Beware of Christmas stories


Alternet has a sobering followup to the heartwarming story about the NY City policeman who gave the homeless man a pair of boots. As reported in the New York Times, the object of the policeman’s generosity, a 54-year-old army veteran named Jeffrey Hillman, was shoeless again within days, the $100 pair of boots either sold or about to be. He is grateful for the cop’s generosity but bitter that his celebrity came so cheap: “I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?” he said. “This went around the world, and I want a piece of the pie.”

Alternet’s takeaway is that we should be reminded that “charity can only go so far. The only real cure for a skyrocketing homeless rate and inequality that produces people like Hillman are political solutions that seek to put people before profit.” I can’t argue with that, but my takeaway is a little more complicated. I think we should be chary of feel good stories, especially during the holiday season. Not because the police officer isn’t truly a mensch (he obviously is), but because most of us aren’t remotely as caring as he is. The story gives us a vicarious jolt of complacency that is completely unearned.

I know I said I’d never link to him again, but the headline at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze makes my point perfectly: “Let This Viral Picture of an NYPD Cop Giving a Homeless Man Winter Boots Restore Your Faith in Humanity.” My response is, what does humanity have to do with it? The cop in the video isn’t “humanity”–he is 25-year-old Larry DePrimo, who, as far as I know, also isn’t getting anything out of his 15 minutes.

Fortunately for him, he has a job; fortunately for the citizens of the city he serves, he’s not on the make. He’s a good soul whose selfless act garnered as much attention as it did because it was so special.

A story like this one goes viral because people in general want to believe that by virtue of their common humanity, they too participate in it, that the Larry DePrimos of the world somehow redeem them. If anything, it seems to me, they should shame us, by reminding us of how poorly society–and most of us as individuals–measure up to our supposed ideals. The vast majority of us are anything but Christlike or DePrimo-like when it comes to charity.

Glenn Beck touts the story because it serves his selfish political agenda. Who needs “social justice” or “social welfare” when the man on the street can be relied upon to step up and do the right thing?

As for Alternet’s moral, I would add that this is more than a story about poverty and income inequality–it’s about brokenness too. There was a time in Jeffrey Hillman’s life when he was able to earn a living. For whatever reason, he can’t now–even if charity emanating from the private sector sees to it that he is properly shod. As the Times put it:

Mr. Hillman said that he was honorably discharged after five years and that before he became homeless he worked in kitchens in New Jersey.

He has two children — Nikita, 22, and Jeffrey, 24 — but has had little contact with them since a visit three years ago, Mr. Hillman said.

He was reluctant to talk about how he ended up on the streets, staring blankly ahead when asked how his life went off course.

After a long pause, he shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”

To make matters even more complicated, it turns out, according to this Daily News article, that Hillman is eligible for a lot of benefits and services that he doesn’t take advantage of. He has friends and family who want to help him; he even has an apartment in the Bronx that he doesn’t use. Some of the commenters at the News site seize on those revelations as reason to hold both Hillman and DePrimo in contempt: “This bum’s cash intake will probably go up 15-25% per day. He’ll be raking in some nice walking around money with this shoeless routine”; “This Police Officer walked in on the perfect scam and fell for it himself.” All I can say to that is that anyone who believes that Hillman is living large is as crazy as he is. The only thing more offensive than cheap sentimentality is moronic cynicism.

As Congress argues about how deeply to cut social services, as Republicans fret about how liberal programs disincentivize work, we need to recognize that some kinds of poverty have deeper causes than economics or politics can either explain or solve. But for all that, a country that permits any of its people to die on the streets–even lazy, improvident people, or delusional sick people who believe that they can take care of themselves–is a cruel place. Even Scrooge acknowledged that poorhouses and asylums served a purpose.

I’m not a Christian, but I do sometimes dip into the New Testament, especially the King James version. This morning, I was reading Corinthians 13, which, it seems to me, makes a magnificent case both for charity and against complacency. I will quote it as my own contribution to the Christmas spirit.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.


36 thoughts on “Beware of Christmas stories

  1. Despite our desire to help the less fortunate and those who have fallen upon hard times, the sad reality is that many people who live on the streets choose to do so.

    In many cases it is because they just prefer to be disconnected from larger society — living their lives without having to worry about rent payments, utilities, or daily transportation to and from a mind-numbing purposeless drone job.

