Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 4, 2019

Poor unfortunate souls

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

The way that we talk about homeless people is often the most concerning about any public debate about homeless services.  For the worst look at your community you don’t need to venture any farther than Next Door which will tell you who in your neighborhood trades on vicious stereotypes and fear-mongering to push their point across.

There is a entrenched American stigmatization of poverty and we’re all guilty of it.  I know I have personally made personal pronouncements about my upbringing that I realize, upon reflection, is indicative of how entrenched this stigma goes.   We (the general “we”) love to talk about how poor we once were but how we’ve pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and now we’re comfortably comfortable and we are no longer one of the lazy poor to be pitied and scorned.

Even worse than just being poor is being poor and without shelter, because clearly that is a sign of some abject moral failing on the part of the individual and not where the blame should be squarely placed: on our society as a whole.  We continue to put up barriers to actually allowing people who are poor to stabilize their lives and then refuse to offer even a modicum of help when it’s reached crisis levels.  We put up road blocks to building housing, we fight rent stabilization, we ask that people receiving public assistance jump through hoops and justify their need, we want the unsheltered to show that they deserve our charity, we judge low-income folks for indulging in small luxuries, etc and so forth.

From the Harvard Gazette:

A key issue for Lamont is how the poor are stigmatized, and how that itself fosters poverty.

“One example would be the perception of welfare mothers in the U.S.,” she said. “If you were to Google images and look for welfare mothers in Israel, you’d see a beautiful, blonde, healthy mother — that’s a celebration of the Zionist ideal of building the nation through a high fertility rate. But in America, you see the oppressed African-American mothers at the bottom of the social ladder.

“Another example would be food stamps. In France, for instance, there are benefits available to any family that has three or more children; this addresses poverty, but it’s also seen as a universal right, one that you don’t even have to use. In America, before food stamps became electronic, you had to use them in a store and there was a real element of stigmatization.

“The difference is how the poor are viewed: Is their experience tied to individual failure to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and live the American dream? Or is it really the product of forces beyond their control?

“This construction of the poor in society has many ripple effects,” she said. “The more morally stigmatized the poor are, the less people are inclined to support any kind of redistribution.”

And that is exactly how opponents of the Wellness Center talk about the potential residents of the housing and respite center: that they have some moral failings that we should be digested by and be afraid of and therefore not allow in our community.

That’s not because of any real knowledge of the homeless person as an individual, but rather a blanket stereotype of homeless people because of our stigmatization of poor people in general.  That some how money in and of itself lends itself to some moral superiority.  As we have seen recently, money definitely does not make someone morally superior and a person with wealth can make as many (or more) bad decisions as someone without.  The difference, of course, is that wealth insulates you from disastrous repercussions of your bad decisions.

Vote Yes on A, no on B.


  1. The entitled, NIMBY, hypocracy has always been strong in Alameda. Everyone belongs here as long as your great, great, great, great, great grandparents were born here, and don’t you dare even think about putting anything other than a park in my neighborhood, and for sure don’t do anything to attrack “those people” from Oakland (i.e. opening an In-N-Out). These Alamedans are disgraceful. They need to get out of their bubble and actually spend some time feeding or volunteering to help the homeless. Maybe then they’d realize the ridiculous fear mongering going on by FOCCers.

    Comment by Eyeroll — April 4, 2019 @ 8:44 am

  2. WNYC’s “On The Media” podcast had an amazing series about poverty a few years ago:

    It’s one of my favorite podcast series ever. I highly recommend it!

    Yes on A, no on B

    Comment by dougkeen — April 4, 2019 @ 8:49 am

  3. The view that poverty “is a sign of some abject moral failing on the part of the individual,” quite apart from being sociologically and economically inaccurate, also derives in part from the grievous mischaracterization of Judeo-Christian scriptures and traditions that arose– primarily from Calvinist and fundamentalist theology–since the Protestant Reformation.

    The “new” (largely post-Calvin) and semi-Christian sensibility emphasiized individual salvation and taught believers to fear the withdrawal of salvation (“pie in the sky by and by”) by an angry, judgmental, and wrathful God. It supported hard work and thrift over love, compassion, and grace, giving rise to and being influenced by the economic entrepreneurs of the Renaissance, international colonialism and imperialism, and the Industrial Revolution.

