Homeless Forum

Photo by Kate Greenstreet

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser February 2013)

Unable to attend the forum on the homeless that was held in Mendocino near the end of January, I did read the three articles in the Mendocino Beacon that reported in some detail and with a certain us-against-them slant on the gathering attended by Sheriff Allman and Supervisor Hamburg and members of the community, including innkeepers, restaurateurs, business people, residents of Mendocino, and even a few homeless people.

The upshot of these three articles as I read them (and I admit to reading things differently than other people read things) is that one: the Mendocino Headlands need to be cleared of blackberry bushes so the homeless will have no place to hide or camp or ambush each other and hapless tourists, two: some people are afraid to walk alone at night in Mendocino for fear of being attacked by homeless people, and three: we need more posters telling people not to give money to homeless people because homeless people just use the money for drugs and then defecate in inappropriate places.

Now why would someone, even a drug-crazed homeless person, defecate in a planter box or in the grass adjacent to the sidewalk or even right on the sidewalk instead of, say, in a toilet in a public restroom? Oh. There are no public restrooms open at night in Mendocino. Could that be the reason the crazed homeless person chose to poop in a planter and thereby deeply offend the discoverer of the homeless poop? For the record, I am a tax-paying resident of Mendocino, a year-round resident, mind you, and I’d like to know why we don’t have a decent public bathroom in our village? Is there one mentioned in the new general plan? No? Why not? And why is the one hideous bathroom we do have now locked at night? To keep the crazed homeless people from taking shelter there, of course.

Speaking of defecating, how about the hundreds of dogs that our upstanding non-homeless residents and out-of-town visitors illegally let off their leashes to shit all over the headlands and Big River Beach? Where do innkeepers and law enforcement stand on the dog shit issue? As one who steps in shit all too frequently in our lovely coastal hamlet, I can tell you that the Mendocino shit I step in is always dog shit, not human feces. And don’t tell me the bad canines belong to homeless people and the good canines belong to the homeowners, because I know that’s not true. I have been much more intimidated by big aggressive dogs owned by people driving cars that would make very nice homes than by the few scruffy trios and quartets of homeless people, mostly guys, who are now resident in and around Mendocino.

And why are these guys homeless? How many of them are mentally ill? How many of them are not welcome at Hospitality House in Fort Bragg? Why don’t we have a homeless shelter in Mendocino? Has anyone noticed the economy, the actual one, not the fantasy one, is falling apart and the number of homeless people in our society is increasing by leaps and bounds? Did we expect the homeless people to all stay in Oakland or Oklahoma or Peoria? If you were homeless, would you rather be in Mendocino or Oakland? Oh, but of course you would never be homeless. Why is that? Luck or skill?

I, too, occasionally feel intimidated by homeless guys, though not because they do anything except look kind of scary to me, and not as often as I am intimidated by aggressive dogs and people driving while talking on their cell phones or butting in front of me at the bakery. And I can see how homeless people are problematic for businesses in Mendocino. Who wants a surly non-conformist vagabond in frayed clothing and a scraggly beard posing in front of his or her tourist trap?

However, not giving homeless people money and mowing the blackberry bushes on the headlands and tearing down the brand new bus stop won’t solve the homeless problem. There will be more and more homeless as our economy continues to collapse and as our schools continue to fail to educate our children and as we continue to spend most of our public money on war and subsidizing oil companies instead of on our communities.

The Beacon articles did not, I hope, intend to make the homeless sound and feel like the enemy, but that’s what bad reporting will do. So we’ve got this problem, these faceless, intimidating, lurking-in-the-blackberry-brambles people without homes daring to come into our community and hang around near people who have homes and so much more. Why can’t the homeless just go somewhere else? Or why don’t they stop being homeless? Would these people like to have jobs? Find decent places to live? These are good questions, none of which was answered at the forum.

So what would I do to address the so-called homeless problem in Mendocino? First, I would make it a number one priority to build a state-of-the-art public restroom and bathhouse and safe napping facility in Mendocino with on-site attendants named Pierre and Celeste, large lockers, a really great community bulletin board, and regular visits from job and housing and mental health counselors dedicated to helping the homeless become unhomeless. Oh, sure, Todd. How will you pay for that? Easy. A tax on coffee drinks.

Second, I would annex Heritage House, and with grants from various liberal foundations, turn the place into a Life Rejuvenation Center housing two hundred formerly homeless people enrolled in rigorous spiritual warrior training and comprehensive classes in solar technology, organic horticulture, gluten-free baking, and animal husbandry. We will unleash a torrent of born again housed people on the world, solarize California, and reverse carbon emissions pronto. Oh, sure, Todd. Easy to say, but you’re talking mighty big grants to pay for that many people enrolled in spiritual warrior training. I know, but we’re just talking here, right?

By the way, the notion that homeless people spend most or all of the money we give them on drugs is nothing but dog shit propaganda. As a year-round resident of Mendocino, I watch homeless guys and girls buying food with their money every day. Yep. Bananas, potato chips, pizza, sushi, beer, carrots, refried beans, coffee, scones, almonds, chocolate. Actual food. Same kind you and I eat. Hard to believe, I know, but there it is.

Telling people not to give homeless people money is pure self-righteous selfishness and mean and cruel. If we actually had good places where all the homeless could go and relax and eat well and sleep safely, then there might be something to the idea of giving money to such places and urging homeless people to go to those places, but that is not the case, and wishing it were the case doesn’t make it so.

Thus I think we need posters that say, “Hey, you just spent nine bucks on a gluten-free scone and a large latte, how about giving that totally hungry dude over there a few bucks?” Or “So you just spent more than a thousand dollars for a romantic weekend in a luxurious inn, wine tasting and eating gourmet Mendocino cuisine, why not give a homeless person fifty bucks for a night of snooze and a shower in a decent motel?” Posters like that.

Seriously, folks, we’ve got to do better than removing hiding places on the headlands and not giving people money. The homeless in Mendocino illuminate what we’re all missing: decent public facilities, free community meals and socializing, a local solar-electric power company, a gigantic community garden where the homeless and the housed can work together and help each other, a commodious community hostel, and several excellent community camping places.

Oh, sure, Todd, how are you going to pay for that? Well, we probably won’t pay for any of it. We probably won’t do anything except mow the blackberry bushes and make a bunch of useless posters that won’t do anybody any good. And the dogs will continue to shit profusely on the beach and in the town, and the tourists will continue to come here and have their fun because they don’t mind homeless people because homeless people are everywhere now because our society has been taken over by the psychotically selfish. And as long as we delude ourselves that we are superior to homeless people and therefore deserve more and better than they, we are permanently screwed.

By the way, I have often used the cover of the blackberry bushes on the headlands for the purpose of pissing when I’m in town because I cannot stand the stench and slimy slipperiness of that hideous bunker that is the pathetic best this affluent community provides for us. So what will I do in the absence of the blackberries? What would you do?

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