Sunday, April 16, 2017

South Natomas group seeks an answer

written by Tom Armstrong
posted 4/16/17
A group called “Nextdoor” made up of citizens from South Natomas has a video they posted to YouTube that shows a lot of garbage and waste and needles and human misery in the southern part of the north section of Sacramento.
The video was posted a while ago -- on April 1 -- but because of the ongoing rainy weather we’ve been having, doubtless most of what can be seen in the video is much like conditions are, today, for many homeless folk.
The video shows abandoned campsites and garbage that drifted to the side of the river.

Nextdoor has a five-point list of things it would like to see happen to protect American River Parkway, protect their neighborhoods and to make life better for the many homeless people in the area who do not now have a place in the world. It's this ...
1.       Homeless cannot be allowed to remain camping in neighborhoods, along streets, or in the River Parkway.
2.       Homeless are not going to disappear.
3.       Designated tent city location holding no more than 50 people each must be set up around the county and city.
4.       There should be no initial barriers to enter so they have a place to go instead of our neighborhoods. (Example: Drug tests should not be an initial requirement to enter.)
5.       Tent cities should be equipped with toilets, showers, security and social services for those who want them.
The list is both commonsensical and more-than-a-bit ignorant as hell. The group and charity Safe Ground came into being about eight years ago and was supposed to set up a campground – much like what Nextdoor calls for -- and the campers were going to act like adults and make everything work beautifully. The homeless people involved with Safe Ground signed these covenants – where they swore absolutely to behave properly and make things work. Safe Ground, then, immediately fell on its face, over and over and over again and again and again. The initial groups were tiny, but they made big messes; could have started a massive fire, at one point; made life miserable for a couple in a home nearby; drank and smoked and attracted the ready attention of drug dealers.
In theory, I applaud what Nextdoor is wanting the city and county to do. What Nextdoor suggests is the sensible thing to do, plotted out in a commonsensical manner. The problem, though, is that old bugaboo REALITY.
I love homeless people. I want the world for them. I want them to be happy and healthy and to have a speedy pathway to a life more ordinary. It is just that they SCREW UP the camping thing BIG TIME, over and over and over and over again. How can you keep the “SCREW UP” thing from continuing to happen? I don’t know.
The Nextdoor group suggests that campgrounds have no more than fifty people in each.
The Hindenburg disaster.
I think that -- because of the history -- a couple of dozen-person campgrounds should serve as a starting place. Yes, the need is urgent. And helping 50 is significant, whereas helping a dozen is a pittance. But this REALITY thing, the size of the Hindenburg, hovers over me and I hear the word BEWARE playing in my ear from loudspeakers. And I envision Natomas aflame.

I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Standing Out is Not an Easy Thing for Central Branch to Do

In an email sent on April 8, we're told that Sacramento Public Library is a finalist -- one of a goodly number of finalists -- for the 2017 National Medal for Museum and Library Science.

With the continual denuding of the third floor of Central branch of its once-upon-a-time satisfactory number of tables and chairs -- in an ongoing very stark effort to make known to homeless users of the branch that they are unwelcomed -- it would, for me, be an outrage if the library system were to win anything from anyone this year.

SPL doesn't have the mettle to deserve this Medal.

Sacramento Public Library is nice, but its less-than-welcoming attitude toward the homeless is a huge deal.

SPL should correct its unfriendly ways toward homeless people and inform the Museum and Library Science folks that it will strive to be worthy of being a finalist for the medal NEXT year. In 2018.

Hating a contingent of users of a library is not something that wins over hearts and minds.  And the continual unwillingness of Administrators at Central branch to do anything helpful about the third-floor problem, is a Silence that Speaks Volumes.

The branch already has a dark history of hating homeless people, based on its deeds in years past to remove benches in front of the library where people could wait for the branch to open its doors.

Some wonderful benches that were installed when the branch first opened were replaced by less friendly benches and, then, for whatever reason, those benches were replaced by two long green benches that had no back to them, which were replaced by two small green benches with no back. One of those two benches was removed. And, then, a year or so ago, there were no benches -- just as there are no benches now. [See the Sacramento Homeless blog post "Homeless Hating by Design, and the Sacramento Library Benches Rip-Out of 2010."]

An addendum: It is likely little known by today's Sacramentans that the downtown branch of the Sacramento Public Library (now known as the Central branch) was first built with funds from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. In 1914, $100,000 [then, an awesome sum] was spent to create the then-called main branch, which is now the remodeled portion of today's now-called Central branch where special events are held.

