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Helping the Homeless Will Take Fresh Thinking and a Focus on Mental Health: Part I

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Thank you, Berkeley Voice.  You always give me stuff to write about.  Unlike a lot of other publications, you at least regularly keep important social issues on the front page. The Daily Californian and Lynn Wu have also done a pretty good job covering the "homeless" situation. The East Bay Express has too, but that was mainly during election time and I believe they haven't revisited the issue since.

I want to comment on the Berkeley Voice article on the homeless issue, entitled "Sidewalks Plan Spurs Debate." The plan referred to is the "Compassionate Sidewalks" proposal now before the Berkeley city council, which raises issues encapsulated in this passage from the newspaper article:

"[The] Compassionate Sidewalks proposal rekindled animosity between those who want the city to address the causes and solutions to homelessness and those who say Berkeley's primary focus should be addressing inappropriate street behavior."

The Homeless Are the Victims, Not the Perpetrators, of Their Plight.

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My own belief is that the "cause" of "homelessness" rests on a multitude of variables, including those that are keeping the current economic situation from improving, if not making it even worse. The continuing weak economy is moving many in the middle class farther and farther down the food chain, until they slide right onto those sidewalks that separate them from those that are inflicting harm on them. Irony is all over this thing. And, of course, those who are perpetrating the harm are the very people who tell the homeless how they can take the hand they're dealt and like it. That's not an oversimplification of the situation, either. That's what the powerful are doing to the powerless.

Still, those who inflict the harm want us to believe it's all the fault of those who are afflicted--the fault of those the system has preyed upon.  Those who victimize the homeless are like predatory lenders who blame the victims of their crimes afterward, claiming, "They should have known what they were signing." Yeah, that may be true to a point. But, for obvious reasons, there used to be laws in place that prohibited banks from ripping off uneducated folks. A quote from Mitchell Symons' That Book of Perfectly Useless Information sheds light on that practice:  

"The only way to get a bank loan is to prove you do not need one."

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So why would banks give loans to folks they knew could not afford to make the balloon payments later in the mortgage? Isn't it evident they have an ulterior purpose? If so, how can you blame those affected by this purposeful failure?  Isn't it insanity to transfer blame from the perpetrators to the victims? But maybe that's just my "perspective"?  Sure, but it's the correct perspective--and, as such, it's the only perspective that matters. It's the one that supports the people and not the Corporate Menace bringing the hammer down.

Is the "Compassionate Sidewalks" Proposal Still Aimed at Getting Rid of Street People?

I have another quibble with the passage quoted from the Berkeley Voice article. First, it must be said that the point about "addressing 'inappropriate street behavior'" seems rather unobjectionable. Even the mayor, a guy I disagree with on most things concerning the homeless, pointed to how you fix that, later in t he article.

We read: "[Mayor] Bates...said the police should start enforcing laws in the commercial districts such as smoking bans, vendors working without permits, stationing two dogs close together and more."

That statement, however, is followed by this: "'We want to send a clear message,' the mayor told the chamber [of commerce]." On this, I have an issue with the mayor's thinking.

In sending a "clear message" that laws should be enforced on "vendors working without permits," the mayor is in effect saying he wants to go after street artists who work for "donations," a perfectly legal activity . His statement would also apply to panhandlers, even though they too violate no law or even ordinance.

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You Can Get Rid of the Street People. But Are There Any Affluent People Left To Take Their Place?

The politicians are trying to side-step Measure S's shortcomings, while at the same time trying to make people believe they're looking for "solutions." It doesn't make sense to me. That's just my perspective, I guess. Yeah, but it''s also the perspective of a lot of other people who feel as I do. The power structure wants to attract the "right people" with "luxury" around every corner, while scapegoating the victims. But the strategy is an economic farce.

Who, in this economy, has time for luxury? The "affluent," maybe? What about the rest of us?  And, who's next, by the way? 

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I'm a homeless student, writer, and activist... currently panhandling my way through school (and life.).

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