by Max Brantley
I keep puzzling over Mayor Mark Stodola's core argument that the reason to block a veterans drop-in day center on Main Street is because a Warehouse liquor store is across the street. It's repeated endlessly in media coverage as if it makes perfect sense.
Does the mayor suggest that every veteran who seeks primary medical care, job counseling, legal assistance, benefit assistance, housing referrals and group therapy is one 40-ouncer away from a bender and that the mere sight of a liquor store will set them off? It's insulting to them all, on top of silly as I've noted before. Or perhaps they should be released from treatment and returned to homes blindfolded, lest they be seized by Malt Madness if a Colt 45 sign suddenly comes into their view.
The city — promises, promises — may someday move into a former Union Rescue Mission building on Confederate Boulevard, almost to Granite Mountain, with a day center for homeless (a transient center and not a comprehensive services center such as the Department of Veterans Affairs operates). I'm sure the mayor knows that center operated for decades only two short blocks from a liquor store. Perhaps he thinks two blocks a sufficient safety zone. (That liquor store at Roosevelt and Confederate is now a chicken and catfish shack, but booze seekers need only turn the corner and walk a few more yards to get the fix that Stodola thinks is an impediment to location of homeless services on Main Street.)
Let's talk real issues, not phony ones.
And speaking of red herrings: Another is Stodola floating the idea of putting the VA in the city's remote and so far imaginary homeless building, presuming the city is ever able to take possession and rehabilitate it. The VA will get 12,000 square feet on Main, including enclosed parking for VA shuttle vehicles now reachable only by time-consuming drives to Fort Roots. In addition to having a remote location that would be a burden to veterans who use other downtown services, the city building isn't appreciably bigger than 12,000 square feet and has no enclosed parking. It couldn't house the comprehensive VA services — which can be provided for veterans only — and whatever services the city may someday think it might provide in its theoretical day center for homeless. VA money can't support even meals for non-vets, making the idea of a blended center a difficult proposition to deliver. It's just another piece of mud Stodola is hurling at the wall to stop Main Street relocation of a veterans center badly in need of more space, a relocation that is ready to become reality in a few months, unlike the city's long-delayed day services center.
If not Main, where? (Not Confederate Boulevard, can we agree?) And if not, how soon elsewhere? The city's failure to deliver on old promises to help the homeless in general is bad enough. Its obstruction of expanded services to veterans is another order of shame. And the lack of advocacy for vets on the part of U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin should be remembered next time he waves his battle flag around.
By the way, if that Main Street liquor store is a neighborhood nuisance, why hasn't the city done something about IT?
PS — I thought I'd share a letter I got this morning from Matilda Buchanan, a former teacher and long-time downtown resident:
The backroom boys are caught with their blinders on and their pants down in the current debacle over the proposed VA center at 10th & Main. Not content with ramming through a tax increase using Chamber of Commerce funds, the coalition of city pols and property developers exposed their arrogance by their reaction to the badly needed expansion of services for homeless veterans. How foolish of the VA to initiate improved services for the homeless when the City has clearly established their ownership of all proposed programs. For seven long years the City has promised and done nothing substantive about opening a comprehensive day center. They have been successful in their “delay, delay, maybe they’ll go away” policy by encouraging under the table property acquisition by connected developers and pitting neighborhood activists against proposed properties, programs and each other. I’ll give them this, they are masters at using fear of declining property values to incite “not in my backyard” reaction from neighborhood groups while quietly encouraging deep pocket developers to obtain options on targeted locations.
We’ll probably never know who was on the City/Chamber’s wish list for the property at 10th and Main, but it must have been someone big to cause such a knee jerk reaction resulting in the City having to admit that their own homeless coordinator doesn’t or can’t read the newspaper and the City officials attending VA meetings don’t stay long enough to find out what is going on.
Instead of giving into fear and allowing the City to manipulate the situation, neighbors and property owners near 10th & Main would do better to rage against the political / property development cartel. South Main activists united with the VA might force the City to buy buses and hire personnel to run a shuttle between the “proposed” Confederate Blvd. homeless center, the LR & NLR VAs, UAMS, and Social Security. That tax increase, so beloved by the Downtown Partnership and the Chamber of Commerce, could fund it.