Letter: We must address homelessness in downtown Fargo
Hennessey recounts incidents he's witnessed in downtown Fargo recently.
A few weeks ago, I moved into an apartment directly above Broadway, opposite the Jasper Hotel. I had previously lived in Fargo six years ago, also near downtown. I would like to share my impressions of both times as a comparison to the huge change downtown Fargo has made.
Six years ago, the Jasper Hotel was the US Bank parking lot. The alley behind Broadway was often trash-strewn and had no businesses on it. There were nice restaurants and stores in the downtown area; however, many of them had a neighborhood “dive bar” feel. It was not a bad neighborhood as such, but it took an effort to visit and navigate it. Finally, the parking was onerous and time-consuming.
Compare that to today – I see many nice restaurants and shops that have opened downtown (along with the ones that have been here before). Live music abounds at night. The Roberts Street Alley has become a thoroughfare of its own, well-maintained, with businesses opening directly onto it. The new apartment complexes along with their generous parking garages have radically changed the residential situation here. The Jasper Hotel has erupted out of an old parking lot and anchors the downtown into the 21 st century. I see many people walking about, enjoying the Plaza, and frequenting the businesses and restaurants here.
Letter: There's more to Broadway than meets the eye The space itself (Broadway Square) has been heavily commercialized, with sponsorships ranging from a $50 selfie stand, to $1,500 for a water filling station, to $100,000 for a mega-screen. When spaces are privatized, they become transactional, and center on commercial interests instead of community needs.
The situation that has not changed is the homeless/jobless/mentally ill population that call the downtown area home. I understand that this is a national problem found in many large cities; however, this must be addressed here to permit this area to continue to develop. In the short time that I have been here, I have witnessed many incidents involving this population which have affected the residents and visitors downtown. The most grievous incident involved a man and a woman from this group, being amorous in the doorway alcove to the Spicy Pie restaurant. A family with small children were trying to get past them to enter the restaurant. The amorous couple kept pushing them away, saying, “Don’t bother us.” Finally, the father pushed past them and took his family into the restaurant. Needless to say, his small children and wife were upset by the incident. The Spicy Pie staff watched this happen and called the police. By the time the police arrived, the couple had moved on. The policemen did try to follow up and do an investigation of their own.
I have seen a man from this group, follow another one for the entire length of the block, shouting obscenities at him and cursing anyone else who was nearby - at 9 in the morning. I have seen a man, barefoot and bare-chested, waving his arms around and saying incoherent things, walking up and down Broadway. He was not violent and did not seem to be mean-spirited – just dealing with a mental illness on his own.
Calling the police is not an effective way to deal with these behaviors. Police have limited options to address this type of situation. Their training and expertise are needed for more serious and immediate problems throughout the Fargo area.
I have a number of friends in the downtown area that might disagree with my characterization of the homeless/jobless/mentally ill population. That issue is certainly worthy of debate; however, the questions still need to be asked and some plan of action taken. To date, I have not seen this effort.
I believe the only way to address a situation like this is through a combined and coordinated local effort. There are many active community action groups in Fargo, and the city has been willing to become involved in projects that serve the community. It took this type of effort to change Downtown Fargo into what it is today. Fargo needs to go the last mile to address this situation and keep the downtown on the path of a model community that will spread beyond its boundaries and enrich the lives of many Fargoans.
Hennessey lives in Fargo.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.