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People need the opportunity to start from scratch

The photograph of the small turn-of-the-century Colorado town was faded and dim, but as I studied it, I realized that many of the town’s homes and businesses were tents. Up the draws and creeks not seen in the picture were the dugouts and log cabins of miners, timber workers and farmers. Those were the homes of our forebears, the builders of our country, and we rightly called them “heroes.” They lived without piped-in water and sewer, without central heat and bug spray; people who came in with nothing or nearly nothing, but who literally dug in and stayed. Let’s leave that picture on the overhead projector and add a few overlays. The first is called “planning and zoning.” The second is called “health regulations” and, finally, “department of social services.” Now look and there is no one left. Where did they go?Well, the buildings didn’t have proper foundations, the fire protection was inadequate, the sanitation wasn’t acceptable, the wiring and plumbing (where there was any) was not up to code, the educational system was woefully lacking, and the children were overworked, underfed and improperly clothed. Well, you say that whole scenario is a little silly. OK, I’ll give you a real example: A family came to Parachute during the shale boom because they heard there was work. They had lost jobs and home because a plant had closed, but they had a car, a tank full of gas, a tent and hope. They found work but no housing and, as a local paper reported, they were run out of the tent twice by the county zoning officer and were reduced to living in their car. They discovered what many like them discovered and are continuing to discover – being poor is against the law!One of the big social issues today is what to do with the homeless. We agonize and develop elaborate schemes that cost enormous sums to salve our conscience and certainly do some good. The fact remains that if you bring your family to town and are flat broke, there is no opportunity! The landlord wants first, last and a damage deposit, the utilities want a deposit and the employer holds your first paycheck. You need gas to drive to work and the kids need school supplies and clothes. Then there’s money for the laundromat, food and a host of little things we take for granted. If you are flat broke you are not in the game; in fact, they won’t even let you hang around and watch.The regulatory maze is complex, but let me select a few of the obvious:1. You cannot move a mobile home into many counties if it is more than 10 years old and/or does not have certain certifications;2. You cannot stay in a camper park but a set amount of days (usually 30);3. Medical facilities require money in advance unless you have medical insurance – which you obviously can’t afford if you are out of work;4. High-density housing must be built in or contiguous to an existing municipality – that is to say, on the highest-priced land; 5. It’s almost impossible to survive without an automobile, but mandatory insurance is expensive. Now they are building cars you can’t fix yourself because they are computerized;6. If you are reduced to living in your car, you can’t get a driver’s license because you don’t have a permanent address;7. It even costs $2,000 to $5,000 just for a decent burial.There are a myriad of other rules and regulations that contribute to the problem. All of them are well-intentioned, but in our efforts to regulate away societal problems we have lost sight of the individual. There are really only two ways to deal effectively with the problem. One way is to embrace socialism, raise taxes and develop government programs. The other way might be much harder, and that is to restore opportunity – the opportunity to start from scratch with just the assets of mind and muscle. The first way fosters dependence and the second independence, self-reliance, pride and strength of character. We can’t have it both ways, but maybe it’s too late to choose.Ross L. Talbott lives in New Castle.


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