The Blesséd Misanthrope and the Damméd Poor
To: Misters Mike Kerns, Tim Smith, Paul Kelly, Mike Reilly, and Ms. Valerie Brown,
Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, Ms. Shirlee Zane (3rd District) Member-Elect Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Mr. Efren Carrillo (5th District) Member-Elect Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Russian River Redevelopment Oversight Committee
The youth, poor, and homeless of our communities; whose patience and forbearance of our collective selfishness, narrowness of mind and action, ineptitude, and social and bureaucratic sloth is a constant wonder…
To the community; an open letter.
The Blesséd Misanthrope
the Damméd Poor
the Damméd Poor
Upon the Irish lands and people our goodly Edmund Spencer wrote long ago of their plight under the yoke of the English and the travail of circumstance. He described how these poor; in their rags, emaciated, and with animalized mien would creep forth from the forests on all fours in search of food and wood fuel to stave off starvation and death. Fellow man compelled and allegorized to Human wolves. He contrasted this with the position and houses of the English overlords. He called these circumstances to the attention of Court and Parliament. His piece is known as “A Vewe of the present state of Irelande” and was written circa 1598 and published 1633. The Irish for their part called it to the attention of the English by another means: Rebellion.
Perhaps what would be appreciated now is a similar writing upon a view of the present state of matters in Sonoma County with emphasis on the River communities; or in the least an emphatic compassionate essay. An essay that will unveil the righteous and clothe the naked. I am not that writer. But I will attempt to respond and address the current responses to the Interfaith Coalition’s efforts; and the letters and statements that have dealt with the topic of homelessness and shelter.
While those opposed to a homeless evening shelter (either in Rio Nido, Guerneville, or Monte Rio-Villa Grande) are not in reality misanthropic they are for the most part definitely blesséd for they have food, shelter, warmth, paper to write, intelligence to compose and act, and the religious blessing of their pocketbooks and coins. The Poor, likewise, are not really damméd for they shall inherit the earth. However, the Poor and Homeless are rightly less interested in whether they shall inherit the earth (which when we are each and all interred therein we too can so claim to have inherited), than in a more pragmatic and day-to-day Weltsicht.
Their worldview is close at hand; white and numb hands and feet from cold, dampness from morning dew and the wet-soak from rain. Closer still is their flesh to the earth; aided by lying down to it and the meagerness of covering. And for food and nourishment if they have little, and if they should toast their meagerness with the waste upon drink, they only follow the example of their more well-to-do cousins.
The worldview of that other portion is also evident; characterized in this context by admixtures of guilt, failure of practical emplaced compassion, and a self-cultivated fear, trembling, and loathing. Their very distance and separateness from a more earthly world; the immediate, urgent, and unavoidable brings us to
Consideration of Failure and Fear
Nearly eight years ago Mr. Mike Reilly brought to us (imposed upon us) the Russian River Redevelopment Project. Among the early works of the Oversight Committee (RRROC) was the conduct of a community survey. The results showed an interest or concern for many things; among them were our youth and homelessness. Eight years later, millions of dollars later, countless meetings later all the king’s horses and all the king’s men still cannot address and emplace practical and pragmatic solutions for these elementary issues. The roadblocks are the typical; bureaucratic turf wars and labyrinthine processes and procedures; narrow business interests and manipulations of opinion by a small and conservative coterie; vain-glory and political strivings by the want-to-be’s leading to endless ‘accommodations’ and ineffective (and sometimes destructive) approaches; and a community that is sold the “fear” factor instead of the community “spirit” antidote.
The failure of the county to be actively supportive and innovative in addressing the homeless and poor issue here along the lower river has many who will jump and rally to defend past weak-kneed efforts and the battle against “insurmountable” obstacles. Hmmf! What is so “insurmountable” when emergency services has army tents, kitchens, palletized floors, sanitary facilities readily available, and public service land and facilities go empty, unused, or under utilized? The failure is one of “will.” The will to provide for the poor, the homeless, and even the ‘youth’ of our communities is at best mild lip service, good ideas that die on the vine, or coupled with inefficient, money squandering bureaucratization of process. The benefactor in the last example is a well-fed, insured, and compassionate county employee. First among all the rest; the Fifth District Supervisor. These are followed in good order by the rest and then such sorts as head the various departments, commissions, and other sinecures.
