On biscuits and bunkbeds


Last updated 11/8/2022 at Noon

And finally the madness ends. Election madness, I mean.

Most of the candidates, early or late, zeroed in on homelessness as a problem. One candidate was even bold enough to suggest that he would “solve homelessness.” That’s a big and briny declaration, and, of course, it is equally absurd, but there it was on the long list of heroic crusades the candidate claimed he would embark on — given the necessary donations and, of course, that annoying requirement of actual votes. I don’t believe that he — or any of the other candidates—will be solving homelessness, but then again I’m a born-again, dyed-in-the-wool, way-up-the-holler kind of skeptic when it comes to politicians and their promises.

But let’s try to be honest, for once. Nobody “solves” homelessness. If you have lived in enough places around the country, long enough, you realize that this problem — in the macro — doesn’t get solved anywhere. It gets punted. It gets punted because nobody, and I mean nobody, knows how to do it. If somebody knew how to do it the model would have been copied and pasted everywhere by now. I will stipulate that there are a very small number of long-term success stories, even as I struggle to remember any of them.

What happens, usually, is this: Well-meaning people of all stripes take on the issue with passion and devotion, and then run up against funding problems, the Sovietizing American administrative state, and the labyrinth of policy and legal nightmares that simply kill most of the best and most legitimate efforts at large-scale alleviation.

These fine people are then reduced to tinkering around the edges, with results that often look cynical: Sidewalk benches get turned around so that they are facing traffic, camps get cleaned up and punted to a different part of town, warrants become non-bookable on top of non-extraditable.

Public officials sigh and shrug their shoulders — particularly Federal officials, because they can’t even blow their noses without permission from the Fuhrer-bunker in Washington.

And here’s another thing worth saying out loud: Sometimes the people who need help just don’t want it.

Eventually everyone gets mad at the cops because they are too slow to react, or too fast, too light in their touch, or too heavy handed.

The politicians are happy for the cops to get rolled under the bus, ad infinitum, but the cops, taking yet another PR beating over an issue they neither caused nor have the resources to fix, then build various teams with fancy acronyms to deal with the very many legal and mental-health issues that are associated with homelessness.

Task Forces and Emergencies are created and declared.

The camps get cleaned up and punted again — this time with reporters and cameras on hand — to a different side of town or, as in the case of Bend, from the spaghetti bowl to the greenbelt across the parkway where it lands right in front of the sheriff’s office.

What gets “solved” exactly? Nothing, because movement and action are not the same thing.

I don’t have any answers either. I have a litany of cautionary tales. But I can tell you for certain that turning one of our city parks into a homeless camp is a no-good, very bad idea. Within a week it will look like Woodstock after the big rain. Spare me the letters. It will, and you know it will. Which is perfectly fine with me, if that’s the direction Sisters would like to go. Many of us will just accelerate our move to some other town where it takes less than 15 years to put in a roundabout and a homeless camp isn’t the first thing grandma sees when she comes for a visit.

What’s probably needed is a permanent shelter. What almost nobody wants built next to them is a permanent shelter. There are good reasons for not wanting one, and if you want to buy me a cup of coffee I’ll talk your ear off with experiences born in some of the larger shelters in the western United States. It will come from a law-enforcement perspective, which, in the progressive era, has trouble getting air-time. But I’m not imagining the rapes, the stabbings, the meth-zombies, the domestic violence and murder-fugitives, the piles of fetid trash, the rats, the TB, HIV, and hepatitis, or the alcoholism and drug abuse. That all comes with it.

If you build a permanent shelter people from all over the United States will come to live in it.

My apologies to W.P. Kinsella, who deserves better, but if you build it, they will come.

They will come from Portland, Eugene, Salem, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oxnard, Minnesota, North Carolina, Maryland, and many of them will come from Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras.

It’s not important that you believe me.

And before the vigilance committees start spitting their predictable venom: I hate the idea that anyone has to live in the woods or sleep in a dumpster.

It’s revolting to me that anyone in the United States goes hungry.

But if you establish a camp, or build a permanent shelter, people will come from the corners of the earth to live in it.

But Sisters could do it. Turns out the floorspace and facilities might be available now that the Laird people have gathered up what’s left of their guaranteed money and penny-stock, and split town. Lots and lots of square feet over there. Perfect for bunk beds, and a bowl of soup in a blizzard, one might think.


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