City needs to rethink answer to helping homeless

By Breanne Williams, COLUMNIST
On March 22, 2017

Instead of using force to “handle” homeless issue, cities should adopt programs to hire them. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Hillsborough County has recently been labeled a “dumping ground” for the homeless. Other cities send those suffering from homelessness here in an attempt to clean up their own streets. 

The number of those calling the streets home is growing, and the city seems at a loss on how to handle it. 

First, they made panhandling illegal. Then, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office established a homeless outreach center, allocating five deputies working out of the four districts to cover the county. 

In August, a federal judge ruled the panhandling ban was unconstitutional. 

Days prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship, seven people were arrested for feeding the homeless downtown. The charges were dropped, but the sentiment remained. Tampa desperately wants to clean up its streets, and is obviously at a loss at how best to do so.

Tampa has failed to successfully “handle” its homeless problem. Rather than continue to utilize tactics that obviously haven’t worked, it should adopt the practices of other cities like Portland. 

In Portland, the city was also facing issues with the homeless. In 2013, they also outlawed panhandling.

It too was struck down, and the city bulldozed a popular strip in the middle of a road in hopes of dissuading people from standing there to ask for money.  

Not surprisingly, the plans all failed and the homeless continued to make money the only way they really could, by standing on the streets asking for help.

But unlike Tampa, Portland decided to get creative with a solution. The city did what so few do; it recognized the homeless were people in need of help and not simply a “problem” to be solved.

So, the city decided to do a quid pro quo arrangement. Starting in April, the city will begin to hire the homeless to clean parks and public spaces. They will receive minimum wage, $10.68 an hour, with hopes some of the jobs can become full-time positions with the city, city manager Jon Jennings said in an interview with the New York Times.

“It’s so they don’t feel the need to stand on a corner and ask for money, and they can move on to a life of productivity,” Jennings said. “We are a city that really embraces people who, of no fault of their own, fall on hard times.”

And this tactic has been proven to work.

In Albuquerque, job programs that pay $9 an hour have provided over 1,750 jobs and over 60 tons of litter have been removed. Chicago pays $55 a day for trash pickup, which helps many afford housing and groceries. 

Tampa needs to adopt a similar program. We are a city flooded with culture, a prospering economy and gorgeous scenery. The city’s Parks and Recreation is responsible for 3,500 acres of parkland, with over 170 parks, 23 community centers, 14 aquatic facilities and more than 60 miles of multi-purpose trails.

Hiring some of those who are going through a period of difficulty will not only benefit them, but also benefit this great city. If they have money to spend, our economy prospers. If they are given jobs beautifying the city, Tampa prospers. It’s a win-win. 

It’s easy to resort to force to “clean up the streets,” but no one truly benefits from having panhandlers punished. As soon as we remember they’re people, not a headache, we can work toward bettering their lives and in turn, our own. 

 

Breanne Williams is a seniormajoring in mass communications. 

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