The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review


Sunday, September 18, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Sept. 19th: A Homeless Journal of Sorts


"More heavenly than those glittering stars we hold the eternal eyes which the Night has opened within us."

- Novalis (Hymns To The Night)

...small business and the homeless...

One of the most common areas of conflict is between small boutique businesses and panhandler/homeless groups.

One primary reason is that the concept of the small business has widened and changed with the advent of malls, superstores and the Internet.

Small business used to also sell necessities; whether it was groceries, prescriptions, clothes or tobacco. It didn't matter if the street had a bum or two hanging out, the customers still needed to come.

Today many small brick and mortar businesses are specialty goods or boutiques, and are often in locations where the optics and atmosphere are important to spur impulse sales from tourists or upscale customers.

This can come into conflict with panhandlers whose income ironically depends on optics, but in reverse. They need to spur spending by creating a picture of hard reality, the opposite of a carefree holiday with an air of prosperity and free spending.

What can cause conflict isn't only a homeless population that has too many aggressive panhandlers but also who don't understand the type of small businesses that they're coming into conflict with, who would react and feel that their livelihoods were directly affected by their behavior.

In a town like Gilroy, which has homeless wandering around on their Main Street, you generally don't hear complaints from the owner of the archery and bow hunting shop. The reason is that the business has a specialty that attracts enthusiasts and isn't dependent on walk up traffic.

In a place like Santa Cruz, most of the Main Street businesses wouldn't survive one hour next to a Walmart. Those businesses are geared towards upper class customers and tourists who might see a nice item and have the disposable income to drop a hundred bucks or more on a pair of unique sandals or blouse. 

It's a purchase dependent on the leisurely ambiance of the street and the mood of the customers. If the buyer doesn't like what's outside the store, like a lot of loud and aggressive homeless, there's nothing compelling enough in that store to prevent a simple change of direction to another place of business.

This isn't to say that the business has trivial goods, it's just the nature of the tourist/leisure retail industry.

In the case of Santa Cruz, there was an incident where one of the owners, who had apparently been sympathetic to the homeless, spoke up publically about the disruption of business and drew an organized campaign of harassment by homeless groups who parked themselves outside the person's store. 

The homeless must have had among them people who understood that the businesses there were owned by independents who had much to lose by anything that repelled tourists, but really had no say in what was really a mob action that was an economic attack dressed up as a social protest.

The media characterized it as organized almost along the same lines as a political rally, but it was more like a demonstration that was dominated by it's most aggressive members. It was the usual tendency to simplify the image for a newsbyte.

It's arguable that the small business community were tolerant of the earlier homeless who hung around, but practiced benign neglect until the homeless population got too large and it led to conflict.

The reality is that the larger the homeless population gets, more diverse personalities enter the mix, and panhandlers in particular find themselves competing with each other for the same territory or income that used to go to one or a few. That can create competition and behavior that's always interpreted as aggression.

I remember talking to one hard experienced pandhandler, and he told me that one location used to yield up to two hundred dollars a day in donations. Then, he added, the word got out and then there were ten people working that spot, and the amount of money drastically dropped because of the numbers involved but also due to people getting turned off by the agressive ones in the group.

The Santa Cruz homeless were really individuals that grouped into an area and didn't most realize or were sensitive to the fact that they were in an area with upscale and tourist businesses and that the owners would be acting more aggressively if their presence seemed to be hurting business. 

Many probably saw them as wealthy businessmen who were in an ecosystem that could support them no matter how individuals among them behaved. 

It's an oversimplification on the part of the homeless, seeing things in stereotypical class terms, and mistaking the high priced goods as a sign of easy prosperity, and not a reflection of the fragile nature of boutique and tourist oriented retail, which is generally under heavy pressure from high commercial rents and fluctuations in sales due to the ecomomy. It's not a trivial concern to be worried about how the area looks to tourists in such a retail environment.

What business owners don't always realize is that the panhandlers really have the same motive, to survive, but the homeless are often described in herd terms like sheep or cows and their motives are judged along the same lines.

This creates reactions on their part that can come off as anger over ingratitude or low class behavior, and as homeless are people, that patronizing tone will create pushback.

It's common in media comment sections and even news articles to assume an increase in transients is due to "overly generous benefits" or climate, as if it was a grazing and watering situation.

The increase could simply be due to the next town over ejecting it's homeless population, or a simple shift within that area. 

An increase in sharks in the water would trigger off a study on migratory patterns but with the homeless it tends to come off as a series of the same image, a horde coming out of nowhere and taking over a street or neighborhood.

Agencies also look at the problem from their own perspectives; it's a shortage of housing, lack of mental health facilities, employment rate, the economy, and it's really a combination of all those factors. But a myopic view can send aid money in the wrong direction for that area. Sociological situations are really like microclimes.

It's not the thing that the homeless will know, or care about, in their own concern for survival, but the main takeaway is that it wouldn't hurt for business communities to begin outreach and communication before trouble starts...most homeless talk to each other and a little communication goes a long way...but it's always a mistake to group the homeless into a supposedly homogenous group and expect them to act in concert.

Such generalization prevents understanding the human elements that are in play when there's panhandlers outside...they aren't alway a bunch of mild and humble Charles Dickens characters begging for a crust of bread...they're human beings trying to make a living, perhaps not in the way society would approve of, and because of that, will behave pretty much like other people will when their income is cut off or threatened. 

Santa Cruz, like Berkeley later on, had a problem with aggressive panhandlers and it developed along the same arc from tolerable to excessive, and it's a cycle that can be understood and perhaps even dealt with before it gets to the law enforcement point.

Seeing an increase in homeless in an area should prompt an inquiry as to where they came from, why they chose that area, to understand what created what is in effect a migration to the new spot. It's not just simply a matter of services acting as a magnet, etc., there'll be a multitude of reasons. 

