When no one is harmed there is little reason to react to community problems, issues of public safety or relatively small violations of the law. When two people end up dead within just over one week it is time to act. A homeless man and a homeless woman have now died in Syracuse. They both spent nights under the 690 interstate highway in separate encampments.
Tim Wilkins died in a fire that he had started to stay warm. Michelle Noce died after being beaten in an apparent turf battle over who can panhandle on a busy off ramp near one of Syracuse's signature restaurants, Dinosaur Barbecue. Those who work with the homeless and the troubled in our community knew Tim and Michelle. There had been efforts to help them. Efforts to bring them inside and to offer structure to their lives. Those efforts were ineffective either because they were rebuffed or they did not discover a true solution.
The answers are elusive, even to those who spend each day trying to help the homeless. There are programs, shelters and food pantries. Some of the homeless population drops in and out of the available social programs, but they ultimately return to the streets. Most of us hardly see them standing there in plain sight.
Reporter Jessica Cain profiled a pan handler named Mark tonight. He stands at the Teall Avenue off ramp of Route 690 with a sign asking for money. A few years ago the Syracuse police stepped in to make arrests and ticket panhandlers in the name of public safety. Maybe it is time to start again. Maybe it's time to hold a homeless person summit. Maybe it's time to break up encampments. Maybe it's time to find a new way to serve those in need.
Some of those ideas will be upsetting to the people on the streets and some of the advocates who regularly offer help. I can't claim to know the best answer. However, with the deadly results and other negative side effects we've heard about over these last two weeks we do know the best answer does not include a continuance of the same social policy.
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