Yesterday afternoon José Lemus – director of the documentary film "Suckerfish" – and I met to talk about a couple of projects that he has ideas for, and just to do some good old fashioned catching up on what’s been going on with each of us. Among the various things we spoke about, homelessness inevitably was one of them – which isn’t surprising considering that homelessness is what this blog is about.
At point as we were talking about how various communities try to deal with the homeless situation two analogies came up: one was how leaf blowers leave an area "clean" by just blowing things to the side, and the other was about using an already dirty cloth to try cleaning a dirty table. Both methods don’t really do anything other than displace what’s there.
Unfortunately that’s the way most cities across the nation try "cleaning up" homelessness in their respective communities – by displacement. City after city are creating and adopting local ordinances that are designed – not to help the homeless – but to hide the homeless, and San Luis Obispo is no exception.
For some reason, politicians have adopted this "if we can’t see them, they’re not there" way of dealing with homelessness. So rather than create and fund programs that can be effective at helping the homeless – and thereby reducing the numbers of homeless – they pour taxpayer dollars down the sewer by having to enforce the ordinances they pass – ordinances that supposedly will make the homeless go elsewhere. But the homeless don’t move on. They simply move deeper into the shadows.
In many ways it’s like a 3 Stooges episode: Moe tells Larry and Curly to clean things up but all they end up doing is sweeping everything under the rug. Out of sight, out of mind.
It seems to me, if politicians where really as socially astute and intelligent as they pretend to be during campaign season, they wouldn’t continue to enact ineffective ordinances that are only rehashed versions of what their predecessors enacted.
But the fault isn’t the politicians alone. We, the community in general, are just as guilty. We refuse to admit that there might be a more effective and realistic was to help reduce the overall numbers of homeless; a way to actually help homeless persons become an integrated, productive part of the community. And, because we won’t admit that there may be a better way, we fail to require our elected leaders to do the right thing and find that more effective way. Consequently, our politicians keep making the same mistakes over and over – and nothing changes.
You would think that someone would wise up and say: "Hey guys, this isn’t working. Maybe we should try a different approach."
Any smart business man will tell you that if something doesn’t work, you research the situation and do something else.
Perhaps it’s time we stop sweeping the homeless under the rug. As a solution, hiding the homeless just isn’t working. More and more people are becoming homeless everyday.
Could it be that it’s time to actually start helping the homeless help themselves and not just trying to hide them?
Or does that make too much sense?