Robert Brownell's 5 days at the YMCA
-Des Moines Register
This article is the story of a Polk County Supervisor, Robert Brownell, and his experience staying at their downtown YMCA residence hall for 5 days. Its long, (over 12,000 words), but in my opinion, very much worth reading. He's an excellent writer, and doesn't worrying about being PC or not offending anyone. At least in this article, he appears to tell it like it is, discussing both sides of the issue. He doesn't only talk about this specific problem, but also relates his experiences in discussing this with people out in Denver who are attempting to eliminate
homelessness in their city.
For background, the downtown Des Moines YMCA has an 8-story residence hall attached to it. Because of its prime location along the up-and-coming Riverwalk, developers have shown interest in the property, and others have shown an interest in removing the "type" of men that hang out around the YMCA from their booming downtown. The first attempt was to move it to a residential neighborhood, which was met with a response that can be best compared to an 8 story Cobblestone. Here's a quote from the article regarding this:
"They set out to put their residence hall into a traditional neighborhood. There, they encountered modern government’s Maginot Line…someone else’s backyard. The place where nothing is permitted. Really, the only difference between this figurative Maginot Line and France’s famed Line is that the Germans figured out how to breach France’s. The one I speak of, cannot be breached. Oh, that the French had had our neighborhood associations and their line of defenses. Rommel would’ve been last seen in northern Germany sitting atop a Panzer scratching his head."
Now, before anyone jumps on me for posting this anti-NIMBY statement, the author eventually comes around and realizes that this kind of project in fact, doesn't belong in a traditional neighborhood. Like I said, read the article.
The only things I'm not comfortable with are his statements about how posing as a homeless person doesn't cost anyone anything, as long as he follows his rules. For example, he wouldn't stay at the YMCA if it was full, wouldn't interfere with anyone else's recovery, etc. However, we all learn that you can't observe something without affecting it, and even the few minutes of time he took with case managers and employees could have been spent with people who didn't have a nice home waiting for them. On the other hand, I've often thought of encouraging something like this in Davenport, for someone to see what the homeless/non-profit situation really is from the inside, instead of from an outside perspective, or based on what the agencies involved want to tell us.
So make up your own mind on whether this is the right way to look into something, and whether the Housing First policy is remotely realistic, but definitely read the article. Also, ask yourself if any of our local elected officials could write something this good.