What's In A Name?

Posted by Mike Michalski on Tuesday, August 27th, 2019.

Bums still cry, "Hey buddy, have you got a dime?"
-from 'The Beat Goes On' by Sonny & Cher

The recent influx of homeless individuals into Manhattan Beach and the South Bay (the three photos below were taken in Manhattan Beach) raises a  timely and relevant question:  What is the acceptable terminology when referring to people experiencing homelessness? 

Back in 1967, Sonny and Cher sang about panhandling 'bums' in their hit song "The Beat Goes On."  Today, the word bums is a pejorative.

Transient?  Tim Waag, a Central Coast blogger, says a transient is someone who has chosen the homeless lifestyle, which distinguishes him/her from the truly homeless who were once housed but lost their homes through some misfortune.

In essence, the term doesn't seem quite right here and, says Waag, when applied indiscriminately to all homeless people, the word transient indicates a negative point of view toward the homeless.  So it's considered a pejorative as well.

Vagrant?  Unlike the truly homeless who want to become 're-homed', the vagrant is often viewed as not willing to work or to change his or her lifestyle and most likely is addicted to drugs or alcohol. 

That's the template for the individuals we see regularly photographed in varying stages of public undress and unconsciousness on one of our favorite twitter sites, Carol@LAVagrants.  Yet vagrant is viewed as not empathetic.

 How about simply homeless or, collectively, the homeless?  No, homeless advocates will tell you that being homeless is a condition, ie, lacking a physical structure overhead, not a description of the person him/herself.

"People (or person) experiencing homelessness" is politically correct but cumbersome.  Besides, there's a better phrase. 

Want to demonstrate your superior compassion?  Show how woke you are?  Then fall in line with the liberal-progressives who insist you refer to the homeless as "unhoused neighbors."

Of course, anyone bothering to reflect on all this can see what's happening here.  If the left can change the very words by shaming anyone using traditional verbiage like vagrants or transients or simply the homeless, they can change how people think about the homeless, er, unhoused, to further a progressive agenda.

Liberal progressives long ago realized, much more so than conservatives, that language reflects and shapes how we think about the people and world around us.

For instance, one might be resolutely in favor of strict enforcement of ordinances prohibiting anyone from sleeping on public sidewalks, camping out in the civic center plaza (Manhattan Beach even has anti-camping signs posted there), defecating in the streets and injecting drugs in a park but that position softens and the resolve weakens if we're now talking about our "neighbors." 

And that seems to be the goal - to decriminalize and de-stigmatize those behaviors, often referred to as defining deviancy down. 

But if that's the goal - and the recent uber-liberal 9th Circuit's Boise decision that makes most anti-camping ordinances (including Manhattan Beach's) unenforceable goes a long way in that direction - what is the left's ultimate objective here? 

Simple - to ensure that the only legally permissible and compassionate solution is a massive redistribution of city revenues and your tax dollars (via the "ever-efficient" means of big government programs) toward establishing permanent housing and services for every homeless person in each and every city (again, including Manhattan Beach). 

Changing the language has a subtle sub-conscious way of molding public opinion (not to mention the rush of moral superiority a phrase like unhoused neighbor bestows on the user, a definite side benefit of this tortured phrase).

Indeed, changing the descriptor to unhoused neighbors almost makes it seem as if there is no homelessness problem, just a need for neighbors to be neighborly by helping their fellow neighbors.

Meanwhile, lost in all this Orwellian doublespeak and moral posturing is a valid and justifiable concern for public safety and public health.  Families and kids should be able to walk around the city or bike to the beach without harm or, as was reported in several instances recently, without the "neighbors" trying to take their bikes. 

And the police should be able to do their job of protecting the public.

Compassion for the mentally ill and for people who find themselves on the streets due to unfortunate circumstances?  Of course.  But not every homeless person falls into those categories. 

In the rush to provide the full panoply of shelter and services to every one of our "unhoused neighbors", let's not completely dismiss personal responsibility and accountability on behalf of at least some of the homeless themselves.

It's hard to believe that we actually can turn to John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), former Sex Pistols lead singer and rock 'n roll nihilist, to get to the heart of the matter.  Living just up the road in Venice Beach, he's had to deal with homeless encampments in front of his house and has been calling the police because, as he puts it, "I'm a bloke that's worked hard for his money and I expect to be able to use my own front door."

Guess ol' Johnny didn't get the memo about being more welcoming to his new neighbors.


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This entry was posted under Manhattan Beach, and Smell The Coffee.