I’ve been saddened to see the public response to the proposed loitering ordinance. I am an employee of a downtown business. I’m also the daughter of an alcoholic, veteran and a sometimes homeless father. There were years where he did not have a home, but there were also years where people assumed he was homeless because of his appearance or his behavior. The proposed ordinance is obviously a sensitive topic; it can be difficult for all to view with an open mind and an open heart.
It has been presented that the ordinance is targeting the homeless in Wausau. It seems there are assumptions that some of the individuals of concern are homeless, when that may not actually be the case.
Employees in the downtown area and others who use the Jefferson Street ramp have expressed concerns with specific situations they have encountered. The issues that have been witnessed and reported were not directly related to a homeless individual or group of people. Yes, patrons of the parking ramps come across individuals who appear to be homeless on a regular basis. While it is alarming and heartbreaking to see, some of those individuals have not presented immediate concern or threat.
However, employees have been approached by people asking for money and when money is not offered they are essentially verbally assaulted and screamed at. One individual was told it would be her fault if the lady died because she was not given money for her fix.
I have personally opened the door to the stairwell during lunch to pass through and found individuals engaging in sexual activity.
Frequently in the mornings as employees are coming to work between the hours of 6 and 8 AM they encounter people not only sleeping in the stairwell or in front of elevator doors, but appear to be passed out as you can smell the alcohol or even see an empty bottle lying beside them. Often times they have soiled themselves or vomited on the floor. Employees and visitors to Wausau have had to step over feces in the stairwells, and have found urine on the windows, floors, elevators and handrails. This is a health and safety concern.
It is not uncommon to pass through groups of people who do not appear to be homeless, but loitering in either the skywalks, the stairwells or in the ramp itself. It’s incredibly uncomfortable as a female walking out of the building in the dark to have to pass through a large group of individuals who are congregating around a backpack. When you pass by, they stop what they are doing, but don’t speak even when spoken to.
As you can imagine this is just a small sampling of the situations that downtown businesses, employees and visitors have experienced, and which seem to have increased over the last two years. And as we can surely all appreciate, being a female and leaving the building alone not knowing what’s around the next corner can be very troubling and uncomfortable. These are not situations that are minor inconveniences. These are situations that present risk and make employees and visitors feel threatened regularly. Downtown businesses pay for their employees to park in the ramps, the paying patrons should not fear for their safety on a regular basis.
Most certainly, we are all concerned for the homeless population in Wausau. And, presumably whatever side of the issue you are leaning towards, we all want the very best for those who are less fortunate. It seems we should all get somewhere close to the middle so we can make some progress.
If you recall my introduction, my father is an alcoholic veteran who also found himself homeless for a number of years. Every part of me has compassion for people who struggle with mental illness, who struggle to find a warm place to lay their head at night, and who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. I’m not a doctor of psychiatry; however experience has been that enabling bad behavior isn’t necessarily supporting recovery. I recognize this ordinance is very controversial in our community and that it’s a really difficult situation. But, I do believe that doing nothing, and leaving things the way they are will not help the homeless population. Nor will it help the others who are not homeless, but are displaying the behaviors mentioned above.
As a community, we all want what is best for the city, and that includes ensuring the safety for those that live and work here, and the safety of those who are visiting from other areas. It also means we need to come together to identify logical solutions, and to understand what can be done to help the less fortunate. Let’s put our differing opinions aside, understand the facts, listen to the need and step up to help. Regardless of how the ordinance was presented, those of us who see what is happening every day realize, this is NOT a homeless issue.
It is my opinion that the ordinance is the first step to improve a difficult situation that has presented itself in our community, a situation that is not uncommon across the country. There is a legitimate safety concern, and with this ordinance police can enforce removal of people who are loitering. Implementing the ordinance is a step in the right direction.
Seeing the bigger picture….it’s the first step in making progress.