Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mission Accomplished, American Style

The current hot trend in addressing homelessness in America’s cities is, once again, to remove panhandlers from downtown corridors. Lately the Bush administration – through their Interagency Council on Homelessness – has lauded Denver, Colorado and its 10-year planning process for coming up with one of the 20 Major Innovations this year. This major innovation that President Bush is so enamored with? Have people put change in old parking meters that the City then collects for United Way, rather than giving alms directly to people who are panhandling.

Clearly another case of “Mission Accomplished!!”

These panhandling meters are to homelessness what weapons of mass destruction were to the invasion of Iraq: a public relations ploy to achieve a government policy objective. Just as the Iraq invasion was really about oil for multinational corporations, these dumbass meters are really about removing poor people from downtown commercial areas. Denver officials told the SF Chronicle that the meter program there has not been lucrative, but panhandlers have seemed to disappear where they went up. Not to be deterred by facts, Team Bush has declared amazing results in Denver: $15,000 raised and a 92% reduction in panhandling. Plans are to get “more businesses to adopt meters” (at $1,000 a pop) and to hire local artists to spiff them up and make them more “visible and attractive,” which – when you think about it – raises an interesting question. If the initial crop of meters got rid off 92% of the panhandlers, why do a nicer, prettier version? Wouldn’t a pit bull design be more appropriate for that hard core 8% with the audacity to still be in public space?

Not concerned with contradictions and illogical facts, other cities are following suit. Baltimore installed some panhandling meters with similar “no money but damn, those immobile inanimate objects sure do scare away panhandlers!” results. And now San Francisco has announced plans to launch yet another in a long line of anti-panhandling campaigns, following this “innovative model.”

Cities and people are vexed with the realities of increasing income disparities and homelessness, but has the Bush administration developed any meaningful or substantive policy plans to address either income disparity or homelessness? Besides spending the past 7 years requiring local communities to write 10-Year Plans to End Homelessness while gutting funding for affordable housing and treatment services, what the fuck have these guys done?

They write blank checks to the military-industrial complex, putting us all in massive, never-before-seen levels of debt. They dole out Corporate Welfare that would require all of us spending 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year putting all our money into panhandling meters to match even a fraction of it. They are currently working in Congress to redefine the federal definition of who is homeless, so as to reduce the US population of homeless people DOWN to the 700,000 people they claim it to be (the 900,000 children listed as homeless in our Public Schools by the Department of Education will disappear quicker than the panhandlers in Denver), and they bail out the bankers while millions of middle- and low-income people are losing their homes to foreclosure.

Team Bush praises spare change panhandling meters as an “Innovative Solution” to homelessness, and they spend millions of dollars flying their henchman around the country to promote this and other “Innovative” ideas like using Police Officers as Outreach workers. It’s ironic. The feds created homelessness with draconian cuts to subsidized housing, and now it’s the local governments that are panhandling with meters and arresting homeless people for sleeping outdoors.
San Francisco is faced with a $300 million deficit, and has told service and treatment providers to anticipate a 20 to 30 percent reduction in the number of clients they will be able to serve next year. Many public health and homeless programs that have been serving thousands of poor people every year will be forced to close. Yet 6 months ago the Mayor found $200,000 to invest in a Homeless Coordinator who needed to do something or risk being seen as irrelevant in the face of these serious budget cuts. Presto, an innovative new idea “to see if we can save some lives out there.” Panhandling Parking Meters!! Now the Mayor’s office wants another $500,000 for 2 holding cells (ie, jail cells) in a new “Community Justice Center” to detain people arrested for minor nonviolent offenses (ie, panhandling).

Don’t believe for a second poor people just suddenly “disappear” with these seemingly innocuous little anti-sleeping, anti-panhandling, anti-loitering programs. Local jail cells are overflowing with them.

“Mission Accomplished,” my ass.

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