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Our View: A delicate balance downtown

A stepped-up police presence and the second year of the city's enhanced law-enforcement area apparently have reduced problems from loiterers misbehaving downtown. That's good news, but it's not a lasting solution to the perennial problem of homeless and transient people hanging out in the central business district.

Ashland police report the number of calls has declined overall since the ELEA was established in August 2012. There were 216 calls from January through August in 2012. In the same period in 2013, calls dropped to 176, and fell to 128 during the same period this year.

Police say part of the credit goes to the policy of excluding individuals from downtown for three months at a time if they commit three infractions in a six-month period, including urinating in public, drinking in public, assault and harassment. Other changes contributing to the drop in calls include stationing members of the department's cadet program downtown, along with increased officer presence.

The real problem is not the presence of transient people downtown but their behavior. If they refrain from drinking or urinating in public and don't bother passersby, authorities have a hard time justifying removing them. At the same time, if they are barred from downtown, they will go elsewhere — but where? Problems that are removed from downtown could crop up in other parts of town.

Everyone wants to address the problem, but support for spending public money on housing the homeless is harder to come by. Focusing on discouraging illegal acts while tolerating the presence of those who behave themselves may be the best the city can do.