Housing, not fines, is solution
The most common complaint I hear about downtown Johnson City is that there’s never enough parking. Many of the businesses I frequent are standing room only at least a couple of nights a week. So I’m having trouble understanding how a handful of homeless people are damaging business downtown.
It would be hard to know from last night’s (April 19) meeting, as not one person would stand publicly to express their support for this ordinance. The Johnson City commissioners were not swayed at all by the dozens of citizens who spoke out against it.
Mr. Wise said, “It’s no act of mercy to allow some of the most vulnerable people to sleep on the sidewalk,” and I am in complete agreement with that. However, issuing a fine is no solution when they have nowhere else to go. Pushing people to the edges does nothing to solve the problem, it only takes those vulnerable people away from resources and the safety that downtown spaces can offer. The best solution to homelessness is housing first, so that a person can get clean and pursue job training without the chronic stress of being homeless. If you are a downtown merchant and you do not support this ordinance, I would urge you to contact the city commissioners.
If you do support it, I would encourage you to speak publicly about the specific issues that you are having and let us work together with the city to address those issues. Many business owners sat in silence at the meeting. I hope, unlike our commissioners, they heard the words of those, their customers, that spoke in opposition, and I hope they will think carefully about the points that were made. This ordinance is not a solution to a problem that is very real.
Fining homeless is futile
Like so many cities in America, Johnson City has had an influx of homeless persons, and it is a pity that a country as great as this one has such an insidious problem. Although it is somewhat understandable that folks are a bit upset over a homeless person sleeping on a business doorstep; it is unconscionable that folks think a fine is a solution to this problem.
Fining an unemployed, homeless individual is a lesson in futility in which the taxpayer will eventually cover somewhat extravagant costs in court and attorney fees. Rather than further displace the already displaced, an outright act of cruelty toward many homeless veterans and families, some cities have designated areas where it is actually OK for the homeless to be homeless. Some cities have even erected little houses for the homeless and programs to assess capabilities and job training. Some cities have actually acted upon the adage of “being my brother’s keeper.”
All problems contain solutions — don’t fine the symptom, fix the cause! Johnson City is a good city and this is a time to push compassion to the forefront — these are people, folks, your people; God’s children all of you — stand up for decency. You don’t fine a vet because he or she is homeless! Or a family. Surely you can find a better, kinder, more conscientious way.
Try outreach programs
Yet again, the judicial system is attempting to dig into the pockets of its subjects.
No, there should not be a fine imposed on people who have no money for one, and no options for two. What the folks at the Johnson City social services office should consider is sending people to help the homeless individuals by legitimately considering what these individuals have been through. Reaching them as constables, sheriffs and deputies may have many effects, but only reaching them as human beings will enable us to address the foundation of the matter: why these people are in their situation to begin with.
Approaching this situation as humanitarians will enable us to prevent these situations in the future. Approaching it as a legal debacle will only leave us with unpaid "camping" tickets and even more disassociated human beings.
Keep an eye out each week for another Question of the Week, but you may send us letters about any topic important to you. Authors must sign their letters and include addresses and phone numbers for verification. Letters may be no longer than 300 words and will be edited for grammar, style and length. Send your submission to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717 or [email protected].