That the county’s Fifth District Supervisor (with the help of the Board) cannot see it through to facilitate the care of 2-20 people on the lower river is a measure of a larger problem. That larger problem is an unsustainable inefficiency and near lack of competence on the part of agencies and departments in general, and of directors and procedural processes in particular. What is so difficult or controversial in taking care of these 2-20 citizens for four months in the year by providing them with a mild roof, a warm meal, and a straw mattress and coverlet (if a better provision cannot be found)? The situation illustrates well the capacity of the county to accomplish the simple; or not. In fact, the county and its officialdom are often welcomed ancillary obstacles by those who cannot deal with the fear of strangers in their midst.
A person needs only to read some of the letters submitted to the Russian River Fire Protection Board of Directors to have a clear appreciation of the fear that the homeless and a shelter can engender. It is a childish fear for the most part; a fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar... a fear of the boogey-man and things that go ‘clunk’ in the night. That fear however is not to be pooh-hawed lightly. For many it is as real, unpalatable and debilitating as it gets. And in some ways it is analogous to a similar fear that infected many in connection with housing integration. How so? I can still recall the upset, controversy, and ostracism, which fell upon one landlord (Hagerstown, Maryland, ~1962) and one developer, a Mr. Day (Columbus, Georgia, ~1966), when they allowed and promoted mixed color housing. Understanding and change take time; often that time is measured not in years but in generational changes. So too is the current miss-understanding, stereo-typing, and irrationality that is so often associated with homelessness and poverty.
By example, home break-ins are more likely to come from (or result from) an individual that the homeowner knows or has somehow displayed his or her desirable things to; or by a second-hand communication of such. Drug dealers, the ostentatious, and others such are often the victims of their own activities and proclivities attributable to their own advertisement than from random acts. As for the random act, often (but not always) an act of momentary false bravado, a miss-placed act of desperation, or act of youthful rebellion; such random acts are by their nature and the culture more intractable and un-assignable. A community and neighbors who know themselves are a better assurance of security, tranquility, and peace of mind than one where individuals are envious, bigoted, or ignorant and/or callous of their neighbor’s sensitivities and anxieties.
And as for the homeless being a more significant danger for potential drunkenness or drug use that is a popular myth but a false one. More real danger derives from the working and middle-class member driving home after having a “few” (often in a powerful $20,000 truck, or a daily-washed and weekly-waxed middle-class Volvo or other such icon of “respectability” and/or prowess) than from any foot-bound imbiber. But such thoughts and reflections are of no use or value to those who have already formed their opinion; their Weltsicht. Once such views are formed there is the; can’t teach an old dog new tricks catechism; the closed and righteous mind.
At the RRFPD Board meeting of November the Board agreed to give consideration to the request of the Interfaith Coalition. An on-site visit was arranged and considerations were laid out. These considerations included the approval of the Postmaster (who leases a portion of the building from RRFPD) and the pro-active outreach of the Coalition to the Rio Nido Homeowners Association. The Postmaster was amenable; the Homeowners Association not so.
At the RRFPD Board meeting of December the pragmatic situation became exquisitely clear; the Homeowners Association came out clearly and strongly against the location and the Board was made keenly aware that the support of the Association was essential to its considered new tax measure (even if such was not said overtly it was clear, obvious, and undeniable). Such is the outcome of political realities. It did not matter (and does not matter) if the opposition was knee-jerk, irrational, selfish, uncharitable, or just plain know-nothingness. The Board had no choice but to put the consideration to rest with a denial of the request. Realpolitik!
After all “Rio Nido is struggling to keep ahead of the curve as far as blithe” is concerned, as Ms. Kristin Hawley wrote to the RRFPD Board in her letter. I am glad to hear that Rio Nido is so struggling for “blithe” means; 1. Carefree and lighthearted. 2. Lacking or showing a lack of due concern: spoke with blithe ignorance of the true situation. Of course I must believe that Ms. Hawley meant “blight” which means; 1a. Any of numerous plant diseases resulting in sudden conspicuous wilting and dying of affected parts, especially young, growing tissues. b. The condition or causative agent, such as a bacterium, fungus, or virus, that results in blight. 2. An extremely adverse environmental condition, such as air pollution. 3. Something that impairs growth, withers hopes and ambitions, or impedes progress and prosperity.
