Thursday, July 25, 2013

SN&R's report card on homelessness that doesn't say anything

SNR cover for 7/25/13
This week the Sacramento News & Review’s cover story is a Report Card on the City. Homelessness is one of the 22 subjects. Sadly, the Report report is mostly a smirk & jive thing, showing off how snarky & clever-seeming the publication’s staff can be. There are ten names in the byline for the article-by-committee.

SN&R is a conventional tabloid-size alternative weekly, which ain’t bad: Clever as all-get-out much of the time but often not as venturesome as it pretends to be. It’s great at word gymnastics, but too often shy about getting on the phone and out into the field to learn something new such to do good old-fashioned wear-out-the-shoe-leather seek-the-TRUTH substantive reporting.

With clear exceptions, Cosmo's Bites column most notably, SN&R doesn’t want to deal with surprises. It doesn’t want to stir things up, or lose its moderate mooring.  It just wants to pretend to stir things up such that readers can hold the publication in their hands at a coffee shop [A conventional coffee shop; a Starbucks] and impress others that they have liberal mojo.

Likely, I'm being too harsh. The publication is targeted at people half my age with income I don't have offering articles about restaurants and beer and movies and such to guide them about how to have a satisfying nightlife. Politics is the hors d'oeuvre to make SN&R appear smart; lifestyle is what fattens it with pages and lures in the audience it needs for advertisers.

Full text of SNR report on homelessness
On to Homelessness.  SN&R's grade and spiel on homelessness -- at right -- doesn't make a lick of sense. Why is it titled "Rooftops?" Forget what grade the subject is given, what does the grade measure? What does it mean? What might an 'A' grade or 'F' grade indicate?  In the immortal [albeit mostly forgotten] words of Mondale to Dukakis, "Where's the beef?"

To grade something there has to be some concept of what the standards are. Sometimes, those standards are obvious. But for HOMELESSNESS, as a subject, it is not so obvious.

You could grade based on how much less misery the homeless are having to experience.  Or, the abundance of opportunities there are for homeless folk to carve out a better life for themselves.  Or -- from a conventional housed citizen's perspective -- how many fewer of the rascals are out on the street.

My guess is that SN&R is looking just at how much bother there all is, from a host of perspectives.  I don't see how that gets us anywhere, or guides us on what direction to take to make things better.  Nor does it tell us what "better" might mean, other than less bother -- which would mean moving things in the direction of making the homeless less visible.  For homeless folk, though, less visible equates to more misery.

We could grade homelessness on what's now popular nationally: based on how many homeless folk are getting SSI benefits, for either real or concocted disabilities, such that we can live in postage-stamp apartments that become poverty traps. Most homeless Sacramentans would go for that; but it entails giving up that Declaration of Independence "pursuit of happiness" thing and thinking that life can have meaning and purpose and that empathizing with others is worthwhile and being productive and of benefit to the wider society is good.


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