Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The End of Skid Row

Every city has a Skid Row

Over 20 years ago I got an idea that would save the homeless, reduce crime, and raise property values in areas of the city where businesses once thrived. I pitched the idea to some wealthy investors who had derelict properties and they were enthusiastic -- up to the point where they had to put money into the program. That is when the excuses and apologies came out.

The biggest excuse was that the economy was bad and they didn't have sufficient liquid assets to help out. They said they were cash poor and financially strapped and couldn't contribute, but it was a great idea and good luck with it. No matter who I talked to the result was the same. Great idea, but the economy was too bad for them to be a part of it. Good luck.

Those same people were seen at charity auctions spending conspicuously and were still being driven by chauffeurs surrounded by body guards and people and being seen at the right parties no matter the closing of the Dow Jones that day or month or year, but they couldn't participate or be involved because it wouldn't benefit them sufficiently -- and they wouldn't be in charge. Forget about the tax benefits of turning derelict buildings into communities for the homeless. Forget about cleaning up areas where drug deals and murder and violence flourished. Forget about the decrease in police needed to patrol the area. None of that was enough to change their minds. They'd contribute the buildings and take the tax benefits if someone wanted to purchase the property and turn the warehouses and manufacturing facilities into high end condos and lofts, but not for the homeless or to help get the homeless off the streets and back into the mainstream with job skills and assistance that did not involve Welfare. That is not the way things are done.

I began to see that what was missing wasn't a business plan. I had that. It wasn't a break down of costs. I had that too. It was because the communities built and the buildings repurposed could not be controlled because they were self-sufficient and self-sustaining with a governing board/council made up of the people who lived there. That could not be allowed to happen.

As with so many things, I gave up. That's what they wanted. I had to work and earn a living and forging ahead with the program took a back seat to the necessities of life. My life.

The plan is simple.

In every city there is a warehouse district, manufacturing district, high crime district where buildings once bustling with activity and jobs are dark and shadowed areas where pimps and drug dealers and thugs and bullies flourish. The police patrol the areas, but they're smart enough to know that the broken glass and discarded needles and drug paraphernalia -- and bodies -- are dangerous. Buildings where steel was manufactured are decaying and broken down and the homeless and drug addicts and derelict are decaying inside or nearby. When the police don't even want to get too close, maybe it's time to do something about the blight on the city's reputation and bright and shining past.

Owners would donate the buildings and the government would offer tax credits. Builders, architects, lumber yards, electricians, plumbers, and tradesmen and material suppliers would donate their time or help by pitching in to help purchase materials (or gather donations from suppliers) to refurbish and rebuild the properties, turn them into communities with small apartments, community areas (kitchens and administrative offices for starters). The outsides of the building would become gardens for food and for flowers and herbs, even playgrounds and parks for the inhabitants.

The homeless would be offered a chance to get back into the mainstream by working to rehab the buildings and redesign the space for the community, teaching them new skills they can take back into the world and use to obtain jobs. The people living there would have the option of continuing to live in the community and contribute or use it as a spring board to get back into the mainstream.

Once the buildings were remodeled and finished, residents would participate in managing the property and the tenants, governing themselves. Those interested would be taught to manage the property and deal with the day to day issues that crop up. Business owners from the community at large would volunteer a few hours a week to teach and guide the community until it is self-sustaining and provide for itself, but the governing board would be made up of the residents.

Hospitals would provide supplies and medicines that would eventually be destroyed because they were nearing the end of their shelf life. Doctors, nurses, and aides would volunteer a few hours a week to staff the clinics for less severe illnesses and injuries and residents with an interest in medicine and health care would be taught to manage the clinic, dispense and inventory supplies, and provide administrative support.

Food would be grown in the community and would also be donated by businesses in the area. Food that isn't pretty enough to go into grocery stores could be provided for the community and bakers, cooks, chefs, and food workers from the surrounding city would volunteer a few hours to teach residents about nutrition and cooking and baking and turning the food stuffs into nutritious meals for the residents. As with the other services, those among the residents wishing to learn the business of providing and preparing food would be taught by the volunteers. Volunteers would be drawn from businesses as well as concerned citizens with talents they wish to share.

Books that would end up in landfills could be donated to the community's library. Teachers could volunteer their time to help the community set up schools and classrooms for the children and adults where they could learn new skills or how to read and write. Residents could even learn useful skills like sewing, tailoring, repairing clothes, etc. Whatever skill someone wants to learn would be taught by volunteers and eventually by early residents who have graduated and skillful enough to share what they've learned with the community. Every job that is learned by the residents would benefit the community as a whole. Nothing would be wasted and everyone -- especially the city -- would benefit.

