Jeff Ackerman: Don’t lose sight of deserving homeless |

Jeff Ackerman: Don’t lose sight of deserving homeless

The population of the United States reached the 300-million mark while I was stepping over the panhandlers in San Francisco’s Union Square last Tuesday. I’d already gone through all my cash on the way to and from Starbucks and found myself having to explain that sad fact to the so-called homeless who have taken over that City By The Bay I used to call home.

I say, “so called” homeless because many of them seemed to be doing quite well on their slice of the city’s expensive downtown real estate. In fact, when you do offer up a few dollars, they let you know whether it’s sufficient to cover their expenses.

“Here’s my last two dollars,” I said. “But if you’d like, I could bring you a coffee on my way back from Starbucks.”

“If it’s your last two bucks, how can you afford to go to Starbucks?” one of America’s 300 million citizens asked.

“I’m charging it,” I said. “Do you want a coffee or not?”

“Had one this morning already,” he said. “How about a latte?”

And before you go reporting me to the Sensitivity Police, I understand that there are some among the 300 million humans in our nation today who Ð for good reasons Ð truly cannot afford a place to rest their heads or enjoy a hot meal. We need to find a way to help them. And I will always fight for the children who are caught in the trap.

There are many others, however, who choose to live on the streets because that’s where they feed their drug and alcohol addictions (with money we hand them), and San Francisco hasn’t made it difficult enough for them to find another path.

That makes us nothing more than enablers, no different than the mother who gives Sonny Boy money to buy his drugs and then cries when Sonny Boy comes home high as a kite and steals her television set.

And let’s acknowledge once and for all that there really is such a thing as a Lazy Bum, or someone who spends a lifetime relying on others (including the government) for a handout. So far as I can determine, we owe them nothing. I also believe in the notion that it’s better to teach a man to fish, and that a man cannot be helped until he is ready and willing to help himself. I didn’t step across many “illegal immigrants” on my way to Starbucks. They were too busy doing jobs “no American wants.”

Which brings me to Grass Valley, where a neighborhood dispute has interrupted plans for a safe house for our homeless. The City Council is expected to hear an appeal tonight on a homeless shelter on South Church Street. Located in the United Methodist Church, the Hospitality House Welcome Center would serve as a place for people to gather and be transferred to another site where temporary lodging, meals, or general assistance could be provided.

Former city councilman and South Church Street resident Steve Enos protested the application, saying he was concerned for children in the neighborhood, which is also home to schools, a library and multifamily housing. Let’s be honest, shall we? Most of us desire solutions for the homeless, but few of us really want to live next door to a shelter. No need to drag the children into this debate. Go to any neighborhood where there is a homeless shelter and tell me if you’d feel safe there at night.

Hospitality House administrators have been working to ease the neighbors’ concerns, focusing on perhaps a screening process of sorts. They have also been working with the Grass Valley Police Department in an effort to ensure that there is a separation of the needy and greedy, or good guys and bad guys.

I suspect police are already familiar with the neighborhood, since our police blotter is often filled with reports of Church Street happenings, which makes some wonder who will protect the homeless from some of the neighbors.

My hope is that the City Council will approve the Hospitality House plan because you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There are real people – children among them – who need help in our community, which prides itself on its ability to give something back. We can’t shy away from that responsibility.

At the same time, we need to discourage those who use the streets as a tool to feed their addictions or as a means to an end that is generally not good.

Finally … it seems there was another election “snafu” while I was away. What a shocker. Makes you realize why many are suspicious about the election process these days, especially at a time when Nevada County has invested so much money in computer voting machines. I know people who are still trying to learn how to use a remote control, for crying out loud, and they don’t break half as often as computers.

Unfortunately, we really do get the government we deserve and … well … elections office Clerk Kathleen Smith got more votes than her opponent did in the last election, so we just need to accept the fact that our vote may, or may not, count this year.

Perhaps we ought to be allowed to hire professional election officials rather than permitting voters to select one in a popularity contest. The need to provide for an accurate and fair election process at a time when there are more and more election regulations indicates that the job demands more than an ability to smile for a campaign poster.


Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299,, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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