Were I a stranger from, let’s say Indiana, and wandered into that Council meeting on housing the homeless, I would have expected the town’s downtown to be a virtual slaughterhouse, a bloody abattoir. Rape and pugnacity would have been the ordinary course of events daily. And I would flee the premises.
I am not a stranger. I have lived in Laguna Beach since 1955. In the intervening half a century and then some I have never–not once–been rudely or aggressively accosted by a panhandler. I have never — not once– seen a person urinating in public, in the downtown or elsewhere.
I do not say these events do not occur. Obviously they do. But not to the extent emphasized by those opposed to housing the homeless. That meeting featured exaggeration by those opposed. Exaggeration begets exaggeration. You tell a vile story, I will tell one even worse. Exaggeration is like rumor; it races halfway around the world before truth and facts get their shoes on.
At the meeting we all were told not to demonize the other side. We followed that wise advice. But nobody told us not to dehumanize the homeless. Dehumanizing became the order of the day. The homeless were turned into animals, not human beings.
I spent several years on the board of the Laguna Resource Center. I met with and worked with homeless. I never saw the breed portrayed at the meeting.
I would hope future meetings would be more reasoned. The homeless deserve better than they received that night. We are a community that practices compassion on those who are the Other. Once blacks could not get their hair cut in our barbershops. We changed that. Once gays were derided and denied opportunity; once a City Council candidate even tried to bar them from using our beaches. Once women were not appointed to boards and committees.
Now it is the homeless. They live dark and secluded lives. They sleep on benches, in bushes, under boardwalks. For years they were rousted out by the police, given a toe in the ribs, told to move on. Today we would holdout a hand and say, not move on, but move in. What they would then have is what we take for granted: a bed, four walls, and a roof.
Is that too much to ask?
Arnold Hano, Laguna Beach