[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