The Homeless, the Dream & the Nightmare

Tragically, this advocacy piece in the Sacramento Bee, while noting the importance of connecting the hand-out to the hand-up, veers back into normative homeless advocacy dogma when it puts the onus on government solutions, a strategy that has so shockingly failed over several decades, about which the 1993 book The Dream & the Nightmare: The Sixties Legacy to the Underclass,  by Myron Magnet focused on, describing a scenario many still find relevant.

A few quotes.

“The shocking actuality of homelessness is so utterly different from the picture journalists have drawn that it’s hard to keep patience with their almost mystifying distortion and misrepresentation of the unsettling truth. Can all of today’s reporters commute from the suburbs? If you live in a city, after all, you can’t help glimpsing the painful reality, as here on Seventh-ninth Street, before averting your eyes in shame. You get used to reassuring children after they’ve seen such sights—after they’ve been startled by sleeping bundles of rags at first indistinguishable from the trash by which the sleeper lies, after they’ve been frightened by aggressively insistent beggars or implacably angry, wild-eyed mutterers pushing refuse-laden shopping carts.

“We urban dwellers have had to meditate on sights like these black plastic bags, laid out last night like rotund soldiers in neat platoons of twenty or thirty beside each apartment building. This morning like so many mornings, they are slashed open, their contents wildly strewn all over the pavement in a sickening riot of rot and disorder.

“Dogs? hazarded a visitor from out-of-town.

“No. The homeless have been scavenging.” (pp. 79-80)

“The [homeless] advocates have no doubt whatever about the source of the contagion, says Hayes: “The homeless are indeed the most egregious symbol of a cruel economy, an unresponsive government, a festering value system.” They are the victims of a ferocious, unjust economic Darwinism that has made the rich opulently richer at the calamitous expense of the poor, that has swept away jobs through “deindustrialization,” that has gentrified affordable housing off the face of the earth for the benefit of self-cherishing yuppies. Indeed, the homeless are a moral thermometer, registering in their numbers and degradation the rising heartlessness and inequality of the American social order.” (p. 82)

“You don’t have to live in my neighborhood to know that this whole farrago just isn’t so. All you have to do is go home by train or subway and pay attention. What you see, if you stop to look, is craziness, drunkenness, dope, and danger. Far from being the index of the nation’s turpitude, the homeless are an encyclopedia of social pathology and mental disorder.” (p. 83)

“A startling number of them are criminals. Checking the records of several homeless beggars recently arrested for misdemeanors in New York’s Pennsylvania Station, for example, police were taken aback to discover that two of the men were wanted for murder. Half of those arrested for rape in Santa Monica, California, in 1991 were homeless men. At least 40 percent of the single homeless nationwide have been in jail, for an average of two years….

“It’s a tough stretch to follow the advocates in seeing the criminal or drug-taking homeless as victims deserving compassion; but for one of the largest, most conspicuous groups of the homeless, those who are mentally ill, compassion is properly in order. These disturbing figures—the lumpish shopping bag ladies, the muttering men in rags pushing grocery carts—did not create their deplorable fate. They are the involuntary victims not only of their disease but also of a society that mocks them with a benefit they don’t need in place of one they need desperately.” (p. 84)



About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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