John Spitzberg is a retired social worker and local activist. He’s been critical of the proposed downtown Business Improvement District, but believes a different BID model could benefit the city’s homeless. He adapted this piece from comments he gave to Asheville City Council at its June 12 meeting. Council chose to delay the BID until the Fall so changes to the proposal could be made.
I am a member of the Veterans for Peace and we are concerned for homeless veterans. I am also a member of the Asheville Homeless Network, an organization of the homeless, formerly homeless and supporters. We are a grassroots group dedicated to the welfare of our members and others.
I have done some research on the Asheville Business Improvement District (BID) plan. The only reference that I found as to how the “Ambassadors” would deal with the homeless was on page 10 where it is stated that the ambassadors would provide human service information to homeless and an ambiguous reference to Quality of Life Interaction which probably means homelessness and panhandling.
This prompted me to look at other cities and how their BID programs addressed homeless and poverty stricken people. In Washington, D.C. the BID supports funding of housing for homeless people, crucial supportive services, social services, mental health programs, shelters, street food programs and education. The city government is an integral part of the solution. There are outreach service team members (hosts) and an entire program with funded workers.
In Los Angeles, there is a BID ACTION team which has been recognized for its humanitarian outlook on helping the homeless. Cities such as Long Beach, Calif.; Shelby, N.C., Lexington, Ky., Detroit, Mich. are doing similar programs.
In Westwood, Calif., the ambassadors will be trained by people assisting the homeless to connect people to non-profit social service. Notice the word “trained.” In Portland, Ore. the city has provided 2 million dollars in pilot funding for a program to help the homeless and there is no mention that this money came from the federal government. It comes from city and private funding apparently.
In Broward County, Fla. formerly homeless men and women are hired to help the homeless with an Outreach Team involved with their BID. Estimates are that there are at least 2,400 fewer arrests each year as a result of the Homeless Outreach Team. In Pasadena there is a program targeting unnecessary incarceration or hospitalization of people with psychiatric disabilities. In Columbus, Ohio there is an outreach team with close contacts to the homeless service providers funded and directed by the Downtown BID.
The critical component to the success of these programs and other programs is that they do not put a lot of restrictions on the assistance that they are offering and offer help at non-traditional hours when other services are closed. In my research on the ordinances promulgated by this governing body, there may be some which are contrary to the civil rights of the homeless.
The BID proposals here in Asheville will only serve to make life much more difficult for the homeless, in my opinion, if hired ambassadors are used to harass, persecute and punish marginalized and vulnerable people. If you look at the interim board who put this program together, there is not one member from the social service community. This is a mistake.
There are other programs out there. It is not good enough to simply worry about tourism and dollars. Take time to do some research.