Reality Check

Posted: April 25, 2007 in Bureauacracy, Discrimination, Government, Homelessness, Politics

On the front page of this week’s New Times (April 19 – April 25, 2007) it loudly proclaimed: "You Can’t Do That In SLO!" The article itself was on page 8.

One of very first items on the list of things a person CAN’T do in SLO, dealt with SLO Municipal Ordinance 9.40.010 – the ordinance that prohibits anyone from sitting on any one public bench in excess of one hour; or any combination of public benches for more than 3 hours in any given 24 hour period.

According to the article the law was enacted because the city’s Transient Task Force had "decided to end homelessness in SLO…"  

With that last phrase, excuse me while I fall off my seat and laugh my little fanny perpendicular right off.

The very notion that someone has actually made a "decision" to end homeless in our community – or in anywhere else for that matter – as though it were a water faucet that was dripping and could be turned off – is naiveté in the extreme.

Anyone who actually believes that they can end homelessness, please contact me – I have several fictitious bridges for sale.

The reality is this: homelessness in this county – let alone this community – will never reach zero. There are simply too many variables involved – not to mention the fact that there some homeless people who have no desire to become non-homeless.

I’ll admit I have a problem understanding why or how any person would deliberately choose to become or stay homeless. Nonetheless, there are those who prefer being homeless to anything else.

Then, there are those who have been homeless for so long, they’ve surrendered themselves to the idea that their homelessness is a permanent condition – one that cannot not be changed. Even if given the opportunity to escape from such a wretched lifestyle – I have my doubts whether they can once again become a part of the mainstream community.

Notwithstanding those two realities, there is yet a third: those within the homeless community who have a burning desire to be delivered from their living purgatory. And, these are the ones, which this community should – and must, out of moral responsibility – seek a way to offer a helping hand. Not a hand out, but a hand UP.

Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with homelessness, the course of action taken by most city governments – San Luis Obispo’s as well – is to pass and adopt ordinances that limit the movement of the homeless within city borders. Yet, these ordinances never succeed at eliminating homelessness. If they do anything at all, they hide and hinder the homeless rather than help. And the reason this line of "attack" fails is that it deals with the symptoms and not the underlying cause of homelessness.

Yet, time and time again, local governments have continued to create, modify, amend and adopt ordinances that are designed to "…end homeless…" in their communities. And, all to no avail.

Here in SLO, despite ordinances that were added and amended in the spring of 2006, the number of homeless have increased and not decreased.

How do I know? Because I’m homeless and I’ve seen the numbers get bigger. DUH!

Considering that the "laws" have not reduced the number of homeless, one would think that the city council would recognize the futility in proceeding along the same lines in the future simply because "that’s the way it’s always been done."

If you were to take the time to look at the types of people who are afflicted by homelessness, you would see that they are vastly different that the types of people who were homeless 2 or 3 decades ago.

Wouldn’t it be more prudent, more beneficial, more effective to cease using obsolete methods for dealing with 21st century homelessness? Rather than hinder and hide the homeless, wouldn’t it be better in the long run, for the community to seek a way to re-integrate the homeless back into the community?

To the Mayor and Members of the San Luis Obispo City Council I respectfully say this:

It’s time for a reality check.

Your methodology for dealing with homelessness in our community is not working.

With each ordinance you create, amended or adopt, the homeless – who, out of necessity are survivors – simply adapt and life goes on as usual.

When you truly desire to have a genuine impact at reducing the numbers of homeless in our community; when you tire of mimicking the failing efforts of other cities as they deal with their homeless; when you’re ready to "roll up your sleeves" and do the right thing – and not the popular thing – then let me know.

I am more than willing to sit down with all of You, the Downtown Business Association and the Human Resource Committee and present you with potential solutions – solutions that are, at the very least, as sage as any currently in use.

Having an impact on homelessness in our community isn’t going to be easy. It will take hard work and discipline. But mostly, it will take courage – the courage to do the right things for the right reasons.

The days of dealing with our community’s homeless using knee-jerk reactions need to be over. This is the 21st century. It’s time to deal with this problem using 21st century vigor and insight. It’s time to deal with this issue in the fullness of the American spirit – the spirit of tolerance, compassion and equality.

And that – Honorable members of the San Luis Obispo City Council – is may challenge to you.

Never forget for a minute, that each and every one of you are public servants, appointed to represent everyone in this community and not just those who voted for you.

I’ll await your response… but I won’t hold my breath.

After all, in your eyes I’m probably nothing more than "just another homeless person."

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