At the City Council’s meeting April 22, Mark Christy in particular recited anecdotes about bad behavior on the part of persons that he identified as homeless. His narrative was dramatic and it may deserve a public airing, but his timing was a diversion from the job of thoroughly vetting the complex work product of many locals over several years.
Despite his protestations of love for the sponsor, he abetted the gumming up of the works by serving as a rather sensational distraction.
It seems a particularly obnoxious individual colors Mr. Christy’s plaint, which unfortunately and illogically, has been adopted by some as a metaphor for all of our homeless and as a reason not to establish permanent supportive housing in Laguna.
My own plentiful experience with homeless friends in Laguna is very different. My collective encounters utterly lack drama, and any confrontational or scary quality. Were I forced to identify a personal symbol to serve as the face of the collection of people who live in our town without the benefit of a roof, I’d suggest the gentle, shy trio of Zoe, Debbie and Helene.
But, as history repeatedly reminds us, generalizations about gays, women, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, etc., are often just a means of dehumanizing the persons who comprise the group.
It is safer for us if we allow the homeless people we know, or at least recognize, to assist us in weighing the proposal.
What does permanent supportive housing mean for her, for him, for them? Isn’t the short answer that it will help them, our poor?
It is indisputable – the supporting data is overwhelming – permanent supportive housing has been tried and proven successful in numerous cities throughout the country. By “successful” I mean that it lowers costs to taxpayers by reducing the occasions in which homeless persons are involved with police, EMTs, jailers, courts and hospital emergency rooms. More important, at least for me, it reduces the harm to my homeless neighbor due to less abuse, less jail time, less hospitalization, etc.
That’s it in a nutshell: it’s a proven program that saves money and lives. It has virtually nothing to do with police staffing for Forest Avenue, though it likely will indirectly lessen the need for additional police by reducing some of the behaviors complained of by Christy and others.
The benefits of permanent supportive housing are impressive, though admittedly it is not a panacea; let’s not have our search for the perfect prevent us from doing the achievable.
James Keegan, Laguna Beach