Carnegie, known as the father of modern philanthropy, made his fortune as a robber baron, using many nefarious means to amass spectacular wealth. In his old age, and after his death, he decreed that the lion's share of his fortune be spent to create buildings that aid people. Over 1600 libraries were constructed in America and yet more were built around the world. Carnegie funds were also used to construct concert halls, theaters and art centers. California has an especially high number of libraries funded by Carnegie's Foundation. The downtown Sacramento branch received special citation for the design and beauty of the building.

One thing Carnegie loved was the idea of having an abundant space for children to use such that they could come to love books and read proficiently. Carnegie would surely love the lower level at Central branch, today, and how that space is utilized.

The idea of free public libraries was dear to the heart of Andrew Carnegie and his wife Louise. Having made most of his fortune in the steel industry, Andrew Carnegie was committed to helping those who strove mightily to get by and their offspring. Constructing public libraries suited Carnegie as the best way to give struggling people a means to help themselves. A big library, that benefits from proper planning -- e.g., having enough chairs and tables for people to use, for crying out loud -- can be a beautiful thing.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award

written by Tom Armstrong
4/7/17

As people who read this blog frequently are likely to discern, I am skittish about area charities offering up honors and awards and things like Libby's Death Wall -- how ever much well-intended the prize or plaque or monument might be by the person or group that dreams up the idea of bestowing praise or remembrance.

I do recognize that often a homeless person or a charity or a publication might veer well outside its usual orbit and do something extraordinary that might seem very much to deserve a lot of attention or credit for doing something wonderful or brave.

Still. I am mostly against singling people or businesses or do-gooders out and placing them in the center of a spotlight.

The reasons for my iconoclasticism are, I think, these:
  • People should "do the right thing" without seeking praise. And, if a person truly does do what he or she feels is the right thing, then they don't want or need praise. Indeed, praise gets in the way. It's unwelcomed; a distraction.
  • Libby's Death Wall in the New Friendship Park seems to suppose that those who "died while homeless" would want to be remembered, for all time, for the period in their life when they were homeless. I think for most people, any period of their life when they were homeless was not their "best of times." Besides, the $200,000 that Libster supposedly raised for her Death Wall could have been much more constructively used to provide housing for living homeless people. Also, it is offense (I believe) for Libby to put people's names up on the wall without permission from the deceased before his/her death or, alternately, without permission after death from the closest relative.
  • Charity leaders and publications are just, merely doing their job when they write or publish something about homelessness that is extraordinary or interesting. Scribes and editors should just print what is true and should not be deflected into writing a bunch of ramped-up crap as a means of getting more attention or in seeking some sort of award.
  • There is already ample egomania in Homeless World. Awards of many sorts tend only to make life a competitive battlefield as opposed to being a platform where folks strive to do/perform/function as best they can.
While I do understand that Pulitzers and Academy Awards exist to lavishly offer praise, the prime element in why they exist is to sell books and magazines and newspapers and movie tickets.

I think that Sacramento Homeless awards and plagues and Death Walls will just, always, end up lavishing glory, solely, to the charities and their directors for the pretense of supposedly having golden hearts -- which, of course, will bring in more moolah from contributors who will think about things later and feel -- rightly? -- that they were conned.

The only thing that homeless charities should be offering is sustenance [in its various forms and guises] to a homeless person in advance of the happy day when he or she escapes homelessness to live a normal, healthy life.

* * *
Now. About The Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award.

Bob Erlenbusch, in response to my inquiry, tells me the following regarding a new, annual award that has come into being: The award, meant to be an annual award [given] on or around March 30 -- which was Russell Bartholow's birthday - [is presented] by Sacramento Regional Coalitian to End Homelessness.

At Erlenbusch's website there is this about the sponsors of the award:
It is sponsored by SRCEH. Co-sponsored by Elica Health Centers, Lutherin Social Services NO CA; Mutual Housing CA, Turning Point VOA, Wind Youth Services and Women's Empowerment.
I note that there has been another Sacramento award, called the Homeless Justice Award, that was presented by the Sacramento Housing Alliance to TLCS in 2015.

I believe I am correct in remembering that Erlenbusch was the director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance for perhaps a year before he and the Housing Alliance parted ways, perhaps two years ago.

There appears to be some confusion -- on my part, or as to precisely what the award is about, that should be straightened out.

People should know what being a recipient of the award means; how a winner is determined and what a committee or the award-giver thinks about during a process of finding a worthy award recipient from among a bevy of candidates.

