Editor, Daily Press:
People need to understand that any kind of welfare or aid program is, first of all, a tool communities use to manage the poor. An effective reaction to poverty is a manifestation of the moral and spiritual health of a community, and ultimately works to benefit the social and economic benefit of the whole community.
With the closure of the Stepping Stone apartments, Tahlequah has to recognize that we have poor people living among us. In fact, we have quite a few other poor people here, if we open our eyes. Almost every community in Oklahoma has a growing number of poor people, and it is not just the poor people’s problem.
Poor people congregate wherever they can find any kind of shelter, food, and some measure of companionship and protection from crime and social abuse by their fellow man. The good people who go to church and have good jobs and don’t want to be bothered by other people’s misfortunes. There are those who make a big show of not minding helping the deserving poor, but hate the deadbeats who don’t work. Strangely, in their minds, everybody who is poor turns out to be a deadbeat, whether jobs are available or not.
In prosperous times, poverty is not so noticeable because it affects few of us, but when there are few jobs that poor people – even the educated – are qualified to fill, we grow a crop of surplus workers. Then it becomes a problem for everybody. It does no good to clear out the hobo jungles, flop houses, and shacks. Driving the poor to some other community only results in those communities sending their poor over to us. Next thing you know, we have ”knights of the road” running all over the place, stealing out of necessity, robbing, and filling our jails. (It costs more to house them in jails than to put them up in a decent rooming house.)
I once bought a large dilapidated labor camp in southern California with houses that made the Stepping Stone like a palace. The place had been an ongoing problem for the police, and the kids who lived there presented endless problems for the school system – and that is only the beginning. Then I spent thousands of dollars bulldozing the place and cleaning it up. I even let any occupant who wanted to do so tear down the houses and sell the old lumber in Mexico.
The community seemed pleased with what I had done. The place turned out to be beautiful, with huge palm trees and flowers and looking out across the desert to snow-capped Mount San Jacinto. Everything was fine until a trashy trailer camp opened up next door and the drug dealing, police calls, school problems, and burglaries started all over again.
I am no novice. I read books. I have the benefit of experience. I know what I am talking about.
So, the question remains, “What are we going to do about Stepping Stone and other such problems?” It may surprise you that I am no “Johnny-Do-Good” interested in spending other people’s money. I’m just a practical citizen who doesn’t think kicking the can down the road is a rational solution. Nor do I have all the answers. I do have a few suggestions. It all begins with our opinion leaders and interested citizens starting to talk about the problem and getting together to see if something can’t be decided upon. We have one of Oklahoma’s outstanding city councils. I’ll follow if they will lead.