A letter I wrote this morning:
Dear City Leaders & Fellow Citizens,
Although I spoke out last week against the idea of an ordinance that would impose restrictions on grassroots charity (specifically, handing out food to people in public spaces), I want to clarify that I am sympathetic with the businesses in the downtown area, and with their customers (of whom I am often one). And I wish to apologize to Commissioner ___, to the other business owners, and to anyone else who may have interpreted my comments as dismissing their concerns.
What I was trying to say is that there is an issue here that can’t be fixed by restricting grassroots acts of compassion. (In fact, such acts of compassion are a cohesive force in society that helps make communities more resilient against whatever disasters or hard times may come, which is why it’s not a good idea to try and restrict such acts — even if good works were not required under the religious and spiritual beliefs many of us live by).
The issue at hand: The presence of people sleeping in doorways, on sidewalks, and so on is sometimes creating extra work and expense for the business owners, and often creating an atmosphere that some people find threatening or just not conducive to spending time enjoying our beautiful downtown and patronizing businesses.
So how do we address this? Does anyone have any ideas? Should we have a workshop? Or should we encourage citizens to attend an upcoming Downtown Development Association meeting to brainstorm ideas?
In the meantime, I have a few thoughts, from the viewpoint of someone who mainly gets around by foot, and often spends extensive time in the public space.
It may seem counterintuitive, but I think a big part of the solution is to ADD amenities along Magnolia Ave that make it more inviting for MORE people to linger. Benches; maybe a fountain. Definitely a public toilet (even if it’s just a porta-potty). These things make a difference to elderly people; families with children … and even to relatively rugged individuals like myself who are willing to sit on the curb in order to eat and take a break. Without these amenities, people just jump in their cars and drive home.
When people linger in the public space, they create happy lasting memories and social connections, and it makes a multiplier effect. It also raises the general level of trust in a community. Oh and from a business standpoint — people who linger tend to spend more money!
Thinking about our unhoused population and other citizens who are down and out … reminded me of that old saying: “The poor will always be with us.” Maybe that is true. But I will say, in places where I’ve spent extended time hanging out in public spaces, from Orlando to Asheville to Amsterdam, Madrid, Tokyo, Washington DC etc etc etc, a common factor in “safe-feeling” public spaces has been BENCHES and public restrooms.
Additional amenities that attract people to linger include:
vendors on a steady basis
In such settings, “the poor are still with us” — there are still “people who are down and out”; they might be lying on sidewalks and in doorways etc — but the overall atmosphere is still safe and welcoming because so many other people are around.
Thank you for reading to the end of this lengthy missive. Let’s create win-win solutions together; I know we can. We are a city with heart, and creativity.
All the best to you,
PS. (Speaking of public restrooms, Daytona Beach Permaculture Guild would be delighted to sponsor an organic porta-potty, beautifully embellished by local artists.)