Homeless On Our Streets: What Can Be Done About Them? Tougher With Ourselves

Posted: August 13, 1989

How charming! If we do not give spare change to people living on the street; if we enforce a policy of maintaining public spaces, including public toilets, for use by the public; if we recognize that the problems of homeless substance abusers are getting worse, then we may be able to reclaim a sense of public order in Center City.

Unfortunately, this will not be enough. Getting tough with the homeless requires that we get much tougher with ourselves. Unless we are willing to assign scarce police manpower to revolving rousts of homeless bench-dwellers and grate-sleepers, solutions depend on the availability of long-term, in- patient drug-treatment programs, low-income housing and group homes. Even if we succeed in chasing the homeless from Center City, will the next editorial advise us what to do in Germantown?

Aggressive panhandling and human excrement in public spaces can and should be curtailed. But these are symptoms - not the problem itself.

We have had enough stop-gap measures masquerading as solutions and enough policies that attempt to solve social problems by activating the "I've got mine; you get yours" impulse. It is encouraging that we are uncomfortable with the homeless on our streets. We should not be satisfied until we have figured out what to do to keep them from getting there.

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