PAVE forum: Candidates offer views on how to handle city's homeless issue
Last week PAVE (Pottawatomie Advocates for Voter Education) hosted a candidate forum for 10 hopefuls running for offices relating to the Shawnee City Commission.
Among several community-generated questions, residents wanted to know what stance the four mayoral and six ward candidates hold regarding homelessness in Shawnee.
QUESTION: What's your plan to address the homeless in Shawnee?
ANSWER by Mayoral candidate current Ward 1 City Commissioner Ed Bolt:
I can talk about my plan and I can tell you what I've done, too. I've been on the commission two years and that is one of the first things I told them then that I wanted to work on. I had a talk with lots of businesses and organizations here in Shawnee. I have led groups to go to Oklahoma City to see what they've done to improve food and shelter, been to the shelter in Norman to see what they do. We have meetings at the Shawnee Forward with an organization out of Oklahoma City and wanted to know about what they were doing. We have found a program in another town that basically is called Help with Zero (Zero Hunger) — it doesn't cost a terrible amount of money, we got that built into the budget for this next year. You also need a person to run it and build up some new money so it doesn't cost the taxpayers of the city with a Federally-funded program. I have great hope we can initiate that and make some difference. It's a very well organized case management program that's worked very effectively in about 100 communities across the country.
ANSWER by Mayoral candidate downtown business owner Theresa Cody:
I know there's a lot of organizations that work toward that, and I know they've had some success and some failures. I think we've got to bring in more people, and once again, I'm going to speak about putting together a more community group governance of people that want to help. I already have people calling me wanting to help — that they have degrees in psychology and those kind of things — because they are wanting to help the people. I think those are the type people we're going to have to have in order to make a difference. We can work together and make that happen.
ANSWER by Mayoral candidate current Ward 3 City Commissioner Ron Gillham Sr.:
In dealing with homeless, (they're) varied a fingerprints. Everyone has a story, a separate reason why they are on the street. Trying to provide or see of there are emergency circumstances for them — (like) in the freezing weather (knowing) individuals (are) getting into doorways to try to get out of the wind — we know that's happening to some degree, but to foster and promote the programs that can help these people in these circumstances. I know my church has worked on that, a lot of churches have. I certainly admire and love the people who will take the time to give their time to this type of work to get people more comfortable in the type of life that they have to live in.
ANSWER by Mayoral candidate local business owner Dean Hudlow:
That's something I don't think people are going to rush to work on. It's going to be with us and somebody is going to have to take ahold of it. I would assume, as mayor, the mayor should communicate to other people and those people (the homeless) are people and I know we've experienced a number of those down here at the senior center, and reached the point where they just had to lock the door because they didn't want them in there, and that's sad. They're here, so we need to start some type of communication to try to help pull them out of that situation.
ANSWER by Ward 2 candidate GCTC instructor Elliot Shuler:
This is a discussion I had with our city manager a few days ago. I think the bottom line on this is we need to treat our homeless citizens here with dignity and respect. We need to treat them like human beings. We have some of our homeless population that just need a hand. They need a way to try to bridge into jobs, try to bridge into employment, to bridge into some kind of housing solution and we need to find some system that can help for a month or two; they may need help for six months; they may need help for a year. At the end of the day, they are citizens, they are human beings, they are part of our community. We understand there's always going to be some that are homeless. There are ways to help some. Oe decision, one hand, one helping incident could be the difference between someone being and staying homeless and someone being a productive citizen.
ANSWER by Ward 2 candidate former legislator Bob Weaver:
We, like many cities our size and certainly larger, have homeless issues, but we also have vagrant issues. Our problem is probably more vagrancy than it is homelessness in Shawnee. I am immediate past-chairman at the Salvation Army, I am currently on the board, and fill a great need in this community by taking care of those in need. Some are homeless, some are vagrants, some are just having a hard time. We provide meals, lodging for not only families, but individuals. It is a problem — I understand it's a problem. It's an answer that people have tried to come up with for a long time. I'm not going to sit here and say that I've got the answer, but I'm willing to continue to work on that to try to find solutions and listen to people and say, “What do you think about that, what do you think we need to do?” But we're not going to turn our backs on them. My hope is that we do not turn our backs on the people in need — that includes the homeless; that includes the vagrants, but we also need to make sure we find a way to protect our citizens.
ANSWER by Ward 3 candidate Incumbent James Harrod:
Well, we're always going to have homeless, that's the bad news. My wife and I work with the Salvation Army and we work with different organizations to try to help with the homeless. We've done many things; we do fundraisers with the Salvation Army. We work with the (YMCA) and different programs. I agree, some people just need a hand up, and help sometimes, but we have a lot of people that have mental issues that get off their medication and things like that, so we need to somehow or other develop a program where we can help them to stay on their medication and get help.
ANSWER by Ward 3 candidate Community Renewal's Travis Flood:
We have a homeless population that is something we are always going to have to deal with. Many people don't just have financial difficulties, but they have difficulties in their mental health. Sometimes those things are really hard to overcome. Without being intentional about helping those things first, those problems will continue. I believe that people should be all treated the same; I hope we, as a city, continue to embrace those individuals that need to be loved on and supported — not just in support, but a way to help them regain the best life for themselves. I could never tell somebody how they should or shouldn't live their lives. I can only do my best to support them and help them find the things they need to live their best life while also protecting the citizens of our city.
ANSWER by Ward 4 candidate Incumbent Darren Rutherford:
Homelessness is a problem everywhere — not just in Shawnee. We need to do everything possible that we can do for the homeless. There's a lot of things involved with the homeless. We need to do our very best. Our police department does very well dealing with them — treating people with respect. We need to do the best we can to help those people to not be homeless and provide services they cannot afford.
ANSWER by Ward 4 candidate local business owner LaDonna Bryce:
I have visited with the Captains at the Salvation Army; there is a homeless issue. I want to see the city work with private and public individuals to help address that. If we all come together then we can address the issue and possibly go great strides in solving the issue.
Also watch for stories about questions and responses from county, state candidates in The Shawnee News-Star or online at news-star.com.