Another Man’s Shoes

Posted: June 4, 2009 in Bureauacracy, Compassion, Employment, Goals, Government, Homelessness, Housing, Money, Morality, Poverty

There are times when local governments behave in such a manner which cause me to shake my head in utter disbelief.

Case in point.

In March of this year, there was an article in the San Francisco Gate about a homeless gentleman named Larry Moore.  

Mr. Moore has been homeless for the better part of six years.

At one time, he fought with alcoholism. To that end he used to panhandle to "feed" his addiction. All of that changed however, when one day he met another gentleman who was "… an old hand in the shoeshine game [who] needed some help" and showed Mr. Moore "the ropes."

As a result, he gave up panhandling and started shining shoes. He also gave up drinking.

Last September, Mr. Moore managed to get his own portable shoeshine stand – which he pushes to the corners of Market and Montgomery each day – and went into "business" for himself.

He must be doing quality work because he’s managed to acquire a regular "clientele."

He’s also managed to do something else: save money.

Until last week, it appeared that he’d saved enough to get rent a room and get off the streets for the first time in six years. Actually, he was only $27 shy of the $600 needed.

I’m willing to bet that he could have been in his "own place" within a week. And, he might have – had it not been for one of San Francisco’s Department of Public Works officials.

It turns out that this bureaucrat happened to read about Mr. Moore in the newspaper, and then went out to inform Mr. Moore that he had to pay $491 to buy a "sidewalk vendor" permit.

In a follow-up article to the previous one from March, it stated that Christine Falvey, spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, had said that,

"… the department’s contact with Moore was meant to be ‘educational.’

We certainly don’t want to hamper anyone’s ability to make a living. Our education efforts are actually meant to support that effort by making our streets an enjoyable place for people to visit."

Educational?

That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a city’s permit fees being referred to as an "education effort."

I realize that all cities have certain taxes and fees which must be levied. I have no problem with that whatsoever. It does irk me however, when public officials engage in ridiculous double-talk and bureaucratic nonsense just to "cover their own behinds."

The San Francisco Department of Public Works was well within its rights to require Mr. Moore to obtain a sidewalk vendor’s permit – something which he himself acknowledges. In fact, he has gone out of his way in an attempt to comply. However, he has run into a snag.

While he does have the funds to pay the fees, the city hasn’t accepted his application because he doesn’t have a valid ID – although he is working on acquiring one.

But, as Travis See – the manager of the Custom Shop Clothiers located near where Mr. Moore "sets up shop" – said,

"I guess my gripe is that when the city came by and told him to get his papers in order but couldn’t tell him how to do it. This lady couldn’t even tell him which building to go to so he could stand in line and waste all day."

He’s not the only one upset with the city’s handling of the matter.

According to the article:

"Along Market Street, Moore’s supporters are indignant. Nothing happens when mentally ill men wander the street talking to themselves and drunkards pee in the alleys. Yet Moore creates a little business out of thin air, builds up a client base, and the city takes nearly every penny he’s earned."

I’m not saying that the bureaucrat who read about Mr. Moore should have pretended they didn’t read the article. Nor am I saying that the city should have waived the permit fees.

However, it seems to me that it could have been handled less mechanically – especially since the person who’d read about Mr. Moore knew that he was a homeless person intent on making a better life for himself.

To be sure, the city is being a bit flexible – allowing him to conduct business while he awaits a copy of his birth certificate so that he can pay for his permit.

It does seem to me however, that perhaps they could have also created a payment schedule – one which would have allowed Mr. Moore the chance to get off the streets a bit sooner.

It may not have been the bureaucratic thing to do… but it certainly would have been the humane thing.

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