Saturday, May 15, 2021

City Council, May 17th - Housing and Shelter

Council convenes on Monday for a formal Work Session to hear an update on "Initiatives to reduce homelessness and increase sheltering."

Front page SF Chronicle today

Today's story on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle is probably apt.

The City's Staff Report says

To help reduce COVID-19 exposure in shelters and spaces that face constrained capacity, camping is allowed in developed areas of two parks, Wallace Marine and Cascades Gateway. Community partners estimate between 200-300 persons are currently staying at any given time in each park. The City, non-profit agencies, and volunteers have worked together to remove garbage, address criminal activity, and establish small, managed alternatives to sheltering in parks. Still, as City parks are not intended for human habitation and camping, the City will need to carefully conclude our Park Camping program.

A "careful" conclusion to the programs and camps, formal and informal, should take care with the rhetoric of cleaning, clean-up, dirt, disorder and such. People may leave copious trash, and be profoundly ill or upset, sometimes even criminal or evil, but they are not themselves dirt to be cleaned up or vermin.

NY Times today

So much of the vilification of unsheltered people and other poor is because they remind us of the precariousness of our own existence, the role of luck in the wheel of fortune, and our own ultimate end. In another more universal sense, we are all just dirt.

From the NY Times:

Suffering and death are facts of life; focusing only on the “bright and shiny” is superficial and inauthentic. “We try to suppress the thought of death, or escape it, or run away from it because we think that’s where we’ll find happiness,” she said. “But it’s actually in facing the darkest realities of life that we find light in them.”

The practice of regular meditation on death is a venerable one. Saint Benedict instructed his monks in the sixth century to “keep death daily before your eyes,” for example. For Christians like Sister Aletheia, it is inextricable from the promise of a better life after death. But the practice is not uniquely Christian. Mindfulness of death is a tradition within Buddhism, and Socrates and Seneca were among the early thinkers who recommended “practicing” death as a way to cultivate meaning and focus. Skeletons, clocks and decaying food are recurring motifs in art history.

Previously on the rhetoric and symbolism we use in talking about "cleaning":

CANDO may have more detailed notes on contemporary policy, and this post may be updated with comment on that.

1 comment:

Ken Karp said...

The City of Salem has been under the control of the Chamber and the Real Estate Industry (REI) since 2003. This has enabled the city to grow and expand the tax base. These organizations have effectively represented the interests of their members but the time has come for the city to ask for their help with the homeless problem.

This problem clearly goes beyond Salem. It is essentially a result of the disparity of incomes. This problem cannot be solved. It will not go away. Salem is on the cusp of degenerating towards the fate of other large cities, with pockets of poverty and hard to control crime.

Perfect is the enemy of the good. Nevertheless, settling for minor gestures is not enough. Thirty small homes are meaningful but 300 to 500, apprpriately sited, will probably be the good that can serve as transitional housing for the foreseeable future.

At Monday's work session, Bryce performed with his usual excellence, providing an overview of the related land use issues. The intelligent, caring, and involved Councilors were fully engaged. Yet, the same questions that have been knocked around for years persist. Where can groups be sited, who will we partner with, and how much will it cost? Still no real answers. Jim Lewis suggested that we go to the Realtors. He is right.

We can appeal to their their sense of social obligation but we live in a world of pragmatism. Let's get real. Let's steer the discussion away from the short term and sell our ideas based on the fact that a healthy city provides a better environment for real estate sales and business growth.

Also, not as a threat, but as a recognition that change is becoming necessary, we may want to suggest that Council could re-examine the makeup of the Planning Commission and its relationship to and oversight by Council. More immediately, we should ask ourselves whether Our Salem should only strive to meet the minimum requirements for multi-family housing.

Though they are willing to build some apartment complexes, duplexes, and condos, builders understandably prefer the profits and reduced risks associated with single family. Without co-operation in locating and acquiring properties that the city now needs, the establishment of zoning throughout the city which goes beyond the minimum requirements for multi-family may be the only tool available to keep homelessness from getting out of control.

Nobody, especially the homeless, wants homelessness.