Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sola Fe

Last week I met with some former “ActUp” activists, to welcome them to volunteering at Isaiah House.  Times change, and the young man who had invaded masses and embarrassed Cardinals on behalf of gay rights was now a caregiver, his partner having fallen, like all of us eventually do, before the ravages, not of lifestyle, but of time.  He asked me to blog about a Christianity that emphasizes our common suffering rather than an adolescent captivation with minute doctrinal distinctions like the defense of marriage.

The insight that captured his imagination was this:  I said being a Christian wasn’t like affirming the sunrise, I said it was more like swimming, as in “I believe in Christ like I believe I can swim in the ocean.”  Obviously “Sola Fe” makes a lifetime of sitting on the beach holding forth on the breaststroke possible.  That a Pastor would have a special wardrobe crafted for such occasions is predictable.  That it is both expensive and not at all compatible with water illustrates the lamentable state of Christianity in Orange County.

Faith alone may be theologically supportable, but I find it binding; it ties God’s hands.  As a question it is a wonderful spur to the kind of college discussions that shape young people’s lives.  As a dogma, an insistence, however, it is a wretched constraint, ruining lives and churches and laying waste to the great gift of the poor.  It makes their suffering irrelevant and it renders Christ’s greatest sermon incomprehensible.  The priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan were passing by the injured victim because of faith, and faith alone.  The basic human impulse to care, and to care for, so called "Works" is crushed beneath the enormity of the Sola.  It renders the victim alone, the Priest and the Levite alone.  Like the other Solas, it trades community and humanity for nothing but a resolute doctrinality, leaving us all more alone.

My friend has one hope: such a doctrine, being the province of the wealthy young, falls before the poverty it eschews and the infirmity with which God seasons age.  It is hard to find that strident doctrinal clarity of voice when you are the one with the broken jaw.  And eventually every jaw, if not broken, is mellowed:  with time, looser interpretations issue from mouths with looser teeth.

What is lost however, is fecundity.  At precisely the time when we should be rearing our children to be Christians by example, we are overwhelming their attention spans with erudite and incomprehensible disputations on Christ’s law.  We insist that they attend banal beach blanket Bible bindings punctuated by the occasional unattended drowning.

It is altogether fitting that such a religion must devolve into confusing faith with the exposition of faith.  It then becomes a perfect vessel for corporate emanations, which although written by a human are then repeated by a faith-based corporation.  When I pointed out that we were for years the largest shelter in Orange County, I was asked what the Village of Hope did with the “extra” $12 million, which was the difference in our budgets.  I said they “spread the word,” largely by increasing the people’s faith in the Village of Hope, by using $12 million dollars worth of words to communicate $2 hundred thousand dollars worth of work.

Were they purists, they could have eliminated “works” altogether, spending the entire budget on just talking about helping homeless people.  Spending it on faith alone.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Into Harm's Way

About a month ago, I watched the SAPD stop a woman in front of our house.  He was busy on his radio, and she was removing the third clear trash bag full of cans from the back seat while she balanced her toddler on her hip.  Soon the tow truck arrived, and I watched her abandon the cans in favor of the car seat as she carried her child toward the bus stop.  Without a license or insurance she’ll never see her car again.  It could have been much worse.

Had she been deported, after a legal wrangle, she could well have ended up in Tamulipas, the US' current favorite destination.  As bad as things are in Mexico, they are much worse in Tamulipas State.  From Stratfor:  In the past few months, Tamaulipas state experienced a sharp increase in homicides -- from 87 reported in August to 128 in September, according to Mexico's Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security. Military operations often lead to violence in Tamaulipas state, but the state is also experiencing a turf war involving Los Zetas, the Gulf cartel and a Los Zetas splinter group led by Ivan "El Taliban" Velazquez Caballero until his recent arrest. These dynamics are likely behind the state's reported increase in violence.

The LA Times reports that deportees arriving in Tamulipas are often searched for phone numbers with US area codes.  Such discoveries often occasion “secuestros” or kidnappings in which deportees are held until US relatives pay a ransom.  Since an obvious ploy is to transpose the area code for a Mexican one, the ploy doesn’t work, and a deportees only recourse is often to pay protection, just to leave the bus station in safety.  What happens to women in such circumstances in unthinkable.

We have often participated in discussions and movements to counter the traffic leading to involuntary sex slavery.

