So now we have another round of some millions of dollars and more circular discussion from non-profit and/or philanthropist yuppies to 'solve' the problem of the homeless.
First we have the laundry list of 'techniques,' those that don't work, those that sort of work at least for a time, those that the powers that be say will work as a political talking point. We have stop and shake down, one-way ticket to elsewhere, walking while brown, no-sitting regulation, no public pillow regulation, transfer centers, rehab, churches, turkey on 'thanksgiving,' and so on.
Of course, really what we're talking about is power and powerlessness, the tragic vision of human behavior, not on my block, and the lack of commitment to address the systemic issues in modern society, the latter being so impractical that even I, one willing to be idealistic on paper, can't even justify entertaining at length without giving up, in favor of another cup of coffee.
The main line item that I want to discuss here is one probably related to race, class, and biological basis for human action. I have written often about the problem of 'help,' and the bleeding-heart peoples who stack their reputations, failures and empty cocktail glasses on the pale notion that it is possible for them to understand the mind, situations and capacities of those who fall behind. I'll try to be briefer than I may have been in the past, just here to say that as delicious as a turkey with sides might be on a cold November night, as cozy as a transfer center cot could be made, and further as new as a BMR basement room might be, these things may not satisfy the perceived needs of individuals who we may find living on the street. In other words, the smartest monkeys may not be able to 'solve' the problem of the homeless.
"You think this all justifies doing nothing at all then?"
Objection that deserves response, I grant.
Assuming for a moment that to 'help' one person in a small way for short time makes it all worth it, then I'm willing to concede that it might be possible for an 'average' person found in a tent under a freeway, to 'meet' with an agent of help; to be convinced to follow them to a transfer center, make it through a number of procedures ranging from waiting rooms to detox to therapeutic and coaching conversations, into some sort of housing application process, and then further succeed to find themselves in a chicken-wire and plaster high-density development.
But is this what they might want?
The 'help' will point to better success rates than 1 in 6880, and I hope their math is correct. I should also hope that if a homeless mother shows up at a shelter with children in tow, that they find priority seating, that they can find a place to sleep, that she has some access to money and that there are government subsidies that can help her cover the rent, get a few warm meals in the stomachs.
But for the most part, this character description is not the type of person I want to focus on here, despite the horror in her predicament. In other words, somehow without generalizing too much, I have need to define who we are talking about, the chronic homeless, the tent city occupants, the ONES so abhorrent as to be the topic of ever louder yuppie chants "We have to do something."
I lived in San Francisco for some 30 years. Prior and after that I lived in the urbanity of the East Bay. I always have lived in the neglected areas, and never without some sort of 'scumbags' hanging around, fooling around on the stoop, between cars, what have you, leaving needles, piles of shit, opportunistic glances, etc. I've watched 'upstanding' citizens crying some version of "Not on my block.' or "WTF do you think you are doing?" with at best very temporary effect. I've seen others attempt to befriend the creepers to varying degrees of tension-reducing, temporary success. My general conclusion was a rather fatalistic one: 'There are those who just can't quite function within the reasonable guidelines that the rest of us might loosely agree exist.'
My point is just this: Human situations are always hybrids of compromise. If perhaps you are a person of limited means, dare I say limited capacity as modern man has dictated, if you have fallen out of the education system, if you have seen the drudgery of enter level work, and if you have tasted sensation which you recall has brought you 'high,' it should be clear that you may not consider that the path offered by the 'authorities' possible or worthwhile. In my estimation, we would do well to realize this. But we go on with the audacity to say: "We just haven't quite correctly explained to you (people) how our way for you is best."
Strangely, the Right may know this well, with a rather less sympathetic emphasis, that is, homeless means 'hopeless' and it is therefore pointless to throw money and effort at hopeless people. At best we should clamp down on them with force and consider prisons as necessary evils like a business expense. They would do best to admit that this is their view, rather than claim that they are 'compassionate' of course, but that's for another discussion.
I recently watched a lawyer as he worked through case strategy and realized I was watching a chess player. His interest in the case (large sums aside) was in the details of every move, more than the successful outcome for his client. This seems to be also the political motivation of the 'homeless problem solver.' The taste of satisfaction the genius who might rid the City of tents seems to draw out the saliva among these 'advocates.' But I don't want to be too harsh, they may sincerely think they are helping, or that at least someone has to try. At least in the beginning this is true, lest we not know the possible. But I digress yet again.
I have waxed endless about consciousness and my construction that self awareness can be measured by the abstraction that is the 'World viewed through some length of paper-towel core, the longer the tube, the more difficult is is to tell what is happening in what most of us might call reality.' But you see, not everyone sees the same thing in that blurry circle. And to my point about biology: Despite many people's interest describing themselves as higher animals, we may here be able to leave it vague, but whether one can admit we are either subject to 'gut reactions' or are governed by the dog brain within, I must insist that we all, functional or otherwise have moments where control is precarious if not lost. As a thought experiment, it seems to me useful for those who can't quite understand why every tent-dweller can't just clean up and go get a job, to consider their moments in life of poor judgment, sketchy turns of event, acts of dog or whatever, combine these cliff steps with a little family money, good luck, and white skin to see that they escaped some bad situation. And further, should the control be just a little beyond reach, added with impulse, distorted brain chemistry, and some bad luck and see how one could wake up in a tent.
And then to my main point: It seems to me that there are those (as I have described) - ones who for a number of possible reasons 'can't quite operate in the way society would like' who are still in possession of their perceived interests and goals. I say perceived not to be patronizing but as a way of describing choices that often times people themselves will characterize as self-defeating. In other words, why can we not see it possible that homeless people, who may very well be able to appreciate a roof, a locking door, any number of other useful inventions, are still making choices as they see fit, and at least in many instances making compromises as anyone would. It may be beside the modern point, but we have both the word 'homeless' and the word 'nomad.' And in exchange for the ability to 'be in control of one's destiny' one can easily be seen to be trading a number of factors that a person might consider, irrationally or otherwise, to devise one's next move.
Look, let's face it: People and people who live low down in the street, like to have a 'good' time. Just because your life is a mess in the eyes of a yuppie or a tent-dweller's own eyes doesn't change this. If you have a person in a chair in a City office, maybe a troubled person, maybe person with clinically describable mental illness, a person with addiction problems. Say they literally ask you to tie them down, keep them from themselves, from their own freedom, their own desire impulsive or otherwise. Say we get them to appreciate their new clothes, we set them up washing cages at the SPCA, sorting mail at the post office, dog forbid, set them up at Facebook searching for users posting hate speech. They have not been lobotomized, but do you really think this will satisfy, bring them into the fold?
So I'm not entirely trying to suggest that homeless people want to be homeless (I think.) I do want to suggest that 'helping' is more complicated and the mountains of failures leading to endless pronouncement by yuppie or philanthropist about how some or another approach is needed has buried reality. No tent-dweller is without pride and self-awareness. If you are to be stabilized, you need to feel like you've decided to engage, you need not to feel pitiful and you need people to understand that life may not be worth living if you can't follow your bliss, though that may be seen to be or truly be self-destructive. Even when 'higher' brain function may have slipped away, the deep mechanisms remain, among them, suspicion of those bending down to ask you if you're ok. And to me this suspicion is warranted.