Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Love Thy Neighbor: Break the Ban


On October 24th, 2017, the city of El Cajon unanimously approved a city ordinance banning the sharing of food for the homeless in public parks. On January 14th, 2018, the city of El Cajon used the law to cover up their own inadequacies. [1]

What the mayor of El Cajon, Bill Wells, and San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer have omitted in public appearances is that the city and the county of San Diego have had prior warning of the Hepatitis A outbreak we are now experiencing. [2] Yet, they did nothing. When they finally decided to act, it was at a snail's pace and cruel. [3] They displaced the homeless and treated them as problems to the image of San Diego rather than treat them as people. [4]

In result, the solutions proposed to end homelessness are short-sighted and not radical enough. The increased spending initiative for low-income housing would need to be on the level of MediCal to be effective, but it won't even come close. [5] Also, building regulations in San Diego have impeded the construction of the much needed low-cost housing options such as micro-apartments. [6] Furthermore, the city has $100 million in reserve for mental health yet haven't spent any of it to alleviate this issue. America's Finest City at work.

However, what I find most troubling is the reductive rhetoric that spews from the mouths of Mayor Wells and the fellow bootlicking councilmembers.

Mayor Wells, using his experience as an addiction counselor to commit solipsism, said the real issue underlying homelessness is substance abuse. Even though statistics suggest otherwise, let's assume his claim is true. [8][9] This simplistic diagnosis fails to consider the means by which law enforcement and mass incarceration (i.e. the War on Drugs) reinforces this diagnosis. There is an alarming rate of drug-related convictions in United States jails and prisons. [10] Also, one in three incarcerated people report using drugs while in jail or prison. [11] However, there is no actual treatment of the substance abuse. Once released, those who are now "free" have a lingering drug conviction which hinders employment and eligibility for financial aid at the college level. [12][13][14]Mayor Wells says substance abuse fuels homelessness, but, he fails to look beyond the crack pipe or the needle and see the wider mechanisms of our society that reinforces drug abuse and homelessness.

Now, let's examine his trusty acolytes. Councilmember McClellan wants to rely on police enforcement to end homelessness, which that harsh message was softened by former Councilmember Star Bales with a half-assed "C'mon guys, trust us. We'll take care of them" (please note: this is a paraphrase.) [15] If Alfred Olango were still alive he would probably contest those points. Finally, Councilmember Goble asserts that EBT services are readily available to those who are homeless. So, essentially, Goble places the blame on the person who is forced to live on the street as they are the ones not taking advantage of the resources available. [16]

What the Councilmembers fail to consider is that the criminal justice system further places people in debt and retaliates harshly when that debt cannot be collected upon. [17] Consider the draconian enforcement of the encroachment charge given to the homeless when their possession -- their livelihood -- overflow on the sidewalk and inconvenience the privileged. The $25 fine will unlikely be paid thus that debt will be placed in collections, affecting one's credit -- which determines eligibility for renting apartments. [18]

The encroachment charge aside, El Cajon's law enforcement dependency only hurts the homeless person as charges and fines will pile on. All of which they will not be able to pay for. Since a homeless person would not have a viable income to pay for any fines, in the state of California, they would be charged an extra $300 for the inability to pay any fine (encroachment included). Furthermore, the state of California will suspend a person's driver's license to punish those who are unable to pay any debts accrued while in the criminal justice system. [19] It also turns out, eligibility for EBT is contingent on having a driver's license. [20]

So, Mayor Wells, if this is simply a substance abuse issue, why haven't you advocated for the legalization of drugs or for law enforcement to stop arresting people on drug-related charges? Why haven't you called for the $100 million in the city's reserve to be spent for drug rehabilitation?
So, El Cajon city council, how will these people be able to pay for any food if they are indebted to a criminal justice system that serves neither justice or rehabilitation? [21] How will they be able to receive EBT benefits when they cannot produce a driver's license?

Wells and the City Council demonstrate a short-sightedness of the larger issues that impact the livelihood of our most disenfranchised neighbors, which is furthering their hardships through City Ordinance 5066. Now, Hanlon's Razor states, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." El Cajon leadership made history through their ordinance in that both can be attributed to its creators.

Now, let's ask a more radical question: why not just serve people without condition? Why not provide services whether or not they are worthy -- i.e. not considering if they take advantage of EBT services or have substance dependencies.

This is what the people from the Breaking Bread Project and Foods Not Bombs seek to do. They seek to actually serve people instead of sitting on their hands until a Hepatitis A outbreak occurs and later hiding behind the law to feign moral superiority. Even then, they could not effectively hide behind their own city ordinance as one could pretend to host a birthday party or a baptism to legally distribute food. [22] Nonetheless, this unjust law needs to be resisted.

It shows the true colors of the City of El Cajon when they sick the Police Department upon the people feeding the homeless. Sure, Mayor Wells and the rest of the city council cite it's a safety concern, which has its legitimacy. However, let it be known, the City of El Cajon chose the oppressive functioning of the police over providing the means to make the food distribution safe. I think restoring the surrounding bathrooms at Wells Park, which have been out of commission for months, would be a good start. [23] Mayor Wells and his ilk chose the badge and the gun over hand sanitizing stations.

The citizens of San Diego, El Cajon, and the rest of the county would be safer if we had leadership that actually gave a damn. [24] We would be safer if Mayor Faulconer, Mayor Wells, and the rest of El Cajon City Council resigned. We would be safer -- homeless and non-homeless -- if we were allowed to actually care for our neighbor without the threat of law enforcement.

Please, sign the petition.

Please, donate anything you can.

Please, help break this asinine ban.