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Another week, another weak article on homeless matters in SNR

With the new year, SNR claimed, in a piece titled “2015: a to-do list,” that it would upgrade its efforts, thus to publish a kinder, gentler SNR – or, at least, it seemed that way from the tone, if not the substance, of the weird editorial/to-do list that made it to publication in the New Year’s Day issue. [I blogged about the piece a couple days after the story/whatever-it-is appeared: “SNR resolves to ‘do better’.” ]

The paragraph in the “to-do list” on how articles relating to homeless folk would be different was this :
We resolve to remember that the failures of our economy and resources fall hardest on those least able to cope. We will reach out—in words and in deed—to the neediest among us, our homeless neighbors and our fellows who struggle with mental-health issues, with poverty and with physical disabilities. We will strive to help others not because they’ve earned it or because they deserve it, but simply because they need it.
When I first read that paragraph, I glommed onto its ending, which sounded to me, then, as a robust effort to be compassionate. “We will reach out – in words and in deed -- … simply because [homeless folk] need it.” BUT, what homeless folk “need” from SNR -- which is a publication, after all, not a freakin’ soup kitchen – is true words that are not obfuscated by an unbending ideological POV, how ever kindly things might seem looking out through those stiff rosy-colored SNR lenses.

Thank you for wanting what’s best, SNR, but just the fuckin truth would do most nicely, NOT SNR efforts at conjuring-up benevolent myths. Your “compassion,” SNR, is a kind that Buddhists call “idiot compassion.” From the book Ocean of Dharma via a blogpost I wrote last year for the group blog Progressive Buddhism, there is this [The words are those of Chögyam Trungpa]:
Idiot Compassion is the highly conceptualized idea that you want to do good. Of course, according to the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism you should do everything for everybody; there is no selection involved at all. But that doesn't mean to say that you have to be gentle all the time. Your gentleness should have heart, strength. In order that your compassion doesn't become idiot compassion you have to use your intelligence. Otherwise, there could be self-indulgence, thinking you are creating a compassionate situation when in fact you are feeding the other person's aggression. If you go to the shop and the shopkeeper cheats you and you go back and let him cheat you again, that doesn't seem to be a very healthy thing to do for others.
01/15/15 cover for SNR
In this week’s [1/15/15] issue of SNR, there is in a section called NEWS, and in it an article titled “Street Strife” by Brooke Purves, an occasional freelance writer for SNR who has great credentials to write articles. I base my sense of her being skillful, on her resume which is online.

She begins her article with this sentence: “It’s a new year, and activist groups are fighting the city over what they consider a laundry list of ordinances and actions geared at making things more difficult for homeless Sacramentans.” With that opening, Purves has an obligation to name the groups she’s writing about; to provide a bit of the so-called laundry list AND to get from homeless folk words that provide a sense of how things are more difficult for them.

In her very long article, Purves provides next-to-none of that. “Street strife” is a very vague article, except in how it reveals the stiff prejudices of the reporter, in line with the rigid ideology of the publication. Her first two paragraphs are damning of the city, using the reporter’s sense of the “position” of the never-named activist groups and words coming from attorney Mark Merin, the lawyer for the 12th Street homeless-services charities. Nowhere in the “article” is the city allowed to respond to the extreme claims that the city is motivated to “[make] things more difficult for homeless Sacramentans” or, in Merin’s not-fully-quoted words, to pressure homeless people [to scram], thus to beautify the downtown area in readiness for its upscale future centered on the Kings’ snazzy new arena when it becomes operational.

There aren’t always two sides to every issue, but certainly the article puts forward the idea that “the city” is acting monstrously, and “the city,” whomever that is, must be given a chance to respond. [A spokesperson for the city and/or mayor should have been contacted, and if the spokesperson declined to comment, THAT should have been reported.] But, then, of course, the city IS NOT motivated to criminalize homeless people. What city leaders hope for is to bring function to the downtown area at night by, perhaps laudably, creating venues and up-scale living spaces where (mostly) thirtysomethings can drink and laugh and dance and spend money. That would be better economically for the city than the dark, mostly barren and somewhat dangerous space downtown is today at night.

