The sky isn’t falling in Ventura

July 16, 2009

It’s like the movie that gets panned and criticized to no end, yet turns out to be the sleeper hit that surprises everyone.

The Ventura City Council’s vote this week to start a pilot program aimed at easing our homeless problem was like that kind of film: something that got built up and blown out of disastrous proportions, but ending up passing with little outcry or fanfare from the public.

Why? Because misinformation can grow like a weed and make people react prematurely to things they know nothing about (but think they do).

And to our paper’s credit, it wasn’t until we sat down and published the comprehensive facts on the matter that people read it, realized it’s a practical choice to make, and decided that protesting the city council actually wasn’t necessary.

The week before, the city’s proposed program to allow homeless people designated times and places to sleep in their cars was made out by some Venturans to sound like the homeless would take over and terrorize the city with drunkenness and crime.

I was expecting mobs of people lined up outside city hall boycotting and damning the program on Monday night.

I had sat down at a Downtown Ventura Organization meeting last week and was witness to this type of thinking. I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief to hear that some business owners truly, truly believed their livelihoods were in jeopardy, panicked over the notion of giving the homeless some extra freedoms.

It was all the more unbelievable considering I’d sat down the day before at city hall with the man in charge of the project who spelled it out for me, word for word, and described in detail what sounds like an innovative program for homeless transition.

But I suppose panic thinking could be an unchangeable part of human nature. People will always run with rumor and hearsay before getting all the facts straight. Working at a newspaper, where facts are our foundation, will make these things more evident to the journalistic eye.

Yet it all makes the downbeat response at Monday’s city council a good thing. It goes to show that once people did get the facts straight, there’s nothing to protest because the sleeping in cars project is a good idea.

Of course, getting people to admit their reactions and opinions were wrong and uninformed … well, that’s another problem no pilot program can ever solve.

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