Monday, February 22, 2016

You're right, tech bro, you "shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless' people"

Last week's award for Millennial You Most Love To Hate went to a one Justin Keller, a San Francisco tech entrepreneur. He seized the title from Martin Shkreli, the drug price gouging, hedge fund chiseling, all-round snot nose. I'm bettting that, based on his performance at a  recent Congressional hearing, Shkreli will be back with full ownership rights. But for now, we have Justin Keller.

Young Keller apparently had a rough Presidents' Day weekend.

A homeless guy leaned on his parents' car.

Keller and his family ran into a drug-crazed ranter when they were leaving a fancy restaurant.

Then some fellow came into the movie theater where he and his girlfriend were enjoying the show, took off his shirt and stood in front of the projector light. Keller ran out, which, given recent movie theater shootings, seems like the right response.

Me, I've left movie theaters twice in sketchy situations. One time there was something that appeared to be smoke wafting into the theater. My sister and I left and reported it to management. I can't remember what the problem was, but not that many people got up and moved when we did. The other time, a guy ran into the theater where my sister and I were watching "Mommy Dearest". He was being chased by another guy brandishing a gun. This was  1981, well before the Aurora Colorado theater shooting. Still, neither one of us wanted to get shot while watching Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford screaming about wire hangers. We left.

So you do have to be wary about crazies in theaters. And on the streets.

And I understand that Keller was especially concerned that all this happened when his folks were in town. Here they were thinking that their son was leading a shiny and golden life in San Francisco, only to find that, every time you turn around, somebody's jumping out at them. And, if not making life dangerous, at least making life unpleasant.

I know how Keller feels.

When my parents came to Boston to see my first apartment, we all had to step over the body of a drunk (not a resident of my building) who was sleeping it off in the vestibule. This was shortly before my father died, so when he was doing his last-thoughts-about-his-kids thing, he was no doubt wondering about just how sound my judgment was, and whether I could actually take care of myself. (Not to worry, Dad. At least I think not to worry.)

I know how Keller feels.

I, too, live in a city with a large homeless population, although, given our weather, probably not as pronounced as that of San Francisco.

Each day, I see things I'd rather not see. Hear things I don't want to hear. Smell things don't want to smell. And I will admit that there are plenty of times when I cross the street to avoid being asked for money by someone.

But, unlike Keller, I wouldn't have taken to my blog, as Keller did, to write:
"I know people are frustrate abou gentrificaton happening in the city, but the reality is, we live in a free market society. The wealthy working people have earned their righ to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn't have to worry about being qaccosted. I shouldn't have to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day." (Source: Keller's blog, via the Washington Post.)
Maybe Keller didn't mean to come across as an entitled little whiner who needs to go back to whatever candy-arse, sheltered enclave he came from. But that is, unfortunately, how he sounds to me.

He went on to write that, during the recent Super Bowl doings in SF, the streets were miraculously free of the taint (sights, smells, and sounds) of the homeless. And he'd like that to happen again.

I have no idea how San Francisco managed to round up the homeless and keep them away from Super Bowl patrons, but it apparently wasn't by providing them with permanent housing.

Because they're back.

Here's the thing.

Even though they may not be "wealthy working people", homeless folks have a right to be out and about. And, if you live in a public neighborhood - as opposed to in a private, gated community - they have the right to share your streets and parks.

I don't want Boston Common to turn into tent city. I don't want folks using ATM enclosures as toilets. I don't want to be an eye witness to drug deals.

But mostly I have sympathy for the homeless, the disposables of our society, the NIMBY folks. Where are they supposed to go?

Maybe they didn't go out and get an education. (Although some did.) Maybe they didn't work hard. (Although some did.) Maybe they aren't wealthy working people. (Although some may once have been.)  But from the ones I've met over the years, I can tell you this: most of them have had plenty of bad luck in their lives.

Yes, an awful lot of them have compounded that bad luck with bad choices. But there's an awful lot of folks with mental health issues on the street. And/or folks who've come from disasterous family situations. And/or been in jail for some low-end crime that gained them entry into all the joys and benefits of Incarceration Nation.

As for getting an education, what do you say to a guy who's 37 and can't read because he was taken out of school to pick cotton every year from the age of seven on. As for working hard, what do you say to the person who wants a job, but can't get one because of their record? What do you say to a mentally ill person who may not ever get things together?

I've yet to meet a homeless person who didn't want the same things that everyone else wants: friends, family, a clean place to live, 3 squares a day, and a job.

But we, as a society, haven't figured out how to make this happen for everyone. And it doesn't make things better when cities are gentrifying, and the poor are being squeezed out of affordable options, including SROs (single room occupancies) in which many of the now-homeless were previously housed.

I certainly don't have any answer here, other than let's keep trying. And I've been thinking about this for longer than Justin Keller's been alive.

No, I don't blame him for not wanting to "see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people." But I have news for him: neither do the homeless.

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