(You can listen to this column, read by the author, here.)
I’ve been searching for the right word to describe Mike Johnston’s very earnest approach to Denver’s homeless problem.
The word I found is, “adorable.”
Michael is one of the most likable, affable, cuddly mayors Denver has ever had. He is the kid for whom you drive out of your way to buy a cup from his lemonade stand. You just want to pat him on the head.
To solve poverty, he’ll organize a nationwide bake sale. And gosh darn it all, you’ll almost bake a cake to the effort. Almost.
It reminds me of a friend whose daughter once asked about all the poor people in the world. Her solution was, “Well why don’t we just print up more money and give just it to them, and then they won’t be poor anymore?”
You can’t help but get on your knees and hug a kid like that for her simple beauty and idealistic naïveté.
Someday, she too might grow up to be mayor.
Mayor Johnston is making good on his pledge to build micro-communities in which to stick the first 1,000 of Denver’s finest into their own Tuff Shed or perma-tent with common toilet facilities, showers, and kitchens.
And the adorable part is he believes this is going to clean up our streets, not make the situation worse.
Step one — throw another $52 million dollars of subsidizes to the homeless industrial complex.
This a lesson we all should have learned, especially mayors, from the adorable naïveté of John Hickenlooper who kicked the homeless problem into high gear by doing the same thing.
Hick’s “Road Home” project to end homelessness in Denver forever in ten years, which started in 2005 and thus it ended in 2015, threw tens of millions worth of goodies to people to make living on the street more welcoming. And welcome them we did.
This failed system of rewards first, known as “housing first,” is the super electro-magnet that pulls the drugged up, mentally ill, criminal elements, to infest our streets. It helps ensure they have a safer place to lay down their heads at the end of a responsibility-free day of criminal activity. After that, the plan goes, they’ll be more likely to get serious about changing their lives.
Child-like curiosity might lead one to ask an obvious question. Why is the “street-people” problem so much less just a bit south in Colorado Springs?
It doesn’t take too long to find out the Springs doesn’t employ the “housing-first” policy, but something closer to “enforce the law-first.”
In other words, they enforce an urban camping ban. They enforce the laws against theft, drugs, trespassing, defecating on the sidewalk, assault, you know, all the things that make Denver the charming destination spot it has become.
The perpetrator is often given a choice, jail or the homeless shelter which works with the city. Please note I used the word “perp” because words matter. He is not an “individual currently experiencing homelessness.” He is a guy who perpetrated a crime and who is, at taxpayer expense, being giving a shot to pull it together.
The Springs Rescue Mission is run by a friend of mine, Jack Briggs, who operates it like the late, great Bob Cote who created Step 13, now Step Denver — giving a hand up, not a hand out. Those who choose to stay at the mission see others who are building back their lives.
They witness folks just like themselves living in better spaces, better apartments, that others earned with money earned not stolen. Responsibility first, then housing. The Mission and Step Denver save lives.
Of course, some choose not to go to the Rescue Mission with that expectation of responsibility and choose jail instead. You can call that housing first, three hots and a cot.
And those with severe mental and drug issues can/will get the help they need.
Or the final choice for the street person is to leave Colorado Springs for someplace more welcoming, someplace where he is less likely to get arrested and stay arrested in the first place.
But where, oh where I ask, could such a person go?
I just don’t know. Let’s ask Michael Johnston.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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