Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The disabled imagine

I know all too well that, as Radi Kaiuf is quoted as saying in a L.A Times article a couple weeks ago, “there’s a stigma about being in a wheelchair, as if your mental capacities are affected as well.” Yes, I completely relate to the article saying, “In a wheelchair, he often encounters pity and condescension. When he uses a wheelchair in a restaurant, for example, waiters sometimes ask his companion for his food order, as if he were a child.” Try also having a speech impediment.

But I get so tired of news stores like this - about the disabled trying to be not disabled. This article is all about Kaiuf, who is definitely no child but a 46-year-old man in Israel paralyzed when shot in a 1988 Lebanon firefight, competing in the 10K portion of the Tel Aviv marathon by using a ReWalk robotic device that enables him to walk.

If is fine with me that Kaiuf uses the device. I think it’s great that he is happy using it. But why is it news - deserving a quarter of a page, with a large picture - on the other side of the world?

Is Kaiuf using the device to make his life easier and more enjoyable? Or is he using it to appear less or not disabled? Kaiuf is quoted as saying, “Being upright makes a big difference. People see me as normal.”

Clearly, Kaiuf feels pressure to look “normal,” knowing the “stigma” of being disabled. It may very well be that he feels that his life is easier and more enjoyable when he looks normal.

News stories like this are no doubt part of the reason, if not the reason, why he feels this pressure, why his life is easier and more enjoyable when he looks normal.

Perhaps it helps to ask yourself if it would be okay if there was an article like this about a gay man marrying a woman in order to appear normal and make his life easier.

I’m all for trying to do your best. I’m not for trying to be something you’re not.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The homeless, still

Yes, my last post was about the homeless, but, at least with the way things are, they aren’t going away. The following is my column in today’s Claremont Courier.


Two weeks ago, it was warm enough on Friday afternoon for me to take off my shirt and just wear my overalls. What’s more, I could sit and read out in my backyard.

Not bad for March 1. And it was yet another reason, or perhaps the reason, we love it here in Southern California. We have all heard the stories about people calling their relatives or friends in the frigid Midwest and gloating or of people getting up on snow-bound New Year’s Days and turning on the television to watch the Rose Parade in impossibly sunny, balmy Pasadena (and how many then move here?).

But it was still winter. Even as I enjoyed getting an early start on my tan, I knew that winter wasn’t over and that it would be cold and wet in a few days. Sure enough, a couple storms came through last week.

That, as I learned when reading an article in the Los Angeles Times late last month, didn’t stop Los Angeles from closing its Westside winter shelter for the homeless on March 1 “for the season.” Never mind that the next week was forecast to be wet and cold. Never mind that, even now, “the season” isn’t over for another week. And never mind that, even in sunny, funny SoCal, the first month or so of spring can bring rain and chilly weather (after all, “April showers bring May flowers”).

And what about the summer heat and smog? Never mind giving the homeless shelter from that.

The article I was reading was about a storage trailer made available in a pilot program in Venice Beach where the homeless could keep their stuff not allowed at the overnight shelter. The unit was accessible for two hours each afternoon and was, like the shelter, slated to close down on March 1.

“We’re going to bag and tag [their items],” said Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice. “We want to make it inconvenient but within the law.”

How convenient - or inconvenient - will Claremont make it for the homeless on its streets? Will we put up with them until a certain random date no matter how cold or how wet or how hot it is and then that’s it, we kick them out....to where (they’re already on the street)?

I’ve been wondering about this as Claremont has been discovering its homeless in the last year or so. That’s right - “discovering” - for, after declaring that there were three homeless people in Claremont, the City, with the assistance of people involved in Occupy Claremont, saw that it was off by a factor of 10 and that there are thirty people at least living on Claremont’s streets.

