Over the past few years, an increasingly  difficult to  address  transformation  has occurred downtown, one heralding the influx of a series of community challenges. Among these are the transient, briefly relocated, and homeless populations. Some of these are the people you see on street corners and alleyways during all seasons;  trashed water bottles, empty sacks of donated food, and blankets […]

Over the past few years, an increasingly  difficult to  address  transformation  has occurred downtown, one heralding the influx of a series of community challenges. Among these are the transient, briefly relocated, and homeless populations. Some of these are the people you see on street corners and alleyways during all seasons;  trashed water bottles, empty sacks of donated food, and blankets around them. Sometimes they have a   mattress. Some approach folks for money with a   sad story, like one street guy who is known around town for being a scammer. Some defecate on doorways of businesses that ask them to leave. Those are the ones we hear most about, once community good intentions and patience wear thin.

Then   there are the others that say, “Thank you,” and mean it. Those who pick up after themselves, and walk through town during the day, helping at Grace Center and participating in programs when available.

Some have minds that have lost their ability to manage life.

Figuring out what to do to help those who need help, while continuing to develop and encourage a thriving and beautiful downtown, is tricky. Compassion and profit sometimes seem like mortal enemies. When we drive through town and see churches building larger “McMansion” type buildings or buying up a city block, for a town of roughly 25,107 (2016 stat), U.S. Census Bureau),  then  we see homeless men, women, and kids on the streets or in shelters, it is hard to understand where compassion lies; when you can only call a few of those churches for help, the confusion is even greater.

I will always ask why we have so much faith, but so little compassion. Working in a   field where I can count on one hand the number of churches that actually help, this remains a bitter pill to swallow. The ones who do help, such as the Episcopal Church, with their food kitchen and emergency money fund, or the Methodist Church, who help with money, emergency response (I have cleaned out hoarding houses with some of their members before) and other needs, these are the stewards I keep in mind when   looking for our compassionate groups among the religious. The Lord's Church,  Outcast's for Christ and Impact Ardmore are also trying to make strides in including and reaching those in need as well.

They help outside their walls.

We have a number of non profits in Ardmore; our ability to collaborate services continues to be an area in which we need improvement.

We have lots of hearts that are trying to help.

So how do we get this better organized? How do we reduce groups that are duplicating services or combine them into one effort? How do we connect those who serve similar purposes to reduce overlap? How do we bring a wider amount of churches into helping fund transient programs, adding this as part of their outreach? Maybe even offering some of their expansive space as temporary shelters, or year long housing with built in support?

Government cannot solve all problems. It was never meant too.

Figuring out how to balance the needs of a growing small town while navigating urban issue hurdles   is a growing problem for our community. Crime rates have climbed due to both youth and adults who have been relocated here from more urban communities, bringing street awareness and behaviors to our school and neighborhoods. When once we could identify someone's kid from a glance and know whose parent to call, we now have children with families we don't know and foundations we can't access to help. We have kids who sleep on couches of strangers met a few hours earlier. We have adults renting homes they barely take care of and  slum lords (many homes in the northwest side of Main Street) who have no conscience for the homes they deem rentable; our housing shortages contribute to homeless families.

But our plight of downtown is our more current concern; walking the path between addressing homeless needs while recognizing the larger issues that tax paying, law abiding folks would like to see addressed, puts everyone in awkward position.

Ardmore downtown and the surrounding areas are facing an opportunity to truly step into being a progressive community; both with our renewed focus on developing a Main Street that invites lingering and with a more collaborative spirit of our downtown merchants. Oftentimes, small towns can fall victim of territorial issues. Some  of the changes that progressive, successful downtowns have implemented include;  promoting building owners to improve their buildings both structurally and visually, having a clear idea of a cohesive look for downtown that promotes beautiful architecture, quality building, and  LOTS of flowers, planters, trees, and outdoor space.  People linger where beauty resides. Widening sidewalks so cafes can have outdoor eating areas, creating open spaces for art to be displayed, spaces for bikes and skateboards so we encourage a variety of foot traffic, all of these things bring both money and bodies to downtown areas.

But what do we do when some  of the bodies who linger choose to destroy, damage, or generally create unsightly and even smelly conditions? What do we do with the ones we try to help, but will not be helped and over time, become a nuisance, a nightmare, or even dangerous?

This is where our collaborations and visions need to be clearer.

I have been in the towns where downtown merchants attempt draconian methods-sharp plugs on walls and benches, designed to make sitting to long or laying  painful; of rounding folks up and arresting, of picking them up and dropping them off in strange towns hours away; these things don't solve anything,  but they do  erode our sense of  care for one another.

