Opinion » Shredder

Common cents


Fact: All homeless people are dirty.

Fact: All homeless people spend their money on drugs. And alcohol.

Fact: The city of San Luis Obispo loves its filthy, drug-addicted homeless population and wants to see it succeed, but knows that this can only happen with tough, I-know-better-than-you, holier-than-thou love.

Fact: I usually give food to the homeless, but if I try to cram a burger in a parking meter, I’ll get a massive littering citation and then I’ll be homeless. It’s a vicious cycle.

Fact: All of the above “facts” were gleaned from the City of San Luis Obispo’s “Support Solutions Not Addictions” poster, which advocates giving money to parking meters instead of homeless people. Money generated by these parking meters goes to United Way and Friends of the Prado Day Center.

It’s a nice idea, I suppose, harnessing compassion for the underprivileged to help support programs that make their lives better. It would be even better if the city could find a way to do it without implying that the people they’d like to serve are filthy, drug-addicted street rats. If you haven’t had the soul-crushing experience of seeing this poster, it depicts a clean, white hand dropping pills, bottles of booze, and a joint into a dirty hand. Nothing like good old-fashioned, straight-forward classism.

It’s ludicrous to think that anyone looked at that poster and thought it was a positive representation of the city’s relationship with and intentions toward the city’s disenfranchised. The fact that multiple people presumably signed off on this campaign before it went live makes me wonder if insensitivity is contagious. And I don’t believe for a single second that not one of the people who supported this message has ever done drugs recreationally or drank excessively, which glosses the entire campaign in a sheen of hypocrisy that’s harder to wash away than the dirt caked on the homeless model’s hand. Any time you see a city councilmember in a bar, you’re the enabler.

But, as it turns out, someone did raise objections to the poster: Back in March the campaign was a subject of discussion at a Downtown Association board meeting, and the consensus then was that the poster didn’t send the right message. This is the same organization that started a Change.org petition to chase homeless people out of their shiny downtown, so sensitivity ranks about as high on their list of priorities as a commemorative structure dedicated to chewed gum … oh wait, we already have that.

Apparently this uncharacteristic display of awareness of the fact that homeless people are human beings equipped with feelings didn’t merit an overhaul of the project because the poster debuted one month later, and it’s just as insulting as it was then. Who knows what happened in the interim? Maybe the Downtown Association really is the bleeding heart of San Luis Obispo. I’d never have thought something like that was possible, but in a city where the next phase of addressing homelessness will probably involve labeling them with dirty, brown H’s and loading them onto a bus bound for anywhere but here, I guess you have to measure your sympathy against the standard set by the majority of city officials.

Fact: We’re now six years into San Luis Obispo County’s “10-year plan to end homelessness,” and there are now more homeless people living in the county than there were when the plan was drafted. So far, the only thing the city has accomplished is waging an expensive and unpopular campaign to prohibit people from sleeping in their cars … on benches, also places within public view, and sometimes in places outside the public view.

I understand that our leaders’ attention has been focused elsewhere. After being named the Happiest City on God’s Green Earth, you need to clear your schedule for the next five years at least in order to tell everyone about it. Then, of course, there’s the year-long smug nap followed by some wine tasting and hunting down one of those oh-so charming “I live where you vacation” bumper stickers. So, maybe we should give ourselves a break and delay that 10-year plan by another seven years or so. I mean, hey, it’s not like the homeless are going anywhere (unless that campaign to drive them out of SLO finally succeeds, in which case who needs the plan?).

When it comes to the question of who should be handling money intended to benefit the city’s disenfranchised, I have to ask the obvious question: Who has a better understanding of what people need—the smug mayor of America’s Happiest City, who has never actually been homeless, or someone who is homeless? Does the mayor, or anyone for that matter, really have the right to tell someone who’s hungry that their money can be better spent by the government on programming? Bear in mind that the people who drafted these plans and spend this money haven’t significantly reduced the number of people who are homeless.

Fact: Every public figure or politician who smiled and posed for a photo should probably spend a night alone on the streets before deciding to endorse a campaign that turns the homeless into a cartoon caricature. And maybe they should all be forced to abstain from booze and recreational drugs, given that they are publically funded.


Shredder would love some spare change, but only if you won’t ask how it’s being spent. Send pennies to shredder@newtimesslo.com.


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