Within the past 10 days in Great Falls:
- The Cascade County Sheriffs Department busted a human trafficking/prostitution operation here.
- A Great Falls woman was arrested for selling meth and heroin on multiple occasions to undercover cops.
- I went to the Great Falls Public Library on a Friday afternoon and encountered several people camped out on the lawn next to the fountain. Two of them were literally ‘camped out’, asleep in sleeping bags in the middle of the afternoon.
- A friend of mine who lives downtown recounted to me how he is approached while coming out of his apartment by ‘street folks’ either panhandling or offering to sell him drugs on a regular basis.
- A young local woman told me yesterday that she no longer feels safe jogging in Gibson Park at any time of the day because of the indigents living there. She also related that she could smell human feces in one area of our public park.
- A totally naked man is photographed wandering around in front of the Civic Center and downtown in the middle of the day. The pictures have been widely shared on public social media sites.
I’m aware that these kinds of things happen ‘everywhere’. But I don’t live ‘everywhere’, I live in Great Falls, Montana and I’m becoming increasingly concerned about what’s happening in our hometown, as are many others.
Great Falls seems to be experiencing all of the added social problems associated with a city that’s growing and developing but with none of the benefits – like an expanding tax base and higher wages etc. Here are the U.S. Census Bureau numbers released in February of this year.
I’ve talked to many folks who will no longer allow their children to go to the park or the library because they are afraid of whats going on in the bushes, in the public restrooms, and quite frankly, right out in the open.
Because I object to some of our Great Falls public areas being used as campgrounds for the homeless doesn’t mean that I don’t have compassion for those with mental health and addiction problems. It simply means that our public library and public parks should not become unsafe, unwelcoming places for the public.
There are other solutions to addiction, homelessness and mental health we should be exploring, including perhaps providing a single, public space for homeless folks who are willing to seek help for addiction and mental health problems from the many available resources here and, for those who are physically able, to find work.
But let’s not kid ourselves – not all of the homeless and less fortunate we see on our streets have mental health or addiction issues. Some of them are just lazy, irresponsible bums who are perfectly capable of working, like the rest of us have to, but who simply don’t want to follow the rules of society, like the rest of us have to.
Those are the ones that hide behind those who have actual mental health and addiction problems.
Those are the ones who do far more damage to the cause of helping the less fortunate than those of us who bust our butts working to help pay taxes for public assistance and who insist on clean, safe streets and public areas, especially for our children.
Am I concerned about the less fortunate in Great Falls? Certainly. I’m just as compassionate as those who try so hard at times to establish their moral superiority by saying I’m not, and I have a decades long record and history of volunteering and giving to help the less fortunate here in Great Falls. But I’m more concerned about the hardworking, taxpaying citizens who are trying to live and raise their kids in a safe, clean community.
Let’s all be compassionate, but let’s none of us be naïve.