Weekend Open Thread: Homeless Advocates Prepare to Descend on Disneyland; What’s the Problem, Anyway?




This is a little too “on the muzzle” (or is it “on the snout”?) for my taste, but regardless this is the rallying photo (or at least one of them) for the Homeless Sleep-In at Disneyland this evening starting at 9.

Friend of the Blog Jeanine Robbins is reporting in on the big homeless action planned for in front of Disneyland tonight at 9:00 p.m. — “under Mickey,” whatever that means; Disney’s Security Chief Dan Hughes probably knows — and we will be following the action on the “Anaheim Homeless Facebook Page” for as long as it keeps appearing, or until we get distracted, and it may be a close race as to which comes first.

If it seems incredible to you that homeless activists could plan an occupation of the sidewalk in front of Disneyland and expect NOT to be “disappeared” for at least a night, you’re perceiving things pretty well.  I don’t know what the strategy is, other than perhaps to make Disney security convulse, or to attract all sorts of ACTUAL homeless there to participate so that Disneyland ends up having them arrested and reaps some bad publicity as a result.  Jeanine reported the “under Mickey” location at around noon, so there’s some chance that the element of surprise has already been lost.

Meanwhile, Jeanine has left a link to a pretty good article that people (including Dan Hughes) may want to read: “Americans want to help the homeless — as long as they don’t get too close. This explains why.”

The article, by a couple of junior political scientists  is one of those that is perfect for Orange County, because it’s about the role of disgust in politics: something Orange Countians know well.  In some psychological theories, there are three basic negative emotions: anger, fear, and disgust.  Anger and fear usually get much of the top billing, but disgust is also extremely powerful.  (So, in most societies, is humiliation: people will literally die to avoid it.  When you think of the homeless, it might be useful to think of them as people who have been strong enough to withstand the experience of humiliation that many of us believe that we could not.)

The article suggests that society has largely cleared (at least in theory) an initial hurdle: we don’t hate (suggesting in part “are angry towards”) the homeless.  People favor policies designed to help those homeless, both with material aid (probably meaning food, clothing, toiletries) and with permanent housing.  The rubber hits the road when you ask people to pay for it, but even in tax-phobic OC the resistance to “doing our part” through the government seems to be waning.

On the other hand, people don’t like the homeless sleeping in public, and they really don’t like homeless panhandling.  This is true even among those who support aid to the homeless, almost as much as among those who don’t.

The authors prevent findings that suggest that this pattern seems to be tied to feelings of disgust: that, essentially, people who are more easily grossed out are more likely to support criminalizing the activities that keep the homeless among us because such emotions of disgust are part of our genetic and cultural heritage of attitudes and behaviors that help us to maintain our own hygiene.  There may be something to that, but as a former research psychologist I tend to doubt it.

If you want to test that theory, it seems to me that asking whether people would ever shake hands with, or — hold onto your hats! — even hug a homeless person (one without strong odors or visible stains on their clothes from bodily fluids, let’s say) is a much better test of actual “disgust” than whether they should be able to panhandle.  Attitudes towards panhandling, it seems to be are more indicative of fear than disgust: “Will this person hurt me if I decline?  Will they follow me, or target me for further panhandling in the future if I accede?”  And sure enough, this fear-based question is the one that gets the highest negative response from people.

It’s the “sleeping outdoors” question that most interesting from a social science because — more than any of the others — it is very likely that people didn’t have the same sorts of things in mind.  And giving different scenarios is great way to test some of the hypotheses offered about our feelings about the homeless.

For example, “sleeping in public” could mean someone sleeping on the sidewalk right in front of your home — even if it’s one with a public portable toilet available on the street for their use.  Probably very unpopular.  Or it could mean sleeping under a tree in a rural area where they’re not likely to bother anyone — even if access to “proper” restroom facilities is likely to be less.  That’s more of a difference in fear than of disgust. Similarly, different questions just within the category of sleeping in public — in a downtown sidewalk, on a park bench, in a riverbed, etc. — could be rated on each of these emotional reactions to get better understandings of the emotional basis of our responses to the homeless.

The more I think about this, though, the more I think that just a place to crash — a somewhat segregated area near where homeless otherwise gather, one with sanitary facilities (maybe even showers and laundry!), that might be patrolled, with enough space for those who want more privacy and less for those who don’t mind company, where sexual assault could be prevented and other safety-related services could be provided — might just reduce both the public’s fear and disgust towards the homeless.  (Nancy West’s “Al Fresco Gardens” idea — which we do intend to write about sometime soon! — seems largely to fit this bill, which may explain why it has already picked up a lot of support.)

My plan — come into Disneyland at midnight, shower, be ferried to Tom Sawyer’s Island, another shower in the morning — and back on the streets — has not gotten the same level of support.  Maybe disgust does have something to do with it.

This is your Weekend Open Thread.  Good luck to the protesters tonight (and to the protested as well) and may everyone still be doing well at the stroke of midnight and beyond.  Talk about that, or whatever else you’d like, within reasonably broad boundaries of decency, decorum — and disgust.



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.)