“Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.”

When I was growing up, my father had this John Adams quote prominently displayed in his home office. Although he probably posted it as a reminder to himself, it also resonated with his eight children. It certainly did with me. A current, serious problem in the Northeast and North Blue Ridge Neighborhoods is an increase in negative and destructive encounters occurring between residents and transient individuals that result in property damage, physical assaults, house fires and excessive trash. Homeowners in the neighborhood are rightfully angry when they are cited and fined for code violations that are the result of vandals when law enforcement is generally unresponsive because of weak and unclear ordinances.

The affected neighborhoods are composed of working-class people, many of whom rely on social services to supplement their low incomes or who work at several jobs to make ends meet. Many are elderly and/or disabled, and their homes are modest. They strive to maintain a level of dignity for their neighborhood and for their neighbors. They also are generous and want to help support those who have even less, but the price they are paying is too high.

When the North Blue Ridge Neighborhood Association brought this to my attention, we used this as an opportunity to bring together city officials, law enforcement, social service providers and neighborhood leaders in a forum type setting with the desire to seek solutions toward common goals. We were very grateful to each entity for bringing their stories of accomplishments, resources, and challenges, and we implemented some measures that offer improvements toward reducing harmful actions. Although one organization did not want to compromise, we left with opportunity to continue seeking solutions.

There are many strong advocates for the homeless in our community who do good work within the vacuum of current available services. The goal of such groups does not need to be at odds with the goals of neighborhoods and city government. Homelessness is a social condition that encompasses a complicated web of contributing factors. Our opportunity this problem presents is to work hard for solutions, not to get contentious and walk away from each other. We are all working for a better community. I encourage us to come back to the table and continue the conversation for how we can best serve all of our neighbors. I believe there is a path toward mutual benefit – which begs the question, can we find it?

Missouri State Representative Ingrid Burnett represents Legislative District 19 which includes Northeast Kansas City and parts of Independence and Sugar Creek.