Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pushing Homeless from Downtown Widens, but Doesn't Solve Problem

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pushing Homeless from Downtown Widens, but Doesn't Solve Problem

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

No one should be shocked to see homeless people taking their despair and "will work for food" signs to thoroughfares beyond downtown Jacksonville.

After all, there are more of them. Their numbers have doubled, in fact, since the start of the decade. More are being pushed outdoors and onto the streets by rising rents and condominium conversions that are devouring the leftovers of affordable apartment complexes. Many can't find refuge at homeless shelters because all of those spaces are all occupied.

But now, it's getting tougher for homeless people to crash on a park bench, or beneath a building awning, or any outdoor space downtown. People are buying condominiums and townhomes there, and businesses are trying to put down roots.

That's a little tough to do with homeless people and vagrants around; when customers have to run a gauntlet of panhandlers.

Still, downtown merchants and residents have been pressing the police to do something about its homeless hordes. And apparently, the police have. Advocates for the homeless recently told the Times-Union that the crackdowns are causing more of them to fan out into the suburbs and into tony burbs like Riverside and San Marco.

I don't like that.

Not because I believe that all homeless people ought to be contained downtown or in my neighborhood, Historic Springfield. For years, I've argued that it's unfair for one community to shoulder all of society's burdens. That's one reason the homeless problem is as bad as it is; for too long people have been more content to isolate it rather than solve it.

What I don't like is the fact that once again, law enforcement is being asked to deal with a problem that is rooted in economic, social and psychological dysfunction. And the punitive route has gotten us nowhere.

Sherry Burns, president of the I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, told the Times-Union that the focus on catching criminals among the homeless has caused more people to stereotype them all as ne'er do wells.

Such a focus is hardly new.

In the late 1990s, the city tried to persuade judges to allow police to jail homeless people who refuse to go to shelters if room is available. …

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