The conflict there was because certain elements of the homeless could tap into anger and other emotions, and a widening of services dilutes that influence. Most of that is based on the ability to deliver services or tolerance that is perceived to be be absent, and while the measures won't necessarily generate Hollywood movie style cries of gratitude, it does diffuse emotions that can be brought to the boiling point by hunger, and paranoia over oppressive measures.

Keep in mind that I'm not saying that this or that city isn't trying to do something, it's just an examination of deeper issues that can get lost in the turmoil of daily problems and conflict, which are symptoms, not causes.

...talking demographics...

It's also important to note that one size fits all solutions don't generally work...each city's homeless population will tend to be at least a little different, and often have different demographics within the same region.

The crowd in the San Mateo area will differ depending on whether they congregate near 280, or on El Camino in the downtown district. Salinas has different subcultures, and it can also differentiate by ethnic groups also...though it doesn't seem like it on the surface, there's economic and cultural strata also. 

There's Silicon Valley homeless that can range from high tech workers to backpackers, and San Francisco has a huge population that often gets grouped into one mass image, but  it's actually quite diverse.

It can range from those who desperately need a meal, to those who simply need time to save enough money to venture back into the mainstream. Forcing car homeless to shelters, for example, can derail their attempts to mainstream and knock them down a rung.

...Ivy, the whose home is the universe (part 1 intro)...

Ivy was most likely born in Fremont, California about nine years ago, into an illegal puppy mill based in the back of a barbershop run by Chinese Americans...I mention the ethnicity because it has a bearing on her later life.

Ivy was kept in a cage as a breeder, a Vet estimated that she probably had at least three litters, one only a few weeks before her rescue and the puppies already sold.

The puppy mill's specialty was breeding white or very light colored runts to create "teacup" Shitzus, and Ivy was a normal healthy sized dog used to mate with smaller ones.

She was shown no affection by her captors, though it was obvious later on that women fed and cared for her. The reason is that after her rescue, she tended to readily trust women.

A love wolf animal activist spotted the puppy farm, and did an undercover investigation, and called in the police once it was established that the illegal breeding operation existed and sold puppies for an average of 300.00 cash.

Ivy was one of 13 Shih tzu's recovered in the raid, and one of the few normal sized ones. She was fortunate in that respect as she didn't have serious health problems, some had lost an eye or were weak runts.

         Ivy's First Picture At Home

I was looking for a dog about that time, and spotted her ad with the rescue organization, and had people recommend getting a Shih Tzu...I did some research and liked the description and saw Ivy early on in the search.

My first contact with Ivy was confusing, she had spent some weeks getting care and being socialized with volunteers but clearly didn't like me...I hadn't had a dog since childhood, and this was my first contact with a rescue pet, so her nervous behavior seemed typical. I realized later on she was like that with any Asian male due to her experience in the barbershop.

I took her home and she seemed OK and ate some food, and appeared to be cautious but liking the new home. I tried to name her "sushi" but Ivy wouldn't respond to it, and I quickly gave up and Ivy became her permanent name.

One day later she ran away, and her rescuer came by and taught me how to do a search effort, from how to drive through the area and search where Ivy would likely hide, to checking Animal Control and putting up signs.

She was recovered a few days later by Animal Control, and after a day waiting period to medically check her condition, I was asked if I still wanted her.

I figured there was a reason she entered my life, so she stayed, and for about a month kept bolting out any open door, though it seemed easier and easier to catch her. The woman who had rescued her told me that it probably wasn't personal, that it was more a case of not feeling that she was in a real home, and perhaps even searching for the last litter that was born before the rescue.

She was so quiet that the vet thought an operation on the vocal chords to stop barking was likely done, and when she barked for the first time 6 months later, I actually looked around outside not realizing it was her.

Ivy began to trust me at about the 6 month point, but was very socially awkward and acted more like a cat...except that she was curious about other animals like squirrels and ducks, staring at them while they stared at her wondering why they weren't being chased.

             Ivy In A Band Promo Pic

To this day she thinks cats and other creatures are part of the dog family, and tries to make friends.

About this time I also found that her favorite places were couches and car seats, she was relaxed in both. Also, she was comfortable with being photographed if the session was kept to a few minutes. 

These days I have to catch her by surprise as the sight of an iPhone being pointed brings out posing behavior and the same pose and smile.

Ivy has gone through a few phases, from being stoic, to the present day where she has a vocabulary of grunts and panting that signals when she's hungry, wants to be taken outside, etc., as opposed to going to the door and other dog body language. One breakthrough was figuring out sentences, combining a series of sounds into a string to reply to spoken words, and replying when talked to. She knows it's a vocabulary as she'll experiment with sounds until one gets the result desired (mostly food of course).

Like most Shih tzu's, she naps a lot. Being in a car hasn't been a hardship and there's been no antsy or stir crazy behavior. She's been given the whole back seat, has two beds and also will ask to be put in front in the passenger seat.

Ivy's seen a lot of places, from LA to the Sierras, from beaches to ocean. She knows most places by smell and sound, and a new location brings out a desire to explore it.

She's been pretty healthy, but does have a heart murmur and dry eye condition now, both of which she takes medication for. She always has an air of good cheer, and as we've spent more and more of life together, the picture of her personality gets more and more detailed, and I can say without exaggeration, that a day hasn't gone by where she hasn't made me smile or laugh at least once. 

If I'm surviving the homeless life, it's her survivor instinct that has been a big part of it. I couldn't ask for a better friend in my present journey...


I'll be putting more of her adventures in future blog entries, many of which helped shape the nature of our road experience.

End Part One Ivy...