Friday, May 18, 2007

If They're Smoking, There's Fire To Rid

[Posted by reader_iam]

OK, it's late, so I'm going to dash this one off, which means no "cites" for my impressions, but honest to goodness, if you've actually been around long enough, there ought to be no need.

When it comes to "the homeless" (me, I hate that nomenclature, and prefer "homeless people," as I have for, oh, 25-30 years or so, and that should telegraph something to the smart among you, meaning: watch your assumptions, because you're likely to be wrong, and also to be missing the point of this post, as I've framed it):

You can't get 'em off the streets for abusive language.

You can't get 'em off the streets if your intention is to ensure they get appropriate medical and mental treatment.

You can't get 'em off the streets if your intention is to ensure they take their meds.

You can't get 'em off the streets for threatening behavior, if that doesn't meet some sort of codified and clinical standard which may or may not correspond with how your average person might perceive or classify, or even experience--based on experience--"threat."

You can't get 'em off the streets if small children or elderly people are frightened.

You can't get 'em off the streets even if their own family members beg you for help, out of concern for their loved one.

You can't get 'em off the streets if property values are threatened.

You can't get 'em off the streets if such quality-of-life issues as being able to walk down a street without being accosted, whether belligerently or not, for money or whatever reason.

You can't get 'em off the streets if tourism is affected, even if that's a core industry.

You can't get 'em off the streets for public urination or defecation, or, in certain circumstances, flashing or other expressions of sexuality in the context of their "homes."

You can't get 'em off the streets for trespassing on personal property (i.e., doorsteps and vestibules).

You can't get 'em off the streets for making public property rather less publicly available, in any meaningful sense.

But ... but ... but ... BUT!

If you're Berkeley, California, for crying out loud, you may soon be able to get 'em off the streets for ... wait for it ... smoking (that is, tobacco, specifically--natch!), assuming a proposed ban goes through:
Berkeley figures it's found a way to get homeless people off the streets. Keep them from smoking there.

As Mayor Tom Bates sees it, the alcoholics, meth addicts and the like who make up a good portion of the homeless population on Shattuck Avenue downtown and Telegraph Avenue on the south side of the UC Berkeley campus "almost always smoke." And because smoking bans are the hot ticket these days for California cities, why not meld the two as part of a "comprehensive package" for dealing with the street problem that Bates says "has gone over the top"?

In this case, vagrants could be cited for taking a drag on the town's main drags.
Now, of course, the mayor is also proposing other measures, which touch upon--just touch upon--some of the other issues raised earlier in my list of "can'ts," which weren't so much intended as literals (though they, often enough, over the past few decades, have been), but as arguments rejected by certain sectors (not all) of the more "progressively minded" across the U.S. in a variety of cities at different times.

Surely I'm not the only one who sees this as high parody? I'm not much for "mocking" as a laudable, much the less highest, form of social comment, but this simply begs for it, and so I'm hoping that those gifted in the art catch the pitch, so to speak.


Lest you think I'm alone in my opprobrium (though they're not putting forth my take on it, which is fine), here are some others who are looking through this: TalkLeft and Reason Magazine's Hit & Run.

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