Saturday, May 21, 2016

Homeless Street Journal and its Screed of Discontent

I got a copy of the May & June, bi-monthly Homeward Street Journal from a homeless distributor/vendor near the Central branch of the library a few days ago. I gave the man a dollar and he told me that my dollar was only the third one he’d received all morning.

Frontpage of May & June issue of HSJ.
It was pretty clear that the fellow was hoping I would give him a second dollar – something I declined to do. But, next time I see him, I'll give him that second buck.

It is very possible that the distributor fellows – they are in great majority “guys,” though I have seen female HSJ distributors on rare occasions – do receive only a pittance during the course of a day. I would guess that getting $10 in a day after standing around on a street corner for six hours, or whatever, would make for a relatively good day for them.

Ten dollars for six hours comes out to $1.67/hour. Curiously, the whole of the backpage of the issue of HSJ I was given is about the justice in having the minimum wage in California increased to $15/hour – which is nine times what the publication’s “distributors” make, according to the rough assumptions I’m making.

Now, if these “distributors” were wholly operating on their own, acting as utterly-free agents, they would have every right to toil mightily for the pittance that their work pays them. There are indications, however, that Homeward Street Journal operates as their employer and, thus, should be guaranteeing its distributors no less than the current minimum wage.

Stamped to the top of the front page of each copy of the Homeward Street Journal, in blue, is this:

DONATION $1.00
All Proceeds go to distributor 
Only badged distributors are authorized.

This sentiment is obviously coming from the publication, in the person of editor Paula Lomazzi – which clearly shows that HSJ’s distributors act at the behest of the boss, Paula. The rules for the “distributors” are not of their own making. These distributors are functioning as employees. They are not free agents, setting their own donation expectation. There is something highly offensive – the ultimate offense -- when rules of employment are not in place for the poorest of the poor. For whom are employment laws most important if not those who are maltreated from being under-compensated in (possible) violation of law?

I recognize, of course, that Homeward Street Journal is a rag-tag publication, and non-profit as part of the SHOC charity, that no one would ever mistake for the New York Times, a more-typical newspaper. But the sentiment in HSJ comes from Paula and Merin Law Firm attorney Cat Williams, centrally, expressing views that are in accord with The League of Revolutionaries for A New American*: Complaints are hyped to the point of being shrill. Issues are most often dealt with in terms of extremes, often between good and bad, or saintly and evil. There are seldom gradations of sentiment to allow for appreciation of views that are not politically correct in the narrow sense of its writers.

With nothing but complaint, complaint, complaint, the publication does not advance understanding. It’s just a constant siren, a screed of discontent. Writers do not try to appreciate -- or even, at least, understand -- the points of view of its multitude of perceived enemies.

The economics of Homeward Street Journal – and its parent SHOC, for that matter – are humble, to be sure. But why should it/they make ANY effort when they are narrowly preaching to their choir, the constantly aggrieved?

And, when the publication makes the good effort to show the general public what homelessness and homeless people are like, it is pitched solely in terms of horror and the ultimate degradation. I would aver that homelessness is not the ultimate worst, most-painful thing that ever happened AND that many homeless people do, visually, fit the public stereotype of being slobs who deface businesses’ property – though you would never know that from reading HSJ.

Suzanne Hastings' "We are not Animals"
Suzanne Hastings has a piece in the current HSJ titled “We are not Animals.” I admire Hastings’ writing, but she has mastered the full-tilt complaint piece and should move on, IMHO, to write something that is a complete picture -- a wholly truthful picture -- of what homelessness is like that can convince and inform the public of the homeless circumstance she depicts. She should present matters in shades of gray, when that is appropriate. She should acknowledge that many homeless people are not noble; many are a mess who need to be rescued.

One of Hastings complaints in her full-on screed “We are not Animals” is that, at one point in their travails, she and her colleagues had to “walk across a parking lot, dodging cars.” I think that when your complaint-fest reaches that banal a grievance -- having to walk around parked cars -- you need to re-evaluate what you’re doing; try a different, enlightened approach.

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* Paula's organization, Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, gets it's name from this Soviet Communist organization which was at one point going by the name The Organizing Committee. The Stalinist Communism that SHOC embraces is the ultimate freedom-denying, totalitarian, murderous regime ever imagined.

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