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The City by the Bay Shows the Homeless on Their Way

who owns the city parks? taxpayers or citizenry

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 30, 1995.

San Francisco, allegedly because of a cop being shot and a police dog being killed, has embarked on a policy of removing the homeless from public parks. As usual in such confrontations, the government portrays the homeless as drug addicted thugs preying off innocent families come to enjoy the park. Advocates of the homeless portray them almost exclusively as wounded Vietnam War heroes and the women as refuges from some horrible fate, both being persecuted by Gestapo-like bureaucrats solely interested in social niceties as opposed to saving lives.

Both prejudiced views have merit, but it leads us to consider the usage of public land. It is well known that our country’s original parks - the gabled city commons of New England - were far from the grassy ideal of memory, but were essentially the place where bums and loafers hung out through the years. Central Park in New York has, from its inception, been a magnet for those seeking refuge, and shelter. In fact, there is reason to believe that parks, which we now assume are solely for public entertainment, descend from the concerns of authorities about what to do with training fields while the armies of Greek cities were off slaughtering each other. Like the federal highway system, parks in the United States have a decided military heritage in conception. The idea that there would be a leisure class able to enjoy them was never predicted in 18th century America. They were to be functional. As homes for the people who often should be in asylums, parks retain a civic function of higher merit than Tony ladies sniffing flowers. But in the perception of most Americans, parks are to be viewed as jointly held gardens, extended back yards. It is acceptable to erect a wall around your private property to keep benthics away, but it is of questionable merit to pretend public property, and the term public does not by definition mean taxpayers, is private.

The cost of eviction and maintaining exclusion will be far more than creating jobs for these people, or housing those who cannot work. It is a sad commentary on newly conservative America that fiscal prudence always takes a back seat to image and hypocrisy.