Yesterday a group called Gulfport Neighbors conducted a cleanup for a Gulfportian who couldn’t do for themselves. If you live in Gulfport, you likely know of the Gulfport Neighbors and the big-hearted woman behind the group who is adept at persuading the city and locals alike into helping make repairs and clean yards for elderly or physically disadvantaged residents. I do not know of a project this group has turned down, and I know they always need volunteers of all walks.
Yesterday, they coordinated two cleanups – one at a private home and one on Gulfport’s beach. Gulfport’s ward one council member, Dan Liedtke, browbeat his beach volleyball buddies into cleaning the beach (Note to those of you who don’t live in Florida: Yes, our politicians play beach volleyball. Also, our mayor’s our bartender and he has a band. Is that not how you do it up north?) and our ward three councilwoman, Yolanda Roman, rolled up her elegant sleeves and plunged her manicured hands into some tree limbs over on the other project.
I commend anyone who volunteers at these projects, elected or not. I also hear quite a bit of grumbling about why our other elected officials don’t help at these cleanups or, at the very least, why they don’t help in other ways.
To those people, please ponder this: We don’t elect people to do cleanups or glad-hand. We elect them to get shit done. So I’m not upset by the fact ALONE that only two council people helped yesterday. I wouldn’t be bothered if NONE of them helped at the actual events.
I am, however, deeply disturbed that none of the council seems inclined to do a damn thing to stop a cycle of “Don’t worry about it; Gulfport Neighbors will do it” when there’s someone in need of help.
Clearly, we need better social services in Gulfport, and, as far as cities go, we already have one of the better systems. It is not a system without flaws, without staffing issues, or without looming budget issues, but still, one of the better ones.
So where are our elected officials – the vox populi, if you will? Where are the people who should be paying enough attention to say, hey, why does Gulfport Neighbors have to do so many cleanups? Why are so many elderly people finding themselves alone in our great community? Do we need to find a better mechanism so things don’t reach critical mass for our older residents?
Because I realize two of our elected officials, Dan Liedtke and Christine Brown, likely aren’t liberal-minded enough, perhaps, to feel it is government’s job to step in with social services, I’d like to point out to them and others like them that these people do pay property taxes, they paid federal taxes (of which we get money for various things) and they pay utility taxes. So, in essence, they’re paying for services. We subsidize child care, we offer a library, we build parks – we have lots of social and cultural services funded by city government, but not as many, perhaps, as we need for people with physical limitations that prevent them from caring for their property properly. What do these people get for their tax dollar?
I want to think like a Libertarian, I do, but try as I might, I cannot get behind the mindset that government should only provide the basic public safety services and even if I were, we (we being Gulfport) already offer social services, so let’s do it right. The Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center has some services; perhaps we need to revisit what we should offer there. Do we need to think about possible solutions for homeowners in trouble with repairs and lawn maintenance? Should the city perhaps make it a condition of all contractors that they offer elderly residents the same rate the city gets, perhaps? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I know council doesn’t, either, but so far, I haven’t even seen them ask any questions or do anything beyond thank the Neighbors for their work.
It’s time Gulfport city council starts asking for answers. Gulfport Neighbors is a triage group; they are not meant to be a cure. Gulfport city council, please take note. You’re our voice. If you can’t show up, fine.
But it would be nice to hear you speak up.