Does the city have a responsibility to provide homeless Sacramentans who are necessarily unsheltered (since there aren’t enough shelters) places to safely be to sleep at night? Hell, yes, they do. And THAT should be where the discussion lies, not in any contest over who owns downtown at night: homeless folk or thirtysomethings of the future. There is room enough in the city that both the needs of homeless people and the need for an economically vibrant downtown area can be achieved. A little compromise, some funding from the stinting city and county, and likely 90% of what both sides need can be had.

What is possibly bad is for Merin and his law firm to go forward with his lawsuit against the city too abruptly. Merin and spouse have made millions off the city and county with their lawsuits relating to homeless people in recent years; their accumulation of wealth has hurt our metropolis, leaving less to be spent that could shelter homeless folk. [To the Merins' credit I should add that they have given something like $200,000 (maybe more) to homeless charities in the aftermath of the cases.]

A good majority of the Purves “article” is badly researched, which is hard to forgive in this age of google. She writes about the encampment at 13th & C Sts in 2009, thus:
Several people whom Merin gave permission to use his fenced-in property at C and 13th streets were repeatedly removed in 2009, their belongings confiscated by Sacramento police, he says, all because these individuals were sleeping outside.
Hilarious. Purves needs to learn not to trust lawyers. Trust, instead, in Shakespeare who wrote in Henry VI, Part II “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” There were not a mere "several" people at that encampment; there were 15 to 20. [See the picture with my blogpost of the time: “Mark Merin property leased for use by homeless campers.”] Also of interest, from sacHO in 2009, “Weird Homeless Communist Theatre,” about the near end to the 13th & C encampment and how staged events where charities (in this case, Loaves & Fishes) use homeless people, piling on the misery, to raise money. The 13th & C encampment was a farce from the get-go.

Purves, too, writes about “a spike” in arrests and citations re illegal camping, but offers no good explanation for that. Purves quotes Maya Wallace, but Maya Wallace just bloviates. She’s a fresh hire at SacStepForward who perhaps is yet to meet her first homeless person. Wallace says, absent a whiff of knowledge, that the construction is pushing (homeless) people to the margins. Wallace is unaware that real homeless people, as opposed to SSF Board Chairman Cole, are adroit, enabling them to move their belongings and themselves elsewhere when necessary.

Purves calls Cesar Chavez Park a longtime “epicenter of homeless activity.” Yes, closure of the restaurant’s bathrooms is a problem, but, as I say, homeless folk learn how to function in difficult situations if only because they must. The Central Library is nearby the Park; homeless folk can go there to use a bathroom, if it’s open. County offices are cattycorner to the Park; there are bathrooms there. Amtrak is not too far away; bathrooms are there, open from early in the morning til the wee hours of night. But in truth, Chavez Park doesn’t rate as any epicenter; its use nowadays is mostly as a place where a person might sit on a bench.

Purves has a curious stand-alone sentence (its own paragraph) late in her long “article”:
The number is purely anecdotal, but it’s something Baker and others in the community stand by.
At issue is a purported 50% drop in homeless crime in one part of the county when a recycling center closed. If the 50% is truly “purely anecdotal” then how is it that Purves has Baker and others standing by it. They can insist that a 50% crime drop sounds about right to them, but “swear to an anecdote” seems like a reach. And, Purves, did you really witness a gathering of people attesting to the validity of this anecdote? Can they all have had enough sense of things to come to refined conclusions?

It is not Brooke Purves’ fault that SNR has a continuing history of bad reporting on homeless matters. SNR “reports” on homeless matters without of a whiff of knowledge about the homeless experience and from that comes a pile of errors giving the public continuing piles of misinformation. SNR, for all its proclaimed liberal love of homeless people doesn't "go to the source" and get the perspectives of homeless people. Yes, SNR loves the homeless as a function of twisted sanctimonious politically progressive dogma, but resists getting near them as people who can speak for their own needs. Indeed, they should be the only ones speaking for their own needs.


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