Darth Bieter Strikes Back Against the Homeless Menace

For the most part, I like Dave Bieter, Boise’s Mayor. He’s got good workable ideas and the savvy to get them done in a toxic political environment where the dialog is dominated by curmudgeonry.

But his new Have a Heart Give Smart, program makes my blood boil.

It’s a publicity campaign to discourage people from giving to panhandlers and to instead give to programs like the Boise Rescue Mission. The stated goals are to “publicize” shelter programs, despite them already being well-known to both the homeless and their patrons.

In just a few short weeks it’s already bought Mayor Bieter plenty of good will for combating the homeless menace. And as an anti-panhandling measure, it appears to be working. The number of panhandlers at popular locales has dropped dramatically pushing them out of sight and out of mind.

But that doesn’t mean it’s remotely effective at diverting funds. It’s not like there are shelter volunteers standing at freeway off-ramps collecting donations. If people decide not to give—which they can do just fine without this campaign—then no money is given to aid the homeless.

All this campaign really does is further whip up anti-homeless sentiment and pander to the hate-mongers who believe that beneath the facade of their dirty parkas and dumpstered shoes, the homeless are clad in silk and diamonds, and that the hundreds of dollars they take in hourly are directed immediately to satisfying their drug habits.

It’s true that many homeless people have substance abuse problems. But even more of them have mental health issues, issues they need help with. Furthermore, to ignore the waves of new homeless created by the economic crash of 2008 is an act of pure solipsism. The stereotypes perpetrated are rooted more in conservative’s jingoistic hatred and fear of weakness than they are in fact.

But that isn’t the issue at play. In a capitalist society, people are only as free as the amount of money they have. Forcing the homeless to rely entirely on shelters for resources they need to survive is further disenfranchising them by denying them any opportunity at freedom or self-sufficiency. Sad as it is, that money has more to do with making them feel human than it does with their ability to get a hot meal.

This program legitimizes the hatred people feel for them by saying they are in fact a nuisance that civilized people shouldn’t have to see. The homeless are already  on the lowest strata of society and all this program does is tell everyone it’s okay to kick them one more time. It isn’t.

But the part that really pisses me off, is how incredibly savvy the program is politically. It allows the Mayor to point to his campaign against panhandling to appease cranky white people, which allows him to continue funding shelters and aid programs, but the program doesn’t cost very much: about $12,000/year.

Perhaps I’m still laboring under the naivety of my ideals, but playing both sides of the fence like that to sneak through the right thing to do is dirty pool and I want more from the people I respect.

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