The Final Solution

It doesn't matter that the political motives are not immediately discernable in the plaza redesign. In Ashland, politics and The Homeless Problem are inseperable. To say that the plaza redesign is at heart an attempt to reorganize the homeless population is not jumping to a conclusion or going out on a limb. Before knowing anything, it's a reasonable assumption.

This is true because the reactives whom this assumption is a reaction to carry the same assumption: everything is about the homeless. When the Oak Knoll fire happend, the man who allegedly started it could not simply be homeless, but a part of a larger problem. The psyche of this town is such that before he was even named, the problem was waiting for him to become evidence. For the same reason, the problems of downtown businesses are not the problems of downtown businesses. Businesses are persecuted by the homeless, so business owners say, who in turn are persecuted by the bleeding hearts who defend the homeless. It's rather cozy, really--a warm blanket of infinite scapegoats.

Behind the words "plaza redesign" a whole unspoken rhetoric stands ready. The plaza is a problem because the homeless hang out there. Their presence scares off tourists, and therefore reduces the money they spend in the surrounding shops. The plaza must be made somehow unappealing to the homeless. It must be cleaned of the stain.

Imagine what kind of plaza would dissuade homeless from loitering. (The rows of metal spikes that keep birds off come to mind, personally.) Find one of those St. Vincent de Paul donation boxes put up recently downtown, and read it. Imagine, if you can, the mechanism by which the presence of or donations to these boxes could reduce panhandling downtown. If you're feeling particularly brave, try to imagine what the mastermind behind these boxes imagines panhandling to be.

On both sides of this divisive and all-subsuming issue, it appears, we await a solution. The business owners wait for the law to push the problem away, and the bleeding hearts wait for reform to address "the root of the problem" (that elusive thing to which one can always eliptically refer). Whether it's a beautiful moment of guilt-dissolving healing, or a righteous sweeping away of "the bad element" we seek, something golden awaits us at the end of our labors.

The root of the problem is the ground on which we stand. Or at the very least, on which we shop for organic produce. Not that this is the end of history, but were Capitalism to dissolve, we wouldn't have to win the aesthetic purity of downtown Ashland to lubricate the flow of tourist dollars. However, those are only the particulars of the problem. Contrary to our utopian hopes, there's always someone to agonize over.

13 September 2012