O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
I don’t know Benjamin Horton or his intentions in writing his opinion piece [Enough is Enough for downtown Manchester July 23, 2020]. For all I know he had a similar upbringing to mine although I doubt that if he feels like walking in downtown Manchester is like “walking in a war zone.” What I do know is that none of what he recommends would actually solve any of the problems he described. In some cases, his recommendations would actually make things worse. For example, moving desperately needed resources from where they are required the most wouldn’t help him avoid seeing poverty. If the people who need the services reside downtown they simply won’t access them if they’re not close by. Often times these same people lack transportation and money to access public transportation and rideshare options. Therefore the problem is not solved. Not to mention this feels like another form of segregation, class segregation.
Another reason why Benjamin’s recommendations won’t work is because they center around his needs and the needs of people who just don’t want to see “problems.” Their issue with homeslessness isn’t that a human being is living on the street, it’s that they have to see it as they’re eating brunch downtown and to them that’s unacceptable. The recommendations also didn’t address any of the systemic root causes of the issues he raised. Addressing root causes and not symptoms is Problem Solving 101. I should know, I have 20 years of experience solving complex problems along with designing and executing solutions at scale. Problem-solving in a human-centered way is in my DNA.
While I don’t have a Ph.D I do have first-hand experience with things like poverty and addiction. In spite of my parents having jobs and being hardworking, I experienced poverty. I know what it’s like to go hungry. I know what it’s like to be evicted as a child and not know where you’ll live. It’s something no one deserves to go through. I have also seen people close to me struggle with addiction. Good, kind people who turned to substances for various reasons and only overcame addiction with the help of community programs and resources.
In addition to my own personal experiences, I have taken the time to learn about issues I haven’t personally encountered by stepping outside my bubble and deeply empathizing with people. This is how I know that most people who are homeless aren’t homeless as a result of laziness or lack of effort on their part, which are common misconceptions. Contrary to what some believe, people don’t just wake up one day and decide to be homeless, poor, or become addicted to substances.
It’s clear that Benjamin feels a viable option is to give the police more resources. You can’t police your way out of homelessness. You can’t police your way out of poverty. You can’t police your way out of addiction. If that were true we wouldn’t see the issues we are seeing today. So, what is the “right” answer? To start, if you don’t have firsthand experience as a homeless person, as a person who struggles or struggled with addiction, or as a person who has committed crimes of poverty, the chances are very high that you have a biased point of view and have assessed the situation through that skewed perspective. Fortunately, a lot of analysis has already been done on what actually does work.
For example, The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness has already identified eight solutions to ending homelessness which includes things like providing housing, reducing criminal justice involvement, and building career pathways. As it relates to crime, the Director at the National Institute of Justice admits that “many programs in place to combat violent crime are not based in evidence.” They go on to say, “Resources should be shifted away from programs that do not work and towards programs with demonstrated success.” Lastly, when it comes to opioid addiction, which is prevalent in Manchester, The American Society of Addiction Medicine recommends things like regular visits to treatment centers, medication, and having naloxone available. While many of these resources and programs exist in Manchester, the focus should be on increasing the effectiveness of those programs and ensuring they are truly designed with vulnerable people in mind.
Inevitably the conversation comes to funding and cost. Who will pay for these programs? Since it is a community issue, it should be funded by the community by reallocating funds from programs and resources that aren’t delivering positive outcomes for vulnerable people. Of course some people won’t even entertain this idea. They’ll say it’s socialism or communism. When in reality it’s simply ensuring dignity for all. Some will lament about the cost, but will remain silent about how NH taxpayers paid millions in the last 10 years to settle claims against police. How many people could that money have helped?
I will agree with Benjamin on one thing, most people in New Hampshire “enjoy the privilege of living” here. Privileges that aren’t afforded to everyone in the state or in Manchester. For some, when confronted with anything they perceive as threatening their privilege, they will fight to protect it even if it’s at the expense of someone who doesn’t have privilege or access to things that are considered basic human rights. The reality is the privileged can still enjoy their farm to table eggs benedict and mimosas downtown without dehumanizing other people.
Beg to differ? Agree to disagree? Send your thoughtful prose on topics of interested to firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: The Soapbox.
Vanessa Weathers is a resident of Manchester for 19 years after growing up in Nashua.