And if “blight” was intended it too is a curious and apropos use of word. For such use of the word blight evidences a selfish and irrational fear and is certainly an analogous social disease; a disease to be transmitted to the young. It can and will wither their hopes and ambitions and impede their ‘progress’ toward reasoned social compassion and the understanding that prosperity can be measured in ways other that wealth and material well-being.
There are as many saints and sinners among the homeless as there are by comparison such among the housed and courageous struggling ‘blithe’ filled. Who will blithely throw the first stone?
I do not wish to unfairly pick on Ms. Hawley or her unfortunate (accidental) choice of word (a forgivable slip, even if it is perhaps a social Freudian one). Her expressed concerns; sadly, poorly informed and exhibiting extreme biases or bigotry, are understandable and can even be sympathized with. [bigot n. One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.] Ms. Hawley is correct when she suggests opening the Guerneville Veteran’s Hall for the purpose of providing for the homeless and poor this winter. Ms. Hawley intends well but has allowed her fear to trump her natural compassion and reason. Under the right circumstances each and every one of us is susceptible to a similar or same reaction and path. Vigilance knows no rest.
Among the letters received by the RRFPD Board that of Mr. Richard Grace and Ms. Elisabeth Parker also deserves a commentary. In general the letter contains such ill-feeling, poorly considered remarks and conclusions, and negativity that one is reminded of Donald Sutherland’s character’s remark to the tank mechanic “Moriarty”… ‘…such negativity man, …you’re ruining my vibes with your negativity.’ [film: Kelly’s Hero’s]
Mr. Grace and Ms. Parker write of chronic homelessness, using the two words in a clinical and formalistic way; illustrating in the process their sagacity and thoroughness. They write that the Rio Nido Station would prove unsuitable for the purpose. They are quick to define what they mean by “unsuitable.” They spend few words on the actual physical accommodations and considerations. Their considerations of unsuitability are “crime, noise, vandalism, drugs, alcohol, violence, and litter.” Given the prevalence of these attributes of our culture, throughout the culture, irregardless of social class, I do not think the poor and the homeless are going to have any significant impact on the already existing condition.
Crime is not the homeless alternative to loss of hope or desperate circumstances. And further; homelessness is not a crime. Some do consider it a “sin.” Noise derives more from those who “have” than those who “have-naught.” It is a simple matter of economics. They do not have loud vehicles, TV’s and CD players to crank up, nor are their vocal disagreements any louder than the typical domestic type. Vandalism is not the mark of the homeless or the poor. More typically it is the work of the bored and restless; of youth and rebellion. Drugs are more prevalent in the domesticated and housed populace than in those not so. Again…economics. And what of these supposed drugs… what are they; marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin? Probabilities are that there is more use of at least the first in the honest working and middle-class residents of Rio Nido than there is among the few homeless. It is a social consideration nearly equivalent to another group’s ‘can I get you something to drink’ when having a close guest over. And as for alcohol use more is consumed and more dangerously by the median of society than a busload of homeless could even dream of. One just need look at our communities plethora of bars, eateries serving beer and wine, and the sales log of Safeway and the Liquor and ‘convenience’ stores to put the thought (picture) into perspective. As for Violence there is probably more domestic violence (reported and unreported) to justify the dissolution of the community as a whole on that account alone; the community in that instance being Rio Nido itself. Of course the same can be said of any community, and in fact of the nation, the state, the country, and nearly the whole of human-kind itself. This does not lead us into irrational fears. It also does not warrant irrational opposition to community and Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Anabaptist, Monrovian Brotherhood, or any other religious or atheistic compassionate charity and goodwill. And as for the litter it is nearly a fashion statement of the conspicuous consumer culture. The careless ‘me first’ is present in every aspect of society [from youth and candy wrappers, adolescents and adults and cigarette butts, and pure adults]. Come…! Travel the highways and decorate the shoulders with blithe abandon. The contribution of the many is of more issue than what a few poor (with means to consume and discard) contribute to the general pile.
