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The Politics of Poverty

One of the most obvious, most disturbing characteristics of San Francisco is the proliferation of homeless. You cannot travel far downtown without seeing someone slumped against a department store beggar-01.jpegnext to a burgeoning shopping cart, extending a Styrofoam cup for donations. Some of these panhandlers are not at all shy about bullying pedestrians, peeing in public, littering and intoxicating themselves into a stupor. It’s a stark contrast to the lights of the Bay Bridge twinkling atop the water.

Midway through our vacation, we decided to see the City at night. So we piled everyone into our vehicles and hunted for parking. Within minutes of leaving the lot we realized it was not a good idea. A disheveled woman marched by, glaring at us, then stopped, pointed, and shrieked a nonsensical prophecy before rushing off. We looked at each other and hurried onward. From reeking alleyways came slurring voices and bloodshot eyes watched the tourists from shadowy stoops. By nine, the glitzy department stores had closed and the vampires were out. Neon lights announced strip joints, turning the hookers incandescent red, and homeless hordes awakened for their nightly brawls and binges. A toothless black man with wild jaundiced eyes followed us, dancing before our group like a mad marionette, requesting alms. It was time for us to go.

Perhaps it’s the plight of every big city — too many people and too few cops. But downtown Frisco at night was a lowlight for us; a filthy, embarrassing testimony to what really is a potentially wonderful place. Yet the experience stirred other emotions in me.

208597_3-748034.JPGThe Bible is explicit about caring for the poor. But perpetuating someone’s illness or addiction hardly seems the Christian thing to do. Which creates a dilemma. How do you care for the poor without being an enabler?

The Bay area is known as a bastion for liberalism, and the connection between poverty and politics seems none too coincidental. Liberalism typically defines compassion for the poor in terms of understanding and assistance, rather than “tough love.” We best help the poor, they say, by building more homeless shelters and tolerating their lifestyle, rather than “steering” them toward significant rehabilitation. The result is dangerous, squalid inner-city streets. Why is San Francisco a mecca for transients? Because no one demands they (1) Change or (2) Leave.

Which makes this recent initiative all the more startling. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Berkeley’s City Council voted unanimously last month to pass a sweeping plan to clear the streets of aggressive and disruptive behavior by the homeless.

The initiative cracks down on a wide range of behavior that some say make Berkeley’s streets inhospitable to residents and visitors alike. Among the activities that will be banned are smoking near buildings in commercial areas, lying on the sidewalk, public urination and defecation, drinking in public, possessing a shopping cart and shouting in public.

Please don’t tell me they’re just getting around to banning “public urination and defecation.” It might be poster_small.jpgcompassionate to let someone sleep on your front porch, but letting them crap there can’t be very sanitary. The fact that Berkeley is just getting around to enforcing such necessary laws demonstrates how dangerous liberalism is. Next they’ll be tolerating jihadists for fear of profiling. Oops, they already do that.

As expected, the Mayor had to apologetically justify the Council’s actions:

“This is a tolerant and caring community, but we do have our boundaries,” said Mayor Tom Bates, the legislation’s sponsor. “As a small city, we can never solve the drug and alcohol problems that play out on our streets, but this is one thing we can do.”

When conservatives set “boundaries,” it’s framed as uncharitable and insensitive. But when liberals crack down on homelessness, it is framed as “tolerant and caring.” Go figger. The only problem is that, in this case, both conservative and liberal actions look exactly the same.

Of course, homeless advocates are fighting passionately to stop the initiative. The money would be better spent, they suggest, by building more shelters. But, in the end, how does this help? When the light’s always on and there’s no house rules, anarchy and immorality are inevitable. Alas, as long as liberalism is the driving ideology in the Bay area, there will always be crap on the doorstep.

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • janet July 16, 2007, 5:52 PM

    I can’t even begin to figure out the answer. Let’s use the easy one: Jesus. but I don’t know. every one of those people has a story and some sad reason why they are there- mental illness, addiction, poor life choices, abuse. and what do we do? i don’t know. man, the world is sad. i want to go home.

  • matty July 16, 2007, 7:37 PM

    “By nine, the glitzy department stores had closed and the vampires were out. Neon lights announced strip joints, turning the hookers incandescent red, and homeless hordes awakened for their nightly brawls and binges. A toothless black man with wild jaundiced eyes followed us, dancing before our group like a mad marionette, requesting alms.”

    Awesome bit of writing there, Mike.

