Now We’re Dragging Classical Music Into It

I read Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange forty years ago.  I won’t try to recall very much of the novel from memory, but I’m pretty sure the central character, Alex, enjoyed classical music, partly because it stimulated him to do evil things.

Wasn’t Alex forced to listen to classical music while undergoing aversion therapy?

Again, I won’t place too much confidence in memory.

A fast food restaurant in my neck of the woods is using loud classical music to drive away homeless people who loiter on the sidewalk near the restaurant.

We still don’t have answers to the tragedy of people not having a roof over their heads.  More than ten years ago, then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom persuaded voters to approve a ballot measure which gave a large percentage of a homeless person’s General Assistance (Adult Welfare) check to nonprofits which, theoretically, would provide care to that person.

The amount of money given for each person’s care was roughly two hundred-fifty dollars per month.  That was supposed to pay for a shelter bed, addiction rehab, mental health care, job placement and whatever else might be appropriate for each individual.  The program was given the snappy name Care Not Cash.

Voters found this appealing, for two reasons.  First, it would take cash (most of it, anyway) out of the hands of drug addicts.  Second, it would make San Francisco’s homeless even more miserable and drive them someplace else.  Very few voters could have believed the homeless would actually be helped because the program was obviously underfunded.  The main “benefit” was to curb a public nuisance. The name implied that the intentions were pure, so there were fewer guilt pangs in the voting booths when people approved this sham.

In fairness, there are nonprofits whose professionals and volunteers put one hundred percent of their effort and limited financial resources into helping each homeless client.  We shouldn’t make generalizations about these services because we don’t know what goes on in each program.  However, the S.F. County Supervisor who represents my district, Jane Kim, has said the shelters don’t have enough beds to go around.

At the same condo owners’ meeting where Jane Kim spoke to us, an official with another city agency claimed any homeless person who wanted addiction treatment could be admitted to a program immediately.  I hope my neighbors who attended that meeting noticed the contradiction, and understood there was something complicated going on.  Is the rehab program outpatient only?  No bed?  That isn’t going to work for addicts who sleep on the streets.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think of the right questions fast enough at that meeting.  My neighbors didn’t, either.  There’s no telling what line of, uh, crud, we would have heard if we’d been tough in interrogating those bureaucrats.  We let them get away with a lot, but to Jane Kim’s credit she did admit there was a shortage of shelter beds.

Juicy Gossip Tidbit:  One official at that meeting, whom I won’t identify by name, handed out campaign literature.  He was running for Mayor.  Didn’t win.  That same man and I had one previous encounter, when I was walking a friend’s dog.  He watched to make sure I cleaned up the poop.  By the time we met again at that condo meeting, he kept looking in my direction.  He was trying to place me, but I didn’t refresh his memory.

Back to the main topic, which is more important than the guy running for mayor…

Occasionally, we hear about a so-called “family reunification” program which, in effect, puts a homeless person on a bus out of the city.  The official story is there’s a happy ending whenever a person living on the street is sent to live with relatives.  The unofficial story is the person is more likely to end up on the street at the bus destination (where there may have been no family members to welcome him or her in the first place), so that individual becomes another city’s problem.  We’re dumping human beings like garbage, and other cities are doing similar things. People get shuffled around, but not necessarily helped.

Homelessness should have been addressed by all branches of government — especially at the federal level — in the early 1980s, when it first became visible.  That didn’t happen because voters who elected Ronald Reagan believed in self-sufficiency and didn’t want their tax money being used to help anyone who was vulnerable.

This selfishness from thirty-five years ago opened a floodgate.  Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” has that effect.

People become homeless for different reasons, and each situation has to be evaluated carefully before anyone can be helped.  We didn’t get started on that in the early 80s, and now so many lives have been damaged we may never get a handle on it.

Not too long ago, the San Francisco Archdiocese was criticized by homeless advocates for running a sprinkler system outside of St. Mary’s Cathedral, intended to discourage after hours loitering.  As far as I know, the sprinkler was turned off after the homeless advocates contacted the news media.

Now a fast food restaurant is using classical music as the proverbial sprinkler system.  It’s meant to discourage a nuisance, but fails to help anyone whose situation is genuinely dire.

Travis Bickle, the title character in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, commented that he looked forward to the day when a flood would wash away all of the low life.  He conveniently ignored the fact that his own desperate behavior made him part of that low life.

Face it, the human condition is a mess.  We can complain all we want about the smelly, rude, possibly dangerous person loitering nearby, but that does nothing to elevate our own character.

We are all one chemical imbalance away from becoming mentally ill. We’re all one catastrophic accident away from becoming severely disabled.  Many of us are also one job layoff or investment failure away from eviction or foreclosure.

When I see homeless people, sometimes I wonder how many of them once wore business suits and yelled “Get a job, you (expletive)!” when they encountered panhandlers.

Here’s a link to the fast food restaurant story.


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