At my age, I have to take my kicks where I can get ’em. And they’re few and far between. I used to get a little chill up and down my arms at every germ-infested penny winking at me from the sidewalk. These days it takes quarters to get me going. But one thing has and likely always will make the hair on my back stand on end like a wildebeest in heat: the national anthem. And, more specifically, the last two lines: “The land of the free and the home of the brave.”
- THERE ARE PLENTY OF STREETS WHERE YOU’RE ALLOWED TO PARK YOUR CAR OVERNIGHT. BUT AS SOON AS A HUMAN BEING SLEEPS IN THAT PARKED CAR, THE POLICE ARE BREATHING DOWN THEIR NECKS AS IF THEY’VE COMMITTED A HEINOUS CRIME.:
Something about a truly talented singer stretching out the word “free” while cheers reverberate across a stadium full of people really makes my day. Sure, a bunch of paunchy middle-aged men decked out in jerseys in a sports bar might not be the best emblem of American freedom and bravery. But it’s out there, rooted in our daily routines and interaction.
Just look at the San Luis Obispo Police Department. They’re brave, right? Courageous in defense of our freedom?
Actually, there was little of either in evidence at a Feb. 17 raid on homeless people parked on either side of Prado Road, near the Prado Day Center. What’s really ridiculous is that, by all accounts, at least one officer directed homeless people in random parking lots to camp out on Prado Road, giving the impression that they wouldn’t be hassled by the city if they did. Next thing these vehicle-dwellers know, a handful of cops are rattling their trailers at 3 a.m. and they’re being herded elsewhere, fearful that they’ll arrive somewhere new only to be driven out again.
It’s exile in the good-old-fashioned Biblical sense of the word. And it goes against every notion of American decency and fair play. What is it that’s inscribed on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty? “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Right? Don’t worry, Lady Liberty: San Luis Obispo—the happiest of hypocritical cities—knows what to do with your tired and poor. Let’s drive them out like wild animals, ticket them for the crime of being poor and homeless, and when they can’t pay those tickets, let’s throw them in jail. Let’s borrow Lady Liberty’s torch and burn down the trees and brush by the creek where the nation’s poor seek shelter.
After driving them away from Prado, the hunt continues. Where there’s a trailer with a sleeping couple, the SLO Police Department will be there. Where there’s a penniless human being seeking refuge from a cold wintry night, the SLO Police Department will be there.
The vicious irony of all this is the extent to which bureaucracy—laws and codes supposedly enacted to make our lives better—is damaging people’s way of life. Say these homeless people simply parked their cars on the side of the street and slept outside on the pavement in the wretched, wretched cold. No harm there. There are plenty of streets where you’re allowed to park your car overnight. But as soon as a human being sleeps in that parked car, the police are breathing down their necks as if they’ve committed a heinous crime. Either the cops are really bored, or they get some kind of sadistic kick out of chasing around poor people.
And the city government isn’t really any better. How hard is it to pick a parking lot and let homeless people camp there overnight? You can’t trip over a “will work for food” sign in this city without hitting a parking lot. Sidenote: yay, concrete! But as soon as you drag our esteemed city government in, you wind up with reports and proposals and retreats. I’m willing to bet the quarter I found in the road last Friday that the city will hire a consultant to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars to help draft a report about how to turn a parking lot into a homeless encampment. They’re so tied down in their own codes and red tape that they can’t so much as refill a stapler without a report.
Case in point: When asked where the homeless people are supposed to park, City Manager Katie Lichtig replied that she supports the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. Bravo, Katie. What are you going to do when that 10 years has expired and you’re no closer to resolving homelessness? We know you bureaucrats love the 10-Year Plan. But there are people who desperately need answers now. Today. Actually, make that yesterday. And you’re hiding behind a plan that’s 10 years out by definition.
I never thought the day would come when I tired of the absurd and out-of-touch antics of local bureaucrats and cops. But I’m disappointed. Because I can’t listen to a size zero celebrity belt out the words “land of the free and the home of the brave” without picturing homeless people frantically driving through the streets at 3 a.m., searching for another parking lot, another curb to call home, for a few hours at least. ∆
Shredder’s been in exile a time or two. Send water bags to email@example.com.