Unlike the liberal establishment, I have never lumped "the homeless" into one broad category.
But it is some of the alders and the Madison-area Ministry types who are lumping together what is a panoply of conditions, under the sympathetic term "homeless": the frightened mother with suckling child fleeing an abuse relationship; the SSI recipient battling mental cobwebs; the juiced-up, aggressive predator. It is only the latter I call "vagrants."
My crusade is waged against those who celebrate the Brittingham Park squatters and Bassett Street neighborhood shakedown artists as "victims" and shame the rest of us for being insensitive, capitalist, racist, or what have you.On The Daily Page Forum, "Sombrero Fallout" gives a stark read on this mentality. Intimidation and harassment? Like 9/11, we have it coming:
Government and supposedly "responsible" polite society has for the most part turned its back, evading its responsibility to care for the downtrodden and the dregs. When our worst-off run out of options, no one should be surprised that aggressive handling is the result.
The man actually has the gall to blame Fred Mohs for a recent murder:
Had Mohs been active in demanding a higher standard from his peers in the past, the Brittany Zimmermann case and many others like it might never've happened.
Read the entire sticky wicket.
Homeless by choice
I said this in my third post on this issue:
Many vagrants are sick (with substance abuse often exacerbating mental illness), some of them may be lazy (a minority), but too many are dangerous.
This is not to say that services to people down on their luck should stop. But it is reasonable to expect:
- A commitment to improve one's life and
- Strong safeguards to protect residents, customers and tourists from the excesses of a relative -- but apparently growing -- few.
Thanks to Madison Police Lt. Joe Balles, for saying very plainly that, for many, the homeless lifestyle is a choice.
Lt. Joe Balles, rhymes with "Call us"
We make a mistake when we expect that everyone will make the same choice as an arugula-fed psych major from Shorewood Hills. I am absolutely blown away by Lt. Balles' take on the problem. I find nothing with which to disagree and much to admire. Said Lt. Balles in my last post:
We are seeing an increasing number of homeless men who do not want services, they don't want shelter, and they just want to survive anyway they can. Some of these men are in that category of "predators" I described above, some simply have significant mental health issues, yet do not want to take their daily medications, etc. Most are getting by, some albeit better than others. ...
"When you have individuals in the United States of America who have the right to live a homeless lifestyle if they so choose, you will never really end homelessness."
Behavior and not homelessness itself is what should be actionable ... but, as Lt. Balles says, getting a court commitment is next to impossible and convictions very difficult. Therefore, failing to address the permissive attitude reflected by "Sombrero Fallout" is like spraying mosquitoes without draining the swamp.
Welcome to the story
- Welcome to the story, reports the Wisconsin State Journal, in Saturday's edition.
- A UW student offers his take on issue in The Daily Cardinal: "Madison must reform homelessness policies":
Living on the first floor of a building surrounded by homeless/transient hang-outs, seeing a man urinate outside my window is common. Hearing obscenities screamed during the day is common. Being asked for money is common. Seeing girls walk past and be verbally assaulted with sexually charged language is common. ...
Life for them is too easy. Restaurants give them food, students give them money and meanwhile the city allows them to wash themselves in the bathrooms of public buildings.
- Look for Madison's troubles to make the pages of the Chicago Tribune. Lt. Balles escorted the Trib reporter through the battle zone:
Today I had a national correspondent, Tim Jones, from the Chicago Tribune work w/ me most of the day. He came into town last night... and we hooked up around 9:30 a.m. this morning. He's very interested in the community's reaction to the transient population in light of the recent homicides we have had. ...
I took him down to the Electric Earth Cafe this morning where two MPD officers were meeting w/ business reps from the W Wash area... something they have been doing since last fall. They just happened to be meeting today... so Tim was able to sit in on that.
We then went for a tour of the Brittingham and Bassett neighborhoods so he could see the neighborhoods where these two events happened. At 11 a.m. we went up to the Law School where Prof Mike Scott's class was in session and we heard a presentation on registered sex offenders who are homeless in downtown Madison (approximately 20 or so it was believed). After a burger at the Memorial Union, he walked the State Street beat the rest of the day and night with Officer Meredith York who is more or less the afternoon sheriff of State Street.
If homelessness is a condition that will never be eradicated, then policing is the first and -- in my book -- the best social program to protect the citizenry AND to help the truly down and out.
The "broken windows" concept of policing can work here if it has the support of public officials. But when only one of 20 alders will even answer West Washington Avenue resident Dan O'Rourke's appeal for action prospects are not good.
, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writing in the Wall Street Journal on March 14, 2008 crisply defines the essence of the broken windows:
To restore a city and its neighborhoods, fight crime successfully and everything else will start to fall into place.
The Manhattan Institute chronicles that before new Police Chief William Bratton began his "broken windows" policing, the degradation of the MacArthur Park ("And I'll never have that recipe again") area of Los Angeles:
...had reached a level of squalor that stunned even long-time observers. Encampments composed of tents and cardboard boxes covered practically every inch of sidewalk. Their 1,500 or so occupants, stretched out in lawn chairs or sprawled on the pavement, injected heroin and smoked crack and marijuana in plain view. Feces and urine coated the ground. Crime was pervasive.
The disorder was the consequence of a destructive ideology that turned what had been a seedy downtown neighborhood for the down-and-out into an outright hell. In the 1960s, civil libertarians started eviscerating laws against public intoxication, vagrancy and loitering, which the police had used to maintain order.
Next came the homeless advocates.
No right to break laws
Los Angeles began cracking down on its vagrant abuses. Police Chief William Bratton assigned an additional 50 officers to start the Safer City Initiative. McDonald writes in the Wall Street Journal on November 27, 2007:
Judged by crime statistics alone ... results have been remarkable. Major felonies on Skid Row dropped 32% during the last year ... Drug overdose and natural deaths were down over 50% through June 2007; emergency medical incidents ... were down 17%.
The most important changes have been in the code of the treets. The area's most vulnerable populations -- elderly tenants in SROs (single resident occupancy), addicts trying to go clean and the mentally ill -- have been liberated to use the sidewalks and parks.
McDonald quotes L.A. Police Officer Deon Joseph: "The idea that because people were homeless, they had a right to break 'minor' laws ... has led to nothing but death, disease and despair."