As of December 2008, Del Norte County had 570 homeless residents who were receiving assistance from the Community Assistance Network, a local charity and homeless advocacy organization. This was nearly two percent of the county’s population at the time. 305 of these people, or about one percent of the county’s population, were “cold homeless,” i.e., people who had no normal access whatsoever to indoor shelter of any sort, including cars. Many of these people were living in tent encampments in the marshes fringing the coast.
Even assuming that Del Norte County’s homeless population doubled during the Second Great Depression, which was in its early months when the article linked above went to press, the county had enough money to provide adequate emergency housing for every one of its homeless residents in a matter of days and to move them into adequate permanent housing in a matter of months. This is easy to prove. Del Norte County is home to Pelican Bay State Prison, a facility whose capital and operating expenses are stratospheric, especially on a local per capita basis. California’s prisons are heavily staffed at above-market pay grades. The costs to install and operate Pelican Bay’s outdoor flood lighting alone would be enough to house many, if not all, of Del Norte County’s homeless at market rents.
The bottom line is that the local authorities are heartless. Crescent City has a municipal ordinance forbidding outdoor camping, including sleeping in cars on private property, which gives police officers the discretion to charge suspects either with an infraction or with a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months’ jail time. The police chief, Doug Plack, insisted that his officers usually confronted the homeless after receiving citizen complaints. If this is true, it means that the local housed portion of the citizenry is cruel and vindictive towards its unhoused compatriots and Crescent City’s police are too craven, beholden, or sadistic to refuse to do dirty work for prissy cranks.
Plack’s comments seemed to be about vagrancy and minor nuisance complaints specifically, not about complaints of criminal activity that would get anyone arrested. A homeless person who is committing vandalism, burglary, robbery, assault, or other serious crimes against persons or property certainly should be arrested and charged. Peaceably sleeping in one’s own car in some easily offended shithead’s neighborhood, on the other hand, is not genuine criminal activity, no matter how prissy the neighbors are or how much they bug the night desk sergeant. Sleeping in one’s car in the Walmart parking lot with the store manager’s permission doesn’t come close to being a real crime by any reasonable standard. Plack helped write Crescent City’s camping ordinance, with its misdemeanor charging option, so he certainly sounds more like part of the problem than part of the solution.
Plack has since retired as police chief, but I haven’t come across any articles online indicating that Del Norte County has significantly resolved its homelessness problem in the past seven years. Its social services, both public and private, sound exceptionally deficient.
This is how Americans treat our surplus fellow citizens. We assume, of course, that the homeless are all derelict, drug-addled, and constitutionally unruly. Our reasoning is that they deserve their rotten lot in life. They’re certainly more prone to dysfunctional behavior than people with stable housing, but there are mitigating factors that should be obvious. People do all sorts of rash things when they get desperate, including indulging in outbursts of violence, and the homeless tend to live chronically in circumstances that would cause bougies to shit bricks. When the homeless turn to drink or hard drugs, it’s often to inure themselves to the harsh conditions in which they’re forced to live. If you were living under a tarp in a marsh clearing in all weather conditions, you might drink yourself to sleep, too.
Besides, many of the same bougies who complain self-righteously about the poor taking to the Olde English express no compunction about their own excessive recourse to Sutter Home or Glenfiddich. What self-respecting person would want to submit to scolding from these sadistic hypocrites under any circumstances? The poor often end up in desperate circumstances in which they can think of no alternative to submitting to this humiliation, and it’s hard to blame them for caving, since they’re facing affronts that would provoke brawls at city council meetings and recall election certifications within weeks if they were visited upon the affluent instead of the poor. But should anyone wonder why some of the poor react to this disparity by being belligerent, dyscivic, or generally antisocial? They can’t expect any benefit from adhering to bourgeois values of self-control, decorum, and diligence anyway. If anything, we should be surprised that so many of the poor are so meek and docile in these circumstances.
The embarrassing, provocative antics of trustafarian “traveling kids” have the ironic effect of strengthening, not weakening, the credibility of their native class. The panhandling, the sign-flying, the laying about, the dereliction of all duty to be productive members of society, the shabby dress, the overall disrespect: all of these things make not just the trustafarians themselves but the homeless in general look disreputable. They make all homeless people look like undeserving poor. The outward stance of the trustafarian may be fuck you pops, but the takeaway message from his behavior is that the homeless are incorrigible mooches who have brought their misfortune down upon themselves, and therefore that those financially able to assist them can morally absolve themselves of any such duty with a clean conscience. That is, pops is in the right to spend his money on his own excessive drinking, not charity for any of those shifty bastards who might partake of alcohol without his permission.
