print logo
International Network of Street Papers
YYY: We’ve lost sight of the value of healthy communities

We’ve lost sight of the value of healthy communities

 Street Roots (USA) 27 May 2019

(Originally published: 11/2009) At some point in history, people will look back on American responses to homelessness during the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s and most assuredly they will wonder: “What the hell were these people thinking?” Paul Boden, Executive Director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project based in San Francisco, California, USA, makes his views clear and highlights the plight of the poor and calls for greater action to end this blight on the poorest of the poor. (620 words) - By Paul Boden

At some point in history, people will look back on American responses to homelessness during the '80s, '90s and early 2000s and most assuredly they will wonder: "What the hell were these people thinking?"

The notion that local governments can protect downtown business interests from having to bear witness to the realities of poverty by simply criminalizing the presence of poor people harkens back to the days of Jim Crow Laws, Anti-Okie laws, Alms houses and "Let them eat cake."

From Portland's sit-lie and anti-camping laws to Berkeley's Public Commons for Everyone (?) to L.A.'s Safer Cities Inititative and San Francisco's perpetual "Matrix"-style police enforcement, we are seeing a hardening of the premise that public space is the purview of the Business community and that the only people who are seen to have any right to that space are those that the businesses see as potential customers or Condo tenants.

This concept is advancing to the stage of class warfare.  Business Improvement Districts BIDs (sometimes calling themselves Community Benefits Districts) are able to self tax themselves and then control how those tax dollars are spent within their district: they hire security that are authorized to function in public areas (even though they are not under public oversight or monitoring), and they use the tax money they collect to directly lobby government. You have heard talk about "letting no crisis go to waste," talk that within our current economic meltdown there is opportunity.  But opportunity for whom?

Not for poor people. Not for people without housing or for families living in cars or for individuals in hotels who are being criminalized out of their communities. It's the BIDs who are finding more and more opportunities to expand their agenda of displacing poor people so they can enhance profit margins and advance downtown gentrification.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley are cities that pride themselves on being  enlightened and progressive. But our self-image does not reflect our reality. A report just released by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless, "Homes Not Handcuffs," ranks these three California cities among the top 10 meanest cities in the country. Los Angeles comes in on top, San Francisco is seventh, and Berkeley is the tenth among 273 cities listed.

Homelessness is a spreading and deepening crisis in all of our communities. To deal with it by criminalizing people is ineffective, inhumane, and incredibly expensive. It is also just plain mean.Fighting back is what we do. We will not disappear and we will not cease to exist. We will continue to organize, to educate, to represent in court and to build alliances with our brothers and sisters across the country. We will demand a government that values the humanity of all people. A government that sees quality education, health care and housing as bringing value to a community and prioritizes ensuring it exists. We will see the day when the value of a healthy community has the same importance that the value of profits for corporations has today.

That day is coming. Join us and it will get here that much sooner.

recently added

test