Peter 'Fish' Case: Clearing the air on a 'lightning rod' issue that can't be ignored

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So, apparently my last column last week ("It's time to make a move on the issue of loitering downtown," Sept. 4) made a few people happy and a few people upset — not abnormal — and the issue I brought up is what you might call a lightning rod issue. The one thing I wanted to do is clear the air a little more. Whereas I wish we didn't have to discuss the plight of our downtown and what used to be this lovely bucolic vibe, but we do. I think I may have over-simplified a few things. First being the "just clean up after yourself and behave" issue. If you didn't read my column last week, in a nutshell I addressed the "loitering" issue that has been developing in our public spaces, and the visual impact it has been having. Yes, those are unpleasant, and yes, they are uncomfortable, and yes, I wish we didn't have to see it. But we do.

When I spoke about being a little more governed around it, possibly taking a harder line towards it and maybe being "less compassionate," I guess that could have been read that we need to make this a police problem, and every time there is a gathering, we arrest. Nope, that is not an option. I completely understand that we have a larger problem that needs to be addressed. That problem is poverty. We live in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, so truthfully there is no excuse for our citizens to live on the street. I bring it up because a few people thought I might be upset with poor people, and the marginalized. I'm not. I'm upset with the visual of poor, I'm uncomfortable with the visual of homelessness. But it has nothing to do with the individual who is walking that path and more to do with a government that built that path and allows it to be traveled.

While I'm clearing the air, let's address the "lightning rod." The lightning rod is something in theory that is supposed to take something that can do great harm and divert it to a place where it can do no harm. But welcome to 2019 where the lightning rod no longer does that. The lightning rod now becomes a filter to create blame or create a reason to create blame. For example, I get hit up for money "I don't go downtown." I see the public spaces being occupied by the homeless and they're making a mess "I don't go downtown." Let me make this point: if you could feed a family of four for $20 in "downtown," you would probably go. After all, the parking lot of the Burger King on Canal Street was known for super sketchy behavior, yet people went (just to quell any discussion, it closed due to a business disagreement, not because people stopped going).

At the end of the day I truly wish we didn't have these issues, but we do. The issue however is far more systemic than a simple unsightly visual, and I recognize that. Because when our system hands tents out to people who are homeless as a means to solve the problem, even if meant for the short term it's a problem. When Big Pharma pushes opioids that help feed the problem that's a deeper problem. Once we have those issues reeled in, maybe the issue will take care of itself. I can't say that for sure, but it would be a start. Most of us are fortunate to be able to hang out at home, frankly, because we have one. We store our stuff in a closet, garage or shed; again, because we have one. I understand all of that. These people don't.

It doesn't remove the visual, rather it intensifies it because there is no quick resolve to it and we're a nation that wants instant gratification. We're not going to get it on this one; we may just have to fight a bit to do the right thing and the right thing is to eradicate poverty and homelessness. So, where I will stick to my guns and say that the visual is uncomfortable and the situation is unpleasant to look at, I understand this: there but for the grace of God go I.

Peter "Fish" Case is a man with an opinion. He offers up a weekly podcast discussion that can be heard at theearspoon.com. Questions, compliments and complaints can be sent to him at fish@theearspoon.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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