Community Voices

AT HOME WITH THE HOMELESS: Homelessness Part 2…sort of: The Final Solution?

homeless“Concentration moon, Over the camp in the valley, Concentration moon, Wish I was back in the alley with all of my friends, Still running free….” –Frank Zappa

I wish I could quote the whole song, but you’ll just have to go to YouTube and check out Absolutely Free by The Mothers of Invention, which would be guaranteed time well spent. I’ll give you a start:

The idea of camps for the homeless instantly brings associations with Andersonville, the notorious Confederate POW camp where nearly 13,000 people died; the Japanese-American internment camps that were built throughout the West Coast during WW II; and, of course, most infamously, the Nazi death camps where 6 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other non-Aryans were killed outright, worked to death or used as guinea pigs for hideous eugenic experiments. Allegedly, Hitler and his minions were inspired by our own solutions to confining prisoners and “suspect persons.” Words cannot fully describe such horrors. But Sgt. Major Robert Kellogg of the Union Army had this to say when he and his fellow prisoners entered the Andersonville Prison:

“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. “Can this be Hell?” “God protect us!” and all thought that he alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place.

In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings was more than we cared to think of just then.” So when Donald Trump proposes building camps for homeless people, those who have not forgotten their history can only react with horror and skepticism. Here’s his unedited words: “Ban urban camping wherever possible. Violators of these bans will be arrested. But they will be given the option to accept treatment and services if they are willing to be rehabilitated. Many of them don’t want that. We’ll give them the option. We’ll then open up large parcels of inexpensive land, bring in doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, and drug rehab specialists, and create tent cities where the homeless can be relocated and their problems identified. We’ll open up our cities again. Make them liveable, and make them beautiful.” Sure. And I know where there’s cheap land in Florida. And I also hear there’s a bridge in New York City for sale. Does anyone who freshly fallen off the turnip truck believe this BS? If so, God, I pity you.

Now–as much as it makes me want to regurgitate on this keyboard–I have to admit that some of what Orange Julius says is right. We do need more psychiatrists, doctors, social workers, and drug rehab specialists to help homeless people rise out of poverty, mental disorders, and drug addictions. As much as is being done on these fronts, much more needs to be done. And affordable housing–one of the banes of the Republicans–also needs to be a reality. For everyone, regardless of income or status. Rent gouging needs to be a thing of the past. But Fibbernacci isn’t the one who is going to do it. Oh, he’ll make promises up the yin-yang. That’s part of his brand. And what he is saying sounds good. But nothing about his past actions suggests that he gives a damn about anyone other than himself.

During the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996, homeless people were gathered up and put in hastily-constructed tent cities outside the city limits so that visitors to our country would somehow maybe think we had solved the homeless problem. And as I write this, in Los Angeles, tent cities are being knocked down in an effort to eradicate urban blight. The new mayor of LA, Karen Bass, has said the people in those encampments will be housed, fed and otherwise cared for. I want to believe her.

As has been written elsewhere ad nauseam, the causes of homelessness and the solutions are complicated, messy, and expensive. But we are faced with this decision: Do we open our hearts and checkbooks to help the less fortunate? Or do we push them aside, sweep them under the rug, and try our damndest to make them go away? History awaits our answer. Let’s make damn sure it isn’t “Arbeit macht frei.”

Better days are coming… if we work for them.


5 replies »

  1. To both Brady Rhodes and Dennis Zdenek Kris – Wow – what a terrific conversation. Wish you would write an article on solutions for the print issue of the paper. Along with Curtis Gamble’s ongoing question to city council about how the millions in state, county, federal funds are being spent – I have also wondered why – with the millions spent – we still see there are people on the street. Where in Fullerton shall we locate the camp?

  2. You’re in your predicament for a reason – which is you. You’re going back to jail Mr. Williams.

  3. I agree RE the “Final Solution” comparison. Not productive. And thank you, Mr. Kriz, for expounding on a possible remedy. My questions: 1) Would the camps offer wraparound services?; 2) Would some of the services — help with addiction and mental health issues — be mandatory?; 3) What percentage of homeless people do you think would accept such services? What percent would use the camps only for food and shelter? Unless we treat the addiction and mental health issues, we will not make a dent in this problem, in my opinion. And nobody seems to have answers RE logistics, mechanics, costs (and increased taxes).

    • Brady,

      We can do this:

      (1) We do what the U.N. does
      (a) build _rapidly_ a system that puts a roof over the heads of the number of people necessary, with the “services” needed. You don’t build a system that can only put a roof over the heads of 10% of the people necessary or 20% of the people necessary by 100% of the people necessary or even 110-120% of the people necessary. This is what is done in response to ANY NATURAL OR HUMAN DISASTER. Could you imagine if FEMA’s to an earthquake here in OC would be to provide only 10% of the beds, 20% of the medical facilities necessary for the problem at hand.

