Last week, the second fire in as many weeks broke out in a large transient encampment in the wooded areas that border the I-35 corridor. Last week’s fire was near 1st and Lydia in the Columbus Park neighborhood. No injuries were reported in the fire initially. However, a woman this Newsdog spoke with indicated she had accidentally started the fire when a sleeping bag that was being used as part of a shelter ignited in the campfire, then caught the tarps and blankets of the makeshift tent on fire.
A fire, one week prior, in a camp on the bluff near the Riverview apartments caused a column of smoke that was visible for miles. Both fires bring to the forefront the public safety concerns of the burgeoning transient population that has increased exponentially in the wooded areas bordering the Historic Northeast community.
We’ve talked at length about the safety issues that often accompany the transient population. Now add to that mix the safety issue living next to a vacant house that gets lit up by someone trying to keep warm, case in point, last weekend when two fires erupted in vacant homes. One fire, in the 3000 block of East 6th Street, resulted in a fatality.
That situation doesn’t look to get better any time soon, especially on the heels of reStart shuttering their emergency shelter. That’s ninety additional people, often with substance abuse or mental issues or both, turned loose on the streets to fend for themselves.
All of this begs the question, where does it end? When is enough, enough? This critically thinking Newsdog thinks it’s high time for some systemic changes to the way we deal with the transient population and that means addressing what seems to be the elephant in the room, that being the mental health issue that pervades the population for any one of a number of reasons, substance abuse notwithstanding.
Maybe it’s time to restore some of that mental health funding to the budget and start taking care of our own. We’re not talking like a hundred years ago when you could get your weird Uncle Fred institutionalized with nothing more than a signature, we’re talking some common-sense line item budget funding that allows agencies such as reStart to adequately staff and run an emergency shelter or any one of a number of agencies that will effectively house and care for a population that largely, is unable to care for itself.
Not doing so only continues to kick the proverbial can down the road, putting the public safety issue on a back burner, no pun intended. It’s an election year and its budget time in Kansas City. The time for change is now.