When Democrat Politicians Attack Homeless People

by William Skink

I have no doubt that the social safety net will suffer under the Trump regime. One difference hopefully will be a more strident opposition to those efforts since Trump is a Republican, which means Democrats will suddenly remember paying lip service to protecting the social safety net is actually palatable when it entails fighting a Republican president.

Well, being the contrarian blogger that I am (thanks for the mention, Dave) I feel obliged to remind readers that attacking impoverished Americans is not some proprietary modus operendi of the Republican mindset. Democrat politicians can be just as callous in their efforts to disappear people, especially when urban gentrification is at stake.

The latest example of this phenomenon is brought to us by Democrat Mayor of St. Louis, Francis Slay. The target is a shelter of last resort called New Life. Here is an excerpt from the article:

As rents went up, property values around New Life soared. To realize their investments, downtown landowners sought out friendly politicians.

Mayor Slay became their knight in shining armor as he intensified efforts to drive the homeless from the streets of downtown. In May 2015 the mayor’s political machine revoked the shelter’s occupancy permit. Fighting back, attorney’s for New Life were able to keep it open. Then, on November 9, 2016, the St. Louis Building Commission sent Rice a cease-and-desist order giving him 30 days to shut down.

Homeless shelters are one chapter in a long story of depriving people of a place to live. Being shoved off of land when its value goes up is a recurring theme in the history of this hemisphere. For centuries, indigenous peoples have suffered the “extraction curse” when their homes are discovered to be located atop gold, silver, tin, lead or adjacent to a potential hydroelectric dam.

This is precisely what happened to the Poverello Center in Missoula. It’s presence downtown was despised by the business community, so when the conversation on where to build the new shelter was happening, that interest group made sure rebuilding downtown wouldn’t happen.

This, of course, after trying to criminalize sitting on sidewalks to disappear the intoxicated contingent of downtown street people. That effort came courtesy of “progressive” city council member Caitlin Copple (who introduced the ordinance at a behest of our Mayor), a move that shocked and disgusted many of her supporters.

While a new shelter was ultimately built in Missoula, it’s by no means a shelter of last resort. Like other shelters in St. Louis, the Pov’s funding for specialized populations–in this case, Veterans–comes with conditions, and one of those conditions entails maintaining a clean, sober environment. People actively using drugs and alcohol are therefore relegated to the expensive bottlenecking happening at the ER and jail.

The effort to close down New Life is eerily similar to the effort to relocate the Pov. There is a demonizing campaign carried out by the media and an even more callous effort to stop donations. Here’s more from the link:

While the legal offensive has been the most visible, multiple Democratic Party politicians have joined in painting negative images of New Life. Slay has been the most successful at pulling corporate media under his umbrella. Stories of good work done by New Life have almost disappeared from TV and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as they are replaced by reports confirming what the Democratic Party mayor wants the public to believe. The newspeak includes charges that New Life …

1/ must be shut down because it does not comply with codes for building permits;
2/ is responsible for a wave of K-2 (synthetic marijuana) overdoses; and,
3/ can easily be eliminated because other shelters are able to handle all of the area homeless.

Each of these allegations is a bit problematic. As the New Life attorney notes, building codes and ordinances “are so vague and ambiguous that it is impossible to comply.” The Board of Public Services, which revoked New Life’s occupancy permit had no jurisdiction because New Life is not a hotel as it claimed. Additionally, the city told New Life that it had to obtain signatures of approval by those living nearby in order to stay open, which was highly discriminatory. When the city opened the $2.5 million Biddle House in August 2016, it met with opposition from neighbors. But it is a model program of the city and was not required to obtain signatures from neighbors as was New Life.

The charge that New Life is somehow responsible for K-2 overdoses is the most recent in a string of accusations that the shelter is responsible for drinking, fighting and public urination. Though these activities occur throughout downtown St. Louis, corporate politicians spend zero time demanding the closure of bars and sports stadiums. The idea that public urination could be greatly reduced if there were public bathrooms seems to have never occurred to them.

As the mayor’s charges against New Life became more shrill, the press sensationalized K-2 overdoses. TV and print media painted lurid pictures that “people started to drop,” they were “staggering, nearly passed out on their feet,” and some “slipped into zombie-like states of near catatonia.” Report after report gave exclusive attention to overdoses in front of New Life, as if the 67 year old Rice was the devil himself, enticing people to come to the shelter so he could drug them into oblivion.

