May 11, 2008

actual quotes

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 12:47 pm

Today's entry in the continuing adventures of the Great Nashville Homeless Hysterical Episode. All quotes are real. The names have been withheld to be nice:

Homeless man robs Dunn brothers at Knifepoint
...
According to what the owner told me, a black homeless man threatened his life in attempt to rob him. I walked in around 11:30 a.m. on Saturday morning and police had already handcuffed the man and put him in a police car. William met me there for coffee a few minutes later.

Just another reason not to live downtown for most Nashvillian's and why Tony will never build his condo tower for the mega rich. A guy cannot even get a coffee anymore without a homeless thug committing a crime. I would love to read if the homeless guy defends the homeless on this one.

Not sure how he knew the guy was homeless. Maybe he was branded with a scarlet "H".

Context to the next few. A couple that lives downtown was mugged last week. I have no doubt that this is a very scary thing to have happen to you, without a doubt, and I have nothing but sympathy. But .. anyways. Quotes:

I'm so sorry for what just happened to you, I hope you are ok. THESE GUYS WILL SOME DAY PAY FOR WHAT THEY DID!

This quote isn't that bad or anything, I just thought it was funny. Okay, batman. Anyways, the real beaut:

There's something else you could bring up if you have time, and if you agree with me. I think we ought to request that Public Works relocate some of the benches on Church Street to other parts of the downtown area...even as far as James Robertson. We've had the benches a few years now and all they do is encourage loitering and panhandling on Church Street. It looks bad for our city.

DOWN WITH BENCHES!! This will fix our panhandling problem for sure. Sigh.

February 26, 2008

public safety forum

Public Safety ForumJust got back from an exhausting but enjoyable evening.. I went to the public safety forum at the library after work. Let me start by first saying that I've dumped a lot of vitriole about the attitudes about the homeless in Nashville that I've perceived -- it's something that I'm passionate about, and I am disgusted by a lot of what I see.

But I've lately tried to soften the rhetoric and be more engaging.. After all, these people are my neighbors (and you catch more bees with honey than vinegar, right?). Last week over at nashvillecharrette.com I discussed the Scene's recent article Outlawing the Poor by Jeff Woods (who I have a feeling got some info/inspiration from recent blog posts I've made, but maybe that's my egocentric imagination). As I wrote over there:

I like Skip and Ben and I don't think they're bad people. But I do agree with Woods' editorial eye-rolling at the claims by both of them that they are pioneers because they're living downtown. I mean, come on. If you wanna be a pioneer, move to lower antioch. That'd be impressive.

But, despite the fact that his article paints all of us with the same brush, I don't disagree that the attitude he describes is pervasive. Yes, it's anecdotal, but I've spent a lot of time at URA meetings, downtown partnership events. I've heard people scoffing at the idea that homeless people could be "allowed" to vote, propositions of "rounding them up" and shipping them to Memphis heard with a straight face, claims that "homeless people don't have rights, homeowners do, and it's time we start acting on them" (actual quote from a URA member), people from metro blaming the swallow/pigeon problem on homeless people (?!).. The list goes on. I've got lacerations from biting my tongue at these meetings. Before anything gets better, this attitude has to change.

So after this discussion, I have to say that this public forum was (mostly) encouraging. The forum was ostensibly to discuss "public safety", but of course the only thing discussed (with a few exceptions) was homelessness, panhandling and affordable housing. A few people stood up to discuss other issues of public safety (which is also good), but were quickly drowned out. I don't think people grasp how large this conversation/debate has grown, or how pervasive it is. So, it was still a lot of talk (and Nashville is really good about talking about solutions for our homeless problem), but it was at least an open dialogue. The few pictures I took do represent what happened all night -- lots of different people getting a chance to speak their mind. And it's hard to go wrong there.

Public Safety ForumThere were some definitely cringe-worthy moments.. a crazy guy heckling and yelling (apparently Charlie Strobel and the CHD could have "cured homelessness" years ago, but they like getting paid. yeah. what?). Then there was the jack-ass of the night who gave a long speech about how homeless people were all just looking for a handout. He even recommended that the homeless people all pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I'm not making this up. I didn't think people actually said that anymore. There should be some sort of Godwin's Law for that expression, or maybe it could at least be one phrase in a form of Republican Lingo Bingo or something. Fortunately this woman got up later and very politely and quickly rattled off some statistics about the percentage of working homeless, living wage gaps, etc. and recommended he hop on the Internet to read a little more. Nicely done. And, you know, I call him a jack-ass, but I found my reaction to his little rant to be surprisingly sad rather than angry. It's sad and frustrating to see people that can still think this way. Hopefully he's a minority.

And lastly, a guy in an NHPP t-shirt stood up and said he thought it was a sham that we were using codewords like "quality of life" and "public safety" to discuss what's really a full-frontal class war. Cringe-worthy, yes, but, you know -- he's right. Sorta. But, his comment didn't really add anything to the forum except to add to the already tense feeling of divisiveness, and worse, it sorta misses the larger fact that class wars are fought along lines of structural institutions, bureaucracy, and years of culture and prejudice. And they aren't won by demonizing individuals.

Anyways, I digress. So, there were comical or tense moments, but by and large everyone was civil. And I was actually impressed by the bulk of the comments being well-reasoned and sympathetic to the homeless in Nashville. I was also surprised by how quiet the URA and downtown partnership contingent were throughout -- I don't know if that's because they didn't have anything to say or because they were listening or swayed, so maybe that's a good thing. Overall I thought it was a positive experience. I don't know what this task force is expected to do that the homelessness commission couldn't be doing or why, but here's hoping.

