Over the past several years, Longview has put a great deal of effort into making a positive impact on the city’s homeless population.
First, Mayor Andy Mack organized a task force of community leaders who had some connection to homelessness. It included leaders of various social agencies, representatives of religious organizations, police officials and others.
It was a solid grouping of stakeholders, though we and others believe the group’s charter to meet in secret behind closed doors was not the best way to do business truly of public interest.
Still, many of the group’s ideas that eventually were made public were good ones.
Most focused on finding ways to help the homeless rather than punish them for existing, which was the solution some promoted. Laws were put into place against loitering and aggressive panhandling, but officials made clear that was not to be the primary focus. Officers were assigned to work constructively with the homeless, and they have done that.
There were other plans to make certain that homeless people knew where they could get help with their problems. Resource days have been offered at which those in need could get health checkups, haircuts, IDs and explore the possibility of a job.
All of it was designed with these goals: helping individuals while helping business owners — many along East Marshall Avenue — who deal with the impact of the homeless on a daily basis.
It seemed the ideas had a good chance of making a real impact and Longview residents have supported the plan enthusiastically. There were high-dollar fundraisers and partnerships were formed among the city, private organizations and individuals to help fund it all.
This was a forward-thinking strategy, one we hoped might be used as a model for other cities to reduce homelessness.
Unfortunately, according to an annual survey of the city’s homeless population, the effort has had no impact on the numbers. The just-released tally showed Longview had an increase in the past year, while numbers dropped overall in six counties in our area.
The difficulty of counting those who are homeless renders essentially meaningless a slight increase from year to year. But, even after a huge effort, the past few year’s numbers show we have not seen the sought-after decrease.
It is another example — one of many that can be gleaned from experiences in other cities — that reducing homelessness takes more than just a few good ideas.
This is not a problem that can be solved by some well-meaning citizens or even by the brightest experts in the field. Nor is mere hard work a solution we can count on. Longview has done all those things without the result we expected.
Neither is economic growth a panacea. It could help some, perhaps, but many of the homeless are disabled in one way or another. Others fight addictions. Still others have no marketable skills that would help them get a job where they can truly support themselves.
We have supported this effort and do not advocate giving up. Rather, the only solution can be found in perseverance, not quitting as a community or a society even when the odds seem insurmountable and our solutions seem not to be working.
The poor will always be with us, Jesus said, and He did not suggest quitting, either. But the city’s current tactics may not be enough.
It is time for another group of interested parties to be put together to review what has been done and what is still needed, what ideas worked and which did not. This time, meeting in public for all to see, we can tweak the path or change it markedly.
This is not the time to throw our hands in the air in desperation and walk away. To use lingo that is popular today, this is the time to double down, to make the effort broader and bolder than ever before.
Will that work? We cannot say, but it is superior to giving up or retreating from current efforts. There is no alternative but to keep doing the right thing.