Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners said last week that they are “frustrated” with the homeless problems downtown.
… Yes, we know. Frustrated still would be a better statement. And so are we. It’s time for a new approach.
You see, the Mayor and Commissioners have been “frustrated” with this problem for their entire three year term. They have been throwing proverbial “stuff” against the wall every so often, seeing if anything would stick. Nothing has.
Now, the yearly onslaught of homeless, cold from up north, are about to arrive..
Here’s how the last three years have progressed for this Commission.
In the beginning, it was the the First Baptist Church, ( near City Hall at Broward and 3rd Avenue) feeding in the parking lot behind their church.
Commissioner Rogers said it became “problematic”, and that the City asked the Church to stop.
After that, the City has been trying to just relocate the problem from downtown. First, it was over off Sunrise Blvd., where one blogger said they should move the problem there, because that area just “didn’t matter”. The folks around that area disagreed.
Then it was proposed to go over in Flagler Heights, just across Federal Hwy. from Victoria Park. You know how that turned out.
Then it was the roving roach coach idea. The Commissioners decided to let the Salvation Army’s Mobile Feeding Unit feed in different areas, so as to not overwhelm any area. Unfortunately, the first area proposed was south of the New River, across from Rio Vista! Needless to say, that program was pulled before ever getting off the ground.
Now, with the homeless-issue tension mounting, the Commission is once again scrambling for an answer. They asked new Manager Feldman and old Attorney Stewart for a plan – quick !
A new approach
We need to try something different. Lead the way!
In the old way of looking at it, we have been calling all the folks in Stranahan Park, the homeless.
I propose that we stop that and realize a few things.
Most of the folks hanging out, waiting for a styrofoam container at the Park, are not “the homeless”, as we think of the homeless. We have a homeless shelter on Sunrise Blvd. for the unfortunate souls that lose their home/jobs etc. and need a temporary place to stay. I call these the “situationally” homeless, and they almost always find their way to the HAC (Homeless assistance Center) and are then helped, and make their way back into the mainstream.
The folks of Stranahan Park generally fall into the other following categories :
The Drifters – These are the 40% that wander around the country, looking for an easy life, free food, lax laws. We should convince this group that Fort Lauderdale doesn’t fall into that category of cities. Enforcing aggressive panhandling laws, public intoxication laws, private property laws and the like should keep them moving on. Add in a couple of hundred bus tickets out of town per month for good measure.
The Mentally Disabled – These folks may very well not have a place to stay, but it is because they aren’t able to. We should help these folks. Daily trips to the park from mental health professionals and a program to house them and monitor their needs should do it. It will cost something, but not doing it may very well be more expensive ( and surely less compassionate).
Criminals – Hence, it is the perfect time to find an alternative to a jail sentence to uplift the criminal justice system and to protect the public at large as the bad guys like to mix in, to blend in the feeding areas. Many have warrants, some are on probation or parole. . The cops need to go in, maybe undercover, arrest the bad guys and remove them.
Hopeless – This is an eclectic group, the toughest nut. Many are just unfortunates that need mentors, jobs, advice, and direction. Sometimes they live with their aunts, grandmothers, friends, sometimes not. They don’t travel, they live here – and there. They are often the unemployed. Most are undereducated.
Here are a few things we could try… First,
Citizens need to be informed NOT TO GIVE TO PANHANDLERS! They need to be re-directed to other ways to help the homeless. Many cities have old parking meters around their downtowns with instructions to put money there to really help the homeless.
Then, we should form a volunteer group of citizens/professionals and send them into the park daily (or any other place this group begins to congregate), with job referral/training information, affordable housing lists, veteran- issues help, legal help, mental health professionals etc.. Look at it like a Big Brother/Big Sister kind of program.
This group of volunteers would need to have a law enforcement component attached. The volunteers could be on call as well. The City could arr
ange a phone number –
CALL 1-800 GET HELP
When a problem is seen, the TEAM would be called into action…
If you were expecting a simple answer, there isn’t one. But if we keep doing the same things – we can expect the same results!