Saturday, January 7, 2017

Much revelry as Steinberg becomes mayor, but the world hasn't changed yet

Cover of 1/5/17 issue of SNR.
The cover story in the January 5, 2017, issue of the Sacramento News and Review is titled "The world is changing," but there is no evidence that anything substantive has changed as yet. Darrell Steinberg is officially mayor now -- to be sure -- replacing his disgraced predecessor. But all that Steinberg has done is just talk, talk, talk. But THAT, I have to say, he does rather well.

The cover story is an interview of Steinberg that SN&R publisher Jeff vonKaenel conducts.  Or, if not conducts, shows up for. vonKaenel says something like 3% of the words in the back and forth between the two men. While Jeff dressed for the event -- there's a picture of him, wearing all black with his hands wrapped around a cup of coffee -- he is near fully absent from the beginning of the interview, showing up only in the last half of what's published to ask anything substantial. JEFF, wake up! I think it can have been very helpful had vonKaenel closely studied the issues relating to the tasks Steinberg must deal with in the coming months.

Happily, however, Steinberg makes up for the publisher -- when he's missing -- rambling on and on for three nearly-full pages. He is a vain man, this Steinberg fellow -- but vain in a likable way, in a manner not unlike that of Mohammad Ali. Essentially, Steinberg claims to be brilliant -- a man fully up for the task of making Sacramento magnificent, even if he could never land a left-hook to the chin of George Foreman.

In response to vonKaenel's strange question "What's No. 2?", Steinberg dives into the issue of what to do about homeless folk. Steinberg responds by first saying "We are going to tackle homelessness with a ferocity that has not been seen." He then cites bills he's authored that will aid those wiih mental illnesses and house people currently living on the streets.

Steinberg then says something I found curious, this: "I refuse to accept the notion that homelessness is hopelessness." Sure, the sentence is cute. And it's Ali-like in there being a play on words, two of which end with "lessness." But why does he suppose that homelessness is hopelessness is a "fanciful or foolish idea" -- which is how "notion" is defined? Homeless people, like any large group of folks, have a wide variety of characteristics. They exist as individuals, not as an amorphous mass. There are many homeless people that do feel hopeless, today. And there are others that are gleeful most of the time.  Whatever magic Steinberg eventually congers up is unlikely to "cure" the fatigue that people feel from years upon years of living on the street. Many hopeless homeless people will be dead by the end of 2017, untouched by any Steinberg cure-all -- even if it is brilliantly conceived and implemented.

But it may be that what Steinberg means by "I refuse to accept the notion that homelessness is hopelessness" is that common citizens and many politicians believe that trying to help or fix homeless people is hopeless. They're losers, those ragged bastards. They don't earn their keep and they never will. So, what we should do is nothing. Well, if that's the case, and it is determined that it is hopeless to try to help homeless people, then, please, just shoot me. I am weary. I've had enough. And enough is enough.

Steinberg's too-cute-by-half manner of describing himself and a golden future that he promises should disappoint most readers of the interview. Kevin Johnson had hoped to "do it all," too. Look where that got us. In the not-too-far-distant past we've had a 10-year plan and a 15-year plan to utterly, absolutely end homelessness. Look where that got us. Nowhere.

And Steinberg's plan, it seems, is only to do the same ol same ol. Says Steinberg: "We know what works: it's assertive outreach, it's case management, it's services and permanent housing." In other words, most of the money will be going to the "same ol, same ol" contractors with their hands out. Many of the same folks who just create time-wasting programs to run homeless people around in endless circles will be recipients of lots of money to create the appearance of something being done.

It all feels like Steinberg has come to dispense wisdom with little room in his full head to take in some. Yet, there are are myriad homeless folk out there who can articulate what they believe they need. A great many homeless people have evaluated their circumstance and can tell people very clearly what they know they need to aright their lives. Truly, they don't need the old army of nannies and wet nurses that have been around for decades. They just need a little help to put their wise plans for themselves into motion.

Steinberg might benefit from these words of Ali's:  “I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.”

There are many circumstances where the big bureaucracy that Steinberg seems committed to building should just stand down.

I think that Steinberg needs to be more open-minded and less certain that what plans he's formulated work best when they are set in concrete.

Near the end of the interview, Steinberg says this: "Especially for people with significant challenges that may have led to their homelessness -- mental illness, substance abuse -- coupling housing with supportive services ... is essential.

Steinberg appears to be years behind the knowledge curve with respect to the cure for substance abuse. What people need when they abuse substances -- as opposed to being addicted to them -- is HOUSING, and not any army of nannies. I am hopeful that Steinberg will read a post from this blog that went up just over a year ago, titled "Housing First ... and sobriety will follow." I hope, too, that he will play the TED Talk video attached to the post. It's excellent and very informative.

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