Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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Outtakes—Wins for the Homeless

By Rick Outzen

It has been said that insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. The city of Pensacola is determined to prove that statement.

Mayor Ashton Hayward and the city council have tried three times to deal with people begging for money in the city’s downtown area. Each time citizens have asked the mayor to improve services for the homeless population before any laws were added. Instead, he pushed ahead promising to look for solutions after the ordinances were passed.

And what has happened each time? The city has been embarrassed by some unintended consequence, and the ordinances fell apart.

City officials never get around to improving services. They’ve held summits, hired consultants, and listened to recommendations, but nothing changes, except the panhandling increases and the homeless continue to suffer.

Mayor Hayward has become almost fatalistic about homelessness. He told NewsRadio 1620′s Andrew McKay last week, “Homelessness is something you’re gonna have to manage across every community in America forever.”

He said at the April council meeting he told the opposition, “There are some good solutions out there, but we have a win-win because the folks that are the business owners that have invested their money and taken the risks, have a solution for them and also for the citizens coming downtown.”

Mayor Hayward didn’t explain what the “win” was for the area’s homeless in the proposed ordinances. He didn’t identify the “good solutions out there.” And that’s the insanity of his plan.

A “win-win” is a solution that covers the needs of all parties. Everyone has a victory in the agreed upon outcome. Unfortunately, the mayor has failed to show those who care about the plight of the homeless what he plans to do for those living on the streets or in their cars.

Banning panhandling from a specific section of Pensacola doesn’t make it magically disappear. Neither does it solve anything to ignore that many of those panhandling are homeless. Outlawing their behavior does little to change their lives.

While working with the Task Force for Improving Human Services, consultant Robert Marbut pointed out the city did not have a 24/7 “Come-As-You-Are” emergency services center. He estimated the area needed between 175-250 units for emergency beds for single adults experiencing homelessness. The need was especially acute for women.

As the budget workshops approach, Mayor Hayward should dust off the task force recommendations and show how he plans to implement them. And if not them, he needs to identify what are the “wins” for the homeless that he wants to accomplish before he completes his second term.