Yep, I remember the days of demonizing the Pov for the alcohol-related behavior of the chronic homeless population that, for the most part, were banned from accessing services. That distinction didn’t stop the media, like the Missoulian, from conflating the two issues. Oddly the media never made a big deal about hypocrites like Tim France, the owner of Wordens, loudly complaining about drunk homeless people while quietly refusing to stop selling certain alcoholic products to them at the request of city leaders.

What’s happening in St. Louis is a good reminder that it doesn’t take an evil Republican boogeyman to attack homeless people and the organizations struggling to meet their needs. When it comes to sanitizing urban spaces for gentrification, Democrats can be just as effective in carrying out the wishes of developers and real estate parasites eager to cash in on displacing poor people for hip loft dwellers.

This is one of the major reasons I scoff when I hear liberal-leaning do-gooders braying about how welcoming and inclusive Missoula is. Sometimes the harsh realities of marginalized people intrude, like when the cold of winter sets in, but mostly it seems the fantasy of Missoula’s inclusiveness is well insulated from the harsh reality of what people suffering from addictions and mental illness are actually experiencing in our community.

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About William Skink

I'm a poet and political cynic living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to When Democrat Politicians Attack Homeless People

  1. JC says:

    I just finished reading Johann Hari’s “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.” It does a great job at looking at the role of the war on drugs/drug users in creating all the social chaos surrounding the issue, including a historical look at the rise of the Mafia and the federal agencies to fight it. Little known fact: Henry Anslinger, the father and architect of the war on drugs and long time leader of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics died a morphine addict, and dealt opiates to Senator Joe McCarthy while he was in Congress!

    Hari makes it clear that the war on drugs has had several (probably) unintended consequences: marginalizing (ever increasing) populations through inability to access employment/housing due to criminal records; diversion of public funds to policing, courts, and prisons to the detriment of providing needed services to help people survive long enough to get treatment and back on their feet; lost individual productivity and deaths, and loss to criminal activity; and all of this social disorder amplifies addiction/mental illness by creating the very situations that breed addiction/mental illness — adverse childhood events, stress, trauma, stigma, isolation, and dislocation.

    The book does a great job at looking at historical and current examples of decriminalization and legalization that take all of the wind out of drug cartels and the black market (the “other” drug war), and reversing the social chaos of prohibition. There are many positive examples of what we could be doing starting with Vancouver B.C.’s Downtown Eastside experiment with providing shelter to all people at risk, regardless of condition (medical condition, or drug/alcohol using) — and diverting significant public resources to homeless/addicted/mentally ill persons’ needs. Then there are the positive recent examples of Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay beginning to disassemble prohibition and replace it with a variety of other programs. And finally, Hari looks at the examples of initiatives in Colorado and Washington to legalize/decriminalize marijuana, and how they changed the drug landscape in those states.

    So, it has become clear to me that efforts to deal effectively with the problems of homelessness, addiction and mental illness must be rooted in discontinuing drug prohibition, and reallocating resources to assist people’s recovery (and saving tax dollars to boot!). The social benefits are huge, and the unintended positive side effects (like no longer having your kids’ school peers working in a black market pyramid scheme of drug dealing pushing product introductions right into their hand at school) can only benefit our families and communities.

    And I say this as a person who neither drinks, nor uses drugs…

    Like

  2. Eric says:

    You are not discussing a new phenomenon – the Dems always give lip service to helping the poor, yet they don’t want to see them on the streets when they’re driving to the Country Club.

    They really don’t want to see the deplorables in their pickups either, but that’s a different story.

    Like

  3. Big Swede says:

    Your words. “Democrat politicians can be just as callous in their efforts to disappear people, especially when urban gentrification is at stake.”

    In Chicago lots of people disappear.

    “Just under 4,230 Americans died in the Iraq War during George W. Bush’s time in office. Nearly that many–3,903–have died in Chicago alone since Barack Obama took office in 2009.
    The Atlantic reports that 4,229 Americans died in Iraq on Bush’s watch. That means over 4,200 Americans lost their lives in a country in the Middle East. But while Obama has been office, nearly 4,000 Americans have died in a city in the USA–and that city is gun-controlled Chicago.”-AWR Hawkins.

    Like

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