It’s a tragedy that an uncounted majority of such crimes are engendered at the service of saving American tax dollars and serving American domestic policy.  Sending waiters, mechanics and homemakers into harm’s way because we’re done with them is the most vile shortcoming of our Bishop’s political agenda.

We have consistently demonstrated a willingness to spend millions in order to determine how and with whom Protestants conduct marriage ceremonies.  I remind you there has never been a “gay” Catholic marriage.

What we have, however, is a virtually unbroken silence when our co-religionists are delivered into the hands of kidnappers and rapists and murderers.

Help me implore the California Bishops to ask the INS to explain why so many Catholics are being sent into harms way.  Begin with your Pastor.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Handbasket

In the wake of Occupy most of us have felt a good deal more comfortable denigrating corporations.  An unintended consequence of this, of course, is that the denigration we offer one another is so much more common, and accordingly so much less "impactful."

Accordingly, I'd at least like to respect my few readers enough to issue a few ideas you haven't heard elsewhere and then, should anyone care, try later to develop them further.

These two ideas have a common origin, which is Sabbath economics.  As I learned about Sabbath from Ched Myers, I finally apprehended how merciful and wise the whole structure is.  Predicated in part upon a wise familiarity with how hard and how brief human life is, the Sabbath recognizes culture's obligation to incorporate forgiveness into our common life that it might remain, for the most part and for most people, bearable.

Corporations, however, live forever and have no feelings, and therefore bear nothing.  My first proposal, then, is to deny them bankruptcy.   They live forever, so they have forever to repay their debts, should they incur them.  Now such a discipline would have little effect should share value descend to zero and then languish there forever, so in order to prevent that, my second proposal is that share prices be allowed to go negative.  Shareholders, after a series of legislative adjustments I cannot begin to fathom, would then be required to pay those debts to get rid of them.  After all, if every voting machine manufactured and approved for use in US elections permits casting "negative votes," how hard could it be to have shares with "debt."  At least the concept is logically feasible, unlike the Diebold votes.

In this way, when clever lawyers, each enfolded in their own protective "S" corporations, collude to create closely-held shell corporations to distance well capitalized parents from holding onto looming eco-disasters and public health nightmares like the BP spill or nuclear waste, we can take some protection from knowing that the bill will be paid by those shareholders and not the public.

These two modifications, eliminating corporate bankruptcy and allowing share prices to "go negative" might repair the two largest "loopholes" by which corporations avoid the pain of being persons.  Were we to add in the subject of an upcoming blog, corporate imprisonment, we might then "enflesh' corporations with the kind of pain that might make them responsive enough to slow the disaster of co-existence unfolding before us.

Why the Roman Catholic church, with its profound commitment to the "Human One,"is largely silent on this matter is confounding to me.  Especially since the Roman Catholic Church, alone among all the entities on Earth, partook rarely of these "sins," until recently.  Roman Catholic dioceses are owned and run by corporations sole, the only type of corporation which has a soul and does not eschew responsibility.  This is why we have paid more liability claims than all the cigarette companies on the planet - for the simple reason that, when we owe, we pay.  For me, more than anything else, this is legal proof that the Roman Catholic church is holy.  If we could for one moment retreat from our reactionary stance of opposing everything Mr. Obama does and return to our proper role of addressing the far larger question of how to civilize Western Civilization, I hope this is the issue our Bishops will choose.  It should be remembered that only thirty years ago abortion was only a "catholic issue."

I have often wondered why even libertarians fail to recognize the reality that risk, like heat, can only be transferred and never wished away.  Every ounce of responsibility corporate shareholders eschew is foist upon the public as surely as every therm removed by air conditioning from my overheated palace is blown onto my neighbors' place.

In the same way that we watched antibiotics fall to resistance in a manner than offered no market feedback to increase responsible prescribing practices, and even as we now watch helpless as China fills our air with carbon while it strives to match our standard of consumption, we are surrounded by demons over which we have not only no control, but no handle with which we can wrest control, generally, from chaos.

When people, especially Christian people, create economic (and now political) "persons" with the express intent of making a profit (serving Mammon) while denying personal responsibility six days each week, and rest only on the seventh, true economics portends only one thing:

We are headed to Hell in a handbasket at 86% of "escape velocity," which is the speed at which we eschatologically, demonically, arrive.