However, merchants and citizens have a right to desire and claim a downtown that is safe and beautiful. So where do we draw the line in reaching these goals?

Reality is, we don't. We get creative with the lines we have and color them in.

Right now we have outreach in a number of forms; the Grace Center currently serves as a hub of helping our transient and high needs populations, and quite frankly, they do it beautifully. Having organizations identify a lead group to help with coordination could be one solution to better managing various programs and outreach more effectively. This could lessen money waste overall. In addition, we need a location for our homeless to hang out, sleep, and even to simply be drunk but situated because some will always be, no matter what help is offered.

This is where Ardmore could take a chance.

Recently the City of Ardmore tore down the Colvert building following an open request to the community of ideas of what to do there; and here is an easy place to create a solution. The location of this site is downtown, removed from Main Street, directly by Sheriffs Department and police, walkable to services, and an open landscape. A large metal roofed, open side, pole barn type building could be built; we could use welders from vo-tech or our AG programs or even volunteer to come out and help create wide, large metal benches for sitting or laying, a two sided bathroom could be available with a simple spray system for instant cleaning, reducing the issue of no public restrooms and rerouting people from using the park, thereby allowing for families and children to be more comfortable in our Central Park. Reality is, the mentally unstable are homeless as well, and sometimes this can bring behaviors which can be frightening and threatening when visiting the park. We could also educate our local food related businesses about the Federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, signed by President Bill Clinton, which  protects those who donate food from criminal or civil liability-this was created to ENCOURAGE restaurants, grocery stores, etc to donate food and protect them form lawsuits.  Currently, some states have programs where, at the end of the day, volunteers pick up food from area restaurants, provide a donation slip, and bring the food to set locations for nightly food kitchens. A serving station with an installed metal long table would house food each night, wide mouth trash cans would provide accessible bins, and a DHS/APS worker-Adult Protective Services and folks from medical community could come through periodically, learning the local homeless and developing a sense of those who are harmless and those who may need intervention of a different sort. In addition, vets could hold spay and neuter clinics for homeless dogs. Across the street, the old Big 5 building could office several outreaches in one spot.The police would have this access too, having a set place to relocate those who try to linger on benches, disturbing visual enjoyment, while making sure they have an equally safe and sturdy spot to reside during the day or night. The Salvation Army is next door, so those who cannot handle their rules would be able to walk a few steps over, take their blanket and curl up. Bathrooms being accessible there would solve most urination and   feces defecation issues on public streets and buildings as it would be easily reachable. And, for those, like the well known downtown bench resider, Adult Protective Services could follow through, take guardianship of him since it appears he cannot care for himself- it is said he receives a check, this would pay for nursing home care, and he could be taken inpatient for a medical detox and then placed in a nursing home for monitoring by the state. If he leaves,  his caseworker  would have a place to take  him too.  Then merchants and citizens would know there is a plan for helping those who are incapable for caring for themselves and police efforts could be refocused on preventing and fighting crime rather than cleaning up bowels released. We could also install lockers that could hold their personal belonging and hand out a lock to them to keep.

This would be phase one of a larger project, one which would look for inspiration from Utah's program of housing, one which has reduced homelessness by 91%. (Note: Recent eval one year later, showed that this percentage did not account for shelter residents, some of whom have lived in shelters for 3+ years, with over 500 waiting for a more permanent solution, so even with the best of intentions, solutions can take years to fully implement effectively.)

And yes, I live in the southwest, a few blocks from where I am suggesting we do this. People walk the neighborhoods all day, I would rather them  have a place they know they  are welcome  then have them wandering around looking for a place to be.

Today is just one blog over one aspect of a few problems our community, like many towns, are facing. Recently, ON FB, many folks, including  business owners, average joes, and folks working in related health services fields, debated this topic-one things was clear, folks are concerned and engaged. Right now is the time to actively look into creative methods of addressing this issue, in a manner which is both humane and realistic. Over the coming weeks, I hope to talk with more groups about what they do and why, in order to educate the community on how our programs work in Ardmore, so we can all begin to fill in the gaps, reduce the overlaps, and create a system that helps Ardmoreites help themselves and one another.

I love this town, I believe in our community, and I have hope for our future.

We are in this together folks and no one saves us, but us.

See you sometime soon, in our hometown.

Make sure to check in each week as many events are coming up that you may want to attend-we have Harleys  coming, we have a Wine Walking tour, live music and more…