I can’t believe I forgot to post this as I have been asked to facilitate, but the meeting is tonight at 6:00 at the Veteran’s’ Hall in Garberville. The last meeting apparently became so contentious that the Sheriff had to be called. I am hoping we will fare much better tonight.
It’s in less than an hour. See you there.
Addendum: Well, it went very well. Very mello by Sohum standards. We had an incident before it started which was defused – by both of the antagonists. We had a little episode involving mental illness – of someone I care about but who was disrupting the meeting before she left of her own volition (I’m really scared for her after tonight). There was a little give and take between speakers and audience members, but not much really.
What we learned is that the problem is for some much worse than it appears, and some of the stories were a bit scary and sad.
On the up side, it looks like there’s something of an action group which may come out of the deal thanks to Tracy Bear who took names of interested people.
Thanks to John and Paul for putting this together. It may actually lead to something. What, I don’t know.
And on my way back to the office, I briefly enjoyed a terrific party at the Town Square. It’s still going on – live amplified music and all!
I just want to add now that I have a little time – when I was in college back in the 1980s, which is starting to seem like a distant memory, I was very involved in homeless issues. We had a few homeless living in the woods behind UC Santa Cruz, who would come in to campus and make use of the library and converse with students, play chess, etc. They did no harm and in my view actually added to the texture of my college experience as I learned quite a bit from my conversations with them. They tended to be well-learned and well-read individuals who simply lacked some ability or drive to live conventionally in the system as we have it set up. Eventually they were run off, and I viewed it as not only wrong (before I understood the intricacies of insurance coverage and liability law – f—ing lawyers!) but a detriment to the atmosphere of a school which I already believed suffered due to physical separation from the “real world.”
Later I volunteered with a Catholic soup kitchen/shelter, started by a man named Peter Carota, whom I believe has become a Franciscan Friar since I knew him. It had a different name at the time, but the facility is now called the St. Francis Catholic Kitchen (and now has a full non-profit status with a Board of Directors, etc.). Friar Carota had been a very successful Realtor who was deeply Catholic, and when he traveled to Latin America at a point in his life he witnessed poverty which made him “scream at God.” He would later say that he came to realize that what he witnessed was “God screaming at him,” and he returned to the US, folded up his Real Estate practice, sold his two homes and all of his antiques, and used the money to open a soup kitchen. Over the objections of neighbors and the local business establishment he purchased an auto-shop building and began to feed an average of 100 people per day, drawing volunteers from all walks of life who served the needy much like a restaurant – with dignity being a paramount value despite all of the obvious difficulties of taking such a project on. He enlisted the aid of a retired chef who had cooked for the Italian restaurant Adolf’s, which was located a mere blocks away. The minestrone soup he made for the kitchen remains the best I have ever tasted, and many of us who volunteered reveled in the irony that we or anyone willing could eat as much as we want or purchase a bowl for five dollars down the street.
I took interest when I had lost some interest in radical politics (I’ve probably posted a dozen times on various issues why) and was disturbed by a “troll bashing” campaign initiated by a group of local cromags (see, homeless live under bridges, just like trolls – get it?) in which encampments were physically attacked and at least one homeless person hospitalized by, essentially, masked vigilantes in different in my opinion from the Klan or similar groups. There had been a bit of a backlash, partly in response to stories much like those I heard on Friday evening, and probably partly due to alienation of boredom of teenagers acting under perceived approval based upon comments made by their parents.
Either way, the incidents disturbed me, and as political activism had failed to deliver on certain promises, I flirted with religion. Peter was a very powerful influence met through a Catholic ex-girlfriend who had also been a powerful influence. Add to the mix a very charismatic professor hot on liberation theology, and I began a journey of sorts where I “met” such outstanding religious figures, either in person or in print, as the Berrigan Brothers, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Jim Wallis, the Sanctuary Movement defendants, Jesuits, Franciscans, etc. And I became so impressed with Peter that I committed to staffing the shelter every Tuesday night (I still remember penning much of my undergrad thesis on his kitchen butcher block with lots of snoring in the hall and the occasional pounding on the door by people in need, mentally ill, angry neighbors, or police in search of someone who “might” be in the building (no, we didn’t let them in to wake people up without a warrant, and they never had one when I was there).
