Reader: Let's talk about helping vs. enabling 


Like Councilman Bill Murray ("From camps to courts," Cover, Nov. 22), I have had the experience of trying to bring possible good practices from elsewhere to our local "homeless establishment" (the Continuum of Care). My year-long run at the brick wall involved looking at what Albuquerque was doing to reduce panhandling in their community. After a year of nagging, I was told "We called Albuquerque and decided we weren't going to do it." No public discussion, no feedback, nada.

And our community has yet to have a serious conversation regarding "helping vs. enabling." The vast majority of homeless folks really do want to get off our streets, work hard to do so with the help of our many agencies and are, for the most part, invisible. It is the minority, a very visible minority, that is the problem.

A recent survey, admittedly not very scientific, found that one out of six patrons of our Downtown "didn't know" or "did not want to leave or streets." Our town is a good place to escape homelessness, thanks to all the assistance available (and an improving economy). Unfortunately, it has gained the reputation as "a good place to be homeless" thanks to the many handouts available. Someone being homeless is a sign there is a serious problem going on, and the last thing we as a society should be doing is enabling it.

Some communities take more care, as they aid homeless people, to get to know each person and what their needs really are. Here, it is all too often, "no questions asked," and ends up aiding and abetting the person's situation. Again, it is a small (but rather problematic) minority, but there are some who ought to be confronted on their choices and respectfully informed that "We are not in the homeless-enabling business" and told "no more for now." No one is ever totally barred from aid by this.

Some communities actually do this and focus their energies on those trying to move off the streets. Yes, there are those who are quite disabled and unable to organize getting to a healthier place, but they get identified and "carried along" until they can see improving their situation. This requires getting to know EVERYONE who receives support from the community. Is that really so tough? Alas, I have little hope that our town's providers will have the gumption to even seriously discuss this.

— Matthew Parkhouse, RN, Colorado Springs

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