Skip to main content

Bad writing about homelessness in SNR, year-round

Cover of 12/17/16
issue of S N & R.
The Sacramento News & Review prints an irresponsible, lazy, goofy story about something serious: the deaths of homeless people

A “news” story published near the front of this week’s SNR is a big mess. It’s lackadaisically written and it doesn’t source many of its claims. It takes a serious topic and uses it for a bad comedy routine. Matt Kramer and Raheem F. Hosseini take the blame as its authors. Others at the publication take blame for not digging in to edit the disaster.

In hardcopy, the piece is titled “Death year-round: Advocates criticize seasonal political focus as Sacramento homeless deaths remain high.”

The piece begins by telling the story of Michael Lehmkuhl, a 58-year-old man who died last January. Only, it doesn’t tell the story; Cynthia Hubert brilliantly told the story in the July 31 issue of the Bee after speaking with everyone she could and learning a great deal about events near the end of Lehmkuhl’s life  -- including the certain fact that Lehmkuhl was suffering the devastating effects of schizophrenia which led directly to his death.

There is nothing in the first five paragraphs of the Kramer & Hosseini piece to explain Lehmkuhl’s death, that mentions the vital element of mental illness. Readers are misled and mal-informed. And they are not directed to the brilliant story Hubert wrote nearly six months ago.

The last paragraph on the topic of Lehmkuhl in the SNR report is this one short dismissive sentence: “Just another homeless death in Sacramento.” Well, screw you, SNR. I suppose the sentence is meant to be forlorn, instead of dismissive, but it is inappropriate, nonetheless.

Next the SNR piece touches on the matter of this year’s annual ceremony at Trinity Cathedral about the homeless who died in 2016. Bob Erlenbusch of SRCEH is quoted in that section, thus: “In 2015, the average age for [homeless] women at their death was 47 and for men it was 49.” It would be valuable to ground that data with average death ages of the general population, thus to give readers a sense of how early in life those homeless-people death ages are. I would grant that “matching data” from national deaths would not be wholly instructive. Sacramento street people transition in and out from being homeless and it can be the case that many people “leave” homelessness altogether when they are designated as disabled or when they retire, skewing data comparisons. But there is this, from the National Health Care for the Homeless Council:
The average age of death of homeless persons is about 50 years, the age at which Americans commonly died in 1900. Today, not-homeless Americans can expect to live to age 78.
Then, there is this odd paragraph in the SNR piece:
Every year around this time, elected officials reopen their winter shelters for a few months and make compassion-lite promises to uplift their most impoverished constituents. And every year, more people fall to the margins, and perish in quiet, anonymous fashion.
It’s the middle of December. Winter shelters have been open for quite a while, and “elected officials” have little to do with it. And, I don’t think that many “impoverished constituents” pay too much attention to promises, compassion-lite or not.  As for people “falling to the margins, and perish[ing] in quiet, anonymous fashion,” it is very poetic sentiment and, doubtless, happens from time to time – just like that – but I would say that the good majority of homeless people are pretty tough. Besides, contrary to general belief, “cold” is not a killer. Disease, alcohol or drugs meshed with cold is, as is violence and a lot else.

Erlenbusch is next quoted, talking about the randomness – relating to time of the year – of homeless deaths. And there is this goofy paragraph by the SNR writers:
The deaths happen at all times of the year, divided into near-equal quarter-sized chunks through-out the four seasons. The idea that the homeless population faces a greater threat in winter – at least in terms of fatalities is a myth.
Except for the chunks – unless vomiting is in play – this goofy paragraph makes a kind of sense. Winter is cold, but, in Sacramento, especially, not deadly cold, usually.

Erlenbusch gives us some data: Five to six percent of homeless deaths in the County are the result of homicide. Here, a comparison with the general population IS given, but the match is out-of-sync, makes no sense that I can determine.
“The homicide rate is 31 percent higher for people without homes than for people who reside indoors.”
The “31 percent higher” compares to WHAT percentage for housed people? Erlenbusch does not offer an explanation of what is meant, here, or the writers chose not to print what there is. Nonetheless, the burden of having some sort of understandable comparison between what the homicide rate is for homeless people as compared to the general population is not given, as it needs to have been. The homicide rate is the topic of the story, for cryin' out loud.