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Tons of Homeless Services"

Recently an NPR Reporter asked OccupySA to comment upon a remark by Supervisor John Moorlach, who alleged that the homeless enjoyed "Tons of Services."

I thought it only fair to call Moorlach out:

I once worked for the phone company as a QC programmer, and there I learned a tremendous lesson about service delivery:  We used to map the results of driving around in a van with test instruments, measuring the quality of the signal available.  The results showed we were almost 100% successful at delivering cellular telephone service when and where we carefully measured that service.  But when I pointed out that our van drivers, being intelligent radio technicians, avoided traffic jams and rush hour commutes at all costs, I thereby revealed why all our data was useless:  80% of all customer calls were generated from just those locations at just those times. 

No one from OC Social Services spends enough time inside of "homeless rush hours and traffic jams" to know anything about how these programs are actually "delivered" to the homeless.  In fact, because every dollar spent upon staff is a dollar needed by the homeless, and yet is counted as a successful program expense; they are "in effect" in competition for the same scarce resources.

In the interest of full disclosure, we have the same problem.  We call it "serving concrete."  The most important number, a number we seldom collect, is the weight of the garbage left after a meal.  Obviously, to be 100% successful, all the food should go into someone's belly and all the plates and cups and such should be collected and recycled.  If any food ends up in the garbage, it's called "serving concrete."  Leaving serving stuff behind is just called littering.  Just because we loaded the food into the van doesn't mean they ate it!  Measuring success by totaling payroll budget for the kitchen staff is even less relevant, but Social Services, unlike the ingredients for soup, don't weigh anything.  As a result, the "tons of services" must be measured using only the labor expense.  No wonder we're so successful - no supervisor wants to go on record as hiring incompetents or letting good people twiddle their thumbs - therefore every dollar thus spent is 100% successful, always!

When I took a reporter to the Shelter Providers' Forum to watch ten people exited from the Armory Program get no shelter at all from every program in Orange County, I pointed out the problem: the room was filled with $10,000,000 of Social Workers in a year when the total budget was just under $13,000,000.  Together, the twelve of us watched as these Social Workers argued with Mercy House over credit for leads in the Rapid ReHousing Program.  Apparently they were all retailers and Mercy House was the wholesaler.  The credit they were arguing about determined their share of funds from the Rapid ReHousing budget.

I stood up and asked, "What's Rapid ReHousing?
"Rental Assistance," they replied.  
"It should be simple enough to calculate as a percentage of the funds disbursed," I said, 
"Can anyone tell me just how much money they've handed out for rental assistance?"

No one could.  $10,000,000 worth of Social Workers had argued for two hours in front of a Register reporter and not one of them could recount for the record a single instance in which they'd actually offered any OC resident one penny of rental assistance!  

Now, I understand one part of the problem:  We still get two or three angry "rental assistance" calls every hour we're open, more at the end of the month, and we haven't offered rental assistance in two decades!  If any one of those Social Workers had actually been offering rental Assistance, I could have spotted them from the podium by their bleeding cauliflower ear.  Anyone who gives out "free money" is going to be mobbed.  And it doesn't help to place meticulous restrictions upon the disbursement - that only makes the calls take longer.  Everyone still calls, and almost no one qualifies.  

A final illustration to show why our current homeless programs don't work and cost a fortune:

At that same fateful meeting, a poised, together middle-aged Social Worker mounted the stage and gushed with gratitude.  She had finally been re-hired half-time as a Social Worker for a well known Rapid ReHousing Retailer.  She had spent the better part of a month, and had successfully negotiated the application process for two of her clients.  And what great clients they were:  Each was a full-time nursing student with full-custody; each was finished, finally, with her abusive boyfriend.  Each needed only half a month's rental, and both seemed capable and willing to repay the program within one year of graduation from their nursing program.  To sum up the numbers, one part-time MSW @ $4000/month to loan two applicants each half a month's rental assistance @ $900, the program maximum.  It was important that these loans were definitively analyzed because each put the client beyond the reach of further help.  It was an all or nothing situation.  

It should now be clear why it takes $10,000,000 worth of Social Work to deliver $3,000,000 worth of services to the homeless.

