I have tried to be precise in my language but perhaps have not always succeeded.
In the very first blog on this subject, "Fred Mohs is right about vagrancy," I wrote:
The subject is the growing problem of single, homeless men, which constitute 42 percent of the total homeless population, according to the City of Madison Community Development Office.
Let's not prettify our terms. I will call these men "vagrants" so as to distinguish them from young mothers with children fleeing abusive situations.
By "vagrants" I mean people whose purpose in life is to wander the streets and get high and, in too many cases, act as predators. I should not have left the impression that all "homeless" men are vagrants.
- There are many, probably the majority, of male "homeless" -- many of whom you will never see on park benches downtown -- who are just trying to get by, to survive as best they can, without degrading the surrounding community.
- They are grappling with demons or setbacks but trying to better their lives, want an opportunity or, at the very least, are not aggressing the larger population.
- That's a mea culpa, of sorts.
But there is a significant subset of the homeless male population who are accosting people on the street, committing crime, polluting our public spaces. These are the people who have taken over Brittingham Park, who invade homes in the Bassett Street neighborhood, who intimidate West Washington Avenue, who litter Wisconsin Avenue.
And we would be hearing much more about it except that the business people and landlords in those areas, except for Fred Mohs, are loathe to draw more attention to the situation because they don't want to scare away business.
I continue to believe that the larger social milieu of liberal guilt and a sophisticated social services network provides the breeding ground that provides these "outliers" some sustenance and cover.
It is the impulse that won amateur social service provider Kristen Petroshius general kudos when she guilt-tripped the neighborhood surrounding Brittingham Park for complaining about the diminishment of that public space.
And, as you will see, the homeless industry is reticent to speak out against the predators -- to their detriment, I believe.
I did Mitch Henck's Outside the Box radio program Tuesday morning. Sure enough, Brenda Konkel called in. Mitch and I had a devil of a time getting Brenda to admit that there was any kind of problem. The alder even posited that the Bassett neighborhood predators are not homeless. Perhaps they leave their homes in the morning for their daily aggressive panhandling shifts. Gotta go, honey. Get the kids off to school.
Odd that the police would call them "transients."
Late Tuesday afternoon, I attended the homelessness pow wow at the WilMar Neighborhood Center on Jenifer Street. Who else cross-pollinates like Blaska's Blog?
The stated subjects were: "hunger, homelessness, and profiling."
Profiling? After a very decent interval, wherein all present had an opportunity to get their thoughts jotted down on a giant Post-It sheet, I ventured this topic: "behavior."
Brenda, who runs the Tenant Resource Center, objected. "Where would we put it?" I suggested that Joe Lindstrom, one of the facilitators, was a bright fellow and could write it wherever he wanted.
I have been frustrated with the Left's unwillingness to come to terms with the behavior issue. But Ed Jepsen, who was with Friends of Yahara River Parkway, offered up a carefully worded critique about "making public spaces accessible to all people."
We see the people who live in the parks ... and transient behavior that some people interpret as anti-social and scary behavior they don't understand.
Some people interpret? Put me down as one of those "some people." Ed, understanding scary behavior doesn't make it any less scary. Given what we are learning, understanding that behavior ought to scare the bejesus out of all of us.
Being held accountable
The guy who came closest to what I have been saying was Dean Loumos of Housing Initiatives. He started off by saying that he wasn't going to pray for anyone -- that could not have been lost on the other note-taker, Linda
Clifford Ketchum of Madison-Area Urban Ministry. At last week's homelessness group hug, she led a prayer session for my poor, sand-blasted soul.
Dean said, "No program will succeed without responsibility." His Housing Initiatives program places 130 people -- two-thirds of them men -- in low-cost housing. The program picks up two-thirds of the cost, thanks to state and federal grants. "If they fuck up, we kick them out. Same thing as at a job. You are held accountable."
Then he said this:
It's O.K. to point fingers at programs that are messing up.
In a chat afterwards, Dean said most of his clientele are SSI recipients, people with mental issues. They are easier to help. It's the booze-addicted who are the hard cases. No surprise, there.
Toward the very end of the session, another fellow (and I did not catch his name) asked, "What should happen in Brittingham Park and what should be done on the Yahara River?" where there are encampments of homeless. (That is the unreported story of this issue.)
So, we're making progress. On all sides.
The bottom line from Tuesday's Wil-Mar session was that more coordination would be nice -- a point made by Dave Glomp -- but more services are what is needed. And that requires more money.
And yet Madison and Dane County offer the best set of social services in the state. Even some of the WilMar participants quietly acknowledge that. Over half of Dane County's $440 million annual budget goes for a wide range of social services.
If we get more money, right now, I vote that more money goes to the police. Law enforcement remains the greatest social program going. With the greatest payback short term and long term. I still have a great post on that subject.
It's O.K. to be poor
A little perspective, folks. It's O.K. to be poor. It's even O.K. to be homeless -- not very pleasant. Certainly a cross to bear. But under no circumstances is it permissible to violate public spaces.
Almost a full hour after the formal program ended, a nice lady who has taken on a personal project to study homelessness -- she has testified at City and County budget hearings -- asked what I think in my innermost mind when I see a man crumpled up on the steps of Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Madison.
I did not fully answer her question then and so will here now:
When I see such a person, I hope the hell the poor bastard gets the help he needs if he is willing to take it and better himself.
But I don't accept her proposition. Most of the people I see waiting for the Porchlight shelter to open are in animated conversation, at high decibels. It's almost convivial, except for the profanity. I did tell the dear lady this:
I will not step through pools of piss or hear my wife called the C word for refusing to fork over on the spot. (We are consistent United Way givers.)
That kind of behavior serves as aggressive panhandling for whatever Police Chief Noble Wray wants and more in his next budget, with my blessing.