Beaton column: Let’s help vagrants, not use and enable them
The Aspen Beat
Alcoholics go to Alcoholics Anonymous, and they can only leave on the wagon. Obese people often go to camps where their caloric use and intake are closely monitored.
So why do we encourage vagrants with drug problems to visit “shoot-up parks” to descend deeper into their sewer of dangerous and addicting drugs?
For that matter, why do we encourage their vagrancy?
This isn’t just a big-city problem. Here in the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley, we have vagrants. The Post Independent recently reported that many vagrants illegally camp on private and public lands on the outskirts of town. They litter the area, defecate and urinate on the ground, often start illegal campfires and frequently panhandle, and worse.
An online commenter on the news story, from Boulder, reported that upscale Boulder also has a problem:
“They panhandle, camp whenever and wherever they can get away with it, even in town, and leave trash and human excrement when they leave. When one helping group started dispensing food and other things by Boulder Creek and the library, the Boulder Creek Path (the most beautiful area in town) became the transient hangout and smoking, drinking, and camping spot … There have also been shootings and rape there, found to have been committed by transients.”
A bad economy is typically the reason offered for vagrancy, especially whenever there’s a Republican president. But that’s not very convincing when unemployment is at 3.9 percent and vagrants are panhandling outside stores with “Help Wanted” ads in the window.
So what’s the real reason for booming vagrancy in the face of a booming economy?
Officials down in Glenwood Springs think they know the reason. It’s because various community organizations inadvertently attract vagrants by offering them free stuff. They note that other nearby towns don’t offer free stuff, and those towns have very few vagrants.
The online commenter from Boulder said something similar:
“We have a serious problem with a large number of transients, who have admittedly and openly come to Boulder from other cities because of more and better free stuff. According to some of them, they refuse to use the shelters and services offered by agencies because they don’t like the rules and often want to keep drinking.”
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that everyone in this country should be offered basic food and shelter, no questions asked. America is too rich to allow people to starve or freeze to death, regardless of the reason. If someone is starving or freezing, I personally will feed them and clothe them.
But beyond basic food and shelter, the issue becomes problematic.
Vagrants typically fall into one of several categories. They either have mental or emotional problems or they have substance addictions or, in a few cases, they just enjoy the life of vagrancy.
Here’s what they’re hardly ever. They’re hardly ever people like you and me, but who’ve suffered a string of bad luck. “There but for the grace of God go I” may make you feel noble but, deep down, you know it’s a contrived nobility.
There’s hardly anything that could reduce me to a vagrant, and, if you’ve read this far, there’s hardly anything that could reduce you to that.
That doesn’t mean vagrants are bad people. Some are bad, some are not. But it usually does mean that they have underlying issues different than yours and mine. They need help in addressing those issues.
The ones with mental or emotional problems shouldn’t be reduced to feral humans; they should be treated in mental health facilities.
The ones with substance addictions should not be enabled to continue their abuse; they should be put on the wagon. The few who just enjoy the life of a vagrant should not be given handouts to pursue that life at the expense of society and the truly needy.
Health care and law enforcement professionals mostly agree with this analysis. But delivering real help is hard work, and it takes time and money.
Casual community activists seeking their daily fix of feel-good want more immediate gratification and they want it at no cost. And some on the political left like vagrancy because they think it reflects badly on America.
Enough. Let’s stop using this problem and these people to treat our own emotional needs and for political purposes. Let’s instead help these people and fix this problem.
Let’s get vagrants off the streets and into the treatment they need. We owe it to them, to our country, to our culture and to ourselves.
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