with the same efficiency. They are no longer breaking into your car to steal your laptop to buy meth. And when they are able to resume responsibility for their kids, social services costs are lowered.
There are existing programs to fit virtually every need. There is no need to 'hang out ' in the downtown area to panhandle either tacitly or overtly. Do we need laws to move the homeless from the downtown and other areas? No, we don't. We just need to think about why the homeless congregate in certain areas, like downtown. Willy Sutton, famous bank robber of the 1950s was asked why he robbed banks. His answer was, 'Because that's where the money is. '
The citizens of the Pikes Peak Region need to recognize that almost 100 percent of money given to panhandlers downtown and in other areas of the city is used for drugs or alcohol. Giving money to panhandlers helps assure their continued presence in heavily trafficked areas of our city and it also assures that they will never contemplate utilizing existing programs. The $5 given to a panhandler can cost the taxpayers $3,000 when he buys a 750 of vodka, drinks it and passes out on a downtown sidewalk. Nobody ever got off the streets through panhandling.
It's a misplaced sense of charity that leads individuals to support panhandling. Many panhandlers are not homeless. Many have found that panhandling is a very well-paying flex-time job that can easily net $50,000 per year, tax free, working part time; and they return daily to their homes or apartments.
With thoughtful planning, some taxpayer assistance, an eye to running our existing programs at maximum efficiency, and the well-reasoned cooperation of the citizens of the Pikes Peak region, the problem will solve itself.
Bob Holmes, CEO of Homeward Pikes Peak, coordinates homeless services and manages several homeless and substance abuse programs locally.