Staff writer Vikki Kratz, in researching "Chronic Pains," this week's cover story, learned more about the texture of downtown Madison than most, and she shares the knowledge with you, the reader. That's what journalists do.
What Kratz was illumined about was the shadowy world of the street people, the night people, the folks who have regular run-ins with the police of Madison's Central District. Some may be homeless, they all have problems, and a few, the most notorious, seem to be impervious to efforts to help them change.
Madison's downtown is a great place to work, as we at Isthmus can attest to, or to visit, for entertainment, sightseeing or dining. It bustles during the day and much of the evening. That's why it attracts transients and people at loose ends. Policing the center of a city that includes the Capitol, the university, and most of the major cultural venues of Madison keeps the officers of the Central District busy. Parsing the statistics on downtown arrests reveals that there are a surprisingly small number of offenders who consume an outsized share of community resources in terms of police and medical attention. The central question of Kratz's article is what can we do about the habitual offenders.
Well, the first thing has already been done, to a certain extent. It was gratifying to hear last month that the United Way campaign made its 2008 fundraising goal of $16,650,000. (The official total was given as $16,652,011.) That's good news given the current economic doldrums. Those funds, in part, help in the search for solutions to chronic problems. Of course, government, churches and other philanthropic entities are involved in the work also, but it's good to know that the community is still backing its social-problem-solvers.
People like Lt. Joe Balles of the Central District, Nan Cnare of United Way, Steve Schooler of Porchlight Inc., all of whom are referenced in Kratz's story, will continue to contend with our seemingly intractable problems as long as the community continues to support their efforts. And by their very diligence we can come to understand that the problems are not intractable, though progress is sometimes measured one person at a time. The important thing is to keep up the effort, and to listen to what the people who face these situations every day have to tell you.