After all the homeless and poor have a very, very, small carbon and social footprint. It comes with the territory. If one wants real heavy social impact try a Wall-St. heart attack bailout. I didn’t see too many local letters on that issue of account. The ‘talk’ was more like a gentle whisper; ‘…Oh, you don’t say! Well, got to go…shopping, get a drink; whatever! See-ya!’
But the letter of Mr. Grace and Ms. Parker is another matter entirely. Their letter must not be judged or read with a straight ruler of rationality, but with a sympathetic insight into the underlying fears and biases. They, just as Ms. Hawley, given opportunity to view the matter (at first sitting), in another light, would have (I believe) responded with paladins of Christian charity, brotherly love, community spirit and ‘pull together’. Unfortunately their first exposure to the potential of a winter night shelter wrongly elicited a negative response, because it appears that is what was offered to them to consider. In other words; the negative response was most likely not their first response, but rather one that was fed by preconceptions and too quickly inflamed emotions. And with that set of givens it proved to not be an even ‘fair’ fight. The violence, noise, litter of vile words and thoughts, the drugs of anxiety and fear, came from the affronted (Grace and Parker) not from the petitioners.
Ms. Dawnlea Bucey’s letter is a mixed bag. It mixes her reaction with a host of other problems/concerns of hers that exist for her in Rio Nido; the Rio Nido Inn and its owner, trash dumping, foreclosed homes, etc. In Ms. Bucey’s letter it does not seem to matter that neither the homeless, nor the shelter proponents, are responsible or accountable for any of those other problems/concerns. But as so often happens the forwarding of a proposal for the homeless and poor gives opportunity to showcase, vent, and otherwise illustrate frustration with a host of local shortcomings and issues. Some of those “issues” are more about miss-conceptions and miss-understandings of the ‘facts’ than formed from basis in factual realities. Of course that does not lessen the importance and insightful emotional realities of such perceptions. Every bag of concerns has more than just some possibility of merit.
With regards to the Rio Nido Inn situation such are in most cases passing events or circumstances. The loud arguers eventually move on. With trash and the usurpation of communal/community land for private uses the approach is to activate and motivate the Rio Nido Homeowners Association to conduct and facilitate regular bi-annual ‘clean-ups’. They certainly have the experience and practiced individuals to put such program together. A continuing, patient, and compassionate approach to community problems by the community itself is the only practical approach. To ask county government to take interest in the detail of such relatively local and small circumstances is to not understand county government or local politics. To ask much of them is to invite red tape, bureaucratization, and a snail’s pace of inadequate and inappropriate response. Self-reliance by the community is a better road and a more fruitful and sustainable one. I believe Ms. Bucey also appreciates this. Her letter in one vein shows her active interest and efforts. Such is a beginning and hers is noteworthy.
Mr. J. Bauer is a man I know and much respect. His reaction, in this instance, however, I see as being too quickly offered and without his normal deliberative reflection. But it can be said that sometimes it is emphatically necessary to respond and react quickly. I think, and hope, that his as well as Mr. Matt Malik and J. Mullineaux’s letter responses would have been more rounded and less stereo-typically myth based had they had the opportunity for reflection. Property values, home break-ins, and other such considerations and events are not to be laid at the feet of the homeless or the poor. That is a wrong and poorly spirited analysis. I know Mr. Bauer is a thoughtful and good spirited individual. I hope his address of a letter to the Board of Supervisors asking their immediate, pro-active, and red-tape cutting scissors help in locating a shelter in the river area will be shortly forthcoming. The potential locations are numerous; a short list would include the parking lot of the Sheriff’s Substation (tent and field kitchen type), the Veterans Hall, the grounds of the county Roads Department (Armstrong Woods Road, for either a trailer or tent and field kitchen type facility). I am assured that there are also a host of other sites. Also, I am assured there are an accompanying host of objections waiting in the wings.
