Friday evening, several weeks ago, I attended a special event in downtown Fayetteville at the Cameo Art House Theater. Afterwards, around 9:30 p.m., I had only two blocks to walk to the reception held at SkyView on Hay. In these two short city blocks, I was approached three times by panhandler’s and vagrants.
I was brought up to be compassionate, kind and generous and cannot remember when I have failed to offer assistance to someone truly in need ... “By the grace of God go I.” However, if you live or work in Downtown Fayetteville your nerves, resources and patience are probably being tested by what seems to be this ever growing influx of vagrants and panhandlers.
I’m not going to use the word “homeless” because our community has yet to define that term. However, the problem is real and getting worse as Downtown Fayetteville becomes their preferred sanctuary. A shameful circumstance that quickly turns sympathy, generosity and empathy into fear, apprehension and frustration. Fear, initially from the abrupt unknown approach. “What is going to happen next?” Apprehension from our crazy, unpredictable and erratic judicial system that puts in question what rights we actually have to defend ourselves should this panhandler or vagrant become overly aggressive or violent. These concerns are real. Will I be sued or go to jail for defending myself from this derelict? Or, maybe I’ll be accused of violating his human rights.
The frustration comes from thinking about the impression we are making on first time visitors to Fayetteville or on someone who has just moved into one of the lovely apartments or condos downtown or recently set up business downtown. Frustration also comes from knowing it doesn’t have to be this way. All that is needed is a show of “law and order,” an increased police presence, enforcement of existing laws and an inclination to address the problem. It’s doable.
Without punity these vagrant and panhandling intruders use our bushes and landscapes as camp sites, our back doors, parking lots and alley ways as toilets and downtown pedestrians as a revenue source. Those worried about the new downtown Transportation Hub attracting and harboring these undesirables have a legitimate concern, which I believe is soon to become a reality.
The city bureaucrats who claim we have no money to address this situation also have no idea what the real cost to the city will be if the problem is not addressed. New stadium, new baseball team, innovative arts and entertainment district. Now is the time to address this issue, not later. Continued denial is not an option. Agree?
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