After Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen created an uproar with his recent selfie at a local tent city, the debate on how to manage the homeless population has gleamed back into the spotlight.
At the commissioner’s meeting Tuesday, County Commissioners Bryan Davis and Mike Crabtree weighted in on the hotly debated topic throughout the area.
“It’s a touchy situation,” Davis said. “I don’t know (the homeless people at tent city) personally, so for me to make a generalized statement as far as their well being or health would be unfair, but I do know in some cases talking to people who have encountered and spent time with them — trying to help them, you have some mental health issues, you have some addiction issues. I can’t say that’s the case with everybody.
“When I read the story in the Times, as far as the intent of going over there, I think we all need to have some empathy and compassion, and understand everyone has a story. They didn’t get there overnight.”
The Commissioners don’t have the authority to help or make any decisions regarding the residents at tent city under the realm of the Ohio Revised Code and because the land is city property.
“They have been there for a long time and it is something the City would have to make a decision on how they want to handle that. It sounds like they are pretty much hands off,” Davis said.
Crabtree said there aren’t many options when it comes to relocating these individuals.
“One thing you need to remember is that you’re not going to make somebody’s life better by tearing down the shack they’re living in if they don’t have enough money to go somewhere better,” Crabtree said. “You can’t zone poverty out of existence, it won’t work.”
Crabtree said the problem is not going to get any better until everyone does their part.
“I think everybody in this country needs to take a good, strong look at themselves and say, ‘Look, what little bit can I do to make this better?’ Instead of throwing stones all the time and saying, ‘Well, let’s tear down the slum and you can get the hell out of here.’
“Yeah, you can put them on a slow boat to China — punch a hole in the bottom of it, let time take care of it. But the reality is we’re not fixing it and our government is not fixing it. When we sit around here and pass zoning restrictions, so somebody has to build a $300,000 house they can’t afford to live in, they’re going to find some place else to live in a shack.”
Crabtree admitted that he didn’t have the answer, but tearing down their shacks and tents didn’t seem like a vibrant solution to him.
“I know trying to force somebody to live better than their means is not going to do it,” Crabtree said. “I wish somebody could come in here with a magic wand and fix all of our problems in Scioto County. If you look nationwide, you’ve got the same thing in every city you go to.
“It’s sad that we’re the richest country in the world and we’ve got people living like that … You’ve got ball players making more money than they can spend in 10 lifetimes and we’ve got people starving. There’s something out of balance in America.”
While Davis also admitted he didn’t have ability to solve the puzzle, all he could rely on was compassion.
“A pastor told me one time, ‘You’ll never do wrong by doing right,’” Davis said. “It’s hard to know if you’re doing good to someone who’s going to abuse that. Don’t get me wrong, there are some serial offenders and the city knows who they are. I’ll just fall back on my faith. As the good Lord said, ‘What you do to the least of these, you do onto me.’ With us, it’s more of a personal thing. If we want to help, we help. If we want to drop off donations to the homeless shelter, we do it and we have.”
As far as the city manager and the police department visiting tent city June 22, Davis doesn’t believe there was any malicious intent behind their actions.
“I know the individuals that went down there and I don’t think that anybody means ill will towards anybody,” Davis said. “They’re human beings. At the end of the day, you have to treat them like human beings. No matter what their problems are, we all have problems. Some are more serious than others. The only bright spot out of what happened is that it’s brought this to the forefront of everyone’s attention that we have a problem. We have a serious problem.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1927, or on Twitter @crslone.