The answer to homelessness has eluded communities for generations. One of the key questions comes straight out of a movie, a version of that, if you will: If you expand a homeless center, will they come? Will too many come?
Are more shelters and services the solution to homelessness? Or will that just attract more outside homeless people to communities that offer free benefits that others don't? Will those homeless people prove detrimental to the prosperity of a neighborhood?
That appears to be the issue here in the city of Bradenton.
Governments have been grappling with the homelessness issue for decades. The best minds in the country have no answer to this intractable problem.
For some places, wishful thinking takes hold of public policy with the official purchase of bus tickets out of town for unfortunate people who either lost control of their lives, are mentally ill and simply could not maintain a living standard. The pitiless idea that sending the homeless elsewhere will solve a problem is neither sustainable nor humane.
The idea that the homeless are freeloaders who just need to get a job also obscures the issue.
So what should society do? Shelter and food are obviously essential to life. Should communities support the neediest among us?
The answer to that question -- without a doubt -- is yes, for the city of Bradenton. The Bill Galvano One Stop Center, on 17th Avenue West and operated by the nonprofit Turning Points, is a godsend to the homeless, offering a plethora of free services to help lift the homeless out of their circumstances or at least provide basic humanitarian services.
Bradenton's City Council is balking at what members call an expansion -- while at the same time lauding Turning Points for its services. That dumbfounding position is based on so-called "land-use" regulations and the center's commitment to not expand.
But we beg to disagree. As Adele Erozer, executive director of Turning Points, told us, the One Stop improvements are renovations of an old storage area so the center can offer additional health care with extra examination rooms. Those upgrades should be completed this summer.
Does that fit the definition of expansion? Or is that adding capacity of an essential service? And does that new capacity keep the indigent out of expensive emergency room health care, a valuable civic goal?
We get the city's view on the land-use agreement. But governments change policies regularly to fit changing circumstances. This is one case that merits adjustment, despite city goals.
We do agree with the city on a different point: Manatee County government should step up to the plate and create satellite homeless centers around the county so Bradenton does not bear this burden alone. Homeless people are everywhere.
The One Stop Center opened in 2009 after a decade of private, civic and religious action. The center sits across from McKechnie Field, the sparkling baseball park home to spring training for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the season-long Bradenton Marauders. A new microbrewery, Derek's, is poised to open soon next door to the One Stop.
City leaders, Village of the Arts business people and others have designs on making the neighborhood an entertainment district -- a worthwhile endeavor we wholeheartedly embrace.
Certainly, a homeless center, with transients and others wandering about, is not an appealing component of that goal. But the One Stop is there now, serving more and more families, children and the elderly than ever before.
Bradenton city leaders are quite expressive about their support for the One Stop, to their credit. They are concerned about the public's negative perception that they are opposed to the center's expansion.
We ask one thing: A few more medical examination rooms constitute humanitarian aid -- and some relief to hospitals. A healthier population benefits everyone. That should be the prime consideration here.