A recent story in the Maine Sunday Telegram, “Bayside at rock bottom” (May 6), was heartbreaking, but the Press Herald Editorial Board’s using it as a pretext to attack Republicans (“Our View: Bayside’s woes are bigger than one neighborhood,” May 8) just cheapened the good work of the news team at the paper.
The good people who started the Bayside programs and the leaders of Portland over the past few decades have made sincere efforts to help as many people as they can. The problem is, the results have often been the opposite of what was intended.
No Mainer, of any political belief or place of residence, should have to endure what is happening in Bayside. It is the result of some people’s best intentions colliding with the reality of the world we live in. This sadly happens all too often.
If you offer free welfare with essentially no requirements, basically the most accessible welfare benefits in the region, people will come for them. Among those folks will be some with acute mental health and drug issues. Eventually, the group receiving services will swell to an unmanageable size and the problems will spill out across the entire neighborhood, and then into the city. The larger the group gets, the more difficult it is to provide meaningful help to any single person.
It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that this problem is not economic. Maine has more job openings than people to fill them. Anyone who wants a job can find one. Incomes are growing.
At the same time that our statewide economy has grown, problems in Bayside have worsened. That makes Portland an outlier across our state.
This is not Gov. LePage’s fault.
If there is any doubt that the problem comes from a place other than Gov. LePage and Republicans, we only need to look at the liberal-controlled city of San Francisco, California – a city that Portland emulates in many public policy arenas, just as San Francisco “copy-cats” liberal Western European welfare state models.
The drug crisis is, without a doubt, a driving factor in the Bayside situation, but I fail to understand how Portland officials allowing a sanctuary of sorts for drug use in the area can seriously be blamed on Republicans. Along with working to provide options for drug treatment programs, state officials have been aggressively cracking down on drug traffickers.
This was a lost opportunity. Rather than taking a cheap shot at Republicans and trying to widen the political divide or score points, the Editorial Board’s focus should have been on fixing this awful, sad and unacceptable situation.
Republicans I spoke with who read the news article about Bayside were saddened and wishing for a way to help, not looking to score political points. Maybe we can all hit a reset button and see Republicans, Democrats and city leaders figure out a workable solution.
Figuring out how to relieve the pressure on the Bayside neighborhood by implementing some basic requirements for people to receive benefits and moving some of the services out of Bayside might be a good start. Getting people in need surrounded by, and integrated into, communities of people who can help them instead of corralling them into one large group is another option worthy of consideration.
Segregating new residents may be what some people want, but integrating new residents is what we need. That is what all of us need.
Attacking public officials who had no hand in creating the programs or crisis won’t help anyone. There is no reason Mainers across the political spectrum should and could not come together to help fix the crisis in Bayside.
We wish Mayor Ethan Strimling and Portland officials the best as they face this crisis, and hope that the people of Bayside can look forward to a peaceful and civilized neighborhood in the future. I know that Maine Republicans will not try to capitalize on Portland’s misfortune. We stand by offering any help we can, so long as the help is about moving Bayside to a healthier, safer and more prosperous future.
I do, however, warn Maine that Western Europe and California have experimented with extreme liberalism and their experiments failed. There are signs the people of San Francisco are having second thoughts about the decisions they have made.
Unity is superior to division. Let’s learn from past failures and not repeat those mistakes. Let’s learn and find ways to keep Maine “The Way Life Should Be.” The way Maine can always be.
There is no doubt in my mind we can do it.
— Special to the Press Herald