I ask Mr. Bauer, Mr. Malik, and J. Mullineaux to remember that the efforts of the Interfaith Coalition (to seek the approval of RRFPD for the Rio Nido Firehouse) were an emergency outreach. The Coalition has no intention of trying to establish a yearly shelter at that site. It was a move taken out of desperation as the winter and cold set in and the other counted upon location(s) fizzled out one after the other. Also, all three should have the utmost confidence in the proven abilities, follow-through, and exemplary consideration and professionalism that is Ms. Elizabeth Middleberg, and the other members of the Coalition. I ask that all give them the ‘time of day’ to be heard without prejudice. I feel that together the communities and the coalition can get the sluggish snail of county government off its duff to facilitate a rapid resolution and accommodation. One that does not alienate a community or locale and yet compassionately addresses the need locally.
Ms. Mary Bauer Corsetti writes in her short letter that there are other larger fire houses, larger facilities available. Certainly she is right. The generosity of her observation is however lessened when she installs ‘police protection’ into her consideration. I reiterate the homeless and poor are not some evil, vile, lawless, murder and rapine group. They are, in the main, more ethical and moderate in their conduct than the society at large and certainly more so by far than the nation. Witness, please, the past twelve years of war, slaughter, mutilation, destruction, and vandalism, all for the vain-glory of miss-placed values and over-wrought fears. Perhaps this last is a far jump from the issue at hand, but a necessary search for perspective on weighting the matters before us all is due. Perspective, ladies and gentlemen brings us to,
Accommodation and Rebirth
It is the oft cited appropriateness of this time of year that is evoked when thoughts and needs go to consideration of those less well provided for than we. The charities are at the store fronts; the ‘army’ is on point and station.
Two millennium ago an anonymous man made himself immortally known and heralded by his act of accommodation. He gave what he had available, his stable, for two traveling homeless individuals; the temporarily homeless and poor working class artisan-carpenter and his wife. While some may disparage this allusion as a ‘hackneyed’ folk aphorism I still feel it has its power to evoke and poignantly illustrate. Immortality is not easily gained, and it is shown it is not a commodity purchasable in the shops or the churches.
Our culture and fall to decadence, in all aspects and all classes (working, middle, and high), was recently so immediately and graphically given us in the trampling death of the employee at the Wall-Mart store. This event gave new meaning to the bumper sticker; “Shop till you drop.” Material ‘gifts’ for oneself and others, the vain-glory search for fulfillment through materialism and consumerism, evidences the poverty and heartless homelessness of the mass, the mob. I have personally witnessed greater feeling, compassion, love, and selflessness from the poor and the homeless than I currently see exampled in my own middle-class environs. Not to say there are not individual acts of charity and fellow-ness; there are many such, but rather to say that those who give when they have but little are nobler that those who give little when they have much.
There is an honor and nobility of character and ethics among the poor and homeless that could well enhance and better the lives of many who view themselves either ‘above’ or ‘better’ than that group. And “yes” there are also examples of lowliness among the poor and low just as there are such examples among the high and rich. Aren’t each still human; even if some would confer to the poor a “second-class” possibility of life and respect.
I am not a bleeding heart liberal, an idealist of human nature, an “eutopian” , or a ‘goody two-shoes’. I am a rational, compassionate mind encased in a physical animal body of nature. I am human.
This time of year is also iconic for the birth, and in the following cultural remembrance and celebration; ‘rebirth.’ I hope that this minor drama of the Rio Nido Fire station, and the homeless, and the perspectives of the Homeowner’s Association membership, and the travail of the RRFPD Board, and the nobility of the Interfaith Coalition allows for and brings forth an unexpected but longed for fruit. That ‘fruit’ that is longed for is the rebirth of community ethos and individual selflessness. A birth of working together to accommodate need and thereby allow for rebirth. Our collective capacity, including the letter writers, has positive potential to provide leadership and example to a reluctant, staid, labyrinthine, and verily deaf county government. We have the right to expect and demand that our facilities, our contributions, our monies, be returned and efficiently, effectively, and immediately applied to our issues, our problems, and our locale.
If we are all in the same boat of life together; if it is women and children first; if it is blesséd are the poor and helpless; and if it is better to forgive than not then so be it. If it is not so then I want no part of any of it or of any.