In his Greelight column this week, SN&R publisher Jeff vonKaenel announces that SN&R is the recipient of the first Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award which comes with a plaque that he will hang with pride.

vonKaenel writes,
... SN&R was awarded the first-annual Russell Bartholow Homeless Justice Award, given to the media in recognition of homelessness coverage. Our associate editor, Raheem F. Hosseini, has written extensively about Sacramento’s homeless, and he edited John Flynn and Matt Kramer’s recent story about Russell Bartholow, a homeless man who, prior to his death, had racked up $100,000 in tickets related to his homelessness. ...

At the News & Review, we will hang our plaque with pride. But what we really want to see is more photos of our current mayor lifting big scissors and cutting more ribbons in front of new supportive-housing units.
It is an observation that I have made many times that the Sacramento News & Review is consistently  derelict in its homelessness stories in getting the facts right. SN&R, unlike the Bee, fails to talk to homeless people on the ground in its efforts to get information on homeless matters.

For the Sacramento News & Review to receive praise for its homelessness reporting is rather bizarre. This is a matter that I will pursue in a blogpost in the near future.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

After Libby is gone ... let homeless people, themselves, be in charge of their lives

The great philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote about Freedom and Liberty, two words he held to be much the same.

I think it is a great shame that in Homeless World, Sacramento, poor people who are barely scraping by are marginalized as much by many of the charities that claim to support them than by police and other authorities that act as their overlords.

Sacramento homeless people are (effectively) told to get it in their head that they have no rights whatsoever.

Certainly, it is true that there are people who have it in their hearts to want to help homeless people by supplying them with food and clothing and other services they need. But this "help" comes at a cost. The homeless are little in charge of their own lives. They do not have many options as they make their way around Sacramento. They are not capacitated with a generous supply of options as to what they might do each day.

Many are alive without much of a life.

Isaiah Berlin wrote about two types of freedom/liberty. One sense of Freedom is this [note that Berlin, writing a half-century ago talks of "men," which, of course, should be written as "women and men," today]:
As in the case of words which everyone is in favor of, ‘freedom’ has a very great many senses – some of the world’s worst tyrannies have been undertaken in the name of freedom. Nevertheless, I should say that the word probably has two central senses, at any rate in the West.
One is the familiar liberal sense in which freedom means that every man has a life to live and should be given the fullest opportunity of doing so, and that there are only two adequate reasons for controlling men. The first is that there are other goods besides freedom, such as, for example, security or peace or culture, or other things which human beings need, which must be given them, apart from the question of whether they want them or not. Secondly, if one man obtains too much, he will deprive other people of their freedom – freedom for the pike means death to the carp – and this is a perfectly adequate reason for curtailing freedom. Still, curtailing freedom isn’t the same as freedom.
Berlin provides a second sense of Freedom, which is this:
The second sense of the word is not so much a matter of allowing people to do what they want as the idea that I want to be governed by myself and not pushed around by other people; and this idea leads one to the supposition that to be free means to be self-governing. To be self-governing means that the source of authority must lie in me – or in us, if we’re talking about a community. And if the source of freedom lies in me, then it’s comparatively unimportant how much control there is, provided the control is exercised by myself, or my representatives, or my nation, my people, my tribe, my Church, and so forth. Provided that I am governed by people who are sympathetic to me, or understand my interests, I don’t mind how much of my life is pried into, or whether there is a private province which is divided from the public province; and in some modern States – for example the Soviet Union and other States with totalitarian governments – this second view seems to be taken.
The many, many problems with homeless life in Sacramento have to do with the failures of the overlords of many types who choose to impose structure on homeless people's lives that they are disallowed to choose for themselves as FREE CITIZENS -- which is what they are as a birthright in America.

Now, make no mistake. I am not saying that a homeless person going into a McDonald's suddenly has the right to eat a Artisan Chicken sandwich that is on the menu if he doesn't have the scratch to pay for the meal.

But I AM SAYING that the great multitude of homeless charities in Sacramento city and county don't give a minute's thought to the idea of WHAT HOMELESS PEOPLE WANT FOR THEMSELVES.

Homeless citizens in Sacramento need to be on every Board of Directors of every so-called homeless-services charity.

There are many very smart people who live on the streets. These very smart people know what being homeless is like that homeless-charity directors, in their offices with their feet on an ottoman, don't know about at all.

