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Just so I’m completely clear on this…

May 5, 2011

If we officially ran the country, it might look something like...

Okay…

So the government starts two wars, deregulates the banking industry and the markets…

The wars don’t end, the investment banks start manipulating markets with the complicity of the Federal Reserve…

Thus, leading to a bunch of bad loans sold as good loans leading to the collapse of the housing market and the near collapse of the banks…

The government continues giving tax breaks to the wealthy so the wealthy will create more jobs.

The government then gives bailouts to the banks so the banks will lend money, extend credit…etc…

But, the wealthy don’t create jobs, they hoard their money and then the banks do the same by not lending, or freeing up credit…

Meanwhile large businesses have found ways via tax loopholes to pay little to no taxes, and due to so many lost jobs caused by the recession, caused by the banks, the tax revenue dries up state and nationwide…

In response to this, the cash strapped government extends the tax breaks to wealthy individuals who continue to not create real jobs…

And all of these actions (or inactions) create a crisis.

But you have a new solution, and your solution is to defund planned parenthood so poorer women can’t receive healthcare, fire teachers so our kids can’t gain a competitive edge, end medicare so grandma can’t see a doctor and attack state employees, raiding their pensions so when they retire they’ll have less money to pay for the health care you’re cutting…while the wealthy and the corporations keep their tax cuts, the banks keep their money and for all the fraud conducted by all of these investment banks that led to the recession, nobody is prosecuted and nobody goes to jail so nobody learns nothing…and essentially are free to start it all over again.

And you call your new plans fiscally responsible, “tightening the belts,” and “not kicking the can down the road.”

In a nutshell…

The wealthy hoard while pissing away real jobs, the banks keep their profits and consolidate further while the investment banks keep what they made from market and real estate fraud…and you continue to give subsidies to oil companies who also are making record profits while the rest of us pay record prices for gas, food and utility bills.

And for paying attention to this, I’m an asshole?

For noticing that although you may not have kicked the can down the road, you still kicked it hard and it hit the  middle and lower class in the balls…oh, and then you helped them to their feet with the belt you tightened around their neck before shoving their livelihood and savings over the cliff you created with your fiscal responsibility.

And if I say the words “class war,” I’m being unreasonable?

Well…what would you call the ongoing plan of the corporations, banks, the state and federal government?

Democracy?

For who, 1% of the country?

Certainly not for anyone I know, certainly not the Tenderloin and certainly not homeless people, both current and future, of which at this rate there are bound to be many more…

I tell you, if I didn’t know better…I might think the Koch brothers are running things…

Oh, wait…

Have a nice day.

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“Homelessness just isn’t sexy…”

May 4, 2011

Perhaps...perhaps, not...

Several years ago, working in another city on the West Coast I was talked into a meeting with representatives of a large bank. The agency I worked for at the time was trying to solicit funding for various social programs that were in financial trouble. So, I found myself there to talk about working with the homeless, but before I got two minutes into a short presentation on the work I was involved in, I was interrupted…

“We don’t do homeless programs. Homelessness just isn’t sexy enough for what we try to do with our charitable work.”

No shit, true story.

I remember that comment like it was said to me only moments ago, and on that afternoon my supervisor held her breath, but I held my temper and kept my job.

Reflecting this, Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco Chronicle, writing for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity comments on why poverty is so seldom covered by the print news media.

He writes:

“Between 2003 and 2006, photographer Brant Ward and I were the only newspaper team in America covering homelessness full-time. During those years, I learned, as never before, just how valuable it is to have weeks and months to get to the bottom of each situation we explored. Homeless people have mountains of dysfunction, tragic history, criminal behavior, or just plain bad luck trailing behind them, and sorting through that – and the labyrinthine governmental and non-profit world designed to help them – takes the effort of a spelunker crawling through caverns with a candle.

Telling the stories we did then, such as the saga of a colony of junkies living on a traffic island in downtown San Francisco, or the success of a program in New York for severely mentally ill street people, took enormous effort and time that would have been impossible if we were pulled back and forth between daily assignments. I still manage to produce this type of detailed report. Just last month Brant and I reported on people sleeping in San Francisco’s demolished transit terminal, and this month we produced a piece on housing vouchers for homeless veterans. But with the exception of episodic reports on surging topics, such as foreclosures or census reports, the number of intensive stories on poverty in the media everywhere has declined since my homelessness beat days. It’s not hard to see why. With the cutbacks at every newspaper in America, we are all working more quickly and prolifically than before. And even though my newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, still nurtures reporting like mine, we in this industry all have to choose projects more carefully than in the not-so-long-ago old days of bigger staffs—which makes it all the more important to take on these issues whenever we can.