Not only that, but the City has been discovering that it has to do something about the homeless, other than throw them out (to Pomona, to Ontario, to L.A’s skid row, if we really want to answer the “to where” question). Back when the City presumably thought that there were three homeless people in Claremont, it passed an ordinance outlawing public camping and sleeping, essentially banning the homeless, but there was a court ruling saying that such a law is unconstitutional.

Since then, there has been another court ruling, stemming from Los Angeles, decreeing that a homeless person’s items, left unattended, cannot be discarded. Los Angeles has been wrestling with this, recently requesting an appeal, and it appears that the storage trailer in Venice was an answer.

Another answer in Los Angeles has been something called S.H.A.R.E, in which a small group of homeless people live in a house, made available by its owner and with rules, where they get the services they need to regain or gain stability in their lives.

Maybe one of these houses can be in Claremont. The City Council has recently decided to make the homeless a priority, and as it ponders what to do with them (other than kick them out), is there a reason why there can’t be a house like this here?

Or will the focus be on getting the homeless out of Claremont? Will the City do everything it can to deter the homeless, certainly not to attract them, and not to reach out to those who are here and try to help them?

There are those who argue that offering services attracts the homeless. Yes, “beware the Ides” may well be good advice, but compassion and charity are also known for good results. Making the homeless more of a problem may well only make the homeless more of a problem.

Something like this happened about ten years ago when L.A County came up with a proposal to have five regional service centers for the homeless rather than having so many of the homeless funnel into Skid Row in L.A. However, there was so much of a NIMBY outcry that the idea was shelved, and now Skid Row has become even more of a sinkhole, with, probably as a result, a rare strain of T.B being the latest problem.

I wonder if such a service center or a S.H.A.R.E house here is even possible when there was a commentary in these pages last week stating that “many neighbors are vehemently against” hospice, assisted living and community group houses in northern Claremont. The worry is that these residential homes for the dying, the elderly and other “challenged” individuals, regulated and monitored by the state, are a threat to “our treasured neighborhoods.”

Dying people. Foster kids. People in wheelchairs. A threat? Really?

And this is the homeless we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about convicted sex offenders who have completed their prison terms and are listed in a public registry and who are trying to be constructive members of society. They are being driven out even in L.A, where small “pocket parks” are being put in. Yes, it’s good that some areas are finally getting parks, even if they are only a swing set and a bench on a patch of grass. But, as was pointed out in a recent Los Angeles Times article, these new parks also have another, perhaps primary purpose: convicted sex offenders can’t live within 2000 feet from parks, as well as schools and other such places.

Being cautious and on guard is all well and good, as the Ides of March remind us. But I wonder if the upcoming season of renewed life and hope, of newfound freedom and peace, has a message for us as we consider how to deal with the others in our midst.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Those inconvenient people

“We want to make it inconvenient but within the law.”

It was all good when I was reading the article in the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago until this quote came up. I was glad to see that a storage trailer was being made available at Venice Beach where the homeless can stash their stuff. Then Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, opened his mouth. He also said this: “We’re not going to let [homeless people] keep items on the beach anymore. We’re going to bag and tag [them].”

What’s being bagged and tagged here? The homeless?

I couldn’t help wondering, as Mr. Rosendahl made it perfectly clear that the storage program really wasn’t about being compassionate and charitable towards the homeless, making their lives easier. The pilot program was about tolerating the homeless and co-exist with them and their stuff - and not necessarily in a way that is easy for them. People could only store things for a week at a time, and the trailer was only accessible from 3 to 5 and scheduled to close today, March 1, when the city’s homeless shelters close, now that winter is supposedly over.

I thought about this on a recent Sunday morning at the close of Quaker meeting when the children reported learning about the homeless and not thinking that a person who is homeless because of a drinking problem is any worse or less worthy than a person on the streets simply due to dire financial straits.

Then there was the news yesterday that Los Angeles asking the Supreme Court to throw out a lower court ruling that the City can’t throw away items left unattended by the homeless. The City says it’s a public health issue.