Since the properties would no longer provide a safe haven for dirty deals and crime, the police wouldn't need to worry when entering the district. An area teeming with life and purpose would be an asset to the police and provide a deterrent to crime which would raise the property values in the area as more and more properties are turned into thriving communities. There would be no more homeless because they would have a place to live they could call their own with meals they would help prepare among people willing to help them find a better way.

No one would lose, except those unwilling to become involved in the program. The property owners would have property that is worth far more as a community than it was as a derelict building crumbling back into the earth and filth of neglect. The streets would be safer with better lighting and people living in the area taking back their lives. Food and books and clothing and anything that would eventually end up in a landfill would be put to use. Nothing would be wasted: not food, not tools, not material, and not people.

Whatever the community needed would be provided by volunteers and by the community residents as the community grows and prospers. Such a self-sustaining community is a viable alternative to the current situation, offering training, health care, education, and homes to the poor and unfortunate. Residents would be taught how to care for their homes and communities, how to govern themselves, and how to contribute to the community, the city, and to each other. Parents would be taught how to effectively care for their children and day care services would be provided by the residents who wish to care for children and area. Every aspect of family and community life would be taught to those needing help and no one would be alone. There would be neighbors and friends and the community to fall back on.

There are an infinite number of minor details that would need to be addressed, but this is the general outline of the plan. It is an urban version of Michael Tellinger's Ubuntu communities.

In the beginning and because throughout the world money is legal tender, such a project would need money through donations and by residents earning money through a job and donations from the community and individuals. The aim is to set up communities that no longer depend on money.

You will ask how such a community is possible and who would be in control and do the jobs necessary to keep the communities up and running. The fact is that people are by nature creatures that need to work, need something to do to give their lives purpose and direction. The homeless especially want a life that doesn't begin and end with defecating in public or in alleys and they need and want retraining. Anyone whose skills are no longer useful in today's changing society would be retrained and re-educated, providing them with the skills and experience they need to get back into the mainstream world. They would have practical experience through living and working in the community and could do whatever job suits them.

Painters would paint. Artists would draw, sculpt, design and make clothing. Every job that exists has someone who wants to learn and practice. People who want to learn plumbing and work with electricity and sewage and trash removal and recycling would be able to do so. There is no job in existence that does not have someone willing to do it. Whatever is fulfilling to an individual is available. Everyone has a talent or leans toward some job or skill that they want to use. People are always happiest when they do something they really want to do and not just something they do because it makes them money. Money is not a factor in the end, only in the beginning, and there would be people to teach members of the community how to manage their money, how to get the best deal, how to shop, how to save, how to use money to their best advantage. There would be people to make and repair furniture, design technology, cure and treat diseases, teach and take care of children, and the list goes on. There is less chance to misuse one's talents if people are allowed to do what suits them, what they dream of, and what is made available to them. I imagine such an existence would result in fewer unhappy and miserable and dissatisfied individuals and more contentment generally -- and specifically -- that would result in less burnout and frustration and fewer people planning or falling into the desire to go postal.

Entertainers would entertain. Acrobats would still fly through the air or tumble across the ground. Plays and code would be written. Technology would no longer be limited by funding or prejudice. Anything that can be dreamed can become reality.

Yes, it does sound like Utopia -- and it is. Utopia is possible as long as the root of evil, the need for and need to obtain money is taken out of the equation. The lights would still go on with the flick of a switch. Toilets would still flush. Water would still flow. Heat and air conditioning would still run when needed and wanted. Everything that people need would be provided and maintained by the community. Technology would advance. Diseases would be cured. Life would go on and people would thrive.

The elderly would be cared for, not in a drug-controlled haze but within the community as teachers, leaders, and elders. The elderly would be a part of the community as workers and residents, but also as sources of knowledge and in governing the community. People might actually live longer if they have a reason to get up in the morning and contribute. Their experience, expertise, and knowledge would not be wasted. It would be shared with the community. It is a Utopia.

For now ... think about it and check it out. If you have questions, I might have the answers, but I at least know where to guide you to find them.

Just as landfills will no longer be built for the refuse of the world and furnaces will provide heat without being needed to destroy outdated medication and food stuffs and whatever is cast off by the world, people will no longer be forgotten, cast off, and allowed to die alone and unwanted. To everything there is a purpose and that purpose will be realized and nurtured and used. Nothing will be wasted, especially not people. There will be no need to deport the homeless from the streets as Mayor Giuliani did in New York City. This is a better way and everyone wins.

That is all. Disperse.

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