Is the homeless man getting you down? Are you paying a fortune in rent for your downtown SLO business and looking for someone to blame? (Besides your rich landlord, of course.) Are you living paycheck to paycheck on your minimum-wage salary, and looking for a way to make your misery trickle down the economic totem pole?
You’re not alone. The San Luis Obispo Downtown Association recently took to Change.org—a website dedicated to social justice, rectifying inequality, and defending the otherwise defenseless—to start a petition to hire two full-time cops to chase homeless people out of their pristine downtown. If it was possible to die from exposure to a lethal dose of irony, we’d all be splayed out in our Sunday finest while our loved ones extol our nonexistent virtues and conveniently overlook our smug, self-satisfied worldview. Now, in the Downtown Association’s defense, Change.org doesn’t explicitly say it’s meant to be used by the disenfranchised against big business and government agencies that exploit the powerless.
However, most of the other petitions are from the perspective of the socioeconomic victim. For example, sign a petition to stop Marc Jacobs from using dog fur in their clothing line. Or end human trafficking. You’re not going to find many petitions for the dogs to hold still while Marc Jacobs beats them to death, skins them, and proceeds to sell their fur in the chain stores now cluttering downtown San Luis Obispo. Or, for that matter, to give tax breaks to human traffickers to acknowledge the fact that they have another mouth to feed. I’m having a hard time imagining the headspace Downtown Brown and his buddies at the Downtown Association must have occupied when they decided to position themselves as victims in relation to homeless people.
I can just imagine Executive Director Deb Cash arriving home after a long day at the office, pouring a glass of wine, maybe drawing a bubble bath, everything is right with the world, until … she’s forced to reflect on the homeless man she saw sitting on a bench downtown. And yes, the man in question didn’t hurt or harass her, did nothing illegal. But wouldn’t it be so much more pleasant if he wasn’t there at all? Wouldn’t those notes of blackberry lingering on her palate taste all the sweeter without the hint of guilt? And wouldn’t her bubbles froth more merrily still without the distant memory of the stench of an unwashed body? C’mon people, who here can feel her pain?
Hasn’t she—haven’t we—suffered enough? I believe that Anne Hathaway was singing about Deb’s plight when she mourned the dream she dreamed. “But the tigers come at night?” What is that, if not a reference to poor people who make you feel guilty while you’re trying on skinny jeans at the Gap?
Moved by this sorrow, I paid a visit to the petition itself, which asks, “SICK AND TIRED OF PANHANDLING AND UNDESIRABLE BEHAVIORS IN DOWNTOWN SLO?” And I thought, yes, I am! Of course, I’m more sick of people who have to use caps every time they want to make a point. But you can’t expect people who are demanding $261,000 a year in taxpayer money to support two police officers playing tag with homeless people downtown to actually put thought into their proposal.
“It’s time to ‘change the culture’ in Downtown!” Setting aside the fact that a few wine bars and the aforementioned skinny jeans don’t actually substitute for culture, the Downtown Association should probably think long and hard about the meaning of the word “culture,” which draws on the idea of values, education, the notion of collectively cultivating something intangible that draws upon and expresses our shared humanity. Profits are not culture. And you could hoard enough bottles of wine to sink this happy city, but that still isn’t culture, either.
And then there’s the issue of the Downtown Association’s use of the word “undesirable,” which it wields with rather disappointing and limited effect. What I find undesirable is the notion that $261,000 would be used solely to benefit a patch of city seven blocks long by four blocks wide. I find it undesirable when I encounter an illegally parked cop car and watch a pair of police officers harass a homeless person for sitting on a bench. That’s what benches are there for. But surely, the people who support this petition must have their reasons.
Lauren Baker, a fan of the petition, had the following to say: “I don’t like being asked for food, money, or hand outs while enjoying dt slo. I work 40 - 50 hours week damit and barely have enough to cover my bills.”
What Lauren says is true. SLO has an astronomical cost of living and few available jobs that actually support a person’s ability to live here. Maybe that’s the issue the city should be addressing—why we’re all paying sky-high rent and barely making ends meet while working full time. But you can’t blame that on the guy who asked you for a quarter for a cup of coffee.
“Get a job, you filthy bum” seems to be the consensus of people who sign this petition. Get what job? Where? Most of the jobs our fair metropolis has to offer are near-minimum wage and—news flash—you can’t pay rent in San Luis Obispo on a minimum-wage job, even if you’re working full time.
Ian Saude, a business owner who signed the petition, added the following: “As a downtown business owner, we pay top dollar for retail space in DT SLO. Rates are on par with many major metropolitan areas, but without the commensurate revenues.” Yada, yada, yada, blames homeless people. Of course, the difference is that major metropolitan areas like LA and San Francisco don’t have homeless people. Thank you, Ian, for explaining that businesses are struggling to survive downtown. Again, it sounds like it boils down to an issue of astronomical rents that undercut a business owner’s ability to turn a profit. But instead of taking that up with the wealthy people who own your building, you’re going after the broke people sitting in front?
Should we collectively address the problem of homelessness? Absolutely. But first I need to go create a change.org petition to make South Korea stop bullying poor Kim Jong-un.
Petition shredder at firstname.lastname@example.org.