Damage done to an Interstate 29 bridge in Sioux City by a fire on Wednesday provides a dramatic wake-up call for the need to breathe new life into discussion of our community's homeless problem. The fire, caused by transients camped below the bridge, was bad, but it could have been worse if, say, the structure had collapsed with traffic on it.
Our sense is momentum we felt building to identify and create solutions to the local challenge of homelessness last year slowed this year. As a community, we must recommit in urgent fashion to the goal of a multi-faceted strategy for this issue. Without one, homelessness will persist and, in fact, grow.
To begin, the state and city shouldn't accept the problem and look the other way. For protection of citizens and property, for example, the Iowa Department of Transportation and the city of Sioux City shouldn't allow anyone to camp under a bridge. If policies exist to prevent living under bridges, enforce them. If policies don't exist, create them. For another related example, the city of Sioux City should do whatever it can to discourage panhandling, perhaps through an ordinance prohibiting this activity either across the city or in specific high-profile, high-traffic parts.
We don't suggest local police officers spend an inordinate amount of their time looking under bridges for transients or searching for panhandlers, but the city shouldn't ignore these issues, either.
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Of course, steps like these do not address the root causes of homelessness, so they must be only part of a comprehensive local plan to reduce, if not eliminate the problem.
Again today, we commend those who do what they can and who advocate for more, from big-hearted volunteers to social service providers to medical providers to government offices to law enforcement agencies. Our community is filled with individuals willing to extend a helping hand to those who have nowhere to go.
What's needed, however, is more than well-intentioned, but short-term approaches, and we shouldn't just look to Washington, D.C., for deeper solutions to a challenge for which we as a community are responsible.
This task won't be easy, but we believe the local reservoir of compassion, energy, creativity and expertise necessary to affect significant change in homelessness exists if the problem is made the priority it deserves to be.
In other words, there is a way if there is a will.