It seems to me that the failure of the Kevin Johnson Administration in the city of Sacramento regards the so-called "Homeless Problem," has been too much just a precursor for the Darrell Steinberg Administration.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

On the matter of Marcos Breton's weirdness

On March 5, Marcos Breton, infamously, posted a very long hateful opinion piece expressing his annoyance with homeless people -- particularly those that might choose to be in Chavez Park.

Tre Borden, a Sacramento resident who identifies himself as a "consultant, entrepreneur and art enthusiast and the principal of Tre Borden and Co." wrote the primary paper taking issue with Breton's hatefulness and madness.

A lot of what Breton wrote only SEEMS to make sense -- if that -- but is really just the usual crock of nonsense that he uses to create tension and pump up the passions of the elite among his usual dedicated readers.

So, let us dig in. Here are the first three short paragraphs at the beginning of Breton's editorial:
Good intentions can come at a cost, such as having to smell urine or see human feces on a daily basis.
Good intentions can scare away customers and damage livelihoods. They can bring vandalism and theft to businesses run by hardworking people who nevertheless feel compassion for those committing crimes against them. 

Good intentions can confirm the axiom that every action has a reaction, and the proverb that no good deed goes unpunished.
I welcome information from anybody who feels he/she can offer up a sensible explanation of what Breton means by those three short, weird paragraphs.

I would claim that good intentions generally result in good results. This is so because a part of good intentions is one of doing a good thing in a good way. A person does not have a good intention and then perform an action and intend to mess things up or disrupt the lives of those unassociated with what one wants done.

In the third paragraph, Breton tells us that "Good intentions can confirm the axiom that every action has a reaction, and the proverb that no good deed goes unpunished." Actually, in the real world, good intentions almost always have absolutely nothing to do with negative reactions or any sort of punishment. There can be consequences, good or bad, -- that are usually foreseen -- coming from good intentions, but seldom is there much else.

I would aver that what mischievous Breton is doing is endeavoring to create conflict in the minds of his cohort of elitist readers such to suggest that what looks like (and IS) well-motivated actions coming from the City, has (dark and ominous and unnamed) sinister underpinnings that only Breton -- who knows all and sees all -- can understand, but won't explain.

A third of the way down the text of Breton's editorial, he writes,
Cesar Chavez Plaza is ground zero for the societal malady Steinberg is making the cornerstone of his political life.
"Societal malady" is an interesting term that is used.

It should be noted that every society is sure to have people who have not succeeded, who struggle and are unhappy and can't find their way. There are others, of course, "at the bottom" in society who are psychopathic or otherwise malevolent, who cause a lot of tumult.

We might, of course, want everyone to have a good job, a nice place to live, fashionable clothes and the knowledge such to be able to get along with others and thrive. But in our freedom-based country where people compete for good jobs and hope for affluence and admiration from others, there will be some who lose in the battlefield of success and in the battlefield of just being liked by others.

The whole of the paragraph that begins with "Cesar Chavez Plaza ..." is this:
Cesar Chavez Plaza is ground zero for the societal malady Steinberg is making the cornerstone of this political life. Created in the classic tradition of the city plaza and bordered on one side by City Hall and the stately Citizen Hotel on the other, Cesar Chavez Plaza has become the de facto staging ground for the warming center.
Breton presumes that with the hotel (which would of course be populated by well-off folks from out-of-town) and the City Hall (which apparently Breton thinks belongs to wealthier people, too) means that the Plaza between them is, ipso facto, Elite Territory that homeless folk have invaded.

But a better analysis of the circumstance of the park/plaza begins with recognition that it is named after Cesar Chavez, a leading figure in California, who represented the rights and struggles of poor people.

In the latter part of Breton's diatribe, the columnist writes ...
Clearly, Sacramento needs more housing options for homeless people – as do most big cities in the United States. But what’s missing in Sacramento, what Steinberg and his colleagues need to understand more clearly, is that their policies are having negative consequences for people who also care about downtown and share concerns about the well-being of their fellow citizens.
Breton leaves an interesting omission in his words above. He doesn't tell us what Steinberg (and his colleagues) are doing that create any onerous negative consequences.

The circumstance for homeless people -- that Breton refuses to address -- is that a goodly number of homeless people must be somewhere. There is only so much shelter space. In the rainy season, certainly, all dorm space is occupied at night.

Homeless people do the very best they can to find some concrete next to a building or a patch of grass where they feel it is safe for them to sleep, unmolested.

The determinations that homeless people make when they have nowhere, other than outdoors, for a place to sleep seldom -- (probably, never) -- has any malevalent attributes.