    Traders, business owners, slave traders, and entrepreneurs quickly jettisoned the emphases on universal love and grace as well as community-based responsibility for justice and compassion because they interfered with the more welcome values of hard work and thrift that were based on the fear or (God’s and one’s employer’s) wrath and anger. Eventually, God was jettisoned altogether in favor of a more single-minded pursuit of capitalism and greed (think Benjamin Franklin here).

    This unbalanced and fear-based “Protestant work ethic” (not the same as a more holistic Jewish and Christian belief in love, forgiveness, charity, and universal justice) served as the theological underpinnings of our democratic republic: this unbalanced theological understanding pervades our thinking, our institutions, our social understandings, and our politics today.

    Many of Measure B’s most outspoken proponents probably are (or consider themselves) devout, upstanding members of religious communities in our community. But the fear that drives them (fear of losing property values, fear about family or personal safety, fear of people who are poor, homeless, or otherwise “not like us”) is clear in their speech and writings. This fear is real–but it is not sanctioned by mainline Christian values and theology.

    Personally, I do not envision a Creator who wants us to fear others, but to love and welcome them–just as we have been loved and welcomed ourselves, regardless of whether we “deserve” grace, food, shelter, love, and compassion.

    According to my world view, a more compassionate and loving Supreme Being than the wrathful One others may envision would probably rather see us build a Wellness Center to care for “the least among them” than to cast the sojourner and traveler, unwelcome, out into the darkness across the estuary where “someone else” could (theoretically) feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and offer shelter to those without.

    After all, “perfect love casts out fear.” And that casting out of fear enables us to love one another.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — April 4, 2019 @ 8:55 am

    • Such a coincidence to read this post after returning from a visit to the Vatican, the world’s oldest for profit corporation and erstwhile worldly headquarters of Spangler ‘s favored imaginary playmate.

      Those spelndrous palaces, the galleries of which are several miles long (according to the tour guide) were built by taxes taken out of peasants’ hides when the “church” was the largest landlord in Europe. On top of that were tithes, indulgences, and various other snake oil-for-salvation scams.

      It’s not a coincidence that most of that splendor was gilded before Martin Luther got the ball rolling for the “Protestant Work Ethic” that Spangler decries even while enjoying the prosperity it brought to the masses. That which was constructed after the Reformation was much more limited and there are relatively few large edifices since the Unification of Italy when the Catholic Church ceased to be a rentier lord over much of the Italian peninsula.

      Note that immigrants coming to America from Europe came disproportionately from Catholic lands where people were kept disproportionately poor by the yoke of religion. One man’s evil, greedy “Protestant Work Ethic” is another man’s opportunity to prosper from his own work ethic.

      Comment by dave — April 5, 2019 @ 7:07 am

      • He’s Episcopalian

        Comment by Gaylon — April 5, 2019 @ 1:23 pm

  4. Good post.

    I got the pro-B mailer yesterday. Once I got beyond the A Better Alameda-quality writing and design, I noticed that the content is worse than NIMBY. To your post above, it demonizes the homeless (the pestilence they will bring to our sceptered isle!), and doesn’t even say we care about them but they’d happier in Fruitvale. Nasty piece of work by nasty people.

    Comment by BC — April 4, 2019 @ 10:10 am

  5. From the mailer: “Homeless encampments are a PUBLIC HEALTH HAZARD (Hepatitis A, Novovirus, Typhus).” Aside from the fact that the Wellness Center will be a gated secure facility and not an encampment, to me this raises the question of what the Measure B clique thinks of anti-vaxers. There is a group of home-schooled, unvaccinated kids who often visit Lincoln Park, and who are for sure a greater potential threat to “our children.” PS – I’ve lived here 18 years and will never call myself an Alamedan.

    Comment by 1jamesr1 — April 4, 2019 @ 7:47 pm

  6. True then, true now.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — April 5, 2019 @ 10:09 am

  7. The map of the 130+ donors to the Measure A campaign. Notice how many supporters are close to McKay Ave.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — April 6, 2019 @ 6:43 pm

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