Homelessness: A Juxtaposition of Three Stories

Homeless Vet

Stay with that property, sir. You wouldn’t want it to be considered abandoned, would you?

(1) No place to sleep:

From the Homeless Providers Committee via Occupy Santa Ana:

We regret to announce the closure of the Cold-Weather Season for

The Fullerton AND Santa Ana Armories will close on
April 1st, 2013 @ 6:00am*

Fullerton Armory
400 S. Brookhurst (Brookhurst/Valencia)

Santa Ana Armory
612 E. Warner (Warner/Main)

*Dates and locations of Operation are tentative and subject to change at a
moment’s notice as seen necessary by the California National Guard.

All right — so more homeless will be out in the streets and parks.  Let’s turn to:

(2) Property of the homeless in Costa Mesa will be confiscated and eventually destroyed:

A story in the Register, also passed on through Occupy Santa Ana:

COSTA MESA – The City Council unanimously approved a law Tuesday night that will enable Costa Mesa police to remove, store and destroy property left in parks and other public areas.

But officials said they would slow the confiscation of unattended belongings until they have a larger storage facility for the homeless.

To satisfy residents who complain of clutter, the ordinance was meant to have an alternative storage facility. But so far the city and its partners have found only enough space for 63 bins relatively far from social services, while the city’s chronically homeless population is closer to 200.

The new law gives people 90 days to retrieve their belongings from the Police Department. After that time, the city could sell or discard the items, and the owners could face fines.

There are mitigating factors to the awfulness of this story.  Sandy Genis at least seems to have her heart in the right place, being quoted as saying “We really need to figure out a way to store this so we don’t … make them into lawbreakers simply because they don’t have a shelter over their heads and they don’t have a place to put their stuff.”  Indeed.  But a 55-year-old homeless man notes that bringing his 75-pound pack a mile-and-a-half to store at a local church leaves him all sweaty and unable to interview for jobs, which is why he “abandons” it by leaning it against a wall in Lion’s Park.  He says that he can handle the weight, which leads us to:

(3) Anonymous veteran leaves $40 with note on car of woman with boyfriend in Afghanistan:

It was just another morning for Samantha Ford. She’d been with her two kids at at neighborhood Dunkin’ Donuts outside Boston and as she gazed out the window toward the parking lot, she noticed what looked to be a ticket stuck onto her windshield. The morning just got worse. As the kids clamored back in the car minutes later, she reached over to grab the unwelcome ‘gift’ tucked into the window and that’s when she noticed it wasn’t a ticket after all. It was a note written on the back of an envelope… accompanied by two $20 bills.

Shocked, she looked around to see who might have left it but no one obvious appeared to be in the area. With money in hand, she read the note and was stunned to tears:

“I noticed the sticker on the back of your car. Take your hero out to dinner when he comes home. Thank you both for service. Him deployed and you for waiting. — United States Veteran, God Bless”

The car sticker the veteran referenced reads, “Half my heart is in Afghanistan,” where Ford’s boyfriend is currently deployed.

Story went viral.  Woman appears on the Today Show, etc.  People love it.  So life-affirming.  Tears in eyes. USA, USA.  Heartwarming story.

Wait a moment: heartwarming story?  What’s it doing here, then?  Wasn’t this supposed to be a piece about homelessness?

Yes: 13% of the homeless are veterans, almost twice the incidence of non-veterans.  “Roughly 40% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 10.4% and 3.4% of the U.S. veteran population, respectively.”  An estimated “62,619 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness.”

What would $40 mean to one of them?  More to the point, what would $40 upon $40 upon $40 — we do that sort of thing by collecting taxes — mean if it meant that we could simply create secure storage places where homeless people could leave their worldly possessions during the day without worrying that the police are going to grab them and destroy them?

I understand quite well why “we” don’t want to do those things; we don’t want to make the places where we live too attractive to the homeless, right?  Closing shelters, taking and destroying their property, helps to serve that purpose.  There is an alternative, though: pick an area for decent homeless services — as recently happened in Fullerton — and then use tax dollars to compensate the people nearby who feel that they are harmed by being singled out to live with the problem of homelessness so that the rest of the county doesn’t have to do it.

That is what it means to live in a civilized society — you don’t give people nowhere to sleep, nowhere to use a restroom, and then confiscate their belongings if they are not nearby.  We could probably build all of the homeless services we need for $40 per capita in our wealthy county — and then have the moral standing to demand that other counties do their own fair share.

Until you’re ready to do that, when you look at that sweet story of a gift of $40 to a stranger whose boyfriend is right now stationed overseas with one, two, or many future homeless persons — and you find yourself smiling — have the decency to wipe that smile off your face.  You haven’t earned the right to feel good about it, when we kick people out of shelters and then confiscate all that they own.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)