    In some cases, there are underlying drug and/or alcohol problems which arise from a painful lack of self-esteem or no confidence or optimism about what life an offer in any believable future.

    Whatever the reason(s), reality requires us to acknowledge that there are large numbers of our fellow human beings who do not accept the predicates which organize and control the behavior of the typical individual.

    1. Ernie, I wonder if you would be so kind as to enlarge a bit on what exactly characterises a typical individual, in your opinion?

      1. Aadila: Please don’t pretend that you cannot understand what the word “typical” means in the context of this discussion. The “typical” person does not live on the streets nor does a typical person who is homeless and without shoes, reject or discard new shoes or boots which are given to him or her.

        A typical person wants a safe and comfortable place to live and if he or she confronts circumstances which render that person homeless, the typical person usually wants to find a way to return to a safe and comfortable place to live.

        Twice in my lifetime I personally have experienced homelessness. It is not fun. Very few among us want to become or remain homeless. Fewer still prefer to have no employment, no income, no address for receiving mail, no phone or internet access, few or no friends, no contacts with relatives.

        And in reply to czarinalex:

        When I lived in San Francisco (for over 20 years), the neighborhood in which I lived was filled with precisely the type of individuals you think I am not aware of. During the 20+ years I lived in San Francisco, I often provided homeless individuals in my neighborhood with a place to sleep and a decent meal. On two occasions, I brought men into my apartment to live rent-free for weeks or months at a time.

        I am so fucking tired of people like you who think you are morally and intellectually superior because you supposedly know everything and nobody BUT YOU has any genuine understanding or any genuine feelings for anyone who faces challenges or problems in their lives.

        During my lifetime, I have volunteered at a mental hospital and at a community switchboard which handled every conceivable type of emergency situation including depressed and suicidal people, homeless and abused youth, drug and alcohol addicts.

        Even today, in my 6th decade of life, I have opened my home to several individuals who have been homeless. In fact, there is in my apartment right now, several bags I am storing for someone whom, to use a famous phrase, lives on the kindness of strangers.

        Lastly, what began this discussion is not your straw-man arguments. What Arthur pointed out (and which I affirmed), is that many people living on our streets PREFER to remain disconnected from larger society and they reject the social services which are available to them. Nobody is “off base and out of touch” simply because they recognize that FACT.

      2. So if I understand you, Ernie, what you are saying is that the mere fact of being homeless is not what makes one atypical in America? Indeed you point to your own experience as a typical person, and suggest (forgive me if I am putting words in your mouth, but this is what I infer) that it is the status as mentally ill and homeless which is atypical.

        Thus I take umbrage at your observation, because mental health is not fundamentally a question of morality. Certainly one may do things considered immoral or incomprehensible while mentally ill, but if this behavior is due to the inability to distinguish reality, in fact this is not greatly atypical in the human species. Indeed, mental illness in America (and the global population) is more common than hazel eyes.

        There are 2.5 million Americans (give or take some hundreds of thousands) who suffer from schizophrenia. There are, according to NIMH, 26.2% of Americans diagnosed with some form of mental illness each year — in other words one fourth of the population — while those with a “serious” mental illness are about 6% of the population. So when you are in line at the post office with 17 people, one will statistically be seriously ill.

        This hardly seems “atypical” to me. Nor do I think it is correct to attribute to the mentally ill some kind of volition for being unable to cope, as if they have no interest or right to the same basic conditions for human survival — food, shelter, and clothing — as anyone else. A compassionate society would not blame them or let them freeze with the cynical observation that they have it coming to them.

        But of course, we are talking about America where greed and self interest are typical qualities, in fact, of a society in decline.

      3. Aadila:

        I don’t understand why you cannot comprehend what I originally wrote; I repeat it again:

        The “typical” person does not live on the streets nor does a typical person who is homeless and without shoes, reject or discard new shoes or boots which are given to him or her.

        A typical person wants a safe and comfortable place to live and if he or she confronts circumstances which render that person homeless, the typical person usually wants to find a way to return to a safe and comfortable place to live.

        As I have repeatedly stated here, there are many individuals who have perfectly intact intellects and who are not delusional or schizophrenic or otherwise mentally ill — who, nevertheless, PREFER to live on the streets. In addition, there are many individuals who are employed and who are fully functional but they have made a conscious choice to live their lives disconnected from larger society as much as possible (such as my current 60-year-old neighbor and my 30yo friend who I previously mentioned).

