After finally getting some sleep last night (legally, inside my home) I’ve tried to remind myself that it’s counterproductive to hold on to anger.
In his comments to city council, Dan Cederberg tried to put the expansion of the panhandling ordinance and the ban on sitting/sleeping/lying into a broader context, explaining that these ordinances were merely one part of a three-part approach to addressing the negative behavior businesses believe is hurting their bottom line by keeping shoppers from coming downtown.
The ordinances are the consequence piece, and the other two pieces are compassion and education. The compassion piece includes the services designed to help people and the donors who keep those services afloat. When Caitlin Copple warned of “compassion fatigue” if these ordinances didn’t pass, service providers who can’t afford to offend donors knew exactly what she meant.
Instead of being pissed off I’m trying to understand what motivates the downtown business community to use local government and tax-supported services, like the police, to insulate their investments from the societal problems of addiction and mental illness.
The answer, I think, is fear—but not fear of the people these ordinances are designed to impact. The real fear is economic uncertainty.
Here is where I think everyone involved in this process could use a little more education about why people don’t have as much discretionary money in their pockets to spend.
Michael Whitney has another great article worth reading, titled Did Someone Say “Crash”?, where he takes a critical look at why net investment in America is down. I think he summarizes the situation pretty succinctly:
Bottom line: Net investment is down because there’s no demand. And there’s no demand because unemployment is high, wages are flat, incomes are falling, and households are still digging out from the Crash of ’08. At the same time, the US Congress and Team Obama continue to slash public spending wherever possible which is further dampening activity and perpetuating the low-growth, weak demand, perma-slump.
So, tell me: Why would a businessman invest in an economy where people are too broke to buy his products? He’d be better off issuing dividends to his shareholders or buying back shares in his own company to push stock prices higher.
The ordinances make perfect sense when you keep in mind most people have yet to recover from the global financial crisis that burst with the housing bubble 5 years ago. That economic fear heightens concern over anything that might detract from businesses making money downtown, like scary homeless people and a deficit of sandwich board signs.
So as we talk about consequences for homeless people that offend us by begging for money and acting inappropriately, maybe we should also be talking about the consequences of denying medicaid for poor Montanans and the consequences of peddling alcohol as the drug of choice instead of much less-harmful substances, like cannabis.
Or we could talk about the consequence of failing to hold Wall Street accountable for the widespread economic damage their reckless greed has had on a majority of Americans.
Those would be much more productive conversations to have. The conversation last night was just sad because it was so incredibly misguided.