The national conversation surrounding poverty is convoluted and heated, and only with objective and thorough journalistic attention will the public and decision makers ever be informed enough to move ahead proactively and intelligently. It’s always been worth the effort. And it’s worth that effort more than ever today.”

And that’s why so often it is left to us…admittedly writing flagrant opinion pieces with set agendas on blogs like this one, about what we’ve seen and experienced, or the more balanced articles in community papers like Central City Extra or SF Public Press to do just what Mr. Fagan feels should happen more, write about poverty and homelessness.

If people don’t tell the stories…all the amazing moments witnessed, as well as the tragedies, could be lost to a city that turns its quick focus to the next band, art show or restaurant, forgetting what they had to walk past to get to the next cultural experience.

Many times, I’ve sat back in my office or been out in the alley smoking a cigarette thinking about something I just heard or saw, wondering if it might have an effect on the callous, perhaps stimulate some lost sense of compassion so beaten out of them while trying to make their own ends meet, take care of the kids, nervously read the newspaper, both searching out and trying to avoid any news on the potential end of what remains to their comfortable lifestyle, so cultivated over the years.

The fear is everywhere…and sometimes, I’m afraid too…

But there’s always somebody who’s got it worse and sometimes those are the stories we need to know about, to put things in perspective and maybe inspire us to do our part, help out…the guy passed out with the needle in his arm didn’t start out that way, and all the people waiting in line to eat at Glide, you think ten years ago this was part of their plan? Five years ago? Last year?

Probably not…

So, help out those less fortunate…write about them…or at least, the next person who asks you for change? Look them in the eye to let them know you see them as a human being, even if you don’t reach into your pocket.

Help out however you can, whether it’s sexy or not.

Have a nice day


The Homeless Problem…

April 30, 2011

One often gets tired of reading about the homeless problem in San Francisco, hearing about it at coffee shops and bars, on the Bart, Muni and various eclectic gatherings places like the Carl’s Jr off Hallidae Plaza, oh, and the comments sections after newspaper articles? Jesus…people of the city ranting about street-kids in the Haight, or bitching about the issues in the Tenderloin or otherwise just tearing on people they don’t know, oftentimes for problems they don’t understand. It would seem many San Franciscans just wish they would all go away, rather than clutter up their sidewalks, take their tax dollars and beg for change at every turn.

Well, it’s easy to make those comments, just as it’s easy to dismiss people and their problems out of hand…really easy. It’s also simple to condemn non-profits in San Francisco for advocating on behalf of homeless rights, asking for compassion, empathy and just a little bit of fucking understanding…

Ya can hear it now…

“What do you mean understanding? How much money have you guys been given and what kind of improvements do we see? Understanding my ass…”

Fair enough from a purely observational standpoint, but the reality is for every fixed situation, the economy throws somebody else out of their apartment or the Greyhound brings in another person in need of answers…well, if you really want to solve the homeless problem in San Francisco, the solution is rather simple…just talk to your favorite weather guy, see what he can do about bringing in some snow or turning the summers up several notches.

So long as San Francisco is one of the few places in the United States where people can successfully count on a certain median temperature, meaning people outside won’t freeze to death in the winter or die of heat exposure in the summer, well, you’re going to have a homeless problem.

So, you’re going to have to deal with it.

Beyond that, homeless people oftentimes like San Francisco for the same reason a lot of other people do…they are natives, or they like the nice views, the ocean breezes and this town’s cultural history…not that any of these things make it any easier.

Far from it.

You know that guy you stepped around, passed out in an alley down the way from Quetzal’s on Polk Street? In the rotting clothes, in his own urine, maybe hooked on heroin or meth or crack, maybe mentally ill…yeah, that guy, the one sitting in the sun looking like he’s got no friends, no family and nothing to do. Well, you think that alley seat was his life’s fucking ambition, that when he was in high school he listed this place in life as his main goal?

I’m guessing, probably not.

Shit happens to get people where they are, winding up on the streets. I’ve worked with a lot of homeless people who had more education than I did, but I also had a supportive family, all my experimentation never led to a habit, I never had a psychotic break when I was in college. I wasn’t molested, abandoned to PTSD after fighting in a war, never lost my job, suffered from severe anxiety or a crippling depression, never went to prison and became so institutionalized I lost the ability to function, never suffered from a serious head injury, got the shit kicked out of me for a decade by a spouse, got lured to this country with promises of a job only to find out that my uncle’s plan was instead to turn me out in a massage parlor…nope, none of that ever happened to me.

