Two months ago, a methamphetamine-addicted, maskless, homeless woman barged into a Main Street store. Along with violating coronavirus guidelines, the transient, who arrived on a bus from over the hill, violated rules of civility and probably a couple of state laws. She defied the business owner’s entreaties to wear a mask inside and his plea to leave the shop, verbally abused those around her, and acted in a physically aggressive manner before finally being forced out.
From this interaction, the store owner will at least reach these two conclusions: first, that the homeless woman needs help, and, secondly, that it is not his responsibility to provide it. The first conclusion he believes with all his heart. But he is just as resolved in defense of the second: He has no duty toward his abuser, not simply because she abused him, although that can’t be ignored, but because she is not a member of his community. Just as a hotelier is not obligated to lodge a non-paying guest, the store owner has no duty to accommodate the belligerent in his community.
For this reason alone, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors must scrap its plan to buy and convert the Coastside Inn into a homeless camp when it meets on Dec. 8. Because Coastsiders, such as the store owner, have no obligation toward the person in question, the county government can’t justify forcing us to house her.
County officials and some readers will object, of course, that the example I have given is not representative of all homeless people. This I readily concede, and I intend to make no mistake about it. Many of the county’s homeless are fine folks who just need a helping hand. Casting unfounded aspersions on them is not my intention.
But the example is nonetheless appropriate considering the county’s promises. “I want to be clear,” said San Mateo County Housing czar Ken Cole at last week’s City Council meeting, “that in the shelter system, up to this moment in time, we have not had a geographic component to selecting which shelter someone goes to.” Translation: The Coastside shelter will accept homeless from all over the county.
An implacably smug Supervisor Don Horsley, who bragged how “it wasn’t really possible for us to take months of time and involve the communities,” revealed the county will fund an additional police presence in Half Moon Bay to patrol the new shelter, a facility that county officials indicate will have drug treatment and mental illness programs.
While everyone has empathy for mental and drug problems, Coastsiders deserve an answer. Why is this plan to implement a homeless camp that merits an increased police presence being pushed through without our consent?
Maybe it’s because of a potential increase in crime or an uptick in drug addiction on the coast. But perhaps it’s due to the shelter’s close proximity to Hatch Elementary and Cunha Intermediate schools, or a massive impending loss of local hotel tax revenue, or imminent crashes in nearby property values. It could even be that the supervisors don’t want you to know they’re misusing federal coronavirus relief funds on a pet project.
As usual, Horsley is aggrieved. “Everything on the Coastside is controversial,” he moped at the council meeting. Quite a charge. Perhaps he’s right. He can look in the mirror if he wants to find out why.
Quinn Ebert is a resident of Half Moon Bay.