Response to letter to the editor…..

In the Nov. 30th edition of the News Herald, Ms. Linda Rivers posted a letter to the editor entitled “Investigate causes of homelessness, poverty”. In Ms. Rivers’s piece she proclaimed that the “root causes are not complex” when describing the cause of homelessness and poverty  and then proceeds to throw a whole litany of “excuses” and issues that have nothing to do with our local homeless and vagrancy problem. She speaks of TARP, Federal bailout of banks, and foreclosure on taxpayer homes as though those issues have anything to do with the habitual vagrants and professional panhandlers that have made the downtown area their haven. She then goes further to claim our laws “force sex offenders to live under bridges or be released into the woods”. Her claims would be almost comical if it was not the sad truth that there are those in our community actually believe such nonsense.

“We pass ordinances that force sex offenders to live under bridges or be released to the woods. Our sex-offender law is broken. The net is cast way too far. This frenzy by a misinformed public has ruined lives. We lock up drug-addicted people and offer little or no treatment programs. Is it a wonder why when they get through with their time they are not changed?”

Committing a sex crime is just that…a CRIME! Possessing, selling or using drugs is a CRIME. Ms. Rivers describes these activities as though it is an event at the local Ladies Garden Club. What ever happened to personal responsibility Ms. Rivers? Whatever happened to living ones life with a sense of character, honor and commitment? Ms. Rivers seems to be willing to settle for  the lowest common denominator.

“Not in my backyard” is alive and well in this community, and every community. So even those with positive solutions are prevented from even trying. It is so much easier to focus on the other person than to look at ourselves and what we would do if we had to walk in their shoes.

People who live in Panama City are some of those generous people there are. We as a local community are there time in and time out to help those truly in need. Even those of us who are the loudest voices against the activities of the rescue and the toxic effects they have had on downtown, are willing and DO go out of  our way to help those  in need. Ms. Rivers takes the easy way out. She scoffs at those who are doing nothing more than protecting their businesses and homes and want downtown to be an exciting place to live and work. Insulting the downtown community with the comment “not in my backyard” will win Ms. Rivers no favor. Perhaps it will serve her well to follow her own advice and focus on those of us downtown who are dealing with the affects of the vagrancy problem and what would she do if she had to walk in our shoes.

“You can start today to make a difference. First, educate yourselves about who the poor and homeless are by attending a feeding downtown and actually see for yourself. Talk to people. Sit in a courtroom for a few days and see the game that is played out, which is not justice but expediency”

Ms. Rivers then ask the readers to “educate” themselves. Through her entire letter this one point actually makes sense. Educate yourself. Read the post on this blog. Look at the faces and listed crimes on our “top ten” post. Go downtown and speak with local business people who see the problem day in and day out and work hard to keep their business afloat in spite of the problem. Write the letters, make the phone calls, attend the meetings as she had suggested. Vote and keep those in office who have made the commitment to help those in need but continue to address the vagrancy problem head on.

Downtown Panama City can become an incredible, waterfront community. There are hundreds of examples nationwide of older downtown areas being rejuvenated by a community that has applied innovative thinking and sheer will power to create amazing things. Part of that will power is being willing to look at problems in their entirety and make the tough choices that allows us to move forward. Settling for a blighted  area overrun by professional panhandlers, habitual vagrants, drunkards, sex offenders and bums is not the legacy I wish to leave for my children. What do you want downtown Panama City to look like for your children?

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