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Publisher’s column: Whose problem is it, the homeless or those with homes?

Michael Bennett
Mike Bennett
Staff Photo |

As the smoke-filled skies of summer usher in fall, the “homeless problem” has become a part of our local news and public discourse. This has been a worldwide issue for centuries. Places like the Middle East and Africa have far greater challenges brought on by wars and famine.

Who has the “problem” here in Glenwood Springs? Is it the homeless or those of us with homes?

I look at these folks and wonder what may be done to help these poor souls or if they really want or are capable of receiving it. For some of our homeless population, this is a chosen lifestyle. For others, it is caused by hard luck during difficult times. Addiction to alcohol or other drugs is a challenge for some. Certainly a group of the homeless have mental health challenges. Many of our homeless are veterans. Some are highly educated. Some fit in a few of these groups.

In a recent discussion with Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson, he said the department is facing a record number of incidents. The recent flowerpot destruction was a rare case of crime against the public — Wilson said the majority of the crime among the homeless is toward each other.

Local business leaders and politicians worry about the potential negative effect the increasing homeless population may have on tourism. Then again, sales tax receipts have been on a steady increase. Anecdotally, I have heard downtown businesses rave about how great their business has been this season. Earlier this week I ran into Patty Rockstar from High Country Gems and Minerals. She told me that with the increased activity she has expanded her business hours and added employees to meet demand.

While the level of business activity is strong despite the increased homeless population, who really wants to be on vacation in a place where they may have to deal with panhandling?

Living and working in the heart of Glenwood Springs downtown, I encounter the homeless on a regular basis. Some of the regular folks I see smile and share a “hello,” while others do look pretty scary as they stare into space mumbling unintelligible words.

In the last two years I’ve had just two unsettling experiences. I had an individual who wanted to sell me a painting for a quarter. She got very upset with me because she didn’t believe I looked at her offering long enough before I said I wasn’t interested. The second experience was jack-in-the-box-like. As I went to open the apartment dumpster to drop in some trash, I disturbed a homeless man who was inside. He startled me as he climbed out and grunted at me. Both experiences left me feeling sad.

Some folks suggest that if we stopped offering social services and food to the homeless that they will leave for a more inviting town. I question whether that is truly the right course of action. As part of society do we not have an obligation to help take care of those who do not have the capacity to take care of themselves?

When Wilson spoke to the members of Partners 4 Glenwood earlier this month, it became clear that this is a complex issue both legally and morally. We need to be educated as to what can or cannot be done legally. Then, as a community, we need to decide how we want to treat our fellow human beings.

Partners will organize public discussion on the topic in October. Whether you are comfortably living in a home or you are homeless, it is a discussion worthy of our time. Look for details in the PI as they become available.

Michael Bennett is publisher of the Post Independent.


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