You?

Yeah, but you made it, so they must be lazy. I’m sure your resilience and work ethic were all you needed, and if it was…good for you and sincerely, give yourself a pat on the back because you’re quite the exception, and for the rest of you that found a mentor somewhere, maybe felt cared for at some time, or had anyone in your family to lean on…stop lying to yourself and everybody else.

And this brings me to the Tenderloin.

More and more people are moving into the Tenderloin…and the only people it seems who don’t like to complain about homelessness there either don’t work for the non-profits or aren’t receiving their services. They love to express their appreciation for the arts in the TL, the cheaper rent, the dive bars, the street art, the architecture, the central location within the city, the writing scene, the diversification of people and the multi-cultural everything and of course, the Vietnamese sandwiches…everything but the homeless people.

I agree, it’s a great place to be…but you really think a lot of the people homeless in the Tenderloin or more importantly, boxed into the SRO’s are necessarily happy about it?

Not most of those  I worked with, nope, they complained about the drugs, the bugs, the shitty landlords and the crime too, but they don’t have a choice. It’s the only place in town where they can afford the rent. Not unless Russian Hill, Nob Hill, Hayes Valley, the Castro or any other assorted neighborhoods want to suddenly okay subsidized housing on their block.

Right.

So if on a fixed income, or working shit jobs you get the Tenderloin and maybe a couple of places in the Mission, if they haven’t already been evicted from there. Many don’t have a choice, but many of the scenesters, well…they do, so help out, suck it up or head elsewheres. The homeless were here first. And don’t get me wrong…I like the art too, and I’ve probably sat next to you at Koko’s reading a book at some point or time, but I also try to accept the overall reality of the situation and then do what I can to help out, rather than spit on them, physically, verbally or both.

Now, I know I’m not speaking to all of you scenesters…so if it’s not you, don’t take it personal but if it is…well, go ahead then.

Personally, I find peoples’ struggles to survive inspiring…and if I can make it a little easier somehow, sometimes, well good…because I do believe that on some level, we are all in this together and I also understand that not everybody’s first attempt at making it, or being clean will work. Old habits die hard, ever try to give up your can of PBR?

I don’t care if somebody relapses 50 times, how do you know attempt #51 won’t be the time he or she finally makes it? You don’t, so you keep working and ya keep giving a fuck…people are people after all.  

Now, A lot of homeless critics also like to complain about people coming in from out of town as if the only homeless people in the city of San Francisco relocated to the Bay area after they became homeless. Not true at all. From my work, I can honestly say that the economic climate is tough all over and very tough on these there hills and a growing number have lived here a long time, hell, some are even natives.

And anyways, what good does it do for you to be an asshole about it?

Makes ya feel better?

Well good, I’m glad because man, if ya take the time to comment in the newspapers, bitch about the problem, chances are it’s always been about you anyway.

Not that me…me…me…is just a San Francisco problem, it’s a national problem. It’s a Democrat and a Republican problem. It’s a Bernal Heights and an Outer Sunset problem. It’s a people problem.

So…help out, or peddle it elsewhere where somebody might listen, commiserate with you on how difficult it is to have all your responsibilities when all those homeless people just get to kick back and smoke crack all day. In my opinion, you really haven’t thought this thing through enough.

And no, I didn’t write this in some vain attempt to change your mind, build up some sensitivity to your perceptions on the many challenges people face around you…every day. I really don’t have a lot of hope in that…though if ya did change your mind, that’d be swell…

Essentially I just wrote this to throw my two cents in on the subject, because I can, and say that if your response to homelessness is to just wish they’d all go away and leave your beautiful city alone?

Well then…

Fuck off.

Have a nice day.

Sharks – Red Wings, Game 1 is tonight…

April 29, 2011

Ah yes, for the third straight year the San Jose Sharks will play a series against the hated Detroit Red Wings…back in them days before I lived in San Francisco, I was a huge Colorado Avalanche fan and those two teams, well they had several interesting series that forever raised the name of Claude Lemieux to icon status in my mind and now, again, it is the Sharks turn to be extraordinarily physical in their fight against the Red Wings.

Really, anything will do…oh yeah and win too…

Game one’s tonight…enjoy. 

Go Sharks!

Have a nice day.

San Francisco Homogeneity…Sit/Lie…Welcome to Omaha…

April 28, 2011

And your position is?

Diversity.

A choice in living your life as you see fit.

A city that once embraced the eccentric, reduced to petty laws dictating the common form.