January 15, 2008

pantswetting

Filed under:, , , — cwage @ 10:07 am

So, the final vote on the "aggressive panhandling" bill is tonight. (Some background, including my stance on the whole thing can be found here). I just got e-mail from Skip Courtney, president of the URA, sent to the Metro council.

I know each of you already is aware of this, but hopefully my reminder will serve to attach a special beacon to this critical bill. As President of the Urban Residents Association, I represent a special group of pioneers who have taken a considerable risk to repopulate the downtown core of Nashville.

...

As pioneers, we understand that there will be challenges to overcome.

...

We also represent a new class of citizens who spend time in the downtown core.

Ow. I think I just sprained my eyeballs from excessive eyerolling. It goes on like that. "Special group of pioneers"?? Give me a break. He's right at least that they represent a class of citizens, but it's not a new one. Here we have a group of upper-middle class people repopulating a formerly destitute urban area, panicking at the mere sight of actual homeless people, and resorting to government authority to ban public behaviour, and still managing to be a martyr about it. Only in America. Sometimes I think the members of the URA need a field trip over to east Nashville or Hope Gardens. A friend of mine was woken up last night by some dude screaming and bleeding all over the sidewalk.

There are organizations and individuals who would have you believe that this is an unfair bill that targets the homeless, but that is simply not true. For those who truly need help in this city and seek it, it is readily available.

This is perhaps the more infuriating part of the whole situation. The blase disregard for the reality that help is not readily available is frustrating. I would encourage Skip and others living downtown to investigate a little further the resources that are "readily available" to the homeless in Nashville, rather than relying on the skimpy claims of the downtown partnership's glossy slicks.

I swear, after we fix the downtown panhandling "problem", we're gonna need an enormous civic undertaking to clean up after all the massive pantswetting flooding the area.

November 17, 2007

anti-panhandling ordinance

Filed under:, , , , , — cwage @ 12:37 pm

So, there's an anti-panhandling ordinance going before the metro council this next week. I'd encourage you to call your councilperson to let them know you disapprove. Why? Here's what the ordinance legislates:

A. It prohibits any VERBAL REQUEST for a donation within proximity to

1. Any bus stop;
2. Any sidewalk café;
3. Any area within twenty-five (25) feet (in any direction) of an automatic teller machine or entrance to a bank;
4. Any public or private school;
5. Within ten (10) feet of a point of entry to or exit from any building open to the public, including commercial establishments; or
6. On any private property where "No Solicitation" signs are posted.

B. It prohibits any form of panhandling in any place before dawn and after dusk.

C. It prohibits aggressive panhandling as defined in ordinance.

What are the problems with this? Well, first of all, a lot of what it legislates against are all already illegal. What is "aggressive panhandling"? According to the ordinance:

To approach or speak to a person in such a manner as would cause a reasonable person to believe that the person is being threatened with:
1. Imminent bodily injury; or
2. The commission of a criminal act upon the person or another person, or upon property in the person's immediate possession;
b. To persist in panhandling after the person solicited has given a negative response;
c. To block, either individually or as part of a group of persons, the passage of a solicited person;
d. To touch a solicited person without the person's consent;

Many of these are illegal already. This is a pervasive thread with the whole issue of "safety" regarding panhandling. When was the last time you were assaulted by someone panhandling? And if you were, how would that not already be illegal and something that would merit immediate police response? Answer: it wouldn't. This legislation has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with discrimination.

Then there's the fact that a lot of this ordinance may not pass constitutional muster. See Smith v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 177 F.3d 954, 956 (11th Cir. 1999); Loper v. New York City Police Dept., 999 F.2d 699, 704 (2d Cir. 1993); Gresham v. City of Indianapolis, 225 F.3d 899, 904 (7th Cir. 2000), Int'l Soc'y for Krishna Consciousness v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672, 678 (1992), etc. Speech on public sidewalks is one of the highest forms of protected speech.

I am going to ask some hard questions, now. Does this legislation help anything? I hear a lot of crowing about people feeling "threatened" by "aggressive panhandlers". Does this legislation make affronts to your safety "more illegal"? What's the value in that? Is this legislation going to magically make a police officer closer to help out if you are being assaulted? No. This anti-panhandling ordinance is a seriously misguided attempt to legislate away a problem that can't be fixed that way. And it does so by threatening to infringe on the liberties of everyone in the process.

July 10, 2007

pandemic

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 9:53 am

I flip out about the downtown partnership forum on pan-handling I went to last night, and then calm down a bit.

I am beginning to think it's true what the rest of the world says about Americans. We've become a nation of inveterate cry-babies. The quickness with which people seem to be leaping to legislate away behaviour that offends or scares them is truly frightening. I may have more to say about this when I have more free time.

...

(Get it? PANdemic?)

June 28, 2007

operation ignore

Filed under:, , — cwage @ 10:26 am

I've talked about panhandling a bit recently over at metblogs, and the topic has come up again here, where the sum of the reaction in the comments amounts to "geez, just ignore them, like we do in NYC, aren't we cool and hip because we ignore people.". Anyways, I posted my thoughts there, but it did remind me of a funny story I meant to blog earlier.

Ignoring someone you think is a panhandler or making assumptions about what they want can be dangerous. I once saw a woman walking down 2nd ave. drop a dayplanner or something. This guy behind her, looking pretty rough -- probably homeless, but who knows -- picked it up and called after her, "hey lady --" and without turning around she just called back "I don't have anything for you, sorry". His face wrenched up in a scowl as he muttered "I wasn't askin for nothin" to himself and tossed her planner in the trash.

So, be careful what you assume. You can be a cool, hip, cynical city-dweller and internalize a crippling fear of the people all around you, or you can, you know, be a human being. It might work out to your benefit, too.