        It is simplistic, in the extreme, to believe that all or most homeless people fit into one cookie-cutter category.

        The rest of your comments are complete fabrications of what I previously wrote and I will not bother to comment upon your fictional inventions.

      4. Ernie not only do you not understand, you react with certain violence of spirit to my simple question. Yes I am questioning the fundaments upon which you walk. I challenge the very basis of your interpretation of reality, and this I suppose makes you uncomfortable enough to view me as an adversary when indeed all I do is point to the frail attempt to reify some form of “typical” human state when the the individual and society exist in a perfect, seamless dynamic and there is not anything typical which can be distinguished from the functioning of the whole — including the happy fat fellow in his comfortable Sunday bed and the misery outside his door.

        Old assumptions require fresh vision.

        I am not singling you out at all, because I see that you have compassion and a deep intellect. But I do yank the rug out from under this idea that some kind of statistical mean or “typicality” of human consciousness is so easy to define in terms that may be completely comprehensible to you but utterly meaningless to the experience of another. In other words, I feel you have not gone nearly deep enough into this question.

        If that’s cause for rage or to lash out against me, this is again, a reflection of how you see things and this affects the world.

  2. Ernie, I have since revised the post to reflect a Daily News story that reveals that Hillman is indeed rejecting social services that are available to him–including an apartment in the Bronx. He has friends and family too, who don’t know how to help him. Like most tragedies, there’s as much mystery as misery.

  3. Ernie is off base and out of touch. There are veterans of the Mideast wars and no doubt left from Vietnam on the streets. Do you understand that people are out there because of exorbitant health care costs and those shady mortgages. Don’t you realize George Bush changed the bankruptcy laws so before you declared bankruptcy you literally have to have nothing. Of course it wasn’t changed for corporations. And of course there are legion of the mentally ill out and if you actually they could make a reasonable decision to live on the streets you are dumber than I thought. Charity cannot replace a social safety net. All these affluent types who put wings on hospital, research laboratories on college campuses or endow libraries would be better off paying their employees a decent wage, with benefits and a safe working condition. They generally get a big tax break for this too. I give to charity also-like many people and I hand money to panhandlers but I know very well the problem needs more than this to be dealt with.

  4. As to Glenn Beck’s cynical view that social welfare is redundant to the charity of ordinary citizens, one might also say the same thing about law.

  5. I’m going to step in and defend Ernie. There are people in this world who choose, sometimes rationally, sometimes in the throes of a hallucinatory disorder, to live on the margins, and that’s always been the case. 999 times out of a thousand when you see a homeless person in rags, there’s a tragic story about untreated or untreatable mental illness and/or addiction or bankruptcy or catastrophic illness or PTSD….. But scattered among the schizophrenics and the victims of financial vicissitudes, there are hermits and mystics and dropouts who choose to live off the grid. Of course most of those voluntary poor find cleaner and safer places to live than subway grates, but Ernie’s point isn’t that we should feel smug about them–he’s saying that for whatever reason, there are people who resist society’s efforts to help them, and Mr. Hillman apppears to be one of them. Almost certainly, he is so sick that the idea of “choice” hardly applies to his case, but as the News story relates, there are people who were close to him who have tried in vain to rescue him and he didn’t completely fall through the cracks of the social service bureaucracy either.

    Back in the ’80s, there was a homeless man who made himself obnoxious in his Manhattan neighborhood by shitting on the sidewalk. When the city moved to have him forcibly removed from his grate, some person or entity–it might have been the ACLU, God help us, I can’t remember–brought suit on his behalf, defending his right to live the life he chose. It sickened me. I can also remember when the Mayor ordered the transit police to remove homeless people from subway stations in the winter, and the union stood up for the officers who refused to put them out in the cold. I think I recall that Giuliani’s compromise was to issue new orders that when the temperature dropped to a certain level, they should be rounded up and forcibly taken to shelters. Many resisted, and who can blame them–I wouldn’t spend a night in one of those shelters if I could possibly help it. They’re dangerous places. But I would hardly fight for their right to freeze, either.

    Public asylums used to be horrible places where inmates were routinely mistreated and drugged into insensiblity, their disability payments turned into profits….. But I am hard put to believe that we do the profoundly disturbed a favor by allowing so many of them to live in squalor on the streets. Maybe we could put them in decent hospitals; maybe we could contrive to establish shelters that aren’t like prisons. For that matter, maybe we could contrive to have prisons that aren’t for-profit hellholes.