And with that ratio, I can absolutely promise you there will be a great deal of talent and human capital invested in proving, by any available means (except, of course, direct observation or economic competition) that the work these Social Workers do is done quite well, indeed, Thank you.  And that is why each year a larger and larger Civil Service workforce takes longer and longer to underserve a shrinking percentage of a homeless population that is not only growing, but growing increasingly younger and older and more frail, and therefore more vulnerable.  Exactly the kind of people least able to stand up for themselves and demand an analysis of why it costs so much to help so few to so little.  Take a look at the last OC Partnership Annual Report and underline every instance of the word "un-duplicated."

Consider the possibility that, almost two decades after the State Mental Hospitals were emptied unto the streets, we still have no idea how to serve even an ounce of program to the homeless, much less Moorlachs's ton.

And this is hardly the forum for examining why a politician would offer a heartfelt opinion in the utter absence of the facts.  That question hasn't had a good answer for centuries.

Friday, January 6, 2012

DFA Speech

Thank you for having me. As you’ve been told, my name is Dwight Smith, and I’m a Catholic Worker. At 61, I’m old enough to remember when there were no homeless people. Hoboes, maybe, but no homeless people. My parents, of course, had a different experience during the Depression. So what happened? I think in my time, it’s not so much that there was a homeless problem as there was a “We should pay less for mental hospitals” program. And yet I also remember talk at that time about reserving welfare checks for those “who truly needed it.”

Because a few poorly paid and overworked Psychiatrists and a lot of highly-skilled nurses were getting the all the money the State was paying too much of, it was easy to get the American Psychiatric Association to agree to a regimen of discharging the patients to the community, where all of California’s psychiatrists could bill for treating them, but without all the expensive nurses. Thus began the emptying of the State Mental Hospitals in the 70’s.

When, within a few short weeks, these patients proved to be more problematic than anticipated, especially without the nurses, they were simply abandoned. Without attentive doctors and committed nurses, the patients first missed appointments, and then quit taking their medicine, and finally exited the group homes where they’d been placed, to become homeless. Since no one had tried the group home program before implementing it statewide, there was nothing to fall back on. We just watched as these truly deserving welfare recipients did without. Without mental health care, without medical care, without shelter, without food.

After about twenty years of hand wringing, the Federal government came up with the “Continuum of Care” where three levels of shelter would replace the State Mental Hospital. The first seven days was, obviously, the emergency shelter level. During that first week the guest sought work, while the shelter provided "two hot meals (hots) and a cot" and very little else. Guests were allowed to re-enter the emergency level every thirty days if they couldn't graduate to the transitional level by finding a job. The big difference between the shelters and the State Mental Hospitals was now, everyone was told to look for work, so over the next 20 years, what few shelter beds there were got used mostly for the merely unemployed, and, as a result, the mentally-ill people ended up in our prisons and jails. The shift in difference was in the definition of “grave disability.” When I worked at County Mental Health in San Diego in 1977, grave disability meant that people were unable to rent an apartment and prepare their own meals, because of mental illness. Now it means they’re incapable of foraging from a dumpster, or accepting an offered sandwich.

Now, there’s another group of people that really didn’t figure into the decision to eliminate mental hospitals, even though they’re incapable, then and now, of even foraging in a dumpster for their dinner, although not on account of mental illness. It’s on account of their age. I’m talking here about homeless children, and I’d like to expose the two faces of Orange County’s supposed attempts to assist them. From December first through April Fool’s, the OC does a pretty OK job. Now that the Illumination Foundation is providing emergency shelter to the families that present at the Cold Weather Armory, the medical model they use insures that all relevant variables in a child’s life are addressed, and for as long as needed. But through no fault of the Foundation, their saving oversight is permitted in an emergency only when the operation of the Cold Weather Armory program results in a fair probability of the press getting involved. Since about 200 families are assisted during the four months while the Armory program is running, it stands to reason that about 400 are being mistreated the other eight months of the year.

When the press isn’t watching, from April Fool’s through December First, the County lies to the public, and worse, to the parents, and, only if pressed, do their Social Workers offer them a 14-day “once-in-a-lifetime” voucher for a cheap motel like the Buena Park Rodeway Inn. The last family we assisted was unaware that the County voucher plan they were on didn’t include the Continental Breakfast everyone else was enjoying. The dad was actually sobbing as he described how the manager actually scooped up his kids half-eaten cereal bowls as he hounded them out of the dining area, screaming in Hindi. Later that day, an agent for Mercy House brought the family two cans of chili. Two cans of chili for five people for two weeks. Now you might not think that’s a lot, but it’s more actual food than the County gave to anyone else last year. You see, instead of food, most families get EBT cards.