Sit/Lie.

I understand shopkeepers in San Francisco’s Mall of America would like to have teenagers with pitbulls not sitting or sleeping on Haight Street, but I thought this is what the police were designed to do, remove teenagers causing trouble so the tourists could shop with ease…and if I can figure that out, how is that not just some good ‘ol common sense solution type thinking?

Don’t know, so the rest of the city has to suffer.

Well, why should we stop there?

Bay to Breakers nudity and public drunkenness…ban it. Public nudity and sex acts at Folsom Street Fair…ban it. Halloween in the Castro…ban…oh, did that already. Did you know they sell pot brownies during the Haight Street Fair? No more. Market Street marches and protests…ban ’em all. And in their place, an Urban Outfitters and a Hot Topic on every corner, a Wal-Mart in North Beach and hey, Golden Gate Park would make an incredible parking lot while Ocean Beach?

Condominiums.

San Francisco hippies grow up across the city and determine the party is over for everyone because they’ve become too accustomed to personal comfort and quieter ways to be inconvenienced, by anything or anyone…not anymore. That time is past, we’re a big, big city now…We got the America’s Cup, bitches!

And all across the Tenderloin…homeless people are targeted again for being, homeless…and doing what some of them decide to do to cope with that fact…

Well, per this article in the SF Public Press, hopefully this time there will be a cost:

“…anybody who is repeatedly cited could face up to 30 days of jail time, adding significantly to city costs. While the offenders themselves can only be fined a maximum of $500, the city faces potential outlays of $3,900 per jailed person. Based on the Sheriff Department’s estimated cost of $130 per day, San Francisco could end up spending more than $8 million per month filling its 2,200 prisoner county jail to capacity.”

If this were to happen, no more sit/lie, because something New San Francisco understands very well is money.

Oh, and the arbitrary nature of this law, Jesus…anyone who lives in or hell, takes a quick walk through various neighborhoods in San Francisco will quickly realize the amount of citations which could easily be handed out, repeatedly, oftentimes to the same person, repeatedly, if the police followed the letter of the law. If the police are not doing so, citing everyone…shaved, sober or not, then what was the point?

Quick excuses for quick clean ups before any press gatherings?

A reason to kick out the undesirables from the Powell Street Cable Car Turnaround? The Public Library? Whoever any particular officer sees fit to choose on any particular day?

I’ve heard the line…”It’s another tool in our toolbox.”

And yes, “tool” certainly has something to do with it.

Each time a law is passed, for whatever the reason, the purpose of which is to make San Francisco like any other city and especially, when same said law is a way to harass homeless people, the City By the Bay loses a bit more of its luster, and slides a few more feet down the monotony scale on its way to becoming Omaha.

The article also points out two other important points.

The first being that service providers now have to waste a great deal of time assisting their clients in paying off citations and second, the best way to break this law and render it null and void is to make it unenforceable.

Perhaps we could start an underground campaign to convince tourists from Nebraska the latest San Francisco fad is to be cited for sitting on the sidewalk? Maybe even surrounding the San Francisco Chronicle?

Read the article:

2010 ‘sit-lie’ law could cost city thousands to jail repeat offenders

Have a nice day.

The King is Dead…

April 26, 2011

That's Fuckin' Right...in 6

Fuck ’em…

Versus, NBC, Puck Daddy, Google…

All of those guys who spent so much time talking about the collapse of the first line and the history of the Sharks, I was beginning to believe it…oh, until the Sharks won in overtime, again, again, again…this time on a goal from Joe Thornton…

Sharks in 6….

So much for JR’s prediction that the Kings win 3-2…how about 4-3…Sharks

Have a nice day.

No sympathy for the…

April 24, 2011

Less than friendly...

So, there’s money troubles in the city, which means there are money troubles in the San Francisco Police Department.

Mayor Lee would like to meet with the union to renegotiate their pensions to help the city get out of it’s budget hole, but if they are unwilling, it could lead to the layoffs of 171 members of the SFPD. He would also like them to forgo raises for the third straight year and renegotiate some of their benefits.

Lee indicates his hands are tied.

And Gary Delagnes, head of the San Francisco Police Association, is fit to be… “It’s a little disingenuous to keep coming back to someone and saying ‘We’ll give it to you next year,’ ” Delagnes said. “That’s what they said last year, and the year before that.”

