Friday, February 5, 2016

Homelessness is a feast! In the news A LOT lately!

Whoa! There is a LOT of great stuff in the last few days [in the Sac News & Review, Bee and New York Times] about saving or bettering the lives of homeless people.  It’s such a big bonanza of worthwhile news and opinion, it feels like Hoss is jumping up and down on my computer screen.

Let us start with the Thursday issue of SNR:

There are three items in SNR that people who seek better lives for homeless folk should see.

First up, is the Editor's Note by co-Editor in Chief Nick Miller. His short ed is a jokey piece about the $300+ million that our city gave to the undeserving Vivek Ranadive to keep the Kings in town.

Homeless people aren't mentioned at all in the piece, but they are certainly part of the story.

If our city wasn't giving cargo containers full of cash to a billionaire, it would be possible today to reap the huge savings that comes from putting homeless people in housing and the city would be in economic nirvana. Instead, Vivek and his tall employees will be making enormous sums of money, taken from Sacramento game goers that Vivek and all those involved with the Kings will be spending somewhere far outside Sacramento.

Next up, Camp Obvious [titled "Debunking Five Myths..." online] billed as a news story, but what is really more an opinion piece by SNR reporter Raheem F. Hosseini. Hosseini claims to be debunking myths, but it's a strange, unnecessary framework that gets set up by the reporter -- something Nick Miller tried to do -- disasterously -- several years ago, that I will mostly ignore.

There's some good, good stuff in Camp Obvious; the best is a quote from Paula Lomazzi of SHOC. This:
"[Sacramento's unlawful-camping ordinance] makes it against the law to live outdoors. And when there's not [another] option for everyone, that's like saying you can't exist."
Of course, you could argue that what Paula said is not *literally* true. But the gist of what Paula is saying is something the public doesn't understand. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BE LEGAL, if there is nowhere for a person to rest, or sleep, or be. There are some things that EVERY person has to do while he/she is alive and they include sleeping, resting, defecating, peeing, and breathing (and likely there are others). We cannot deny homeless people the essentials to life, unless the city council's intention is to enact capital punishment.

Per a huge percentage of the time, homeless people are just "extras" in an SNR story. The so-called advocates are the people the editors and reporters feel comfortable actually talking to. And this is obviously the case in Camp Obvious.

Joan Burke of The Loaf & Fish is quoted, saying some good things about the number of shelter slots in the city and the much larger number of homeless people. I am highly dubious of some of the "way out there" estimates of how many homeless people there "really" are. For starters, counting homeless people in the county is as difficult to do with a modicum of accuracy as it would be to count the number of stray cats in the county. It's a question of HOW COULD YOU DO IT? And how could you even hope to concoct an estimate? If an SNR person actually READ the most recent PIT info that Sacramento Steps Forward puts out, he/she would know that SSF uses some clever tricks to try to reach an as-reliable-as-it-can count. I think Sacramento Steps Forward does a good job -- but, yeah, they are certain to miss a significant number of people who aren't in any database and are well hidden. I would say that the true count of homeless folks is always about 10% above the official count -- but, like absolutely everyone else, I cannot really know.

Camp Obvious also gets into matters about uncounted homeless youth and how they need to be better aided and the difficulties that come from how you identify what "homeless" is, precisely. Does couch surfing count? Sleeping in a car?

One section of Camp Obvious ends with a quote from special-education teacher Trina Allen that I find unhelpful, though it is true to a degree. It's this:
Trina Allen pointed out the disparity in allies, with politicians, cops, and connected business interests on one side, and everyone else on the other. Or, as she put it, "basically the people your policies, your police and your ideology currently and have historically subjugated."
C'mon, now. There is no bright red line that separates the good people from the bad people. But thinking that there is -- that "the opposition" is the devil -- is what has retarded progress in making things better for homeless folk for many, many years. Stop it, you ideological purists on both sides!

FIGHT TO REST

Nick Miller writes the cover story, "Fight to Rest." about the ever-ongoing battle between fixing the homeless situation and making Sacramento a gleaming City on a Hill [to paraphrase Reagan], For the Right to Rest homeless folks, organizer James "Faygo" Clark insists that the city's anti-camping ordinance simply has to go. 

This makes perfect sense. There is no way around the fact that there will always be nights when homeless people are left with no choice but to camp outside somewhere where they can. Restricting camping to a legal Safe Ground campsite -- assuming one comes into being -- won't work because sometimes you don't have the means or time to get to the designated site.

Sometimes there are emergencies, or unpredictable occurrences. It can be very, very difficult to be homeless oft-times, afterall.

What both the Right to Rest group and the city council need to do, independently, is lay out an idea of how it can be possible for homeless people to survive in the interim before Housing First fully takes hold. How can out-of-shelter homeless people live in a way that might be respectful of the needs of our city's leaders?

I, frankly, think there is a formulation "out there" that can be found and implemented that gives everybody 80% of what they feel they need.

What needs to happen NOW -- and boy-oh-boy, it is WAY past due -- is for people to think about what's possible, write things down, and be generous and understanding of the needs of the "other side."

There is a paper, "The Two Concepts of Liberty," written by Isaiah Berlin in 1958, that has come up in the most-recent episode of the popular philosophy podcast "Very Bad Wizards" about what liberty truly is. Certainly, the "cause" of the Right to Rest folks is one of getting recognition of liberty that is already theirs, but is not being recognized. Likewise, the city council has responsibilities and rights that have not been respected by Right to Rest. Perhaps a discussion about "what to do" could begin by convening a meeting to discuss the liberties that each group has or enforces/represents.

Writes Berlin early on in his text,
... our own attitudes and activities are likely to remain obscure to us, unless we understand the dominant issues of our own world. The greatest of these is the open war that is being fought between two systems of ideas which return different and conflicting answers to what has long been the central question of politics - the question of obedience and coercion. 'Why should I (or anyone) obey anyone else?' 'Why should I not live as I like?' 'Must I obey?' 'If I disobey, may I be coerced?' 'By whom, and to what degree, and in the name of what, and for the sake of what?' 
Upon the answers to the question of the permissible limits of coercion opposed views are held in the world today, each claiming the allegiance of very large numbers of men. It seems to me, therefore, that any aspect of this issue is worthy of examination.
THE BACKPACK DOCTORS 

There is a great article in the Feb. 5 -- Friday -- issue of the Bee, titled "Backpack doctors take health care to homeless." What these doctors do -- find homeless folk in hidden places to help them -- is something I didn't know was going on. Clearly from the content of the article what these doctors and their assistants do is meaningful and important. It's a wonderful, beautifully-written article by a reporter that, till now, was unknown to me: Sammy Caiola.

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