Deliberative approach to tent cities by law enforcement, social service agencies smart

One problem we come critically close to assuming that we cannot solve is homelessness.
Even though most of us don’t come in contact with the homeless on a regular basis and the issue rarely shows up on the news cycle, we accept it as just the way it is.
But in recent weeks this issue has shown up in reports of tent encampments near the Monongahela River before Westover’s City Council.
According to Westover’s police chief there is one larger tent city along the river and several smaller ones in other locations.
The number of occupants of these camps is uncertain but the primary site is not only located on the railroad’s right-of-way, there’s also evidence of drug use.
Clearly, this is a problem you cannot ignore and it will just go away. Instead, it’s population would only increase as would the number of petty crimes.
We applaud Westover’s police chief for keeping a wary eye on this situation and working with the mayor to determine the best course of action.
Our impression is this police chief has chosen a harder right than an easier wrong — even if just monitoring and discussing the situation appears contrary to Westover’s short-term interest.
Despite what some may think this is not a black and white issue. Yes, you could arrest and cite these camps’ occupants for trespassing and some for drug possession.
But where would they go? It’s likely they would return to the same site or once dispersed cause widespread issues.
Instead, it appears the police chief is planning on meeting with the Bartlett House’s director, a regional nonprofit that strives to meet the needs of the homeless.
He has also indicated he want’s to huddle with other social service agencies to find a solution to these homeless encampments.
Of course, many times law enforcement doesn’t have the luxury of a deliberative approach to situations.
But in this case it does have that advantage and though some will be quick to refer to its efforts, so far, as community policing, we call it smart policing.
It’s also encouraging to see the Bartlett House’s immediate offer to meet with Westover’s police chief and others to help solve this problem.
Though it can happen to anyone — many are said to be a payday or two away from homelessness — it’s rarely expected.
What is expected in this age of Twitter and knee-jerk reactions are too often bad choices by those in authority or those who can help.
However, the choices being studied now about these tent cities occupants may work.
Perhaps more importantly they indicate the people making the choices are qualified to lead the way.

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