    The point of this story, I think, is that the policeman’s impulse was ineffably kind and good but the object of his benevolence was so far gone in misery that even such a golden gesture hardly made any kind of a difference. It’s not a feel good story at all, in other words–it’s a scene in a tragedy.

    1. Arthur: I currently have a neighbor who is 60 years old. Since his youth, he has deliberately organized his life so that he usually has never had to work more than 6 months a year. He has told me that he is not comfortable working for long periods of time at the same job.

      He lived in my apartment complex for about 5 months earlier this year, then he travelled to the San Francisco Bay Area to look for a part-time job. For most of the time he was away, he lived inside his 10-year old van that has 300,000 miles on it. He recently returned here.

      During his lifetime he has worked as a bartender and as a restaurant server and as a carpenter. When he lived in New Orleans, he had his longest period of employment working in the maritime industry.

      This individual has no furniture in his apartment except for one sofa. When he first lived here, he slept in a hammock. He is bright (he reads constantly) but, intellectually, he subscribes to many paranoid conspiracy theories.

      When he becomes eligible to receive social security, his benefit will not be enough to pay rent and utilities on a studio apartment (which around here would be about $750 month). He has no medical coverage (other than going to the ER). He is living on the last of his savings (currently about $4000 judging from what he has told me). He hopes he can find work but if not, he will leave here in April or May and then live in his van again.

      This individual has made a conscious decision to not work at full-time jobs during most of his lifetime. He simply is not comfortable doing so. And, now, he faces the prospect that his senior years may require him to live inside his van with occasional short stays in a motel room.

      That is the reality which I was trying to explain in my previous messages.

  6. I completely hear you, Ernie.

    I’ve met many people like your friend in my life–and encountered them in celebrated works of literature too (think of Ishmael in Moby Dick, whose very name connotes inveterate outsiderdom, or Bartleby the Scrivener; or Neal Cassady in ON THE ROAD). A lot of American frontiersman were cut out of the same mold; so are many mercenaries. It’s tempting to romanticize them, but it’s more easily done at a distance.

  7. We are talking about a number of things here. Of course there are people in society-you can label them eccentric -who may chose to live on the streets-and you can look at some mythical creations-the troll under the bridge-“Mean Mr Mustard” of the Beatles lore-who-“slept in a hole in the road”. That does explain most of what the homeless issue is in America. Of course Ernie made some brief statement about people who make a concerted choice to do this-but that doesn’t have much to do with the larger discussion and I think it got sidetracked and quite frankly Ernie-I can’t really agree with a lot of what you say. I found what you said disingenuous. The bulk of those people do not want to be out on the street. That is nonsense. We know about the financial issues of people-I have indicated and maybe you can check it out-that you have to be literally without any possessions to declare personal bankruptcy. A lot of those people are mentally ill because we have no system to deal with them anymore. The are alone and they stop taking medication and voila-there you have it. Not to mention addicts and alcoholics and even in these cases a good number of these people are self medicating for other issues. Now I have to say institutions are nothing like they way they looked in Cuckoo’s Nest or when Geraldo went to Willowbrook. I know this because I worked in a state facility for the mentally challenged and mentally ill for 30 years. The care given there for the small number of people still there is superior to care they would get anywhere else quite frankly. However -no one gets admitted anymore unless they are a huge problem and need almost 2:1 or 3:1 supervision. And the community mental health and mental retardations systems have been defunded of a lot of things. The point of Arthur’s article I thought was these grand gestures in the case of giving this person boots -do not solve the larger problem. You can’t take care of the needs of many of these people through charity -it doesn’t work. There is nothing wrong with private charitable organizations who do provide services for the homeless. When you see this -this is a reflection of just how far American has fallen. Any good civilized society takes care of its most needy and vulnerable. Sorry Ernie what you were saying in my thinking is -screw them-they want to be there-and I beg to disagree and I don’t care how altruisitic or caring you may want to portray yourself Ernie you are wrong. I am sorry if someone is out in subfreezing weather and will likely die is they are not taken to a shelter-then you forcibly take them period.The law says if you put yourself or someone else in danger-we intervene. And quite frankly-if people are out there and are acting out and are walking around without clothes etc -you take them in-not to jail-to appropriate care. And if they are off their medicine-you force them to take it. I don’t like that we have gotten to this point-but this is where we are at. I read stuff from a Treatment Advocacy group and they concur. I get tired of hearing bullshit about someone’s so
    called “rights” when actually they are in no condition to exercise rights. Now obviously I am saying people should be locked in institutions forever but we are in drastic times. I have heard from families saying what happens when a mentally ill family member goes off medication and what happens.And sometimes what happens is a family member gets murdered or with are gun obsessed society-they access weapons legally and kill even more people. Just what an unmedicated paranoid schitzophrenic needs. I am not pleased that this is where we are at in the 21st century. We need to start funding services for these people again and maybe we won’t be in this ugly situation. Many of these people could live safely in society with a decent support system.

