Compassion, Not Prisons, Key To Building Strong Community!

“We have real evidence to support that housing first as a strategy will get the great majority of [homeless] people access to the support they need to then access follow up resources.”

— Mike Johnson, Denver Mayor, July 18, 2023

The first full day of the administration of Denver Mayor, Mike Johnson, he announced that he was proclaiming a state of emergency to address homelessness in the greater-Denver area. With supportive, newly-elected city council members standing with him during the announcement, Johnson said that he has plans to house 1,000 homeless Denverites by the end of this year. He said that he will use all city, state and federal funds available to get Denver citizens off the street and into housing and that he will not be deterred from this mission until his goal is achieved.

Here in Tennessee, state legislators have taken a different tact to “help” homeless individuals to get off of the street. They passed legislation that would make sleeping on any public property a felony punishable by a $5,000 fine and six years in prison. Basically this law criminalizes poverty and, while it serves the purpose of getting homeless citizens off Tennessee streets and enriching and filling up privately-held state prisons, these laws thrust our homeless population further into a capitalist-society black hole from which they will never be able to escape. Why is it that the Republican answer to everything is to, “lock them up!,” while they go out of their way to pardon the worst criminals in their circle?

I remember seeing a video clip of a meeting John Cooper had with a group of Davidson County residents when he was running for Mayor. One rather angry man complained that, “There’s a bum on every corner!” When residents say things like that it always makes me wonder why we as a community aren’t doing more to help those who find themselves down and out on our streets. How can this man expect a Mayor to solve a problem he himself isn’t willing to get involved in? As a community we’ve strayed too far from our responsibilities to one another. We’ve allowed politicians to poison us against our neighbors.

Homelessness in our communities is growing year after year. Older neighborhoods that were once affordable for low-wage workers and the elderly, have been “gentrified” for higher-wage workers. The elderly are being scammed out of their homes by unscrupulous lenders and shady developers looking to make a killing off the older home of someone’s financially naive grandma. It is expected that homelessness among the elderly will grow exponentially throughout the coming decade.

Judith Tackett writes in every issue of The Contributor about how our community can best and most effectively help those who find themselves without a warm, dry place to rest their heads. She is a staunch advocate of “Housing First,” which has shown great promise in Houston, Texas. I know she’ll be watching closely as Mayor Johnson, embarks on his quest to move Denver’s homeless neighbors into adequate housing and other supportive services that will actually HELP the homeless citizens of his community.

Summing up, Mayor Johnson said, “Those of us on this stage took an oath today, but for us to succeed, every Denverites must take their own oath, an oath to dream, to serve, and to deliver. To dream of a Denver bold enough to include all of us, to serve our city above ourselves, to march on shoulder to shoulder, undeterred by failure, until we deliver results.”

Can I have an Amen!

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