Breton is uneducated on the subject of homeless people. His bosses -- if they care a wit about journalism -- should insist that Breton LEARN SOMETHING or they should take him off the "homeless beat" forevermore.

Tre Borden in his March 8 retort to Breton screed throws some good and mighty and funny punches.

Borden doesn't seem to think that Breton is quite the knuckleheaded manipulator that I see him as. [Though I'm not sure about that.]  Borden, while being clever and funny, also takes what he can extract as meaning in Breton's words, approaching them seriously.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Borden begins his "Special to the Bee" response to Breton, thus:
Breton "bravely steps out on a limb to advocate for a downtrodden and beleaguered population in our city. No, it is not those who are homeless, it is for the apparently disenfranchised and underrepresented downtown business community."

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/article136431968.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/article136431968.html#storylink=cpy
And late in his retort, Borden writes this brilliant paragragh:
[Breton's] column misses the opportunity to explore the frustrating complexity of homelessness and advocate for an approach where all citizens understand their role in remedying this problem. This involves more than opening city-owned buildings downtown. To be successful, people in every neighborhood will have to open their mind to effective solutions.
I think that Breton, long a ridiculous figure on the staff of the Bee, has outdone even himself in his latest act of columnist buffoonery. He's gotten old, just as his shtick has gotten very old. It's time for you to retire, Marcos. Give it some thought.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/article136431968.html#storylink=c

Sunday, March 5, 2017

More Homeless Hate from Marcos Breton

There was a long spell a handful of years ago when Marcos Breton said something so fully ridiculous in one of his hateful screeds against homeless folk that it appeared to be very apparent he had been taken off the Homeless Beat by his superiors. Unhappily, after a few months, Breton was again writing disparaging columns about homeless folk

In today's Bee [3/5/17], Breton has written one of his longest columns. Online, it is titled "The price downtown Sacramento is paying for Mayor Steinberg’s homeless crusade
"
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/#storylink=
It goes on for days. The message, essentially, is this: Homeless people poop; they're getting a great deal of what they want from the overmuch-helpful mayor; and business people proximate to Chavez Park are made miserable by the forever-disgusting homeless that are there in great number.

O.K. Let's get into all this a bit. Except in Breton's mind, homeless people are not an amorphous mob seeking to make other people miserable.

Homeless people go to Chavez Park for the purpose of being somewhere. Many homeless shelters put people out in the middle of the day. And since most homeless people have little in the way of money, spending time on a park bench serves as something to do. Besides, often compassionate people hand out bag lunches to homeless people in Chavez park -- as was the case today (3/5/17).

I would certainly guess that as soon as Mr. Delgado's restaurant nears completion, many moons from now, homeless folk in the park will be tossed out ... to Mr. Breton's considerable glee. The park, currently, is a mess due to slow-going construction of the restaurant. In the daytime, I don't see that homeless people being around should be any bother to anyone at the messed-up park. And if there are people sleeping outside in the park at night, and are tidy enough, I don't see why that is a bother.

Mr. Breton is spectacularly ignorant of the trials and difficulties of being homeless. Yes, things are in a state of change in Homeless World, as contrasted to my homeless period beginning in April, 2008, through ... hmmm ... I'm not exactly sure when. Four years later, I'd guess. Nowadays, there is considerable "movement" to get homeless folk housing such that they can launch a real, honest-to-god life. I have minor complaints about what Mayor Steinberg is doing, but for the most part, I find it is damn nice that guys I know are landing in housing and getting a better existence.

A big complaint Mr. Breton has is feces. His opening paragraph to his Sunday column -- titled in hardcopy "Homeless plan proves painful for businesses" -- is this:
Good intentions can come at a cost, such as having to smell urine or see human feces on a daily basis.
I think, to sooth Marcos's easily jangled feelings, I may send him a copy of Everybody Poops, a book usually read to children in advance of them entering Elementary School.

If homeless people are not in a shelter -- which can occur for many reasons, a primary one being that there is a paucity of beds for everyone who wants one -- then homeless people often have no alternative other than sleeping outside. Other homeless folk, because they smoke or have other habits they cannot partake of inside a shelter, are more comfortable being outdoors at night. THIS IS TO THE GOOD. There is a deficit of space in shelters and some people have a great need to be in one. Many people cannot comfortably sleep outside.

My point is simple. The circumstances of how homeless people deal with their predicament is not a raging hate of business people -- except in the case of a very few, perhaps, and I don't know who they might be.