    1. Once again you have created a totally absurd straw-man argument. I never said or hinted that (as you falsely wrote) “The bulk of those people do not want to be out on the street.”

      I simply stated that there are a significant number of homeless individuals who PREFER to dissociate themselves from our larger society and whom, as Arthur correctly pointed out, refuse to accept the social services (aka safety net options) which are available to them.

      Here is the basic problem:

      FOR YOU—this is essentially an abstract intellectual discussion.

      FOR ME—this is something (1) that I have personally experienced twice in my own life and (2) when I lived in San Francisco, I lived in the downtown neighborhood (The Tenderloin) that was the primary location for the very type of individuals we are discussing.

      In fact, a large assortment of homeless men and women routinely congregated on my block AND several organizations within one or two blocks of my home provided everything from meal vouchers, to tickets for nightly beds, to a medical clinic, and other services.

      I have been acutely aware of this problem for decades and I am personally familiar with numerous individuals who have been homeless — especially since many of them stayed in my apt for varying periods of time.

      Since you know nothing whatsoever about me and my experiences, it is patently absurd for you to pretend that you have some special understanding that eludes me.

      1. I might add that San Francisco has, arguably, the most extensive public commitment in terms of resources for homeless people than any city in our country.

        For example: see the Kelly Cullen Community project which is a $95 million renovation of the former YMCA in the Tenderloin–which now has 172 studio apartments for chronically homeless people.

        Also see the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development property portfolio.

        Nevertheless, there are MANY homeless men and women (although mostly men) who simply REJECT social services because they want the freedom to live their lives according to their own preferences.

      2. Ernie, why is that a failure of the individual and not society? Maybe America just isn’t worth believing in anymore. Could that be due to the selfish individualism and material greed of our culture?

      3. aadila I think you need to just give it up. I have listented to the incessant absurdies of people for years specifically ring wing types. I am not sure where ernie factors in here-but he does make the same absurd comment that the Fox people and right wing radio make-is if people are poor and without-it is mostly due to their own choices and laziness. Obviously with the last election we have seen this mean spiritedness and self centered greed pretty much turning people off. I think get the idea of how a society is better served and it has to do with trying to give everyone a quality of life and opportunity. And a civil society always cares for the people who are the most vulnerable. People like ernie can rant and rave but quite frankly -this kind of stuff is falling on deaf ears for the most part. Not to too many people want to listen to Fox noise and Rush Limbaugh garbage-the audience is mostly over 65 in age and under 65 in IQ. Henry Rollins suggested Ann Coulter -“shut the fuck up” but pretty soon they won’t have any audience at all. Good riddance.

      4. CZARINALEX:

        Why do you characterize my comments as “rant and rave”? Why do you associate me with Fox News and right-wing radio?

        Apparently, in your scheme of things, there is never an alternative understanding of a problem which you are not familiar with. So, instead of considering data which does not conform to your own beliefs, you prefer to slur the messenger who brings it to your attention.

        What have I written here that is “mean-spirited”?

        1. Have you ever housed a homeless person in your home for weeks or months at a time?

        2. Have you ever fed homeless individuals in your home?

        3. Have you ever given homeless or needy persons clothing or other items which you no longer need?

        4. Have you ever volunteered to work at neighborhood or religious or charitable organizations whose clientele is predominantly composed of homeless or distressed individuals?

        I have done all of the above my entire lifetime.

        What HAVE YOU DONE?

