Sunday, November 18, 2007

John Burton: remedial reader and windbag

In a letter to the SF Chronicle objecting to a C.W. Nevius column on homelessness, John Burton---former Congressman, Assemblyman, and State Senator, and paleo-Democrat---demonstrates what those who have long wanted a sensible, humane policy on homelessness are still up against in San Francisco. Burton's letter (below in italics) is so poorly written and so completely irrelevant to what Nevius actually wrote it could have been written by the Guardian's Tim Redmond or any other clueless city progressive.

Nevius never called the homeless "dirt," didn't accuse them of being "violent criminals," didn't dismiss the homeless as "an unsightly inconvenience," and didn't, in fact, "beat up on" the homeless in any way. Otherwise, hey, Burton got it just right.

In fact, Nevius's Nov. 8 column dealt almost entirely with the homeless who are mentally ill and how the present city policy compares unfavorably with that of New York, which has a more effective and humane approach. As he has before, Nevius mentioned Laura's Law, a state law designed to deal with this particular problem that SF doesn't even try to implement.

Burton finds the "present discourse" on homelessness in SF "uninformed and unconstructive," even though his contribution to the discussion is unhelpful. Burton reminds us that the homeless are "actually living and breathing men and women without homes"? No shit! Burton seems to think he was making a salient point about homelessness by offering an irrelevant laundry list of "progressive" causes/programs: access to quality education, health care coverage, affordable housing, living wage employment, and high quality child care. Since Nevius was writing about how the city was failing to deal with the mentally ill on our streets, none of these programs/causes are relevant.

Okay, we know now that Burton is a remedial reader. But he is also a windbag, with his letter coming in at 319 words, even though the Chronicle clearly informs would-be correspondents that "Letters to the Editor should be 200 or fewer words and are subject to editing." Obviously, the only reason the Chronicle printed Burton's letter was because it was from a powerful local political figure. They would have done Burton a favor by not printing it, since it nicely illustrates the mindset still prevalent in progressive circles in SF after years of Care Not Cash, Homeward Bound, Project Homeless Connect, and supportive housing.

Like Kevin Fagan before him, C.W. Nevius is doing SF a great public service in writing about homelessness in the city.


Editor:
(Nov. 16, 2007)

I was momentarily heartened the morning after the election, when I turned to the Bay Area section of the San Francisco Chronicle and read that writer C.W. Nevius (known to me as Chuck) was calling on newly re-elected Mayor Gavin Newsom to clean up the streets ("What's next for the mayor? How about cleaning the streets?" Nov. 8)

However, it didn’t take long to learn that what Chuck was calling dirt were actually living and breathing men and women without homes, living in San Francisco. As the founder of the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, and a long-time advocate for our most marginalized residents, I find the current discourse about the homeless uninformed and unconstructive.

The homeless in San Francisco are our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and perhaps most sadly, many are out children. They are, by and large, not violent criminals, and they do not need to be swept away or cleaned up like trash. Characterizing the homeless in this manner promotes a climate of hatred and fear. The very real suffering of the homeless should not be dismissed as an unsightly inconvenience. It is a genuine human tragedy that is our collective responsibility.

In fact, the homeless aren’t as different from us as Chuck would make you think. The solutions that work for us are the same ones that will work for them: access to quality education, health care coverage, affordable housing, living wage employment, and high quality child care. Sound impossible? I don’t think so. San Francisco has a long track record of developing solutions to hard problems and committing the necessary resources to implement them, such as the city’s adoption of the Healthy San Francisco program.

San Franciscans want to genuinely solve the problem of homelessness here, not simply sweep the homeless off the streets. I liked Chuck’s writing better when he was beating up on the Bay Area sports teams, not just the least fortunate people in the City of St. Francis.

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