Thursday, July 11, 2013

The logistics of public service bureaucracy

This article focuses on the chronically homeless who fall between adequate mental health care with proper medication, and basically permanent incarceration, and those few who can work but choose not to; but not the temporarily homeless who fall on hard times because of extenuating circumstances such as a house fire, medical expense, debt, unemployment, etc.

Springfield has inadvertently, somewhat surrounded its older downtown area with homeless shelters and social service organizations, adversely affecting commerce. What does this have to do with Seattle? I read somewhere of a proposal for inexpensive housing downtown, and I occasionally read about ongoing concerns about the homeless situation. I thought it might be wise to take a lesson from my hometown before the situation becomes untenable.

The northern central part of town has a few shelters around 5th and 11th streets. A church across the street from the library at 7th and Capitol feeds lunch to the homeless. I frequently saw people standing in line on the steps leading down to a side basement door. On 9th street just a few blocks east of the historic district is the Illinois Workforce Development center. The line at that door is always long just before the office opens.

Shelters and other non-profit support organizations for the homeless seem to surround the older east side of town, where several hotels and tourist attractions are located. It almost seems like the convenience of equally short distances between the various shelters were designed for the throng of homeless to greet tourists and history class high school students visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Low property and lease costs made many areas attractive to non-profits and government social services. The area became further blighted as merchants lost customers and conflicts with homeless people increased and more frequently required police intervention.

Ultimately many businesses migrated to the outer west side of town, leaving a wake of abandoned commercial space and blighted property. lists White Oaks Mall on the west side as one of Springfield's six tourist attractions. Even the YMCA moved out to the west side of town.

Low income housing attracts predatory lenders, rent-to-own businesses and pawn shops. Google Map searching with keywords Payday Title Loan in any city will show a density of landmarks surrounding areas to avoid.

A story a while back about low income housing proposals for downtown Seattle inspired me to write this article. I thought it was selfish to think the goal might be to keep wages low for the service employees working there instead of raising their standard of living, but even more hazardous might be future loss of business is if homeless shelters and services are not planned with care for the long-term.

But Springfield, Illinois is nothing at all like Seattle. Apples and oranges and whatnot. Right?