All Shook Up: How Human Beings Are Turned into Categories

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.

by Carol Denney

Trying to talk to people about anti-homeless laws is like entering a hall of mirrors.

Whether you’re trying to talk about the original laws proposed by Berkeley Councilmember Linda Maio and the Downtown Berkeley Association (DBA), and provisionally passed by the City Council on March 17, 2015, or Maio’s middle-of-the-night amendments on June 30, 2015, or the growing mountain of laws targeting “problematic street behavior” in cities nationwide, the discussion tends to indiscriminately group very different individuals into a single category.

Rowdy high school kids, drunks, junkies, recently evicted families, homeless women, people recently released from jail, panhandlers, youth, the LGBT population, people with dogs, people too poor to afford the Bay Area’s skyrocketing rents, people who threaten others, people who urinate in public, people with mental illness, people traveling through town for a concert or job prospect, and people with a lot of belongings to shepherd through town with no legal place to go, all get discussed as though they are all the same.

It’s dizzying. The composite picture in the minds of people who promote anti-homeless laws is a predictable nightmare. It’s as though all the groups in the preceding paragraph were put in a bag, shaken together and merged into one, and the ensuing discussions, even honest efforts to find common ground, get shipwrecked because nobody is having the same discussion.

Bathrooms are a great example. The DBA, with no particular objection from the City Council, is well on its way to succeeding in avoiding having a public bathroom in the BART Plaza redesign despite its being the best, most logical place for a public bathroom in the downtown area.

The DBA scrambles to look pro-bathroom in public by promoting BART’s opening its bathrooms (closed as a security risk after 9-11), and promoting the idea that city garages and other out-of-the-way places could take up some of the slack.

“Homelessness Has Faces.”  Rodney Bell, a formerly homeless artist and musician, created this artwork to show that people who have been homeless are all individuals — and not a faceless mass or nameless category.

“Homelessness Has Faces.” Rodney Bell, a formerly homeless artist and musician, created this artwork to show that people who have been homeless are all individuals — and not a faceless mass or nameless category.


But in private documents, they call bathrooms “an attractive nuisance” and recommend against them despite the obvious irony of DBA CEO’s John Caner’s very public and very indignant complaints about the inevitable result.

Let’s have the same discussion about the same issues. Many of the issues we’d like to solve as a community are easy to solve. And perhaps the easiest, in theory, is housing our working class and poor.

If all development going forward were dedicated to addressing our crisis in low-income housing instead of being a parlor game played by politicians on behalf of wealthy developers who are generous around campaign time, we would have a healthy head start.

We could have housed all of our poor and homeless residents — a relatively small number — long ago. Let’s get started.

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.