(Editor’s note: You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)
I hear over and over that the true measure of a society can be found by how it treats its most vulnerable members. That refrain is sung every time another subsidy program is funded to support the vagrants who camp on our streets, defecate on our sidewalks and leave needles for our children to discover.
The recent super-cold snap that plunged temperatures past 10 degrees below zero proved just how inhumane we have been to the most vulnerable in our community — the handicapped, the elderly and children.
By putting criminals, addicts and transients before our most vulnerable we have exposed just how sick and cruel we have become.
My son with Down syndrome goes to day programs where he can interact with other developmentally delayed people as well as typical folks. This is where he learns, gathers life skills, finds community, makes friends.
People like him run a large risk of isolation as they enter adulthood; without these programs they can find themselves plugged into a TV set, warehoused away from society, alone and forgotten. Adult and special-needs day-programs are more than just a lifeline to the most vulnerable. They fill the most human need, connection.
These day programs are often housed at city recreation centers where there are rooms for activities, exercise and physical therapy. During the frigid cold snap, my son’s day programs, like so many others, were canceled, not because clients and providers couldn’t get to the centers, and not because the cold shut the buildings down.
The rec centers were instead used to house the “unhoused” (the cuddly term for those who encamp on our streets) during the dangerous cold spell.
So as not to leave the vagrants literally out in the cold, cities left our handicapped and elderly figuratively out in the cold.
I am not saying that in the moment it was the wrong policy decision to keep transients warm at the cost of keeping the handicapped and elderly under virtual house arrest.
I am saying that there is a sizable cost our media doesn’t cover. Mayors and their public information officers don’t hold press conferences at a shut-in’s home to show she’s homebound since she’s been bumped for a crackhead.
In fair weather we refuse to enforce the law and arrest, prosecute and jail street criminals; we allow encampments, litter, needles, feces, passed-out humans on sidewalks, etc. So, when an emergency comes (and they always come), dealing with these people crowds out services and funding for the truly vulnerable.
The handicapped and elderly cannot survive without our direct and continued support.
If there was a role for governmental services, it lies here. By enabling the transient population to swell by subsidizing them with services, we created this cruelty.
We should be ashamed.
As in other cities, services for the elderly and handicapped in Boulder, including my son, also take place in the lovely downtown library, which has meeting rooms and a performance space.
Sadly, the Boulder library has been closed, too, not because the transients are using it to stay warm but because they’re using the restrooms there to smoke meth.
Boulder’s library is closed because of “unacceptable levels of meth” in the vents. Of course the city hasn’t said what the level of meth is, and more interestingly, they haven’t said just what an “acceptable level” of meth in the air ducts is. It is a fair question.
But the spokeswoman for the city did express a more than appropriate amount of concern for the transients who inhabit the city park around the library over how the library closure would inconvenience them. I am NOT making this up.
The children’s park and playground by the library has needles lying around so kids can’t use the park, playgrounds or the library. Maybe city leaders will finally care when they realize the library is where they hold Drag Queen Story Time.
The druggies-dropping-needles problem is so bad in Denver, several parks now have signs, “Adults must be accompanied by a child in the playground at all times.”
We have plainly stated our priorities. Our most vulnerable are far less important than the criminal class.
Yes, many of them are mentally ill and in need of intervention. We are doubly cruel for not enforcing the laws, arresting them, and getting them the treatment they deserve.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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