Here in Santa Barbara, this past week, it was announced that a local real estate magnate has placed a refundable $450,000 deposit on a $14.5M property halfway up a mountain pass. The property is a now disused seminary and as such has a number of buildings including dormitories.
The nominal reason given for this initial step toward purchase is so that the property can be used by the community as a home for otherwise homeless people. The depositor and his partner are loudly and proudly touting this as an honest effort to deal with the homeless problem in Santa Barbara and are asking the community to join them in making this vision a reality. (i.e. the other $14M+)
I find myself with a few questions about this effort.
- The seminary is excellently situated for a seminary, away from the hustle and bustle. Is that, however, a good location for the reintegration of homeless people to society?
- How are people supposed to get to jobs or other appointments from a facility that is not on any public transportation routes? (They say it is 9 mins from downtown; my guess is that was measured in a Tesla).
- How do so many car-less people quickly evacuate in case of a fire? (The seminary is in a high-risk fire area).
- Have the partners spent any real time exploring the thousand other needs and costs that such a facility would require before it could open? Transportation, staff, tie-in to existing services, build-out etc. (The answer from what I can see is no).
- In the partners quotes, the label “homeless” was freely interchanged with “mental illness.” Although there is a overlap between the two groups, they are far from mutually inclusive. Is presenting those words as synonyms telling us something?
What I can easily see is that transporting homeless people to a facility halfway up a mountain is a quick fix for commercial real estate issues and thus property values. But I don’t think one has to be overly jaded to imagine that this “fix” is not wholly motivated by potentially positive outcomes for the homeless people.
Having just finished a book that recalls the invention of concentration camps by the British Army in the Boer war, I find myself less than keen to have the city in which I live earn the mantle as the first one in the US to open an “internment camp” for its homeless.
How did the lack of a home become such an indictable offense?
We should not, however, overlook the frustration of people who have their livelihoods tied up in commercial leases and property values that are challenged with high rates of homelessness.
The best answer for this community and others facing similar issues undoubtedly lies in a word that in its speaking dooms its resolution. It is perhaps the least popular word in present-day America: Compromise.
Sadly, “compromise” is a word that has become a victim of other words such as “liberal” and “patriot” and “libtard” (and “homeless”) that have been co-opted as new accusatory labels. If you are dealing with someone as heinous as those labels suggest, then how can you accept any form of compromise? The middle-ground seems an unconscionably long journey away from either person’s position. If your claim to being right is so strong and unassailable (to you) that all you leave for others is to accept being wrong, then an enduring partnership between you has no foundation for being built.
Even without Will Rogers optimism, it feels safe to say that everyone has at least some redeeming qualities. Whether rich or poor, they may be poorly informed, scared, abused or fighting for survival and thus programmed for certain responses that may not be the healthiest or truly beneficial to themselves or the community around them, but mostly, people are looking for solutions to the same issues – often, however, in different ways.
Sadly, so much money rides on us seeing each other with rigid black and white labels, it takes relentless effort to swim against the tide.
When such rigidly formed emotions exist, the people holding them are easy prey for a proliferation of increasingly sophisticated manipulations via social media and self-selected “news” outlets.
Never forget: Tens of billions of dollars are riding every day on maintaining our contempt for each other. Viewership (and thus ad income) of Fox and CNN. Eyeballs and clicks on countless websites – where, sadly, the more shrill the message, the more likely the stiction. Many politicians, media outlets and businesses see peaceful coexistence as an enemy to their profits.
A central tenet of this approach is to strip people of their humanity by attaching labels. Labels are a shortcut to stoking and focusing the ire of the horde. The homeless. The Left. The Right. Anti-Vaxxers. Sheep. No longer your neighbors: complex humans with many grey areas and shared values, but instead reduced to a singular label and datapoint.
Once you have done that, consigning a “labeled” person to an internment camp is easy. Sweeping them aside and out of your way sounds like a viable solution.
Go easy on the labels. In the world of labels, genocide and garbage-disposal become synonyms. Labels were (are) also applied to Jews, American Indians, homosexuals, Armenians, Japanese, Blacks, non-believers. The first step in many wars, revolutions and insurrections was the application of a little, dehumanizing label.
You might not give an inch to an “idiot anti-vaxxer,” but if you see that same person as a neighbor who has some slightly different views than you on how to protect his loved ones and tackle a shared problem, you can surely find some common ground.
Most of us want good outcomes for everyone. Let’s start there.