Responding to Michael Colasurdo’s comments in a letter to the editor, “Stop paying for the homeless and put them to work.”
Homelessness is a concern in King County and the Kent community. Their numbers are increasing. Their presence is noted in their camping in city parks and leaving their trash and feces at the site; begging for money at numerous street corners; break-ins in homes, cars, mailboxes to acquire goods, money to sell for drugs; leaving their garbage outside food banks and use of the library to sleep at the desks, etc.
The community attempts to resolve this problem by offering government funds to provide for some of their basic needs and to delegate to the police department the responsibility to insure their actions are kept within certain boundaries. City and county employees are required to periodically pick up waste at campsites; churches are asked to provide meals and sleeping access during cold nights. The list goes on. Yet we ask none of them to be accountable for themselves. The current approach to reducing homelessness does not seem to be working.
The community approach needs to change. How could a community possibly do that? Perhaps an open discussion amongst local residents, police departments and nonprofits, with multiple viewpoints, could come up with a better solution. One that results in a more responsible approach and commitment by the givers and receivers. One that reestablishes the possibility that a homeless person can regain their self-respect, self-confidence and accept that they too are required to be accountable for their actions.
I offer one option to initiate the discussion. A plan is written with select homeless individuals that seeks to make them ultimately self-confident, self-reliant and accountable for themselves, providing for most of their daily needs. This plan has a time frame and defines what the homeless person and the community are each responsible for, to successfully accomplish each individual’s plan.
For example, a homeless person is jailed for theft. They get out of jail card is a contract that defines their plan to rebuild their lives so that they can regain their self-respect; self-confidence and earn a living, having acquired a skill for which there is a need and a livable wage and be accountable to live responsibly. The plan provides for both parties to be responsible for the success of the individual.
The community provides temporary housing; detox; clean clothes, skills training, etc. The homeless individual agrees to stay off drugs and alcohol; not do an unlawful act and identify what job skill they wishes to acquire. Given the opportunity for an education in that job skill, the individual puts in the work to successfully attain the end product of the plan they signed up for.
They receive assistance acquiring their initial job, once successfully completing the training. But what if they falter on the path to independence? They are confronted with their misstep, asked if they want to continue their part of the plan. If,yes, they are given one more chance. If no or they falter once more, they are jailed and made to work daily at a task that requires their exertion of significant effort. This they do until their penalty issued by the court is fulfilled. If freed and taken into custody again, their penalty is doubled each time they are found guilty. They then resume their daily work task, until they become convinced that they too are responsible for themselves.
Bottom line: If a person is capable of acquiring some useful skill, there is no “free lunch.” Let’s begin to discuss how our community can employ smarter practices to benefit all. Contact your City Council members; police leadership; relevant nonprofits and churches involved with this issue, asking to begin this dialogue.
– Jim Renton