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Gary Horton: An American tragedy told in three parts

Posted: September 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 5, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Part One: We’re fraying

The sun was making its way up over the hills as a woman jogged toward me from across Arroyo Park Drive.

“Gary, there’s a homeless man sleeping behind the Valencia Summit monument. He’s been camped there for a few days and I’m uneasy about it,” she said. She had called the police and they’d come out the day before and spoke with the man but did not take him away. She understandably felt unsafe with an unknown person hidden behind bushes and trees and wanted me to be aware of the situation.

“This is difficult,” I replied. “Santa Clarita doesn’t have a full-time homeless shelter, and there’s no available funds to open it until November.” The woman remained concerned, “But who knows his emotional state? He could end up coming through one of our windows or doors — or worse,” she said.

Indeed, homelessness is difficult and we often don’t know what to do. Tim Davis, of SCV Bridge to Home homeless shelter, advises it’s safest to work through established agencies with the resources to handle people in economic distress, or who may be suffering medical or mental illnesses. BTW, Bridge to Home’s 24-hour emergency line is 661-388-0080.

Later, a man at Starbucks mentioned that he had recently seen people leave the Summit Park each morning carrying sleeping bags and backpacks. We’ve seen another man who’s been camping out in the bushes behind the HMNMH Foundation building at Granary Square. Homelessness has markedly increased in the SCV, according to data from the Los Angeles Homeless Services authority, and now it’s tucked in right under our eyes. Indeed, the LA Homeless Services folks tell us there are more than 51,000 homeless in the greater L.A. area.

Part two: clinging to the past

The day after Mitt Romney and Ryan took the stage surrounded by a monochromatic ocean of clones from the ’50s, a sharp middle aged business woman stopped by the coffee shop table to log in her opinion.

“Seeing those two men with their wives and families up there on the stages — that’s how the America I love looks!” I perceived her as longing back to Ozzie and Harriet; having a general sense that things were better in America before all the varied aspects of “change” we voted in four years ago. There’s the thought we can return back to those old days by dredging up leaders that look and say things reminiscent from those bygone TV shows.

But those good old days aren’t coming back without the change many have been made to fear. Back in those old days our schools were still the envy of the world and our middle class was rising and Americans willingly embraced substantial taxation in exchange for heavy socialized spending on public education and world-class infrastructure. Taxes and social spending and building were not dirty words and achieved substantial results benefiting all.

And the countries that are now our global competition were still distracted, dusting off the various wars that had taken deep tolls. Now the world has changed forever and those good old days can’t come back without investment in change because today our kids compete against millions of better educated children from countries spending big on public education. And this new international competition arrives at our doors over something as simple and devastating as an internet line.

Ozzie and Harriet America’s good times won’t return unless we engineer and spend on a new future for us all. They won’t come back as the middle class to which they belonged is further squeezed into lower classes by a tax structure that promotes wealth concentration at the top. Counter-intuitively, the bright-faced, neo-con leaders with the supposed business acumen want to cut spending on the public education and infrastructure that holds any hope of carrying us forward.

Part three: retreat carries a dark future

Herman sighs, “I see the day when America literally sees revolution in the streets. The burgeoning “Have Not’s” will suffer under the “Haves” for so long we’ll have something akin to American Bolsheviks forcibly taking things back in 20 or 30 years hence. Social revolution eventually happens as countries turn their backs on the masses.”

Herman’s imagery has me recalling the scene from “A Christmas Carol” when the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Scrooge two emaciated, impoverished children and the ghost names the boy Ignorance and the girl Want. “Beware them both,” the spirit warns, “and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” Scrooge asks if the pathetic children have “no refuge, no resource,” and the spirit replies with Scrooge’s own words, “Are there no prisons, no workhouses?”

Those new, neo-con leaders would have us return well past Ozzie and Harriet, back to Dickens’ time when ignorance, poverty, illness and despair were seen as the “natural order for the lazy,” and there was money for prisons for the poor but nothing much more.

I see no “natural order” that our parks see rises in homelessness. Rather, the systems we’ve built have failed our ill, our unfortunate, our weakest — even our veterans — and we can and should do better. Perhaps, as we witness the last of a tough recession play out, America should give thought before we vote to pull the plug on education and safety nets many more will need as our world becomes only more challenging and only more competitive.

America must remain generous enough to assist and protect our young, weak, and old. We do so to our future benefit, and fail to do so at our future cost.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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