  • GerM July 16, 2007, 8:23 PM

    It’s ironic that you have a picture of Jesus on this post. You’re attitude is anything but christlike. Preaching hate will not help homeless people. Soup kitchens may be an eyesore but unlike most Christians they ARE doing something.

  • dayle July 17, 2007, 1:54 AM

    I don’t know, Germ, I didn’t read any hate at all in what Mike wrote.

    Mike – When the difference between a conservative solution and a liberal one is hard to spot, the conservative initiative still gets villified because it’s obvious to liberals that conservatives are so evil they can’t possibly do anything out of compassion so whatever good they propose must be a rouse. Besides, liberals can’t let conservatives upstage them.

    Hidden presumed intent trumps real results.

    To a liberal – If a conservative passes a homeless law, it’s must be the wrong thing to do because conservatives obviously don’t care. If a liberal passes the same law, it becomes the right thing to do because a liberal will only do what’s in the best interest for his fellow man.

    But in regards to your main question of finding an answer – it seems to me that our government wastes more money than is needed to deal with these problems, but politics always gets in the way.

    Why can’t we use my dad’s approach. As long as you live under my roof …

    We provide shelter but no illegal activity and an effort must be made by all able-bodied. If we can house and feed and provide health care to prisoners, we can house and feed the legitimately homeless. Okay, so some will take advantage. I’d rather err on the side of compassion – even the tough love variety.

  • Mike Duran July 17, 2007, 2:16 AM

    Jesus did not establish homeless shelters, GerM. Though He embraced outcasts, He did not coddle them. In His inaugural address, Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Luke 4:18). “Good news to the poor” is hardly just another meal and a fresh mat for the night. It involves the binding up of their brokenheartedness, and “liberty” from the captivity of poverty. Only a “holistic” approach toward the homeless can satisfy the Great Commission. Still, a hot meal and a place to sleep are quick fixes and do wonders for our guilty consciences.

    No doubt, conservatives can do a better job at showing compassion. But liberalism’s answer to poverty has done nothing more than further the cycle. Perhaps both are needed: a helping hand and a swift kick in the ass.

  • Mirtika July 17, 2007, 1:57 PM

    We have the same problems in downtown Miami, and the businesses there are finally howling loud enough to get City Hall’s attention that there IS A BIT problem with the homeless making downtown a place you can’t go safely at night.

    As far as the “not like Jesus.” Well, Jesus had a habit of telling people, “Go and sin no more.” A large part of the homeless situation (not all, mind you, but a lot) is addiction and personal vices. You want to clean up homelessness, address substance abuse. Another big part is mental illness. When the liberals sued to get people out of institutions, these people ended up on the street. And let’s face it, mental illness is hard to deal with, be it by families, friends, or even institutions. On their own, they really can’t function. With institutional help, they’ll lose civil liberties. There is no perfect solution, because even in shelters, they cause trouble. No shelter is going to allow schizophrenics or other mentally ill folks to harm others, so they will be asked to leave or they will call police.

    It’s a multi-variable problem that requries tough solutions in multi-parts. Part is forced rehab. Period. You get put somewhere to detox against your will. Part may include reinstitutionalization and medical treatment for those with mental problems. Part is getting the public to support more and better shelters for those who are not 1. dangerous and 2. are willing to help themselves with the help of others (meaning you don’t just get to be on the dole permanently, you gotta work to get out of the hole with public and private assistance).

    Love, tough and otherwise, is necessary. Just throwing money at the homeless to salve one’s conscience doesn’t fix it, or it would have been solved in the 80’s and 90’s. Sometimes, people need to be made to get their act together using tough measures. IT’s not hard-hearted. It’s clear-eyed to do so. To accept that some folks are just so screwed up they need to be taken in hand like children and made to do what is good for them.

    And watch the ACLU scream.


  • Trinity April 27, 2016, 5:46 PM

    Our homeless citizens that have substance abuse problems and that you saw on the street in SF, are there because of bad or no treatment and the whole tough love AA approach. When you see people lying in the street high or drunk it’s not a simple problem of liberals or will power or god, it’s because of addiction. And since the rest of America hates what they’ve become they come here where it’s a little easier to live without right-wing christians like yourself shaking their heads and wagging their fingers. So next time you think about coming, why don’t you come spend some time with some real Christians who leave the judging up to Jesus, and actually help feed the poor at places like Glide Memorial or Saint Anthony’s and learn a little something about addiction and poverty, instead of making political hay off some seriously sick people. Grow up.

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