Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Religious Signage Dudes

On Sunday, September 18th, a Memorial Wall for the "homeless" who have died on the streets of San Francisco went up for a three-day period.

The occasion was marked by a processional, a reading of the names of the 149 dead in 2004 ("so that they do not pass from our midst unnamed and unmarked"), a dance by the Omega West Dance Company, and songs composed and sung by Linda Hirschorn.

The event was sponsored by a group called "Religious Witness with Homeless People," which has been around since 1993.

To check out their website, click here.

The counting of the dead on the streets, along with giving them the dignity of being remembered by name, was stopped for a couple of years because somebody interpreted California State law in a way that this activity violated "privacy."

Through the efforts of Assemblyman Mark Leno and Supervisor Bevan Dufty, along with San Francisco's Health Department, legislation was passed that allowed for the continuance of the memorial.

I felt very ambivalent about the entire public relations event for a number of reasons, and I shared my thoughts with the guys who were taking down the "Memorial Wall" on Tuesday afternoon.

"Let me start by saying that the distribution of wealth in this world, and particularly in the United States, is grotesque and needs to be changed radically and soon," I said. "However, I also think people should have the freedom to self-destruct if they really want to. That's part of what cities are for. Plus, all the homeless shouldn't be lumped together. Some people need and want help and others don't. They're self-destructive messes who sometimes want to get out of this world while taking as many people along with them as possible."

"You don't think there should be any services for these people?" one of the workers asked me, and I replied, "there are already a ton of services out there, and millions of dollars being spent, but they're going to scum like Cecil Williams and Catholic Charities with their overpaid management and institutional 'homeless' groups that have been around forever sucking up resources that change absolutely nothing."

This got a smile from one of the workers who replied, "we call them the poverty pimps, actually."

The disassembly of the panels was being handled with extraordinary skill so I asked them, "are you part of the religious group or are you professional signage dudes?" They looked at each other for a moment before answering, "Both!" which was totally impressive.

"I'd like to see something small and practical taking place," I added, "such as opening up a few bathhouses with toilet facilities and showers around the city, particularly at Ocean Beach, which could be staffed by homeless people who actually lived in the facility and who had a stake in keeping it clean and functioning."

"Good idea," they replied before posing for a group photo. Their obvious commitment to what they were doing was frankly inspirational.


Kit Stolz said...

At a reading a couple of years ago the poet Gary Snyder made a similar point about how to help the homeless; that we might be able to do more for those who choose to live outside society by giving them decent toilet facilities, for example, than by trying to "rehabilitate" them or get them jobs or in other ways trying to make them more like us.

Our Lady of Fatima Biloxi said...

I came across your blog about new orleans hurricane and found it to be very good. I am definitely going to add you to my favorites. I have a blog that you might be interested in at new orleans hurricane it has similar content. Feel free to check it out when you get the time.