Cruel To Be Kind

I wrote this in early 2019 — and though the pandemic may preclude us from dealing with homelessness now, there’s nothing stopping us from thinking about it for later.

And it’s high time we take a new direction . . .

I seriously considered moving to San Diego . . .

Until I realized that Petco Park is next door to a homeless ghetto.

“I’m not going to let somebody run me out of somewhere where I’ve made my home,” said a camper in San Francisco. I feel for anyone in her shoes, but there’s a line between empathy and enabling.

During the Great Depression, people went to wherever the work was.

The modern-day down-and-out of are incapable of doing what others did 90 years ago?

The Yellow Brick Road

“We . . . want it now, and if it makes money now, it’s a good idea. But . . . if the things we’re doing are going to mess up the future, it wasn’t a good idea. Don’t deal on the moment. Take the long-term look at things.”

— The Dust Bowl

I’m not writing simply because I’m upset about a luxury apartment being surrounded by a makeshift KOA.

My disgust is mostly rooted in America’s monumental ineptitude in solving problems. Why are the homeless allowed to dictate the standards of a community?

You’ve got a company cleaning vandalized elevators 5 times a week at that beautiful bridge to Petco Park?

From the April 2019 study done by the Bay Area Council’s Economic Institute:

In San Francisco . . . the city’s large unsheltered homeless population helped drive the city to spend $54 million on street cleaning in 2018, four times as much as Chicago despite that city being 3.5 times larger by population, and 4.5 times larger by area.

I walked into a gas station in Boulder, Colorado and the restrooms were closed — to keep out the heroin addicts.

Home Depot is threatening to pull out of Oakland and Emeryville over the appalling conditions around their stores (the former of which has dropped 25% in revenue over the last two years).

As Councilmember Gallo said, “We gotta get to it otherwise we’re going to lose 300 jobs and $8 million in tax [revenue].”

A few years ago, a founder of a tech startup posted a letter about the homeless in San Francisco — and the guy got hammered on social media for his “whiny lack of sensitivity.”

Over-the-top sensitivity is part of the problem.

It’s not cold and heartless to think that places of business should not have to put up with people running down the value of their investment.

If that doesn’t register, why don’t you invite the homeless to make camp at the end of your driveway? As stalwarts of sensitivity, I’m sure your plummeting property value won’t affect your outlook in the least.

The homeless and their advocates say they need more services and homes for the unhoused.

More money + more services = more homeless

That formula doesn’t make sense to me.

Perhaps another approach is in order? What would be so wrong with a “New Deal” that puts the homeless to work and provides shelter, food, and a fair wage in return?

The unskilled could discover capabilities that they didn’t know they had — and earn that training by working in the fields or cleaning up the cities. I’m sure some light-duty work could be found for those who are unable to perform strenuous labor.

And among the unfortunate, are some with skills and leadership ability who could play a part in refining their future and that of others.

I fail to understand why it’s the responsibility of the state to accommodate people who can’t afford to live there. And while I appreciate the sincere efforts of the private sector to pump billions into the problem, they’re not being smart in how they spend it.

My philosophy may sound harsh — but that’s the point, it should be hard.

If it were, we wouldn’t have a culture where people think, “I’ve made my home” in a tent along a sidewalk. All the brainpower and compassion in this country — and this is the best we can do?

A “New Deal” would have a major impact on illegal immigration as well — another perennial debate that’s so poisoned by politics, that it’s impossible to have a rational discussion (like everything else in America).

If we could solve the homeless epidemic, maybe along the way we could learn to talk to each other again . . .

And discover that we all have a role in shaping society.


That Bay Area study seems to examine the problem entirely around what it will cost others to solve. From what I’ve read so far, it doesn’t put any responsibility on the homeless themselves.

In its 42-page report, replete with thoughtful analysis, vivid charts, and imagery of dreadful conditions, the word “responsibility” is nowhere to be found.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that people put in the position of solving problems, would recognize when something isn’t working.

To whatever degree I’ve simplified the issues to capture the fundamentals — it’s nowhere near what America does to overcomplicate them.

I’m hardly alone on this: Should we set up New Deal-style work camps for the needy?

What is your argument against the homeless having clean beds and three squares a day, and just having to earn it (with minimum wage to boot)? Billions are being wasted that could be put into nice and drug-free camps that would be worlds apart from sleeping on sidewalks.

It is really that horrifying for them to have a choice — to stay in such a place and work for it, or be forced to fend for themselves (without the streets, parks, and beaches being an option)?

By helping them get back on their feet (with them helping themselves at the same time) — eventually they’re gonna want a better life.

And this approach puts them in a position to go get it.

Speaking of having a choice.

After years of legal wrangling, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said in a 32-page opinion on Tuesday that Boise’s ordinances “criminalize the simple act of sleeping outside on public property, whether bare or with a blanket or other basic bedding.” The panel added that “a municipality cannot criminalize such behavior consistently with the Eighth Amendment when no sleeping space is practically available in any shelter.”

In their summary of the opinion, the judges wrote, “As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

That last line is what this fundamental divide is all about.

Criminalizing the homeless solves nothing, but the notion that they don’t have a choice is preposterous. When you provide avenues of hopelessness, you have taken away that fundamental responsibility that we all have in making hard choices.

That “false premise” philosophy is miserably failing.

But rather than take a hard look at the situation in a serious-minded manner, the same people who helped create the problem, would rather be delicate and perpetuate it.

It’s not money that’s needed most — it’s the guts to do the unpleasant.

Nick Lowe nails it with his timeless words of wisdom: “You gotta be cruel to be kind, in the right measure.” A commenter perfectly captured the essence of the idea:

The term was invented by Shakespeare in his tragedy Hamlet. To be ‘cruel to be kind’ is to cause someone pain for his or her own good. Telling someone something that will hurt them because it’s better for them in the long run. It appears like you’re trying to hurt them when in fact, you’re looking out for their best interest.