So we wondered what he thought of Mayor Steve Bach's downtown revitalization program. The program will soon bring us downtown surveillance cameras, could lead to a limited panhandling ban, and might result in smoking ban in Acacia Park.
Many of the steps are directly aimed at reducing the "riff-raff" downtown, which includes many homeless people. But what about that smoking ban in Acacia? Isn't that just aimed at smokers of all stripes?
Handen says that personally, he'd love to see smoking banned just about everywhere; he hates the smell of smoke, and the litter caused by butts. But he does think a ban in Acacia serves another purpose.
"I think people are trying to make the downtown not hospitable to poor people and they try to do it, I think, in a very nice way," he says. "... No smoking in the park, part of me says that would be a nice thing, because I don't want there to be smoking anywhere. But I do think it's a veiled way of getting homeless out of there."
Handen says that overall, he's willing to give Bach's new plan for downtown, and for the homeless, "a shot." But he notes that many other plans to end homelessness have come and gone, and many of the ideas proposed by Bach are old ones that didn't work the first time around. (The Marian House soup kitchen, for instance, was at one time planned to sit next to the city's homeless shelter, but the plan was ditched after an outcry from neighbors.)
Handen says the real way to help the homeless is to meet needs that aren't being addressed: mental health care, housing for people leaving prison, and jobs. But he's also quick to acknowledge that homeless populations tend to follow resources, so if the city provides more resources, it may end up with more homeless people.
In short, it's a tricky issue.
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