As for poop. Mr. Breton, I would guess that you DO see poop on a daily basis. You see it after you stand up and look down at the toilet bowl to see what has amassed there. You check to see if there are any irregularities in your feces. Was your bowel movement loose? Is there some red color that might perhaps indicate that there is blood in your stool?

Get a grip, Mr. Breton. Stop being such a child. The homeless folk in Sacramento are not Jews and, despite your effort to make us believe otherwise, you are not a strangely-delicate Nazi concentration-camp director.

Homelessness is not a devious device to make you upset. It is a predicament that people find themselves in; struggle with; and -- for the most part -- do the best they can to get by. People get stuck in Homeless World for years and years and it saps a person of a major part of his or her joy.

I can tell you, Mr. Breton, that I very, very much want business people to not have to deal with the messes that some homeless people make.

In your column, you present some dubious statistics such that you seem to claim that the addition of shelter space just results in homeless people breeding more heavily and ADDING discomfort to business people downtown.

As people with knowledge on the subject of counting homeless people know, counting homeless folk in the county, or in a piece of the county, is difficult. I mean nothing disparaging when I say that "counting homeless people is like trying to count stray cats." Homeless people do a lot of moving around -- generally, they HAVE TO. This means that getting any kind of accurate count is damned impossible. The stats you provide in your column are almost-certainly the result of a poorly conceived effort to do a quick count of homeless folk downtown.  In any case, your contention that the creation of a new shelter INCEASES the number of homeless people on the street is absurd. You and Dion Dwyer are either ridiculous or wholly inept. Neither of you knows squat about statistics.

I think that we can all hope that things will get better, by-and-by, as homeless people get into better situations and no longer need to suffer mightily on cold, rainy nights where they have to make do as best they can. And we can rightly hope that business people will have an easier time in the not-too-distant future doing what they do to provide us all with goods and services.

Homeless people (with a few exceptions, perhaps) have no animus toward business people.  Cool down, everybody; what seems to some like a war taking place, isn't really happening.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Pope and the Panhandler

From The New York Times, 3/4/17 issue.

Pope Francis
New Yorkers, if not city dwellers everywhere, might acknowledge a debt to Pope Francis this week. He has offered a concrete, permanently useful prescription for dealing with panhandlers.

It's this: Give them the money and don't worry about it.

The pope's advice, from an interview with a Milan magazine published just before the beginning of Lent, is startlingly simple. It's scripturally sound, yet possibly confounding, even subversive.

Living in the city -- especially in metropolises where homelessness is an unsolved, unending crisis -- means that at some point in you day, or week, a person seeming (or claiming) to be homeless, or suffering with a disability, will ask you for help.

A coin dropped into the hand of another.







You probably already have a panhandler policy.

You keep walking, or not. You give, or not. Loose coins, a dollar, or just a shake of the head. Your rule may be blanket, or case-by-case.

If it's case by case, that means you have your own on-the-spot, individualized benefits program, with a bit of means-testing, mental health and character assessment, and criminal-background check -- to the extent that any of this is possible from a second or two of looking someone up and down.

Francis' solution eliminates that effort. But it is by no means effortless.

Speaking to the magazine Scarp de'Tenis, which means Tennis Shoes, a monthly for and about the homeless and marginalized, the pope said that giving something to someone in need is "always right." (We're helped here by the translation in an article from Catholic News Service.)

But what if someone uses the money for, say, a glass of wine? (A perfectly Milanese question.) His answer: If "a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that's OK. Instead, ask yourself, what do you do on the sly? What 'happiness' do you seek in secret?" Another way to look at it, he said, is to recognize how you are the "luckier" one, with a home, a spouse and children, and then ask why your responsibility to help should be pushed on someone else.

Then he posed a greater challenge. He said the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands.

The reason is to preserve dignity, to see another person not as a pathology or a social condition, but as a human, with a life whose value is equal to your own. This message runs through Francis' preaching and writings, which always seem to turn on the practical and  personal, often citing the people he met and served as a parish priest in Argentina.

His teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics has infuriated some conservative critics who accuse him, unfairly, of elevating compassion over doctrine. His recent statements on refugees and immigrants are the global version of his panhandler remarks -- a rebuke aimed directly at the rich nations of Europe and at the United States.

America is in the middle of a raging argument over poor outcasts. The president speaks of building walls repelling foreigners. That toxic mind-set can be opposed in Washington, but it can also be confronted on the sidewalk. You don't know what that guy will do with your dollar. Maybe you'd disapprove of what he does. Maybe compassion is the right call.