Why Are Poverty and Homelessness Treated Like Crimes?

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If you read Part 1 of this screed you know I’ve been having a spiritual inventory and existential reckoning. It’s been going on for a while, long before I started writing this two part confession.

As I said in Part 1, I didn’t want to leave this life unprepared, as in letting everyone around me know what they need to know about me and what’s left of my earthly attachments.

Sometimes I did my best, other times I just coasted by, waiting for something to happen, or worse yet, just counting the minutes until the next day followed, from one pay day to the next because a certain day or days were spent wanting for that next direct deposit.

Poverty is a sink hole and unless the poor have someone or several people to hold them up, we just get sucked down to the lowest strata in this society — Homeless. The unhoused, unsheltered and houseless if you prefer.

I saw it happen to a friend of mine and his life ended under a bridge. He went from having a secure place to live and a good job, to living under a bridge and getting beaten several times before he died. I will never forget Curtis.

As a society we don’t give a damn about the unhoused, the elderly, children and veterans. Sure, there are some who devote their lives to help the under-privileged, usually one specific segment of the so-called dregs of society. We are the only so-called civilized Western culture that has made it our gleeful practice to kick people when they are down. Look at the civic battles over the unhoused, in Los Angeles and San Diego. Everybody is demanding action … but NIMBY — Not In My Back Yard.

Where could we build shelters and permanent housing for the unhoused? It would seem like Skid Row in L.A. would be the best place. We already have shelters and services there, like the Midnight Mission, Union Rescue Mission and others.

In San Diego there are a number of facilities for the homeless, starting with the Salvation Army Kroc Center and Father Joe’s Villages.

What the two cities need is a commitment to provide permanent housing for all of the unhoused in Southern California and that requires a change of attitude about the unhoused. Instead of going to city council meetings to scream at the city officials about some homeless people peeing in your yards, go to the city council meetings to participate in some of the solutions.

I like former NBA basketball star Bill Walton. Besides his abilities and successes on the court, he is also a long time Dead Head. But I watched a news clip of his going after the current mayor (Todd Gloria) over the homeless crisis in the San Diego area. I was disappointed in him.

Just for the record, I don’t want to let the mayor, or city council or the San Diego County Board of Supervisors off the hook for any of the city and county’s ills, but pounding on one city office, one person isn’t helping. Most people, I think, share Walton’s frustration. I go down to Pacific Beach and Mission Beach and see many homeless people stretched out on grassy areas and benches. It’s a situation that needs to be corrected.

This has to be a city and county solution. It can’t be an initiative that comes just from the mayor. It will take the San Diego City Council and the San Diego County Board of Supervisors and most likely any solution for the unhoused will require help from the federal government.

One issue that must be addressed is the high cost of housing. In San Diego the average listing price of a house is $924.9 thousand. The average sale price is $789 thousand. In Los Angeles it’s more. For rent the average price in the Los Angeles area is $2,786 per month for an apartment that is, on average 789 square feet. In San Diego the price is roughly the same. Doing something to provide affordable housing needs to be a part of any solution for the unhoused.

Above all we have to stop treating homelessness as a crime. According to the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research a large number of the unhoused have severe mental illness or long term substance abuse, or both. Any solutions for the unhoused must address these issues. The war on drugs has been an abject failure. All it’s done is fill the bank accounts of the people and businesses that profit from the prison system. According to the Prison Policy Initiative we have nearly two million people incarcerated, many of those incarcerated for drug-related crimes. And that is how we go from talking about the unhoused to prisons.

What do the unhoused do for income, especially if they need money for their alcohol or drugs? Panhandling mainly, but some do resort to crime. Then they end up in the judicial and then prison system

There is so much that needs to be done in this country, from the homeless situation to prison and police reform. Then there is the climate crisis, reversing restrictions on voting, immigration — where to begin? We can start here: taking care of the unhoused, the elderly, children and veterans — real care that treats these people with dignity, treats them like human beings. A veteran who is down and out can get what is called a “V.A. Pension.” It’s barely enough to live on and for some they get just over $1,300 per month. It’s impossible to live on that. The vet would need someone to lean on, especially here in California. the full Social Security payment is marginally better than the V.A. Pension, but if we add any service-related disability payments and that monthly income improves.

Those that make the policies need to factor what it costs for a single person, or a couple, with or without children, and give them enough to live on, comfortably. We need to stop kicking the poor, the elderly, children and veterans when they are down. Address these issues with some compassion — and yes, I know compassion isn’t cool, or in fashion, but that’s where we need to start when we begin to take care of these issues.

Except that the GOP wants to end Social Security and Medicare, or at least privatize it so Big Pharma and the “for profit health care system” can turn every elderly person, every veteran into profit points. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah explains.

These were interesting things to consider this past week that included Phat Tuesday and then Ash Wednesday. I decided to attend Ash Wednesday Mass at a local Catholic church. I got the ashes and took Communion, but the mass reminded me why I turned my back on Catholicism and Christianity and all other religions. We are required to believe there are unseen super natural deities shaping our lives, but also giving us free will. It doesn’t make sense.

I guess if I’m going to use a Christian prayer it will be the “Hail Mary.”

“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

The cross on Mt Soleded, La Jolla, CA (Tim Forkes)