Homeless advocates respond to Allender’s ‘economic damage’ comment

Hope Center officials were unaware the press conference was scheduled.
Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 5:34 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - On Wednesday, Mayor Steve Allender said homelessness in Rapid City leads to “economic damage” in the city.

The Executive Director of the Hope Center Melanie Timm said the press conference surprised her-- she was unaware that it was scheduled and said she has not been invited to any conversations about solving the problem.

“A lot of what the mayor said is very accurate,” Timm said. “The number of homeless people in Rapid City are on the increase, and we are seeing people coming from outside of Rapid City. There’s a lot of efforts being put forth into meeting peoples' needs and helping them out and connecting them to resources. I’m a little confused as what we’re supposed to do now since there was kind of a directive in the press conference, particularly to feeding people in the park.”

Timm said the feedings in the park are about more than just food-- it is about a community gathering and building relationships, as well as being fed.

Regarding the mayor’s comments about the homeless as an “economic damage” who scare customers away from businesses, Doug Diehl, the founder of the Hope Center, questions humanity in looking at people as mere numbers.

“I know there’s economic realities, but when we start drifting toward economics and move away from caring for people, we find ourselves in a bad spot,” said Diehl. “One of the things that interesting to me is this whole viewpoint that if we’re nice, we’re going to attract people who take advantage of our ‘nice-ness.’ That is just puzzling to me that we would be judged harshly for being nice.”

Diehl said the community has to make homelessness community issues because those individuals are part of the community.

“One of the reasons I started the Hope Center was we could not dismiss people without knowing names and stories, and so, we need to talk about people as individuals instead of numbers,” said Diehl.

The Rapid City Police has a quality of life unit, which connects the homeless with social services. Timm said an officer from the unit works in the Center a few days a week and works to build trust.

Copyright 2020 KOTA. All rights reserved.

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