Trauger column: A novel idea to give hand up, not hand out, to homeless
Once I built a railroad, now it’s done
Brother, can you spare a dime?
— Lyrics from “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” by E. Y. “Yip” Harburg
Glenwood’s City Council made a decision last Thursday to put private security out on the street. Was it the right decision? Time will tell.
The homeless, panhandling and camping situation is not a new problem, for Glenwood or anywhere. There are no easy answers.
Although, reviewing the comments on Facebook, it seems that the answer is simple — continue feeding them and create shelters. I wish it were that easy.
The homeless situation is a massively complex one. I don’t pretend to understand all the facets. I do know that what we have been doing — what we are doing — is not working.
It is not working for our homeless population. It is not working for our citizens. It is not working for our community, or for our region.
People are homeless for a variety of reasons. There are ones who, due to circumstances beyond their control, have found themselves in a dire predicament. It could be due to a loss of a job, a divorce, an abusive relationship, massive medical bills or some other life-altering event.
Then there are those for whom this is a lifestyle choice. For many of these, drugs and alcohol are involved. This is a deliberate decision.
Then there are those who have mental-health issues. Often, these are complicated by addictions. These are perhaps the saddest and most desperate of all of the groups.
Many of these people are our veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress. They need help. Often they want help, but due to our mental health system, and the hoops that are required by our Veterans Affairs (VA), they give up trying.
The fourth group is the rest of us.
It is the homeowner who lives next to the draw where the homeless make their nightly trek to their camps.
It is the retired couple who is afraid to go out of their home after dark.
It is the young woman walking home after work who is followed, night after night, by a homeless stalker.
It is the old gentleman who gave his last dollar to a panhandler — only to be screamed at and berated because he “didn’t give more.”
These are not made-up stories. These are events that I have first-hand knowledge of — and are frightening. We cannot forget this group.
But I have hope. There might be a solution. What we are doing is not working. What we are doing is keeping people stuck in a vicious cycle.
It is time to do something differently.
First, the free food and handouts have to go.
A few years ago, a local lady by the name of Rachael Windh told me of an idea she had. That idea had stuck with me. It took the concept of the Housing First model and modified it to provide a “way out” for those who want help.
I feel the spears in my back, but please hear me out.
Rachael’s Shining Mountain Community (my name for it) would be a place where those who need a bed, a meal, a safe place and a way out could come. But there are no free handouts here.
This is how it would work.
If someone chooses to participate, they would meet with a life coach. Needs would be assessed, goals would be set and a contract signed. Based on needs and goals, the commitment to stay in the community would be for a few weeks, a few months or a couple of years.
When the contract ends, you are out. It would not be permanent, and there would be stringent rules.
This community could provide “wrap-around services,” including detox, mental-health programs, AA sponsors and meetings, physicians and dental care, job training, career placement, and VA assistance.
Within a defined, very short time, those who were able would be required to, 1. Find a job; 2. Enroll in an educational or job training program; or, 3. Participate in community volunteer work for 40 hours a week.
They would also be required to participate and help within the community. Rachael explains it using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The simplified version is that individuals need food, water, safety and sleep. They need to be part of something greater than themselves — to contribute, to feel a sense of belonging and accomplishment. That develops dignity and a feeling of self-respect, which can lead to those individuals helping others.
Recently, this became clear to me as Rachael and I were talking and a young man walked up to us handing Rachael a slip of paper with his name and phone number. He said he overheard us talking and wanted to help.
He had been homeless for quite a while. He said he is in recovery, working and now has a place to live. He feels passionately about helping others get on their feet. He affirmed that what Rachael was explaining would work.
Rachael’s idea is one whose time has come. The free food and handouts in the downtown area are counter-productive. Get real help to those who want it.
Come on, local governments, at least get the ball rolling by coming to the table. Doing nothing is costing us. What have we got to lose? If it doesn’t work, we can turn it into senior or “affordable” housing.
If it works, it is a win for everyone.
In the meantime, a little extra security in Glenwood Springs couldn’t hurt. We all have a need to feel safe.
Kathryn Trauger lives in and writes from her hometown of Glenwood Springs. She has served the community as a member of Glenwood Springs City Council and chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission, and she currently serves as the chair of the city’s Financial Advisory Board. Her column, Perspective, appears monthly in the Post Independent. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 970-379-4849.
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