Long running disregard for the care of mentally ill exacerbates chronic homelessness, creates public safety dilemma.
By Bob Dorn
Today (ed., January 22) the park rangers moved out the couple living across the street in our dilapidated corner of Balboa Park.
I wasn’t sorry to see them go. I wasn’t happy to see them go. Homelessness long ago became another national shrug. No one’s to blame any more, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats, maybe not even the very wealthy, unless they were lucky enough to own banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America which made The American Dream a thing of the past for many, like the two across the street.
This is an unlikely pair. He sports a trim grey beard, a black porkpie and an overcoat, looking like a former rock and roller or rogue spy gone to seed. He might be 50, he might be 70. I doubt he lives there with her because I frequently see him riding his bike down in the mornings, and leaving on the bike before nightfall.
She’s much younger and seems like a jock, swaggers a bit, and is squarely-built, weighty and strong. She’s the one who had the ever-expanding kit; black plastic lawn bags, beach umbrellas against the sun, the odd wooden or metal frame she’d lean against the picnic tables over which she’d spread heavy blue tarps to protect and “hide” the luggage and baggage.
Other homeless showed up apparently by accident because they seemed uncomfortable there, eying the two, keeping away from them. They all seemed to avoid speaking, so far as I could tell across the 100 or so feet from our sidewalk to their compound. And soon enough, the two would be alone at the tables.
It wasn’t exactly like this before the two evolved their control of the place. One bearded sort of California Duck guy was once the dominant player there, and a fairly regular crew of from three to five would gather near him, all men, some drugheads.
Once when I went to use the tables I was pretty much chased out when two of the more addled came up to me and asked me questions I couldn’t answer, and wouldn’t leave me alone.
I have no idea how the odd couple came to occupy the tables almost exclusively. One day the Duck was gone, and no one seemed to be a regular any longer, until the couple established themselves.
It’s difficult to say how much time they’d spend relating to each other. He often sat at a table apart from hers but nearby, near enough to provoke her into the loud calling out of hateful, mostly coarse shit, her to him.
“FUCK YOU” was her go-to, and she’d tell him to get out, leave her alone, go pick his ass. Usually she’d start up after he’d muttered something to her. And he wouldn’t leave. The shouting would continue, with interruptions during which she’d stuff something into a bag, or bring it out and put it in another bag.
I could hear them from my own apartment, way behind in the small complex I live in. They were that loud, or more correctly, she was, though for sure, as with any other couple, the one making the noise couldn’t have created all of that mayhem independently.
I went out, all righteous, two different times and called from my side of the street that if they didn’t stop I’d call the police. She didn’t seem able to fit what I was saying into her head. I suppose it didn’t make sense that I would address the two. “I’m going back inside in one minute to do it,” I promised them, “unless you two stop making all this noise.” She barely paused.
I wrote the PD’s community policing detail some four or five months ago. I argued that kids getting out of Roosevelt Junior High, and the blind who walked past the encampment on their way to the bus stop, shouldn’t have to walk past the gauntlet the two formed. More honestly, I complained that it was pretty difficult for anyone living in the neighborhood to use the tables under the circumstances.
Probably two weeks went by and I found a message blinker on my fixed line at home. A cop from community liason had called. We played tag for a few more days before he found me at home and told me he knew the situation exactly. He could even tell me her first name. There was little they could do, he said.
They’d take her in once she got severely out of control and screwed up, he explained, and then transfer her to someplace where she could get cleaned up and treated with drugs. Then after two or three days the hospital would have to make way for others by releasing her, and she’d return to the tables in front of the Blind Center and across the street from my condo complex. Her older male friend stayed at the tables by the day until she did. Then they’d start up their joint struggle again.
What are we supposed to do?
Is it necessary for 5,000 to 15,000 square feet of Balboa Park — depending on how angry the woman gets, or how much stuff is accumulated by the two, or just how tolerant of it you or I might be of the mess – to become basically useless to us square upstanding citizens who live across the street?
Where are the moral philosophers on this one? Kant? Locke? Anyone? Is there a way that we can take care of people humanely, each of us sharing the load by giving up a proportionate amount? No one being asked to give what they can’t, or haven’t got?
No, uh-uh, that would be socialism. From each according to… to each according to… Sounds sorta commyounist.
“It all started when Reagan closed the state mental hospitals,” my wife will remind me. Oh yeah, that was back in the early 70s, when he played the good guy governor. A hell of a role for him. He’s a hero and a legend now.