      5. Ernie, can you define “ME” and “YOU”? You talk about homelessness but that assumes a home can be owned. What is ownership when neither you nor the home, nor the homeless has any permanent existence? Yes this will likely make you angry, since your mental habits drift toward anger when confronted with views that you reject, but czarinalex is no less correct than you in these observations. I sincerely challenge this idea of “ME” which seems to be the pillar of our consciousness.

        Go right ahead and define this idea of “ME” and see how far you can go before you recognize that there really is no such thing, and to prop up one’s ego on the basis of “ME” helping “YOU” is really just a veil over the kind of compassion which exists at a deeper level where there are no such distinctions. Naturally you will spit venom at me. But can you actually do it? Define “ME” in terms that are divisible from the existence of which and by which we are all connnected. My guess is you will give up after 15 seconds and get angry at me, or more likely, say it’s not even worthy of thought. And of course, this is because the thought is worthy, and deeply unsettling to the way you view reality.

        All principles of ownership, of identity, of pride, our righteousness and feelings of charity, the way we limit our view. All of these things are barriers to the greater kinds of understanding of why it is that one would even feel a compassionate thought and why we feel so compelled to defend that which we consider “ours” with locks, barriers, bars, and weapons. Can you not see that this grand illusion of selfishness is one of great moral destitution, the likes of which dwarf any condition of homelessness?

  8. Amen to that. There is no one simple explanation and no magic bullet solution for the problem, but at the same time, there is a terrible lack of will in some quarters to do some of the things that can be done. We can’t fix everything but we can do better. All of us know it, which is why a story like this is so frustrating and upsetting–and why it’s so tempting to turn it into something heartwarming.

  9. Ernie I don’t believe there is a significant number either sorry. I have heard people coming back from Iraq and Aghanistan military tours telling me I have no right to comment on anything -since I personally wasn’t there. Do you think a soldier knows the big picture about the war in the Middle East because they were there and I should not have a right speak.Sounds just like you Ernie. Wrap your brain around this ernie-many people at that level of addiction and/or mental illness may say they want to live in the streets and really believe it-but guess what ernie-I don’t think they are capable of making a rational judgements in many cases Sorry Ernie-I am not buying your story in total. Most of those people on the streets do not want to be there or cannot make any informed consent about it one way or another. Someone just told me that most of the homeless in Fort Lauderdale are young drug addicts who don’t want to work. You think I believe that Ernie because the person who told it to me lives in Fort Lauderdale?

    1. You are free to believe anything you want and present any fiction you want. Fiction-writers fabricate their story lines and then hope the rest of us will find their narratives and characters to be compelling and credible–even though inventions.

      It is much more complex that you want us to believe.

      1. Yes–there are some homeless who are mentally ill or who have addiction problems.

      2. However, I suggest you read my previous message in reply to Arthur about one of my current neighbors. Perhaps, in your scheme of things, my neighbor is “mentally ill” — but he is entirely rational and he has made choices throughout his lifetime which you (or I) might disagree with because of the circumstances he now confronts — and will confront in the future.

      3. I suggest that if you want your views to be taken seriously, that you should spend considerable time living in a neighborhood that has lots of homeless people or doing volunteer work with agencies that serve homeless people. OR, alternatively, read the studies which have been made about homeless populations in our major cities.

      4. The indisputable FACT is that there are many individuals who are profoundly alienated from modern society.

      (a) MANY of them are middle class, employed, and never have been homeless in their lives. And, often, they express their alienation through irrational conspiracy theories which reveal their profound sense of impotence which they think exists in their own lives.

      (b) BUT OTHERS are individuals who have CHOSEN to “drop out” of modern society or to limit their exposure to what modern society usually requires.

      Going back to my neighbor, for example, he has an ATM card for his bank account but he refuses to obtain any sort of credit card and he does not wish to purchase anything which requires him to reveal ANY personal information about himself — such as internet or cable TV.

      The main reason he decided to return here (after being in the SF Bay Area for 6 months) is because he knew he could rent an apartment again in this building without going through a credit check or having to fill out a rental application.

      He is totally ok with the prospect of living inside his van again if he cannot afford to rent an apartment or if he feels that he must give up too much of his private information to get one.

      He could easily wind up being a homeless person on the streets if his van (aka bedroom and living room) konks out.

      YOU might think he is “mentally ill” or “eccentric” — but I see him as one of many people I have known who simply wants to live a simple life without lots of connections to other people.