Most traveling kids are probably just idiot youth who never gave any of this a moment’s thought, useful idiots, perhaps, but not agitpropagandists. Occasionally, though, there emerges a truly egregious fellow traveler, one whose behavior can most charitably be assessed as an antisocial stunt for his own private behavior. The asshattery of these prominent counterculture icons is such that it’s reasonable to suspect shadow corporate backing or organizational help for their bullshit. I’m thinking of people like Rikki “I take style tips from the homeless” Hall and Jason “RattLife” Greenslate, the food stamp lobster bro with the garbage-ass garage band. There are bigger, worse figures in the shadows who profit immensely from the trivialization and discrediting of poverty. The question is whether they’re actually funding the provocative behavior of hipster and dirtbag bro wankers or merely standing by while these shitty operators do unpaid affiliate marketing on their behalf.
I haven’t researched this, so I’m just speculating, but these are questions worth asking. If nothing else, we can be sure that Fox News very conveniently used RattLife for its agitprop against public assistance. After all, if welfare benefits are claimed by asswpies of his character, why should any government provide benefits to anyone at all?
The truth is that every reasonably savvy, prudent person who is homeless for economic reasons makes an effort not to conform to any of these negative stereotypes. These stereotypes inspire the bigotry of strangers who are in a position to cause the homeless serious trouble at times when their lives are already dangerously chaotic. The competent homeless go to great lengths to play against type. The mentally ill homeless don’t, because they can’t, but most people have little difficulty telling that they’re nuts and giving them some extra latitude to shamble, so they cause less civic damage by behaving so inappropriately than they otherwise would.
By far the worst discredit to the homeless in general is done by the competent sign-flying types, trustafarian and native white trash professional mooch alike. The housed look at them and assume that all homeless people are like that. Many of us are nothing of the sort, but we’re rarely in a position to make our case without causing ourselves unnecessary trouble. Speaking just for myself, I’m not about to go around dressed for shit as some kind of fashion statement, and one of the things I find most unacceptable about my current circumstances is that I often have some difficulty maintaining personal hygiene without prompt access to bathing facilities. I often limit my physical exertion for precisely this reason until I have gotten a room for the night, and I had to spend an inordinate amount on campsites and motel rooms during peak tourist season over the summer in order to keep my job picking blueberries, simply because I was getting too drenched with sweat not to shower every afternoon after work. I have extremely little patience for bohemian shitheads whose persona includes voluntary alms-begging in a state of voluntarily bad hygiene, and I have even less for Joe Dirtbag’s refusal to provide me with adequate bathing facilities at times when I’m doing heavy, and often skilled, physical labor for him.
The City of Medford made the sign-flyers go away, more or less, by banning the transfer of items between pedestrians and vehicles along public streets. This is one of the disturbingly few constitutionally sound restrictions that US cities have placed on the disruptive behavior of the homeless, as it addresses specific behavior that provably impedes traffic, not speech. Medford did not, however, make the homeless go away. There are too many of them, and they are too vital to the regional economy to be forced beyond commuting distance.
This is something else that many people don’t realize, or refuse to admit. Many homeless hold down jobs, usually menial ones that are crucial to the continued operations of their employers. I’ve continued to work sporadically, but very hard, for Joe Dirtbag in spite of his refusing to either pay me or adequately house me, because that’s how intent I am on maintaining my skills and having something to do. I don’t care to have some bohemian layabout shithead or prejudiced bougie receiving undisclosed financial help at public expense speak on my behalf about my work ethic or economic relationship, broadly defined, to society, and I am far from the only American in such a position.
A great many of the unemployed would gladly apply for jobs and gratefully accept job offers if employers showed a genuine, not feigned, interest in hiring them. I’ve repeatedly been in exactly this position myself. And I’m not making any of this up. Believe me, I’ve scoured the internet, hoping against hope, for evidence that H-2A visa fraud isn’t as systemic as it appears.
There are Americans that management doesn’t want, but whose extermination or internment management is too bashful to openly advocate because, let’s face it, that would look bad. I’m one of them. I’ve been lucky to have found jobs in spite of my being surplus labor. Others haven’t been so lucky. The Crescent City Police Department considers several hundred of them serial misdemeanants.