Friday, February 18, 2011

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial writer on homeless matters is mentally ill*

The beginning of today's Bee Board Editorial on matters homeless, in its online manifestation.
The Sacramento Bee publishes some of the goofiest editorials I have ever read whenever the topic is homelessness.  Today's is titled (online) "Editorial: Time to alter how we talk about 'homeless'."

It is nice that the Bee is compassionate and disposed to help the homeless and find solutions to every situation, but the knowledge-base of what homelessness is like “out here” always seems to be absent in the writer. I think the writer needs to get out more; away from the desk at 21st & Q. Too, the writer’s thinking is odd and strange and, frankly, ultimately, unhelpful.

The Bee’s editorial writer -- whom one commenter to today's editorial tells us is (today) Ginger Rutland -- is, clearly, mentally ill, based on the Bee's standard of what mental illness is. Today’s editorial writer has to be the same person who has been writing the Bee’s official position on issues relating to homelessness for some time, since the writing and thinking has, for some time, had the same peculiar smell about it.

Today's editorial begins with four statements that the Ed writer thinks are shibboleths:
  1. All of 'em [meaning, the homeless] are bums.
  2. They don't want anyone's help.
  3. They live down by the river by choice, not circumstance.
  4. The people who advocate for them are exploiting public sympathy.
Let us go through the four, one by one.

1. Certainly, not all — indeed, none of us — are "bums." Bum is a derisive word descriptive of someone who we are supposed to hate. The homeless people in Sacramento should not be hated.

2. It is also wrongheaded to say that homeless people "don't want anyone's help." I think that it can easily be said that most homeless people seek help and accept what they can get. But if the deeper meaning that the Ed writer is after is that there are a great many homeless people who don't really want to be saved from their circumstance, that is somewhat true. For many, the "salvation" that is offered is assessed to be worse than the life they have.

3. To say that [many] live by the river by choice is true. It's not the ultimate goal of any but a few, but many homeless people, most of whom are solo men, would prefer camping out by themselves or in a group, as opposed to being in a shelter. This is so because they have much more control over their life. Many — but by no means all — want more control because they want to feed their addictions. Others want more control because they don't want to be warehoused and in the run-around matrix that raises their level of depression and feelings that their life is pointless. Many find they can accomplish more on their own than by being in a program, many of which are boring and unproductive.

4. Many who claim to advocate for the homeless exploit public sympathy. THAT is no shibboleth; THAT is as true as the sun rising from the east. Many use the homeless as puppets to push terrible programs and awful politics and then brazenly get all weepy and bathetic to build their nonprofit empires. THAT is how it is done. This blog has demonstrated that to be the case over and over and over and over again.

For example: Loaves & Fishes' supposed mission is to feed and shelter the homeless. The economic crunch has come and where oh where is any additional shelter coming from Loaves & Fishes?  Instead, they have started to serve increasingly skimpy meals and have built a big new warehouse (that could be used as a shelter, but won't be).

Loaves & Fishes' and most other homeless-services charities' appeals usually go for the heart tug, making homeless people seem pathetic, instead conveying the more-difficult-to-tell reality that homeless people come in great variety, somewhat mirroring society. Of course, more so than society, generally, more homeless people are mentally ill or have substance-abuse problems. The charities go with what will bring in the most money, and not with the hard-to-tell-pithily truth.

In the middle of the editorial it says this, which I assess to be wildly bizarre:
Yet one needs to address this question: How many of these illegal campers are of sound mind? Isn't a sign of mental illness someone who would turn down a warm bed to sleep on the ground, week after week, during winter rains and cold?
OK. I'll take up the challenge and address the question: NO. Turning down a bed to sleep on the ground is not, in the recent circumstance, nor usually, by itself, a sign of mental illness.

The SafeGrounders say they turned down shelter beds in deference to others. That is, so that others can have shelter beds. You can be of fully sound mind and do that.

I think that the SafeGrounders turned down the beds, at least in part, to keep up their protesting. That's not my logic, but that is a rational thing to do.

I myself have walked away from a bed at the mission for the sake of another, as have other people. It's called "compassion," and it happens all the time out here.

I KNOW that some SafeGrounders have sacrificed for others. I give them credit — that they deserve — for doing that, not infrequently.

It also is rational to want to camp out instead of be in a shelter. Shelters can be very very time consuming. Winter Sanctuary takes up about 16 hours time for dinner, sleeping and breakfast. In contrast, the Mission takes about 12 hours for all that and a sermon. Many SafeGrounders have come to the mission since their ARP camp was rousted. Other shelters add requirements that eat up time that could be and should be spent trying to build a life.

Loaves & Fishes can be insanely undependable, which eats up a lot of people's time. There are a great many queues and waiting lists that homeless people have to put up with while the time in their lives tic off, second-by-second, minute-by-minute, day-by-day, month-by-month until they wake up one day and find that they are old. You have no idea what it's like, Ms. Rutland — or whoever you are who wrote that ignorant editorial.
* Footnote. The writer of the editorial isn't really (necessarily) mentally ill. But so long as she is tossing around ad hominems, I thought I'd throw one back.

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Blogger Colleen said...

This is the whole problem! These jerks don't even know what it means to be homeless; they've never talked to a homeless person and I do mean a conversation not "Get a job bum." The Homelessness Marathon being aired on Free Speech TV right now is actually giving a voice. I've included a clip here but you can watch more on their website.

February 23, 2011 at 7:04 PM  

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