The boys in blue find themselves in a bad situation, something they have a knack for doing…now, the words that follow aren’t meant to show I’m anti-police officer, I’m not, I’m just anti-asshole. Across this city are plenty of writers who feel obliged to talk about heroism when speaking of these paid servants, tingeing their words with patriotic hues and I’ll leave them such platitudes…I’d prefer to focus on the alternative, speaking from the contingency in San Francisco who aren’t necessarily relieved when approached by a police officer, the same contingency who doesn’t just assume every member of the SFPD deserves the mantle of “hero,” simply for being an officer, doing an admittedly difficult job. 

At work, my experiences with the police have been reasonable, nothing much to criticize, but outside of such social service settings, unfortunately, those experiences are a little different.

Living at Turk and Leavenworth, I occasionally found myself walking home after three am or so, and periodically I was stopped for what is known as “walking while white.” This might occur if you’re a little tipsy, or paying too much attention to the neighborhood going’s ons while moving through heavy drug areas. In these instances, the SFPD might stop you in your tracks, search your pockets while your hands are set firmly on the hood of their car. There may not be probable cause for these fishing expeditions, but this hardly matters on in the middl of the night on Eddy Street, between Leavenworth and Jones, just as I would imagine it wouldn’t matter if I’d ever had anything for them to find and I wound up in court. 

On other occasions, I had the misfortune to suggest a particular officer might have been handling someone too roughly, suggestions which never went over well and I was twice threatened with arrest. Fine. Understandable. I don’t like it when people look over my shoulder at work either. Nonetheless, if that seventy-plus year old guy is too drunk to stand, just because you repeatedly yank him to his feet, shouting, this will not increase his dexterity. Whereas profanities can be satisfying to spit when angry, I don’t believe they taught at the academy such words have magical powers, and I was inclined to inform said officers of this fact…they didn’t like it.

Another day, I witnessed an undercover grab a young man by the neck and body-slam him to the concrete. Yes, we all know that crack dealers keep their supply in their mouths, wrapped in plastic and yes, the officer inferred this was cause for the choke-slam. Notwithstanding, I’m quite sure the reason this particular officer even addressed me at all, was my witnessing of the obligatory kick to the mid-section after the dealer was down.

Combine these three ready-made examples with my general dislike of the SFPD practice that involves their members cruising the TL with mirrored sunglasses, scowls, arched eyebrows and a body language exhibiting a general thrust of menace or threat, and this is why I have little sympathy when I read: SF mayor wants pension reform, not cop cuts.

It is not my intent to infer every officer I’ve dealt with in the TL is bad, no, not all…but for some reason, the bad ones are most of whom I’ve seen, and having previously dealt with officers in Chicago and New Orleans, I won’t say the SFPD is even the worst force I’ve had to endure…they aren’t, but speaking in comparative terms, just because the SFPD are a better, more professional law enforcement group than those of New Orleans doesn’t mean the officers in the Tenderloin are great.

It really means they just suck, less…

Now, I’m a strong believer in unions, and I typically don’t care for a lot of pension reforms, benefit reductions or unfilled promises of raises, but when an organization’s mission is to protect and serve, but they are more likely to put me on guard, I become a bit more understanding, especially when these cuts are happening everywhere, to everybody.

Especially, when so many officers in the SFPD have been involved in clusterfuck after clusterfuck…

Such as: the murder of Richard Tims and Idress Stelley, Fajitagate, the racist and homophobic videos made by officers in the Bayview, Michael Moll, the excessive force used against Kelly Medora, the seemingly vindictive arrest of the San Francisco 8, the crime lab fiasco and most recently, Bill and Ted’s excellent adventures in the Henry Hotel. For details, check out:

SF Chronicle: Use of Force

FBI to investigate SFPD officers in hotel drug bust

Perhaps it is time the SFPD gets raises based only on merit and lack of scandal. Doing a hard, dangerous job shouldn’t make one exempt from a tightening of the belts. Though my job is seldom dangerous, its stress levels can be pretty severe, any job that works with people is, but being a social worker I would doubt a physical assault of a client would be something I could just walk away from saying, “Hey, it’s a hard job. It’s stressful and besides, I’m a hero.” People in my field have been told, as a result of their inability to handle the stress, “Maybe this isn’t the best kind of work for you to be doing.”

Preciseley, if the job is too much for any particular officer, so much so that they ask for special treatment, or carry on an odd air of entitlement, perhaps it isn’t the best line of work for those particular officers. 

Or here’s another way of putting it, in the form of an old Tenderloin joke:

The San Francisco Police Department is so bad at their job, they can’t even solve the murders they’ve committed.

Maybe the city could reconsider giving the SFPD their raises, the day that joke is no longer funny…

What do you think, Mr. Delagnes?

Have a nice day.