Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sometimes milestones appear with little notice and in the least suspecting ways. They could be announced at a time where significance is less than glaring; other times it's a clarion call that is abundantly profound. You either have to look for them to know they are there or it just smacks you in the face leaving you wondering what just happened. It can come from perhaps a broad swath of a cultivated entrepreneurial endeavor, a personal awakening, or an enlighten state of mind.

Regardless of how these milestones present themselves they need to be recognized to measure early indicators of forward movement; and if you fail to recognize them how will you know you are on the right track?

From nothing more than a mustard seed of an idea, this month will mark the first complete year since the District III Homeless Initiative started on June 18, 2010. If you were to infer that its success was derived from nothing more than blind luck, I couldn't very well disagree.

And from its humble beginnings I can be repeatedly quoted as saying, I wasn't interested in merely kicking the can down the road to present an illusion of a superficial campaign. And, from this same beginning I can safely say we were only interested in quantifiable numbers, actually getting people off the streets -- not trite platitudes and bumper sticker slogans.

More often than not I have been affectionately type-cast as a do-gooder or maybe the patron Saint for the homeless. But, the reality is something much different, those that know would say these tags are the furthest thing from the truth. Since, to make this initiative work homeless candidates must have some skin in the game for the game to work. They must be held accountable for their dislocation and lack of personal assimilation with mainstream societal responsibilities. For all members of a civilized society to properly and peacefully coexist there is a shared responsibility, a standard that we should all be held to that doesn't degrade the quality of life for its members.

Everyone has a right to live how they see fit until it reaches a degrading tipping point. And that point is reached when the consequences of social harm manifestly overflows and tears at the fabric of the community.

So, if I am not a good Samaritan what am I and those that participate with the initiative? We prefer to frame this initiative as more of a problem solving venture than a humanitarian effort. It is much easier to understand the method behind the madness of a problem-solving philosophy if we were to first understand that there is always a root cause to that which provokes the ills of society. Panhandling for example, is a mere symptom of a much greater and deeply rooted problem. If we attempt to tackle panhandling by itself or worse contribute to those that claim street corners as their right to fly a cardboard sign then we have overlooked the more relevant underlying causation which is undeniably homelessness.

What may be seen by some as a design flaw in the root-causation approach to problem-solving is the size and scope of the problem might be too overwhelming for it to be solved. If we were to accept this then we're left with a disparaging essay on our faith in humanity and ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.

I've learned a lot in the last year having walked the walk of homeless rehabilitation and the journey is one that breeds despair for many even those with a sincere desire to get off the streets. Problems that exist on the street are fundamentally solved on the street by those that are closest to the problem not by those in a boardroom. There appears to be those charlatans who are at the top of a centralized model,a bureaucratic hierarchy, that administers academic theory and political discourse but yet they would freely admit having never spent the time to speak with a homeless person much less understand what makes them tick. These policy makers are the furthest away from the problem and at the same time furthest away from the street.

Prior to June of 2010, there was never a street engagement model that forms a coupling around each homeless candidate. This coupling effect is delivered by a single law enforcement officer for each district within the county. Its a simple cost/benefit analysis of time and resources expended by a law enforcement agency when compared to the cost and lack of benefit of not engaging these same people even if we have to do it ourselves.

It's a simple business decision.

Consider the most prolific homeless person in District III has been arrested seventy-two times -- how many times will we have to arrest him before we realize the cost of county resources after seventy-two arrests has never produced a singular benefit. If we were a private sector business that would have to survive based on productivity and efficiency we would have found a way to get this one example off the street years ago -- at all cost. And beyond the expense of county resources how much disruption and mayhem has this one person stirred up in the community in as many years?

The engagement process on the street should be mutual and reciprocal not asymmetrical or lopsided to one side. To understand the human condition is to accept that individually we are not perfect creatures. Anyone of us under the right conditions when given something for nothing, when not held accountable, will simply demand more for nothing in return. This is the fatal flaw in a system where there is no return on a capital investment and no repayment of indebtedness. It's a free-for-all when there are seemingly unlimited resources from a well that will never run dry.

Unfortunately, as we all now know reality is sometimes quite different.

This should be seen as less of a political leaning than a factoid of human nature.

On Friday, June 24th, a reporter named Jessica with the St. Pete Times spent over five hours with me on the street as she witnessed the engagement process in motion.

This might be either the smack in the face or a lesser suspecting encounter as an outsider's third-party perspective translates the homeless initiative into words for readers to make sense out of.

Admittedly she was overwhelmed, she said -- and I took this early sentiment as the wow factor I was looking for to capture a much broader appeal to a divergent critical mass of potential viewers.

But we will see how the written story plays out in Times Fourth of July weekend edition. And incidentally, look for a similar news story featured on ABC Action News Monday June 27th and tell me what you think.

Homeless Man Saves US Flag FNC

Commissioner Kevin Beckner Commends Deputy Steven Donaldson