Do we beware the ides, and others, too much?

by John Pixley

Two weeks ago, it was warm enough on Friday afternoon for me to take off my shirt and just wear my overalls. What’s more, I could sit and read out in my backyard.

Not bad for March 1. And it was yet another reason, or perhaps the reason, we love it here in southern California. We have all heard the stories about people calling their relatives or friends in the frigid Midwest and gloating or of people getting up on snow-bound New Year’s Days and turning on the television to watch the Rose Parade in impossibly sunny, balmy Pasadena (and how many then move here?).

But it was still winter. Even as I enjoyed getting an early start on my tan, I knew that winter wasn’t over and that it would be cold and wet in a few days. Sure enough, a couple storms came through last week.

That, as I learned when reading an article in the Los Angeles Times late last month, didn’t stop Los Angeles from closing its Westside winter shelter for the homeless on March 1 “for the season.” Never mind that the next week was forecast to be wet and cold. Never mind that, even now, “the season” isn’t over for another week. And never mind that, even in sunny, funny SoCal, the first month or so of spring can bring rain and chilly weather (after all, “April showers bring May flowers”).

And what about the summer heat and smog? Never mind giving the homeless shelter from that.

The article I was reading was about a storage trailer made available in a pilot program in Venice Beach where the homeless could keep their stuff not allowed at the overnight shelter. The unit was accessible for two hours each afternoon and was, like the shelter, slated to close down on March 1.

“We’re going to bag and tag [their items],” said Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice. “We want to make it inconvenient but within the law.”

How convenient—or inconvenient—will Claremont make it for the homeless on its streets? Will we put up with them until a certain random date, no matter how cold or how wet or how hot it is, and then that’s it, we kick them out…to where (they’re already on the street)?

I’ve been wondering about this as Claremont has been discovering its homeless in the last year or so. That’s right—discovering—for, after declaring that there were 3 homeless people in Claremont, the city, with the assistance of people involved in Occupy Claremont, saw that it was off by a factor of 10 and that there are thirty people at least living on Claremont’s streets.

Not only that, but the city has been discovering that it has to do something about the homeless, other than throw them out (to Pomona, to Ontario, to LA’s skid row, if we really want to answer the “to where” question). Back when the city presumably thought that there were 3 homeless people in Claremont, it passed an ordinance outlawing public camping and sleeping, essentially banning the homeless, but there was a court ruling saying that such a law is unconstitutional.

Since then, there has been another court ruling, stemming from Los Angeles, decreeing that a homeless person’s items, left unattended, cannot be discarded. Los Angeles has been wrestling with this, recently requesting an appeal, and it appears that the storage trailer in Venice was an answer.

Another answer in Los Angeles has been something called SHARE, in which a small group of homeless people live in a house, made available by its owner and with rules, where they get the services they need to regain or gain stability in their lives.

Maybe one of these houses can be in Claremont. The Claremont City Council has recently decided to make the homeless a priority, and as it ponders what to do with them (other than kick them out), is there a reason why there can’t be a house like this here?

Or will the focus be on getting the homeless out of Claremont? Will the city do everything it can to deter the homeless, certainly not to attract them, and not to reach out to those who are here and try to help them?

There are those who argue that offering services attracts the homeless. Yes, “beware the Ides” may well be good advice, but compassion and charity are also known for good results. Making the homeless more of a problem may well only make the homeless more of a problem.

Something like this happened about ten years ago when LA County came up with a proposal to have five regional service centers for the homeless rather than having so many of the homeless funnel into Skid Row in L.A. However, there was so much of a NIMBY outcry that the idea was shelved, and now Skid Row has become even more of a sinkhole, with, probably as a result, a rare strain of TB being the latest problem.

I wonder if such a service center or a S.H.A.R.E house here is even possible when there was a commentary in these pages last week stating that “many neighbors are vehemently against” hospice, assisted living and community group houses in northern Claremont. The worry is that these residential homes for the dying, the elderly and other “challenged” individuals, regulated and monitored by the state, are a threat to “our treasured neighborhoods.”

Dying people. Foster kids. People in wheelchairs. A threat? Really?

And this is the homeless we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about convicted sex offenders who have completed their prison terms and are listed in a public registry and who are trying to be constructive members of society. They are being driven out even in LA, where small “pocket parks” are being put in. Yes, it’s good that some areas are finally getting parks, even if they are only a swing set and a bench on a patch of grass. But, as was pointed out in a recent Los Angeles Times article, these new parks also have another, perhaps primary purpose: Convicted sex offenders can’t live within 2000 feet from parks, as well as schools and other such places.

Being cautious and on guard is all well and good, as the Ides of March remind us. But I wonder if the upcoming season of renewed life and hope, of newfound freedom and peace, has a message for us as we consider how to deal with the others in our midst.

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