It was empowering to me – more so than any demonstration or civil disobedience. I could see the difference I was making, instead of dreaming of some golden age future or merely reacting helplessly to an invasion of a small Carribean Island or the funding of “moderately repressive regimes” tolerated for cold war strategy and so we could buy bananas for 37 cents a bunch. But it wasn’t always ideal. I dealt with angry and ill people. It wasn’t about the gratitude, although that was abundant as well if not universal. I invited fellow students who were put off by the religion and would tell me that I was wasting time because I was merely addressing the symptoms rather than the root causes of the problems, to which I would respond with my own smug sense of superiority (yeah, you can have it no matter which position you take), “well the root cause of an empty belly is actually addressed quite well with a sandwich.” I loved that line. It played upon their liberal guilt, and sometimes, despite my smugness, it actually generated a positive response. College students can be self-centered and focused on the wrong priorities, but they also tend to be fairly bright and self-reflective in the right ways.
But I also felt a smug moral superiority to people such as many of the mostly women who spoke on Friday night. As maybe some of them lump all homeless together, I sometimes lumped them with the “troll bashers” and the “culturally isolated” smug middle class sensibilities of those living on cul-de-sacs in Burlingame with lava yards and scallop shell sinks (actually, that was a line, and while Hillsborough has many cul-de-sacs, there aren’t quite so many in Burlingame).
Peter, who overheard one such conversation, met with me privately and without putting me on the defensive, tried to teach me the virtue of humility and “judge not lest you judge.” Look, he is, as I said, deeply Catholic. He opposes choice. He probably adopts the Catholic line on homosexuality (which is evolving). He supports the hierarchy of the Church and believes in Papal infallibility. But he treats nobody with disrespect. Nobody. And he walks the talk. He is, as my former girlfriend describes, somewhat otherworldly. He is focused on what is good in his eyes, and he sees that as “God.” I cannot judge him.
He knows that the fear expressed on Friday night is real. He knows that his services probably contribute to that fear. Unlike the proposed outhouse, his services actually do draw people to Santa Cruz – not just the homeless we see every day, but carnies, migrant workers, and occasionally a displaced family. He understands the frustration with him from various members of the community.
But there is nothing quite so profound in a liberal arts education that can even match the impact when you hear a knock on the door and outside in the rain is a man, woman, and baby with nowhere else to go. It leaves and impression on you. And you learn from those who have humility under their belief in God, that appearance does not dictate true need or whom is deserving. Harmless people look frightening. Frightening people can look harmless. Not all homeless are mentally ill. Not all mentally ill are homeless.
But all of that said, I remarked at the end of the meeting on Friday evening, our perspectives are impacted by our experiences. Business people see things differently from the rest of us. Homeless people see things differently from the rest of us. And sometimes, women, children, and seniors see things differently from the rest of us. I have never been verbally abused by a homeless person in Garberville (plenty of times in Santa Cruz, but I was right in the middle of it). About four out of five of those who described scary run-ins on Friday evening are women. It doesn’t matter that I felt safe after the meeting was over to walk back to my office. If a woman cannot feel just as safe, or a senior, or a child, something is wrong. And unlike 25 years ago I have a family now. I see things differently. It brings up instincts and fears that I, nor Peter really (whom I will always love and deeply respect, even if he didn’t quite bring me to convert), had to deal with at the time.
Jim Truitt is right. The homeless are here. They are pretty much everywhere except in communities willing to partake in a callousness most of the rest of us can not stomach – and they are even sometimes enduring in those communities. We cannot eliminate the problem. We can only mitigate it and perhaps manage it.
I urge people to keep the discussion going, and to join in the follow-up efforts.