There is a Letter to the Editor from Bill Siedhoff, the City’s director of Human Services, in the “News” section of this website. You can read it by clicking here.
Bill, who has worked in social services for three decades, believes that a story in today’s newspaper misrepresents his Department’s work on behalf of homeless people. I’ve read the story and I agree with Bill.
One of the assignments I have given Bill is to develop and implement a plan to end chronic homelessness. It is a task complicated by the serious and complex problems — mental illness, alcoholism, drug dependency, lack of employability, criminal records — that mark this small, but persistent, group of men (mostly) and women. And, it is a task made more formidable by the failures of most suburban communities to address it on their own.
Bill has made important progress in his assignment. He has patiently built a congress of public and private service provider groups that are now working together to focus scarce resources and specialized experience on this seemingly intractable challenge. And he has gotten the business community to support the effort financially, and downtown’s residential community to accept it patiently.
One agreement among the service groups and the business community was that volunteer groups from the suburbs feeding chronically homeless people in a city park adjacent to a major day care center would do a better and more humane job with a little organization and a lot more sanitation. So, the groups devised a new full-service drop-in center near the park — complete with refrigeration, air conditioning, and bathrooms that would begin partial operations in about 7 weeks.
Bill’s gripe with the newspaper account is that the positive work of the groups portrayed in the story is underplayed and the general agreement among downtown businesses, residents, and homeless service providers is unreported. I know of three individuals — a churchman, a business group exec, and a resident — interviewed by the reporter whose viewpoints and words were not mentioned in the story.
Chief Joe Mokwa will determine if his officers — trying to do the right thing — ignored regulations in helping the providers convene a meeting with the suburban groups. The results of that investigation should be disclosed by the Police Department and ought to be reported by the newspaper. But, so should the fact that most of the suburban charitable groups support the notion of the new drop-in center.
Reporting only half the news — or slanting it to get a “better” story — is the stuff of tabloids.