Monday, January 4, 2010

Houseboat Endgame

It's heartwarming to see the outpouring of support that's going Jeff Jacobs' way in the wake of the NW story on his situation, but there are a few things that are really starting to make me worry that this story will not end well.

First, as mentioned earlier, is the safety issue. This, above and beyond anything else, should be giving more people cause for concern. Unfortunately, it's something that no seems to be discussing.

Two: even though Mr. Jacobs has insisted he doesn't want any handouts, the people who have been visiting his houseboat have been providing him with just that. In one sense this is a very good charitable impulse, but in another far more important sense, it's a really just as superficial as giving spare change to a homeless person on the street of any major American city.

Let me make this perfectly clear: this is not an attempt to demean the impulse to help another human being out in a time of hardship, I just think there are smarter and more effective ways of helping folks in need out. Giving Mr. Jacobs enough wood to keep him warm at night is certainly a noble thing to do, but connecting him with a potential employer and landlord is infinitely more productive.
This point is intimately related to the third point: Mr. Jacobs, despite his own protestations, is becoming the face of hard times in the area, and not in a good way. Jacobs has continuously stressed that he is just one of many people who are experiencing some personal and economic pain at the moment, yet no one has given a second thought to anyone else who might be going through similar troubles (at least publicly). There's a very natural tendency to help one individual and absolve oneself from any further obligation to help others. Given the complete absence of any effort to help alleviate the suffering of anyone else, that seems to be what's happening here.

Finally, the city has to ask itself the big question: What is an acceptable end to this situation? If, as some suggest, the city just leaves Mr. Jacobs alone, what then? Say the houseboat lasts in the ice through the winter -- does Mr. Jacobs just pack up and head out to the Mississippi where he will presumably remain homeless and jobless? And if so, is that an optimal solution to the larger problem?

Of course not.
What if the boat doesn't make it through the winter? Then Mr. Jacobs is stuck here and we're back to square one. Or worse.

Again -- and I don't know how much more strenuously I can say this -- I'm pulling for Jacobs, but the longer he's out there on the ice, the worse my feeling gets about this whole situation. Right now it seems that everyone from anonymous commenters on the NW web site to the Mayor (who has purportedly promised that no citations will be given to Jacobs) are reacting without thinking about the larger issues at play here.

One way or one another, there's something disconcerting about this whole mess that leads me to believe this will not end well for either Mr. Jacobs or the city. I'd prefer to be proven wrong, but I just don't sense a positive way out of this mess.

[pics via]


CJ said...

Mentioned your suggestions of job and place to live in my ONW post.
Excellent ideas. Don't want to steal your thunder. Just needed to "put it out there" for the mayor and city officials to think about in regards to this guy's and rescue staff's safety.

Jb said...

Thanks ... believe me, no thunder is being stolen. The longer he's out there the ore likely this situation is going to end badly for everyone.

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