St. Joseph was once described as a city large enough to have a homeless population and small enough to know those individuals by name.
It’s a quaint concept, but it’s one that reflects a different reality for the current homeless situation in St. Joseph.
Today, eight years after the official closing of tent city and following the Salvation Army’s transition from housing homeless men to serving families, St. Joseph still is trying to figure out what to do with its homeless population. It’s a discussion that has broad implications for the future of Downtown, the businesses south of that area and those unfortunate people who are lacking shelter.
Mosaic Life Care stepped up with plans to fund an “Urban Mission Collaboration” to coordinate services and address core issues affecting the homeless, with many of those services clustered south of Downtown, in the area of Eighth and Messanie streets. This seems to be a good idea to everyone but the property owners located in this area, where reports emerge concerning thefts, threats of violence and public urination associated with the homeless.
It’s clear that St. Joseph doesn’t want its Downtown to deteriorate into what you see in West Coast cities like Seattle or San Francisco, where parts of the urban core resemble a flophouse. But we shouldn’t wish that on another area. Some property owners in St. Joseph aren’t off base in feeling as if the problem is being shifted a few blocks south, into their neighborhood, so that Downtown can move on with the business of craft beers and al-fresco dining.
It’s important to have compassion as a community for those impacted by homelessness and the related issues that cause their problems. It’s equally important to listen to these property owners south of Downtown, who aren’t lacking in heart or compassion. They simply have real concerns about how to deal with this issue that vexes urban areas all across America.
Consider that in regard to low-income housing, the clustering of services in one area is viewed as a type of warehousing that can make problems get worse. But spreading those services across a city raises another level of concern. That’s the problem, in a nutshell, with addressing the needs of the homeless.
In St. Joseph, a meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. today at City Hall seeks to bring together different stakeholders, including business owners and residents, police officials and the mayor. The format is essentially an open forum for discussion.
The meeting carries the potential, not of solving a long-standing problem in a single day, but in helping to advance solutions to an issue that affects all parts of the city. It shouldn’t be simply tucked away into a certain neighborhood.