When Tolstoy can forgo his birthright, his title, his wealth, his position, his fame, and literary immortality, and take to wearing the cloth of his peasants and live under the same hovelled roof then so in that at least there is “hope” and example. Who will provide us with “hope” and ‘example’ here? Mr. Efren Carrillo? Perhaps…! Hopefully...! If he dares. Without which all aspirations will remain sterile, and shallow political, social, and cultural realities and habits will prevail. I hope he can accommodate a change in how things are done and that he can re-birth the best in all of us.
Quynh Nhu Le
Note: Copies of the application and letters of the Interfaith Coalition to the RRFPD Board (including the letter of Jan DeWald to Ms. Patty Roland-James, Rio Nido Postmaster), and letters of respondents; Mr. Richard Grace, Ms. Elisabeth Parker, Ms. DawnLea Bucey, Mr. John Bauer, Mr. Matt Malik, J. Mullineaux, Ms. Kristin Hawley, Ms. Sandra & Mr. Robert O’Balle, Mrs. Mary Bauer Corsetti, “STROSE66”, Ms. Susan Lowe, Mr. Steve LaRose, and Ms. Linda Hyndman may be viewed at the Russian River Fire Protection District Offices on Armstrong Woods Road. For additional assistance interested parties are also referred to Ms. Debbie Miller, Board Clerk of RRFPD, and to Ms. Jan DeWald of Russian River Interfaith Coalition, 15013 Leasowe Lane, Guerneville, Ca. 707-604-7328, as well as Ms. Elizabeth Middleberg.
Complimentary Copy Addressees:
Mr. George Klineman, News Editor, Russian River Monthly
Ms. Johanna Lynch, Publisher, Russian River Times
Ms. Vesta Copestakes, Publisher, West County Gazette
Mr. Bleys W. Rose, The Press Democrat
Ms. Brenda Adelman Mr. and Mrs. Trini Amador
Mr. Peter Andrews, KGGV-FM Guerneville Ms. Doreen Atkinson
Ms. Amanda Atkinson Mr. John Bauer
J. Beach Mr. Edward Berger
Mr. Chuck Berger Community Micro Bulletin Board
Mr. Jon Box Ms. Kyla Brooke
Mr. Michael Brown, Community Development Commission Mr. Efren Carrillo
Mr. John Chapman Bernard and Cheryl
Ms. Marlene Collins Ms. Carol Cowley
Ms. Lynn Crescione Mr. Tom Cruckshank
Ms. Barbara DeCarly Mr. Daniel Demers
Ms. Maren Derum J. Dillman
Mr. Rene Di Monche RRROC Document Archives
Mr. Dan Fein Ms. Rue Furch
Mr. Gary Getchell Mr. David Grabill
Mr. Sean Grinnell, RRFPD Chief G. Hamilton
Mr. Herman Hernandez Ms. Maddy Hirshfield
Mr. Rich and Ms. Wanda Holmer Ms. Linda Homen
Mr. Dan Kahane Mr. Vatru Kahn
Ms. Kathleen Kane, Executive Director CDC
Mr. Vu Le Mr. Tom Lynch
Mr. Bruce St. John Maher Mr. Jim Maresca
Ms. Kim Menary Ms. Susi Menary
Ms. Song Nguyen Mr. Dennis O’Rorke
Mr. Cary Ostrofe Ms. Susi Schaffert
Ms. Linda Schmidt Mr. James Severdia
Mr. Guy Smith Mr. Preston Smith
Mr. Boris Sztorch, Redevelopment Project Manager Mr. John Uniack
Mr. Ken White Mr. Ken Wikle
Mr. Randal Saxe Mr. John Molnar
Mr. Marcus Gracia Mr. Donald Wade
Mr. Gaylord Schaap Mr. Norman E. Wilcox
Mr. Richard Grace & Ms.Elisabeth Parker Ms. Dawnlea Bucey
Mr. Matt Malik & J. Mullineaux Ms. Kristin Hawley
Mrs Sandra and Mr. Robert O’Balle Mr. Don Corsetti
“STROSE66” Ms. Susan Lowe
Mr. Steve LaRosa Ms. Linda Hyndman