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A stroll through Breton woods

If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person's point of view, to see things from that person's angle as well as from your own. -- Henry Ford
There has been a flurry of newsprint in the local daily about the long-simmering (and on occasion boiling) idea of creating a legal homeless campground. A new lukewarm splash of interest came Tuesday as result of Mayor Kevin Johnson pledging support for a campground under the aegis of SafeGround at one of two locations that have been identified. It was hoped by Johnson with the fervent support of fellow council member Jay Schenirer and others that at the weekly city council meeting that night some progress could be achieved toward getting something done.

But no; didn’t happen. Quoting a disappointed late-night commenter to the Bee article, who goes by the moniker The Ghost of Belle Cooledge, “at tonight’s City Council Meeting, addressing the homeless issue was AGAIN thrown under the bus with the poser supporter Councilman Schenirer playing the good cop saying he will take in ideas and will have it agenized in January. WHERE IS THE LEADERSHIP ON THIS ISSUE? Kevin Johnson promised this EONS ago.”

The next day, the Bee’s Marcos Breton weighed in with a column crudely titled “A camp for Sacramento's homeless would be a waste.” [Alternate location of article.] As has always been the case in the years I’ve read Breton, he pipes in without a scintilla of knowledge of what being rendered homeless is like, or of the myriad frustrations of dealing with authoritarian, often-dysfunctional and sometimes-overwhelmed homeless-services charities. His logic in his column is on the order of “other cities push their homeless out of town; we must do much the same or we’d be chumps.” He writes his dismissive columns on this topic without ever getting up from his desk chair.

Well, I’m overstating it. Breton does summarize at the end by tossing in the age-old bromide “a hand up for the homeless – not a hand out.” And he tells us “Helping people who want to help themselves” – by “stay(ing) clean, law-abiding and focused on employment” -- is something the public would support. BUT, all this through private charity – like Cottage Housing which he endorses – not through government financial support.

Many commenters to the column took Breton to task, with one using the moniker paulal (Paula Lomazzi of SHOC, no doubt) stating the pro-SafeGround position splendidly:
There are not enough shelter beds or transitional housing or other homeless housing programs. There are over 1,000 that must sleep outdoors because of no other option no matter how much they want to get out of homelessness. If we don't provide any place where people can legally camp, that's when you have unsanitary conditions. With a legal place for people to sleep until they can access housing, they would be able to have portable toilets, at the least. No cost to the city or county. Advocates have wanted to rent portable toilets for homeless people, but the city would not allow it. Also a legal place to camp would give people a bit more stability and ability to improve their lives and their conditions, easily accessible to service providers, peer support. Right now people must hide from [public] and police, move constantly, vulnerable being alone, etc.
In contrast to what Breton would have happen, which is in effect nothing since Cottage Housing isn’t going to expand overnight, legalizing a campground is very much necessary since it is clearly, as Lomazzi writes, safer and cleaner and free and allows people opportunities to get their lives together, as compared to what is inadequate, currently. This camp would only help a hundred people, but that would help. Again, a SafeGround camp – which is what it would be – is necessary. It is likely to prevent much suffering, and possibly prevent a life from being lost.

Understand, I am no fan of the SafeGround organization. They are a part of several connected charities that have national-political positions that are as stupid as dirt and to the Left of Neptune, bound up in the mutterings of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America which was formerly named the Communist League, and is self-described at the homepage of their website as wanting "public ownership of the means of production, and the distribution of the products of society according to need." I know it sounds crazy, but it is certainly true: many homeless people have been indoctrinated with politics from these fiery Depths of Hell. [See the “Ugliness of SafeGround”.]

I put a Henry Ford quote at the top of this blogpost. Here’s another one:
Capital punishment is as fundamentally wrong as a cure for crime as charity is wrong as a cure for poverty. -- Henry Ford
This quote would seem to be doubly damning of capital punishment and charity. But while it is damning of capital punishment – made more clearly so in Ford’s extended thoughts on the topic – Ford did not damn charity. Indeed, at his death he gave the vast majority of his wealth to the Ford Foundation, "to receive and administer funds for scientific, educational and charitable purposes, all for the public welfare.”

Charity is part of the equation for helping the neediest of the needy. And while there are nonprofit charities that play a role in helping people, the government – federal, state and local – has a role here, too. It is so easy and cheap to banish extraordinary suffering and aid the dispossessed. There is enormous payoff at so little cost. For Sacramento city and county to do nothing or what’s minimal – particularly if it is by Breton’s reasoning that we don’t want to be a chump, helping the poorest of the poor when other local governments aren’t – then the cruelty is overwhelming.

I know the city of Sacramento, at Mayor Johnson's behest, fully wasted a million dollars in early spring of 2009 getting a scant few beds for people at VOA’s Cal Expo winter shelter. Often, government money gets wasted for desired positive publicity rather than providing real help. And, yes, many local homeless-help charities are scoundrals, as, certainly, was VOA in 2009. But with a little care and a watchful eye, a lot of good can be done with little money.

Henry Ford’s point was that charity alone is like a kind of death for the poor. A way out, a helping hand, is necessary, too, to restore people who can work (or be otherwise productive) to meaningful lives. AND, a helping hand is needed to find a niche in the world for folks who are captured by addiction or mental problems that alienate them from society.  A lot of homeless people are beat up in myriad ways. To merely provide means for homeless folk to make a beeline to a job is inadequate.  Within the lowest caste (that is, among homeless folk) are many whose work skills and job-getting skills aren't competent, and will never be.  But these are people, too, who love and suffer and bleed. Their lives should not be thrown away.


Deanna Enos said…
Thank you for your post!

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