      (b) build these facilities with the involvement of human rights / civil rights organizations (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU) _from the beginning_. Have these organizations have a presence at every facility built from the beginning.

      If we do this, people will _not_ avoid going to these facilities. People won’t go to a facility that they are scared of. But if you have a _legitimate facility_ OPENLY / OVERTLY monitored by _credible_ human / civil rights organizations that have broad legitimacy then people will feel far better about taking the risk to enter.

      And (2) even if they do try to do avoid such facilities initially, then we can use soft-er power to get them there. We _can_ then bring out the cops and have them say:

      “Joe / Molly, you can’t sleep here in this park, behind this dumpster. But we have a nice place for you, that _isn’t_ Buchenwald, that is _kept to standard_ by the ACLU.

      And if you don’t go, then, well, we’ll either jail you for a couple of days to help you to think about it, or we’ll send you over the hills out of the County and wish you well as you look for a better option elsewhere.”

      We can use this kind of pursuasion _if we are kind_, _if we have a legitimate place for them_.

      If we don’t AND WE DON’T — I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been told that ALL THE SHELTER BEDS AVAILABLE ARE FULL in this County (and particularly those designated for women) — then we make our own problems.


      If we _choose_ to do this cheaply (insist on approaching a $100 problem with $5), if we _choose_ to dehumanize these people, look for excuses to do so … we create our own problems.

      This is a solvable problem.

  4. To be honest, I’d question the title of the story. Reference to planned intentional murder of 6 million of people of a particular ethnicity / religious affiliation, limits the ability of anyone to say anything afterwards.

    And with regard to homelessness, there may in fact be need to open options up.

    Let me begin by saying that there are camps and there are camps.

    No one should morally advocate for a “Buchenwald” style approach to homelessness, though honestly the way the Fullerton Armory was run prior to its thanks be to God closing approached it.

    What do I mean:

    (1) Mats on the floor, for up to two hundred people, everyone with 5 neighbors sleeping in close proximity (18″) of each other,

    (2) NO MEDICAL TRIAGE, so people were expected to accept sleeping next to others who were clearly sick.

    (3) Everyone was woken up at 5:30 AM and expelled from the facility by 6:00 AM, in December-January INTO DARKNESS before _anything_ was else was open. (This was supposed to be a “cold weather shelter” and yet it expelled people into darkness / nothingness at the coldest time of the 24 hourday…)

    It should be no surprise that that facility was running at 1/3 capacity and that it was derisively known across the homeless community as “a petri dish.”

    Okay, that all said, does a camp (or shelter) have to be that way?? NO.

    Consider simply that the U.N. has run refugee camps across the world from its inception in 1945 without much problem at all, and the International Red Cross has done so for even a longer period of time.

    Both my parents and pretty much ALL OF MY RELATIVES who came to the United States spent at least a few months (my mother and her parents spent 18 months) in U.N. run refugee camps.

    Most of the Vietnamese community in O.C. entered into the United States after spending several months or even a few years in a U.N. run refugee camp as well.

    More recently, Poland and much of central and western Europe was able to absorb 2-3-4 million refugees from Ukraine without great difficulty.

    And prior to that Germany absorbed over 1 million Syrian refugees, people like the Ukainians fleeing a war zone, and unlike the Ukrainians of an ethnicity and largely of a religion that most Germans (and Westerners in general) did not understand and even largely feared.

    So why has the U.N. / I.R.C. been successful in caring for MILLIONS of refugees over the entire span of their existances and why have the Germans in particular been able to absorb, treat with humanity millions of people who probably would not have been their first choice in neighbors?

    I can come up with two reasons:

    (1) Attitude. Both the UN / IRC and then Europe in general with regard to the Ukrainian refugees and then Germany (honestly gold star to them) with regard to the Syrian refugees, were able to treat the people coming to them in need _as human beings_, not as problems or even deserving contempt.

    (2) Then more practically, the U.N. / I.R.C., have embraced human rights organizations bringing them in right from the beginning, planning with them, responding and quickly to any concerns. As a result, refugees see refugee camps as places for help and _not_ places to fear / avoid.

    Imagine if the O.C. were to _invite_ the A.C.L.U. / Amnesty International / Human Rights Watch to build with them a number of yes, temporary facilities that would be humane, open, and truly places where people who have no place to stay could find the services that they need to get their lives back in order?

    Imagine if O.C. were to invite the German and Polish Consul Generals to sit down with them and ask: How did you do it? How is it that the presence of MILLIONS of refugees have not become a problem for you? What would you SUGGEST TO US as a steps we could take to solve our homelessness problem here in O.C.?

    We could become a beacon for a solution rather than a County, notoriously wealthy and yet with an endemic problem with extremely poor people living on our streets.