Letter: Asheville’s homelessness predicament

Graphic by Lori Deaton

[Regarding “Council OKs Ramada Proposal Despite Transparency Concerns,” Dec. 22, Xpress:] As a retired MSW (Master of Social Work) and substance abuse counselor, client homelessness was a daily issue in my work life. I offer no solutions, and I don’t believe there are any thus far that have ameliorated the burgeoning problem effectively. Big deal, but I have made professional and personal sacrifices to help clients have a bed to sleep on.

Relegating the dilemma of homelessness in Asheville to two agencies from California is questionable — no state has a bigger problem with unresolved homelessness than that state. And nonprofits stay alive by adopting a business model; in my experience, they devolve into a survival mentality that is more about the financial bottom line than about serving the needs of people. This is understandable to a certain degree relative to the role money plays in social services, but I have seen that agencies that stay alive in the struggle for funding often abandon their mission statements.

However, my concern goes in a different direction. I understand reasonable expectations and fully know that accountability and responsibility are core problems for persons who are afflicted with substance abuse and/or mental health problems — a significant cohort of the homeless population. I get the process of change and have been clean/sober for 38 years myself.

What I don’t comprehend or support is that over time, permissiveness increasingly substitutes for compassion. I live in senior housing downtown and walk on a daily basis. Every day and many times, I see homeless people existing in squalor occupying doorways, parks and other public spaces as if they were their personal fiefdoms. Discarded Styrofoam containers and partially eaten food are strewn everywhere.

Signing off on discordant behavior, whether by ignoring it, being apathetic or taking the “easy” way out and just not dealing with it helps no one. Certainly, the problem of homelessness in Asheville is more complex and larger than my understanding of it. But it is obvious that it is a problem that has festered, and the evidence is right in your face.

I will add a related observation that I believe is an integral factor in downtown homelessness. Every day, you will see and hear firetrucks and ambulances downtown. However, you could go days without seeing police in the vicinity other than where their station is, and I have never seen police walking a beat. Like a sore thumb, I saw many police officers downtown on Christmas Day when downtown was pretty much a ghost town, comparatively. Overtime and policing go together like pizza and beer, or whatever.

I understand that there is a shortage of police in Asheville and that recruitment is not going well. I also guess that potential law officers might not want to be in an oasis like Asheville, which is an outlier in North Carolina and especially in the western part of the state.

— Tom O’Brien


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7 thoughts on “Letter: Asheville’s homelessness predicament

  1. Lou

    I would like to see people held accountable for their behavior, homeless or not. Provide a place, like the Ramada, allow these poor souls to have their pets if they have them and ask them to sign a contract stating they agree to follow basic rules. Ask them to help out when they can; cleaning, trade skills, gardening, etc. If someone is provided a clean safe room and at least two meals a day, they will want to participate in community. Help them locate mental healh services and employment assistance. Collect clothing with which they can join society, whether that mean by getting a job at the local market, to helping to build homes that are affordable, so that more of us don’t end up on the street. As for the police, spread out the search; recruit BIPOC and women, give us some diversity! I am tired of being ignored or told to “leave if I don’t like it here” by hostile white man handed jobs they don’t want (if they can’t be a bully). It’s so simple.

  2. Mike R.

    “What I don’t comprehend or support is that over time, permissiveness increasingly substitutes for compassion.”
    This is one of the wisest statements I have seen concerning homelessness in the all the related debate.
    Public response that allows or enables behavior that is self destructive or damaging to the common good is NOT compassionate. True compassion sometimes requires being able to say no.

    • Lou

      Mike R. When you say “able to say no” what are you saying no to exactly? A decent, safe place to lay their head at night? A chance to exist without constantly being hungry? Protection from haters who would harm them? That is not compassion.

  3. Susie-Danzen

    I agree with Mr O’Brien.
    I remember as a young person living in Asheville, I was biking over to Dinner for the Earth (what it was before it was Earthfare). I needed to buy a Ma Roller for my back. The area of Lexington Ave was a bit sketchy back then, probably like it may be now. I recall the homeless people in that area often and the notion that it seemed fine as long as they remained in that area.
    I suppose there are so many in A-town now that it’s serious issue and needs to be dealt with.

  4. Enlightened Enigma

    Decades of ineffective NON leadership from elected democrackkks have brought this scourge on the city.
    WHY do democrackkks DESTROY ?

  5. Joseph

    I have literally seen APD, in cohoots with local aid organizations, deliver food and beverages to the all night camping partiers at 4 a.m. while they are actively smoking crack on city benches. Like the movie said, “if you build it they will come.” And here they are. Coddled and fed and given money for booze and drugs which some of them dispense on our streets. The trick is to weed out the 80% who are low life moochers with a long life of bad decisions from the 20% who want and can have a normal lifestyle. I have no answer for that but just know what I have seen.

    • James Whaley

      What if their disease.. were a disease of choices? Like these “bad decisions” you speak of and seem to know so well.. maybe you could then get turned away from help because you have “bad kidneys”.. how would you feel then? Because good people have “good kidneys”.. see what I’m saying? It’s deeper than your post would suggest.

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