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City Officials Too Complacent When it Comes to Homeless

By Fred Parry

The problems surrounding the growing number of homeless people in Columbia seem to be on the brink of becoming untenable. We’ve all noticed the increase in homeless encampments, panhandlers and drifters listlessly wandering the streets of Columbia. While I realize that I’ve already violated many of the rules of political correctness, sensitivity and tolerances in the first two sentences, my fear is that our city is about to be overwhelmed by a series of circumstances that will be hard to reverse. It’s time for city officials to step up and take the problem more seriously before we reach that dreaded point of no return.

In recent years, Columbia has gained a reputation for being a city that is resource-rich in its ability to provide services to those who are “unhoused.” If we were living up to that claim, you wouldn’t see scores of people sleeping on public sidewalks and between dumpsters in Columbia’s downtown allies. Not only has our city proven itself incapable of housing the homeless, we’ve dropped the ball in terms of providing the necessary mental health and substance abuse assistance that is closely associated with being chronically homeless.

Despite of the millions of dollars spent annually by our city and county governments and social service agencies on the issue, we have proven ourselves unable to deal with the harsh realities of Columbia’s homeless population in a humane way. Unfortunately, you won’t read about it in the local newspapers or see it on the evening news, but the number of homeless people who die from exposure and drug overdoses in our community is staggering.

My heart’s desire is to be compassionate about Columbia’s homeless population. However, 1 can’t set aside the incompetence of public officials and social service do-gooders who seem to ignore the obvious inhumanity and danger associated with the increasing migration of homeless people into our community.

All of us should be concerned by the threats to public safety created when desperate people turn to violence to get the fix they nee, whether it’s food, alcoho! or opioids. Beyond just the destruction of private property, you should know that nearly 40% of all police and medical calls in Columbia are related in some way to Columbia’s homeless population. When police officers are dealing with the vagrancy and disorderly conduct of a homeless man in a downtown alley, they can’t respond to calls in your neighborhood. Columbia’s police force is already down by more than 40 uniformed officers. Calls for robbery, vandalism and suspicious vehicles take a very low priority when our law enforcement resources are stretched so thin.

I love the fact that Columbia is a caring and compassionate community, however, loften wonder if we’re doing more harm than good when we fail to provide the necessary resources to this vulnerable population. The competition for public funding among so many social service agencies would surprise the casual observer. There’s so much money being thrown at the problem, but there’s little demand for any level of accountability in regards to how these dollars are spent. If the metric for success is in any way tied to getting people off the st eets, Columbia, tragically, deserves a failing grade.

It’s worth repeating that Columbia’s homeless population is not connected in any way to a lack of affordable housing. You could offer an endless supply of free housing to anyone who wants it, but the problem won’t go away until you address the root causes.

Columbia’s homeless problem feels like a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Those involved with area law enforcement will tell you that authorities in the Kansas City are regularly providing one-way bus tickets to Columbia to homeless individuals on the streets in their community. You can be angry that public officials are responding to a crisis in that manner, but at least they’re doing something. You can’t say the same about Columbia’s elected officials. They’re more worried about climate action and creating a sanctuary city for transgender individuals. What will it take to get the attention of Columbia’s mayor and city council members? Will it come down to a vicious attack on a college student by a deranged assailant who came to Columbia under the false pretenses that he/she might get the help they so desperately needed? The danger is real.

Spending $18 million on the new Opportunity Campus for homeless individuals is only going to exacerbate the problem because it will feed the false belief that Columbia is a good place to be homeless. Rather than sticking their heads in the sand, it’s time for public officials to make this their top priority. While there are no easy answers, their current complacency is completely unacceptable.©

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