      1. Personal anecdotal examples are not real good proof for anything ernie-if you could find maybe 50 or 100 people who experienced the same homeless community you are talking about who could validate or corroborate your example with their own specifice examples-otherwise ernie I say you are talking out of your tail. If you enjoy being a contrarian for the sake of it -be my guest-but frankly you are repeating yourself. I think statistics have shown country wide a large block of those people have mental illness issue-including ex military as well as addicts and alcoholics who often medicate with alcohol to deal with a mental health issue. Of course you have prostitues of both sexes who are mostly doing it to pay for a drug habit. And of course young runaways who have fled their home and may be doing prostitution to get by. I understand places like Seatle and Vegas have lots of these kinds. But sorrry -if they are disconnected from society these are the reasons I have mentioned above.

  10. CZAR:

    For some reason you think it is helpful to base your comments upon entirely false predicates about what I believe and what I have written here.

    I am not relying exclusively upon what you want to de-value and euphemize as “personal anecdotal experiences” — although I suspect that my “personal anecdotal experiences” vastly exceed anything you have experienced in your lifetime — particularly since for over 20 years I chose to live in a neighborhood of a major American city which was home to large numbers of the very people we are discussing and I did volunteer work which involved daily contact with those individuals and I was listed with community organizations who provided services to such individuals and who needed volunteers who were willing to open their homes as “crash pads”.

    You mention “50 or 100 people” as some sort of benchmark for credibility. I had a hearty chuckle when I read that.

    At one time I was a volunteer with the “Night Minister” who walked the Tenderloin area in San Francisco from about 9pm to 5am. During that time, I met HUNDREDS of homeless men (and a few women) who lived and slept on the streets of the Tenderloin. When I say “met” — I mean that I got to know them as individuals, by their first names, and I became acquainted with their personal histories—insofar as they were willing to share them.

    What comparable experiences do YOU have in that regard my friend?

    At another time, I was a volunteer in what was the downtown Greyhound Bus Station’s Traveler’s Aid Society (TAS) booth. At that time the TAS had food vouchers which were valid at a local restaurant (similar to Denny’s) for people who needed a free meal — and all sorts of community organizations sent us homeless and troubled people (often young people who had been rejected by their families because they were gay and who used their last dollar for a bus ticket to San Francisco). You don’t want to know how they survived on the streets of San Francisco after that.

    And, as previously mentioned, I volunteered at what was then known as the Mission Switchboard–a 24-hour hotline which handled every conceivable emergency or distress situation including housing, food, medical, psychological (including suicidal people and drug/alcohol problems), employment, domestic abuse/violence and much more.

    On any given day, that Switchboard received at least 100 calls and usually we had several dozen in-person visits.

    At both the TAS and at Mission Switchboard, I compiled a lengthy Resource List which was used by all other volunteers — which is how I became even more familiar with the scope of the homeless problem and the resources available in San Francisco during the time I was doing volunteer work.

    I explicitly said that your views would have more credibility if you had any experience working with homeless men and women OR if you had read any of the studies which have been done on homeless populations in our major cities. So you do not have to rely upon what you want to de-value as my “personal anecdotal experiences”.

    Nobody is disputing that a significant number of homeless have mental health issues. Who wouldn’t have such issues when everything you’ve come to know and rely upon is suddenly absent from your life and when just finding a place to take care of bodily functions and eating can be a major daily challenge?

    But it also true that there are a very significant number of individuals on the streets who are alienated from modern society. And like my current 60-year-old neighbor, some of them are quite intelligent and have college degrees but they are totally unwilling to live their lives in what they perceive as robotic fashion, i.e. on a 9-5 schedule for 40 years of drudgery — and they have little interest in acquiring materialistic things. Many of these folks do not feel comfortable in social situations, i.e. they prefer to live private lives disconnected from other people.

    One of my friends (he is 30yo) spent 5 years in the US Army. When I first met him (online) he was serving in South Korea. After he got out of the Army, he lived briefly in Arizona and he then wound up in California. I subsequently discovered that he was living at a homeless shelter here. He is now living in a sort of half-way house and he is finishing a 2-year educational program. He recently told me that he would like to live his life as a recluse. Yes, he has personal issues but he is perfectly happy having minimal social contacts.

    One has to understand that there are people in our country who prefer quiet lives and who reject all the trappings of modern society — and a significant number of them are (and choose to be) homeless.

