Out of Sight - Out of Mind
Here is an example of the difficulty of wanting to be a public official. You are required to look at an issue from both sides, be fair and try to compromise. Which means people will see you as being on the opposite side, not fair and uncompromising.
Take my good friend "Ernie" who has invited me to the Rally for H.O.P.E. (Homelessness Organizing for Power and Equality). It will be Thursday, May 13th from 3-5 p.m. in front of City Hall. This rally is a protest against the Center City Commission's sponsored legislation that has gone to the City Council to create a "No-Panhandling Zone" within the Downtown core.
Ernie's argument is that these laws start off targeting only the most aggressive panhandling but soon becomes a tool to harass the homeless and drive them away. Once away, out of sight out of mind. He points out that Memphis has no free shelter for the homeless and that many have mental, medical and substance abuse problems.
I agree with Ernie. We have turned our jails into mental institutions. This action will push many of these individuals in to communities that are unable to address these problems.
As a community organizer I've seen how government policies can be less about solving a problem and more about moving the problem so as not to be embarrassed or inconvenienced. This type of action only intensifies and indigent the issue.
I also have another friend by the name of "Bert". He works for the Center City Commission and sees the issue from those who are negatively impacted by panhandlers who harass visitors and customers; who relieve themselves outside; and general are a nuisance.
I also operate a business, a community laundromat. The constant problem of vagrants standing outside the establishment begging for money, and using the restrooms to bathe runs away customers and cost the business thousands of dollars in lost revenue annually.
As County Commissioner I will work closely with community based efforts to find solutions to long standing problems. Often this requires working outside the box and being willing to take chances.
The issue with those for and against the panhandlers ordinance is that they are both correct. We can not simple ship our problems to other communities and we can not ignore the negative impact these problems have on our businesses.
Often it is necessary to push for short term answers while working on long term solutions. Protecting our Downtown businesses is a must, but Memphis must increase the number of shelters and rehab centers. We must focus on prevention and ask the questions: Why? Why is there a homeless problem? What? What are effective methods being used to improve the quality of life for these citizens? How much? Are we prepared to pay the short term costs of addressing the homeless in our city or are will willing to fact the long term cost of ignoring this problem.
When the May 4th Primary for County Commission is over and I will know if the voters have decided to give me a chance to represent them. It will be important to listen to all sides and work to find common ground. I am not saying this will be easy, but anything worth while rarely is.