Our Voice: Pasco businesses can play role in helping the homeless

It is not against the law to be poor and homeless, yet those who find themselves in this wretched condition are often treated like the most unwanted beings on the planet.

While some have criminal records, others may be mentally unwell and slipping through cracks in government care.

Another part of the homeless population can appear quite average, but they have become so overwhelmed financially they end up on the streets.

All three types require a different approach to overcome their difficulties, and that is partly what makes homelessness such a tough problem to solve.

Shelters and soup kitchens help with the symptoms, but truly addressing the problem takes a combination of compassion, insight, force and commitment.

Those are attributes Pasco leaders will need if they are going to transform the city's downtown area into a flourishing center of shops and restaurants, as is the plan by the city's downtown development authority.

Proprietors like the idea of bringing more life into the downtown area, but they are skeptical because so many vagrants tend to loiter by their stores and scare away customers.

Meanwhile, the Tri-City Union Gospel Mission is in the midst of planning its $8.2 million expansion, which many believe will encourage more homeless wanderers in the area.

Mission officials say the new building, planned southeast of the farmers market at Third Avenue and Columbia Street, will provide a fenced-in courtyard, giving their clients another place to be besides the streets.

Those who use the shelter have to be drug-free and sober and in by 7 p.m. Mission directors claim many of the transients who linger downtown are not tied to the mission and live in nearby drug houses and cheap motels.

The expansion has been in the works for three years, and it is too late to expect mission officials to delay construction now.

Perhaps, though, the new building will promote a better dialogue between Pasco leaders, business owners and advocates helping the homeless.

The new facility also will house an outreach center, which could help more homeless people get back on their feet. With a combined effort, downtown Pasco could become not only a thriving retail center, but also a place where the downtrodden can get some help.

The development authority tentatively scheduled a meeting Sept. 16, where mission officials can discuss their expansion plans.

Homelessness does not have to hurt businesses if codes are enforced and transients have a place to go. It will be a challenge, but a combined effort is a good first step in making changes to downtown Pasco.