  11. Aadila/Czarina- I generally love it when one of my posts sparks so much comment, but this string is starting to upset me. Ernie may be irascible–I have had some pretty major disagreements with him myself along the way–but you are reacting to things he didn’t say and you are wrong to caricature him as some kind of creature of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.

    Ernie is not some random troll; he has as deep and as granular and exquisitely sourced an understanding of the far right in the US as probably anyone alive. Do yourselves a favor and click on Ernie’s Database of Right Wing Documents that appears on my list of Websites and Blogs of Interest on the right side of this page and see the kinds of sources he’s assembled for the John Birch Society. His analysis of conspiratorial thinking is exceptionally cogent; I have quoted from it many times and you can find it here: In my travels through hard right, anti-Semitic, and racist websites, I’ve often encountered comment strings from Ernie, in which he quietly and calmly refutes their claims with documents from their own movement. He is fearless that way. Once I found a string on, I think, Stormfront, where some morons were trying to figure out if he is Jewish.

    Argue, please, but with a spirit of forbearance towards your opponent and appropriate skepticism when it comes to your own certainties. As the Dalai Lama says, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

    1. Arthur — Thanks for your support but using Borg-speak, “resistance is futile”.

      Aadila/czarinalex are ideologues.

      As such, they believe they are in possession of some Ultimate Final Truth and nobody
      (N-O-B-O-D-Y) has any factual information if it does not conform to what they already believe.

      Oddly, both of them are quick to question the character and integrity of people they perceive as critics but they are totally comfortable associating their critics with “selfish” “greedy” or “mean-spirited” motives or belief systems.

      Neither one of them has the remotest clue who I am or what I have done in my lifetime.

      Let me close by pointing out that

      (1) a South Carolina chapter leader of the John Birch Society describes me with terms like “Comrade”, “disinformation agent”, “New World Order stooge”, and “neutralizer” —- because of my reports on the Birch Society.

      (2) numerous fans of the notorious bigot (Eustace Mullins) attack me for being a Jew/Communist “disinformation agent”.

      See for example:

      (3) and most of the folks on websites which parrot Fox News and right-wing radio which I have posted messages on, despise me and suggest that I am some sort of Communist or socialist.

      Incidentally, FYI, I have recently made arrangements with the Center For Right Wing Studies at the University of California–Berkeley to donate to them DVD’s containing most of the FBI files I have obtained during the past several years.

      You may see a link to my bibliography of academic theses and dissertations pertaining to conservative and extreme right history here (scroll down to second entry):

      1. Ultimate truth cannot be posessed, because it is not a thing. It can be observed however, as a process of continual change. So you are mistaken about my beliefs. But that may change.

  12. I never said Ernie was a creature of Fox and Rush-merely that he shared their views in this. Ernie may be on point for a lot of things and have done impeccable research-however I think he is off base here. I think the whole point of the article got lost here-and I am not interested in pursuing any further discussion on this.Ernie has the tenacity of a terrier which I think in this case he became repetitive and rather boring.I think it is beyond ridiculous to try to equate “dropping out of society” with living on the streets and homeless.Finis!

    1. CZAR: Absolutely absurd. I do not share their views.

      I think Rush Limbaugh is a bigoted buffoon who has nothing worthwhile to contribute to our national conversation.

      FYI: I occasionally watch Fox News Sunday (Chris Wallace’s interview program), but that is about the extent of my Fox News awareness.

      And just for the record, I did not “equate” dropping out of society with living on the streets and homelessness. I merely attempted to bring your attention to the fact that there are many different types of people in our society who have differing perceptions of what constitutes a desirable, satisfying life.

      As Arthur pointed out in his article about Mr. Hillman:

      “Hillman is eligible for a lot of benefits and services that he doesn’t take advantage of. He has friends and family who want to help him; he even has an apartment in the Bronx that he doesn’t use.”

  13. Oddly enough for a person who picks fights with Birchers and White Nationalists and anti-Semites and MRAs and the like, I hate it when an argument gets out of hand. I just want everybody–especially my readers!–to get along.

  14. For your amusement — I copy below an unedited email I received just about an hour ago from another one of my many fans–including the spelling error.

    I guess I can’t be all wrong when I elicit this type of hateful message:

    The traior known as ernie “the kike” lazar

    From Roy

    To ernie1241

    Yo fuck wit, you still chatting shit and denying your one of Gods chosen people or have you decided to GET REAL?

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