Base or baseless?
Housing ideas deserve full vetting
Cape Cod Times - September 1, 2016
The notion that facilities on Joint Base Cape Cod could someday play host to chronically homeless individuals is an intriguing one, and was recently floated by two candidates vying for legislative positions in state government.
Some have dismissed the proposal as political posturing, claiming the logistical and practical limitations alone make such a plan unfeasible. Although perhaps impractical, the proposal has at the very least pushed the conversation forward, and any movement is desirable when it comes to the discussion about reducing the challenges facing the Cape’s individuals who homeless.
Earlier this month, Anthony Schiavi, a Republican candidate for the Cape and Islands state Senate seat, and Barnstable Town Councilor Will Crocker, who is running for a state representative seat in the 2nd Barnstable district as a GOP candidate, unveiled a plan that would house up to 50 homeless individuals and veterans.
The first phase would utilize existing housing at Joint Base Cape Cod for short-term housing of homeless individuals. That would be followed by the construction of a 50-bed complex at an as-yet-unknown location that would include permanent, affordable rental housing, as well as homeless support services. The price tag for the effort is estimated at $3.5 million, along with ongoing operating and service expenses.
Schiavi has some experience in this regard; he is a retired brigadier general and a former executive director of the base, and helped house evacuees fleeing flood-ravaged Louisiana there following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The base’s current executive director, Col. Francis Magurn, said he has not seen the plan and was not approached prior to its presentation.
A number of individuals immediately began to poke holes in the proposal, noting that Joint Base Cape Cod is far from Hyannis, where many of the services for individuals who are homeless are based. There were also complaints about the fact that this plan takes care of a limited number of individuals and does not offer solutions for the remaining homeless population. Others noted that housing individuals in the middle of a base may feel less like assistance and more like incarceration.
While many of these concerns are valid, there was also a fair degree of resentment and backbiting that seemed to boil up after the proposal surfaced. More than one person argued that Crocker and Schiavi were engaging in grandstanding, and that their true intentions are to improve their favorability ratings in the polls in the run-up to the Sept. 8 primary, while actually undermining the good work that has already been done. Others described the initiative as “hare-brained” and an example of partisan politics at its worst.
Are there flaws with the plan? Without question. Would it be impossible to implement? Quite possibly. But if some variation of the plan could solve even a portion of the problem, wouldn’t that be worth at least a little exploration? One thing is for certain: The name calling and accusations do absolutely nothing to help move the discussion forward or to resolve the underlying issue that everyone agrees remains infuriatingly complex and challenging.
Regardless of their motives, Schiavi and Crocker are provoking discussion. Some, including Elizabeth Wurfbain, who heads up both the Hyannis Main Street Business Improvement District and the Transitional Living Center Committee, and state Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, said they welcomed the ideas as the latest in a series of new and innovative concepts that may yet yield some hope in the battle against this seemingly intractable problem.
Joint Base Cape Cod may be far from the ideal solution to the Cape’s homeless conundrum, but rather than simply criticizing the messengers, critics should also be offering up their own ideas so that we move closer to, rather than further from, an answer.
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