Then in the last half of the news article, we slump into the issue of spending money on winter shelter versus spending money on housing-first

Happily (to my mind) Housing First seems to be the higher priority – or will be, next year. The question will be one of what procedures will be deployed. To maximize the benefits that come to those needing housing, successful Housing First leaders account for money SAVED from a city and county NOT spending enormous sums running homeless people around in circles and putting them in jail for meaningless infractions of law. Money saved from these mean-spirited police efforts can then be used to get MORE homeless folk into housing and a life that is happy and consequential.

The article ends with this, which I think is very much a bunch of nonsense:
For the time being, Erlenbusch said he will keep reading the names of those who may otherwise die unknown.
“I think that it provides a dignified service for people who are generally invisible to the housed population,” Erlenbusch said. “Everybody deserves to be remembered in some fashion, that they were here on Earth. This is a way for at least an hour to read their name, read their age, and [make them] be visible to the housed population.”
For my part, I would prefer that people never die – but they just do.  The winter solstice thing, reading the names of the deceased, is fine, of course.

But, Erlenbusch and others like him are mistaken.

People are remembered by those who really knew them, not by pretenders who want to embellish their sense of self by acting all Holier than Thou.

Homeless people die, but most had happier, headier times in the past, that won’t fade easily in the memories of family and friends.

And there's this: All, or maybe just nearly all, people who have been homeless for a spell have had periods in the lives when they were NOT homeless. They've had jobs and families and lives where  they loved the people they lived with, went to football games, taught their sons how to throw a baseball, and thought their daughter was beautiful in her prom dress.

The world, though, is mostly – almost entirely – for the living and for the future. “Onward, ho!” I say. “Forward, into the future! Let us see where it takes us!”
Update: In the online version of this story, a correction was posted at the end of the article by an editor. This:
 Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the homicide rate was 31 percent higher for homeless people than those who live indoors, rather than 31 times. SN&R regrets the error


Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Popular posts from this blog

The Mission Five Years Ago, And Today

I have spent the night the past two weeks plus at the Union Gospel Mission and am having an excellent time of it -- not only regards to sleeping in the dorm that the mission has, but also listening to the sermons that are delivered in the early evening. The Christmas music that is performed is also splendid. [And the food -- the FOOD -- has been fantastic during my stay so far! A happier Tom there couldn't be.] I chatted with a pal last night about The Mish – about how things were about five years ago when we both used the mission’s services frequently, and how thing are, today.
Five years ago, there were a lot scuffles between the guys when the front gate was opened in the early afternoon and in the area near the contact window there were some brawls as guys fought over where guys were in line to get a bed in the dorm.
Nowadays, however, the mission is very much a peaceful place both on the grounds of the facility and and out on the street.
I do not know what transformative eve…

Homeless Sacramentans lose case that would have given them the right to set up outdoor camping

8/11/13 I certainly give attorneys Mark Merin and Cat Williams credit for pursuing a case against the city of Sacramento to give homeless Sacramentans the right to set up tents and a campsite. I wanted them to win their case, but they didn't. They lost it.

BUT, it is also necessary to look at the particulars of the case that Merin and Williams brought and see that the situation underlying the court case was not very compelling.

During the period eight years ago when 22 homeless campers set up their tents and brought in supplies to Mark Merin's vacant lot at C Street, near 12th, there was loud noise and plenty of other mayhem. Drug dealers were on the street encouraging buys from the campers. The Hernandez couple that lived in a house nearby were constantly being taunted by the campers, disrupting their lives.

Per always with Safe Ground camps, calm was deserted for the sake of boisterousness.

Leader John Kraintz and the other Safe Grounders would claim to have signed strict a…

After a Three-Month Hiatus, a Fall from a Ladder & a Broken Wrist, Evangelist Jimmy Roughton Returns to Union Gospel Mission to Preach

After being away from Union Gospel Mission for a quarter of a year, Jimmy Roughton returned to preach at UGM on the cold night of December 13 -- despite suffering [a little? a lot? dunno.] from a fall from a ladder that likely immediately preceded a significant injury (a wrist that was broken).

It was good to see his group from Capital Free Will Baptist Church up on the pulpit, with Roughton rough-and-ready to seduce and inspire the happily-captivate crowd at UGM.

Roughton told us in his opening words that he was now in his 27th year coming to the mission.

I recall the first preaching I had heard from Roughton on June 13, 2009. At that time and up to the current time, Roughton is the only preacher I had ever heard evoke Pascal's Wager -- which is something he would do, occasionally thereafter at the mission. He would evoke Pascal's wager, yet again, last night [12/13/17].

Pascal's wager

Last night, Jimmy evoked Pascal's Wager. He did so near the end of his talk, citing …