The problem with the homeless is the problem with social welfare policies in general: we want to provide for the individual, legitimately needy, but we don’t want to encourage dependence upon such help, to foster a “culture of dependence.”
Santa Monica is a nice, upscale, generally liberal beach city just west of Los Angeles. It used to be “very liberal,” as opposed to “generally liberal” until it was inundated with the homeless, who like all other organisms, are drawn to where the living is easiest: it’s just gravity.
Not all homeless people have themselves to blame for their homelessness, especially in hard economic times, but many, if not most, do. Besides those legitimately down on their luck and temporarily unable to house themselves – for whom we must do all we can to keep them invested in society – the homeless also consist of alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally ill (these three categories often blend together), general misfits (read the alternately heartbreaking and hopeful Homeless Guy blog), sluggards, and miscellany others. Please do not accuse me of lumping them all together because every homeless person has his/her own story to tell, but collectively, past a certain level of density and visibility, the homeless are a blight on a community for all of the obvious reasons: sanitation, petty crime, eyesore, annoyance, all of which lead to downward pressure on property values, and downward pressure on one’s beachside property is the fastest way to turn a liberal into a conservative.
Over the last ten years or so, Santa Monica has been struggling with their homeless problem, trying to strike a balance between compassion and, frankly, property values. From the Santa Monica Staff Report on the Homeless:
- Additionally residents, members of the business community and visitors have expressed growing concerns and frustrations about the increased impact of homelessness on the community. These impacts result from various circumstances, including large groups gathering regularly in the parks for food distributions and thereby monopolizing park space, persons soiling and trashing doorways in the Downtown which they use as a campsite, aggressive panhandling and exhibiting anti-social or threatening behaviors. Residents complain that the parks are no longer a shared resource. Members of the business community complain of adverse economic impacts.
There are increasing adverse impacts on homeless people as well. The Police Department reports an increase in crimes committed by homeless people against other homeless people. For instance, during the last nine months,
there have been three assaults in this category which were extremely
The controversy about food distributions in the parks has been particularly
heated. Many complain that food distributions by private organizations are
attracting more and more homeless people to Santa Monica, that the City’s
service system cannot bear this load, that the parks are being unfairly
monopolized, and that other park users are being driven from the parks. Others assert that the food distributions are charitable endeavors which should be supported, rather than restricted.
So in October Santa Monica cracked down:
- Santa Monica, a city known for its compassion toward homeless people but long troubled by the problems they bring, finally passed two controversial laws Tuesday night aimed at limiting their presence.
“The public is scared and tired and just generally want it stopped,” Councilman Herb Katz said.
The first ordinance, passed by a 5-2 vote, seeks to limit free outdoor meals by requiring groups serving 150 or more people to adhere to community event laws and county health standards. The second ordinance, passed unanimously, makes it illegal to sit or lie in doorways downtown between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. if the business owner posts a sign to that effect.
The area affected by the second ordinance will be defined by the city staff.
Santa Monica has long embraced liberal policies to help the needy. As many as 30 charity groups have migrated here to regularly serve free meals, often at the three downtown parks, Palisades, Memorial and Reed, attracting up to 300 homeless at a time.
But pressure has been building to rethink the policy, as business owners, residents and tourists have complained about increasing numbers of homeless people panhandling, congregating in parks and urinating in public. [LA Times]
I don’t care who you are, freaking Mother Teresa doesn’t want piss all over everything and people asking her for money every thirty seconds. What elicits compassion on the micro level, can drive a community to desperate action on the macro level.
I heard from a college girlfriend for the first time in years the other day – she was talking about maybe moving out to California some day, “but not San Francisco, though I still love it, too many homeless people.” That about sums it up: short term, highly visible compassion pleases no one, gets no one permanently off the streets, draws more and more homeless to the area, and creates inevitable backlash. They’re sick of them in San Francisco too, believe me.
So now we have System Of A Down vocalist Serj Tankian and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello forming the Axis of Justice, with its compassionate, good-hearted, silly, simplistic, America-bashing, feed the homeless, SCREW THE MAN organization, and their good-hearted, compassionate, misguided protest against Santa Monica:
- Both Tankian and Morello held placards high and joined several dozen protesters, which included the homeless, chanting phrases, including “charity is not a crime.” Former Rage Against The Machine member Morello has a long history of social activism and summed up his stance.
“We’re here today as representative of Axis of Justice in defiance of the law, passing out lunch to the people here, and we’re going to continue to feed the homeless in Santa Monica until they overturn this ridiculous law,” Morello told LAUNCH.
System’s Tankian, whose band also is known for voicing its political positions, said the oceanside community isn’t the only city to consider such legislation.
“I was told that different cities are using this as a model, so I think the success of this protest and of feeding the homeless today is that important as far as that microcosm spreading to the macro, so that other cities will not, uh, re-enact the same type of legislation,” Morello added.
The National Lawyers Guild, also present at the protest, filed a federal lawsuit Friday on behalf of charitable, religious, and other providers of free food to the homeless in Santa Monica. The lawsuit challenges the ordinance, which seeks to outlaw outdoor meal programs and food distribution on public sidewalks, and requires permits and health guidelines that are more in line with the regulating of restaurants. The Guild accused the Santa Monica City Council of criminalizing “the age-old practice of providing for the hungry–a practice that is central to virtually all of the world’s religions and humanitarian organizations.” Protesters also claim the ordinance is an attempt to purge the generally upscale city–once known for progressive tolerance–of its homeless population. The law was challenged at the end of a rally and press conference, with sandwiches, some canned goods and lollipops reading “war is for suckers,” passed out to the homeless and others in attendance. [Launch]
I understand and applaud the impulse, but these guys are helping no one: the answer is job training, job placement, and reintegration into society for those who are capable – just like welfare reform; and some kind of government housing – away from population centers – for those who are not. Handouts and piss all over everything is not the answer. Let the legal residents, business owners and tax payers of Santa Monica have their town back. Oh, and raise the minimum wage – I am not a conservative, just a realist.