Approving homeless lockers is a step toward improvement

Rory Plunkett

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

Fort Collins just approved the “hot-button” program of providing lockers to the city’s homeless population. 

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Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship wants to have lockers in the church’s back parking lot, which will be available 24/7 for homeless people. The proposed program has been controversial and picked up more traction after the ACLU became involved and claimed the city was violating the rights of the church.

Being able to freely store their belongings in a safe place will help the homeless population in Fort Collins significantly. Currently, the program is small, but hopefully the church will be able to expand upon it to help more people. Without restrictions, the program can continue to offer better quality of life to all members of our community.

City staff originally recommended approving the lockers but under certain circumstances. These circumstances include constant supervision and limited hours from 8 a.m., to 8 p.m.

Luckily, the program was approved without any operating restrictions. This decision helps the program achieve optimum success.

Adding in timing restrictions might render the lockers useless, or at last least limit their effectiveness. Safety should always be a concern but with the homeless and transient population increasing in the city, we should be open to resources that are not relying on the tax payer’s dollars.

This program is self-funded and should not be heavily restricted to the point it becomes ineffective or adds to the churches budget. 

At a meeting last week, members of the community rejected the proposal because they thought it was unsuitable for a residential location due to potential safety issues. Some members counter the small scale of the program does not increase risk to the area.

These lockers could help homeless people get back on track. There is a similar system in place in Arlington, Virginia where Jan-Michael Sacharko, the former development director at a nonprofit who helped the homeless, thinks that lockers can make all the difference in the world.

“Most homeless individuals actually have very important possessions like IDs and birth certificates that they need to keep safe on a daily basis,” said Sacharko.

If these lockers are only open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. then people like Andy Whittaker, an employed homeless man who carries everything he owns in his backpack, might not be able to use them as they likely must be at work before or at 8 a.m.

“I got a job. I work, and I’m just trying to get back on my feet, and it’s just hard with a bunch of stuff, you know what I mean?” said Whittaker. 

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Everyone benefits when homeless or transient people are employed. If these lockers did not help or encourage those who are employed, then a major aspect of their functionality is being abandoned by this stipulation.

Cody Nelson is another homeless man in Fort Collins who would benefit from these lockers. Nelson told reporters that his backpack weighs about 50 pounds.

“I’m forced to walk into a new establishment with my resume in hand, trying to look respectable, but I have three jackets on, a bag of shoes, and a backpack,” said Nelson. This emphasizes the importance of having lockers constantly available.

Approving these lockers is a good step toward improvement but the stipulations the City staff may want in the future could place burdens on people, people who are simply in unfortunate places in their lives and trying to get back on their feet.

 

Rory Plunkett can be reached at: @jericho_wav