Response to letter to the editor….

In November 14th addition of the Panama City News Herald, local business person and noted artist HEATHER PARKER posted a letter to the editor headlined “Downtown businesses shouldn’t scapegoat homeless”. The summary of her opinion piece is that first she believes that there is “no homeless problem” even though Bay County Sheriff McKeithen,  Panama City Police Deputy Chief Scott Ervin. Mayor Brudnicki’s office, County commissioners office and even the Rescue mission’s own website confirm that there is a homeless problem.

Downtown does not have a homeless problem. The homeless exist everywhere, in all of Panama City, and in every town in every state.”

Secondly, her opinion is that what ever problem really exist it is only a “perception problem” propagated by local media.

“Downtown Panama City has a perception problem. The public thinks there is a homeless problem downtown. Media coverage perpetuates this problem. It does nothing to fix it. Free dinner twice a week is not causing problems for your business. The attention this dinner is getting is causing problems.”

Ms. Parker continues in her letter to attempt to wish the problem away by just telling herself  and us that it does not exist. She uses just a snippet of the accumulated data on this issue to “prove’ her point that their are no homeless downtown. The reality is that there is not so much as a “homeless” problem as she has defined as much as their is a “vagrant”, “transient” “panhandling”, “drunkard”, “sexual offender” and “drug user” problem. The problem of the latter is well documented and the impact of those individuals on the downtown community  quite pronounced.

The improvements that Ms. Parker wrote about in her piece are true, but where she has derailed in her thought process is that the REASON there has been improvements is BECAUSE local government and police departments have taken a hard nosed approach to addressing the problem. Improvements are marginal at this stage and true, long term improvements of the perception of downtown that Ms. Parker speaks of will be based on not wishing it away but further escalating the attack on the vagrant problem. Ms. Parker, you can put lipstick on a pig and call it whatever you wish, but it is still a pig. The rejuvenation and rebirth of downtown Panama City will require creative minds and strong will power on our communities part to make it an exciting place to live and work but part of “fixin” the ills of downtown is to eliminate the vagrants and a key component to that happening is the relocation of the rescue mission.

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