Even though I was fortunate to have received a great education at UC Berkeley, the education I received on the streets as a homeless man shortly after graduating was even more enlightening.
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“As a 1961 Freedom Rider, I served 39 days in the Mississippi penitentiary fighting discrimination. I and others will continue to resist discriminatory local ordinances which forbid individuals a place and opportunity to sleep. We call upon our City Council to find a way to alleviate homeless suffering.” — Rabbi Phil Posner
The broken windows theory of policing conceptualizes poor people as things to be removed and not people who are struggling to survive. In San Francisco, Business Improvement Districts utilize private security forces and city police to harass and banish homeless people from Union Square.
Although several deaths of young African American men at the hands of the police have received a great deal of publicity, hundreds more police-inflicted deaths have not been reported. Across the nation, police officers who have killed innocent African-American men are rarely punished by racially biased court systems.
Ralph is facing some major challenges now. Social Security and government assistance won’t go far in providing food and shelter for him and his wife while she is disabled. Getting out to Berkeley Bowl with the Street Spirit every day will keep up his spirits and a roof over their heads.
Many people already question whether so-called affordable housing projects in Oakland and the Bay Area are really affordable to most disabled persons receiving their income through SSI, or for retired persons receiving Social Security. It is evident that all too many are not truly affordable to low-income people.
One can’t help but notice that all this wrangling over intake forms, coordination, and “centralized intake” hasn’t managed to produce any additional low-income housing or shelter beds. Berkeley’s last low-income housing expenditures were about 15 years ago, and involved rehabbing some already existing low-income housing units.
When highly diverse individuals are lumped into a single category, the result is terribly misleading. In the composite picture in the minds of those who promote anti-homeless laws, many different sorts of people are merged into one. The ensuing discussions get shipwrecked because nobody is having the same discussion.
Orwell’s chilling prediction of omnipresent surveillance has already come true in many ways. With modern technology, it has become feasible to conduct round-the-clock surveillance of far greater numbers of people on a more massive scale — and with far less effort — compared to what Orwell described in 1984.
Police use laws against trespassing, panhandling, loitering, vagrancy and disorderly conduct to punish poor people and exacerbate their misery. They also confiscate their meager possessions, bringing additional despair. Homeless people are an irritant to public officials and a fruitful source of arrest statistics for police departments throughout the nation.
I realized that bringing them to life in drawings was quite unique, seeming to have more joy in it than I’d ever experienced before. Walter was delighted. Nate always greets me now with a thankful smile. Donald, the very gentle one, spoke proudly and warmly when pondering his portrait.