Together, we can make a difference!
When I think about how to solve tough problems, I sometimes look for examples of when people have been successful against really big odds. One example is how Rotary Clubs fought polio. Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease that affects children throughout the world. But with a simple vaccine, a child can be protected against the virus for life.
In 1979, a handful of Rotary Clubs started a drive to deliver polio vaccines to more than six million children in the Philippines. By 1985, Rotary had raised $120 million to purchase vaccines, and by 1988 Rotarians throughout the world had raised $247 million in funding – more than double their goal – to end polio throughout the world. Rotary has since contributed $1.2 billion, and its members have logged countless volunteer hours to help immunize more than two billion children in 122 countries.
Overall, remarkable progress has been achieved in the fight against polio. Since 1988, the number of polio cases has been reduced from 350,000 a year to fewer than 700 cases in 2011. The Americas were declared free from polio in 1994; the Western Pacific region followed in 2000, as did Europe in 2002. Today, with matching grant help from private foundation donors, Rotary is in the final stretch to end Polio throughout the world.
It’s amazing what a group of people can accomplish by working together. In just a short time, Rotarians have been able almost completely eliminate this devastating disease from the entire world. And, knowing how committed our Ukiah community is to improving our community, I have no doubt that we–working together–could also improve life here in Ukiah.
Now, I’m not saying that our transient problem is a disease, but I am saying that just like Rotary worked tirelessly to solve a problem, our community can come together to deal with this significant problem.
It starts simply with this: our handouts aren’t helping our transient population.
When I talk about transients, I am referring to people who choose a nomadic lifestyle that often includes using alcohol and illicit drugs. Under the influence of these substances, transients commit crimes such as panhandling, burglary, and assault; they tax our community resources like mental health and services for our homeless; and they allow their aggressive, poorly controlled dogs to harm others. These behaviors affect the safety of people in Ukiah and put our police officers at risk.
I understand why kind-hearted people give to those who are less fortunate than themselves, and I applaud that. But if you really want to help our community, many wonderful non-profit organizations could put your dollars to good use helping people who are working hard to get back on their feet. When I talk about transients, I am not referring to people who are clean and sober, but who have temporarily found themselves homeless as a result of a tough economy or some bad choices. Transients choose not to seek services provided by homeless shelters and food pantries, often because these places require recipients to be sober and non-violent.
The more people give to transients, the more they encourage the problems that come with this lifestyle. This translates into more violence in our city, and more police time spent breaking up fights and arresting transients for the crimes they’ve committed.
What’s the best way to handle the situation? First, stop providing handouts. Giving money to transients does not help our community, and it puts you in direct contact with people who may be dangerous. Transients use money to buy alcohol, methamphetamine, or other drugs. The use of alcohol and drugs leads to violence. If transients can’t afford alcohol and drugs, our community would be safer.
Beginning this week, our police officers are going to be out visiting businesses to hand out posters (for a pdf version of flyer click here) and a list of local resources for those down on their luck. Organizations on the list will include non-profits that help meet basic needs such as food, shelter and human dignity. Key services include: HOT MEALS (Plowshares, 1346 S. State); GROCERIES (UCC Food Bank, 888 N. State); ESSENTIAL SERVICES (UCC Services, 888 N. State); SHELTER (Buddy Eller Center, 201 Brush St). A guide to local services can be found here: Look Up Community Resources for the homeless
Instead of handing out money, hand out information to transients and give your donations to the agencies providing direct services to the homeless. This will assure that your dollars are spent on assistance, not alcohol and drugs.
If you observe illegal activity by transients (or anyone else), please report that activity to our department as soon as possible. For in-progress emergencies please all the Ukiah Police Department at 911 or 463-6262. Or provide our officers with crime tips at www.ukiahpolice.com.
Transients come to Ukiah for a variety of reasons: our community is known for its generosity. Transients tell us it’s easy to obtain welfare services, and most transients say that the main reason they make their way to Ukiah is because of marijuana. While not giving handouts to transients won’t solve all our transient problems, it will help.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.