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"Thank you," she said.
I looked upon her as the quintessence of my report and when she
seemed to nod off, tried to take her picture with my cell phone.
"Please don't do that! Don't take my picture!"
Chagrined, I said that I wouldn't and lied that I wasn't really
going to take one.
"Then why were you pointing your phone at me? You didn't ask
me if you could take a picture! You were going to take my picture and post it
on the internet with some stupid, humiliating headline! You have no respect!
You're just hateful!"
She kept her diatribe up as she exited the car with her plastic
Even if I had been making a serious documentary - a justification in many people's eyes - I would have felt ashamed. The fine line of compassion is respect for the person needing compassion and I was definitely out of line. Writing about compassion is not necessarily compassionate in itself.
The Solution That Didn't Take Hold
Is there a solution? The problem with homelessness as opposed to other social/community concerns is that's it's so endemic: AIDS was national and SF served as it's focal point of compassion. "Sanctuary Cities" cropped up due to a surge in undocumented immigrants. When Reagan closed all mental institutions he created a base of homelessness that San Francisco never really got over. As the situation increased - with rising unemployment, hostels became full and no one seemed to care.
Gavin Newsom (then supervisor) thought he came up with a solution:
Care Not Cash altered city welfare assistance to the approximately 3,000 homeless adults who received about $395 a month to $59 a month plus housing and food. According to the measure, if the services weren't available, the city couldn't reduce a homeless person's aid. The idea behind Care Not Cash was to use the city's savings from cutting the welfare checks -- an estimated $13 million a year -- to set baseline funding for creating affordable housing, expanding shelters, and adding mental health and substance abuse treatment.
The affordable housing, the expansion of shelters and additional services never really materialized, as San Francisco was caught up in the dot com bust and it's resources spent on dealing with skyrocketing unemployment: solutions to homelessness seemed as fruitless and evasive as the solutions to fix SF's ever- problematic transit system (MUNI).
Techies: Demons or Saviours?
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