There may be no better way of destroying families with wasted tax dollars than the EBT program. Unlike the surplus agricultural commodities program it replaced, there is no “surplus” of tax dollars for the input, and there’s no such thing as “having enough” on the output. While those of us in the real food business concern ourselves with the needs of the homeless and are constantly conscious of “serving concrete” by offering too much of the wrong thing, the EBT program might as well have been set up to insure that every spare dollar, and even some needed ones, go right for the “wrong thing,” and here I’m not just talking about dietary preferences.

In 2008 I told the County Director of Homelessness that I would not be able to continue sheltering children if they could not halt the exchange of EBT funds for between two or three ounces of crystal meth which was being imported into our ministry every month, to be sold on credit. Between the madness of parents stealing away on week-long speed runs and the use of physical violence to collect on drug debts, the collective proximity of so many children and so much insanity led me to conclude that nothing the County did to them could be worse. So we gave them back. We allowed the children we had temporarily placed in the Armory while we repaired the restrooms to again become the County’s problem. It’s a decision I’ll regret for the rest of my life.

I was wrong: the County was much worse. By fraudulently declaring one child from each family so “seriously mentally-ill” that the entire family qualified for room and board, the County was able to use State funds to place all these people into a housing project and provide family therapy, while simultaneously overlooking the fact that what they were that they were dealing with were the perfectly normal children of drug addicts. How reminiscent of the 70’s.

You see, like it or not, we had established a program that minimized the number of hours these children interacted with their toxic parents. By encouraging them instead to spend their time at Hope school, and at the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Ana, and with volunteers, we limited their parental interactions to just a few hours on Sunday afternoon. Children were encouraged monetarily to do enough homework so that, at the time they were declared disabled, not one child was working below their grade level in school. Now all but two are.

Under our care for six years the total cost to the taxpayers was nothing. After four years under the care of the County, courtesy of the Renew Program of Providence Healthcare, we have already spent over four million dollars for the nearly complete destruction of the majority of the children that were housed here. This is the moral quality of the decisions made by managers currently in charge of executing the O. C. Board of Director’s shelter program for homeless families. I would encourage each of you to examine the truth of my allegations through your contacts in the press, in County government, and within the Democratic Party. You can obtain a copy of these remarks on the blog attached to our website at

Whenever things this evil happen there is always a remnant, a group of people who holds for the old ways; people who try to do the right thing even though it costs. People who know that the Golden rule is about using gold to save our neighbors instead of using up our neighbors and their children to save on gold.

People like you.

In addition to others, and in part because of DFA’s steadfast support since 2004, Isaiah House has managed to expand it’s operation to the extent that we no longer experience census problems – we can always accommodate homeless women and children.

Beyond shelter, the meal we’re enjoying tonight obligates me to remind you of the part of homelessness that is managed largely without local government assistance or even attention. Even with three emergency shelters and two Armories in the County of Orange, we’re still not going to be able to help all 21,000 homeless people. There will still be thousands sleeping rough. Believe it or not, the County has decided to do almost nothing for them. No portable restrooms or showers, and most important, no food. That job falls to us and the other soup kitchens in Orange County.

As the only all-volunteer soup kitchen and food pantry, not only does 100% of a donation to Isaiah House go to providing food to the homeless, we’re also able to enlist the support of the governments’ FEMA and EFAP programs, bringing at least another $1000 dollars worth of food to Orange County’s poor each week at no cost to our donors. Isaiah House provides about 2100 hot meals to the poor of Santa Ana each week, and about half that many again through food pantries that benefit the Lighthouse in Costa Mesa, FoodForLife in Santa Ana, and through Christian Volunteers at various motels throughout the County, including the Rodeway Inn of Buena Park. Tonight I’m going to ask you for something far more precious than money.

I'm begging you to consider leading the OC toward humane behavior in four areas.

We have a kitchen, a budget, and willing workers - all the elements to get communities organized. What we need is political leadership. There are four issues that could greatly benefit from the kind of leadership DFA is currently providing, not just to the Democratic Party but to the Country. Having thanked you globally, allow me to enlist you to organize locally:

  • There are no available restrooms in the Civic Center after 6PM and before 6AM.
  • Unlike LA and San Diego Counties, EBT cards given to the homeless cannot be used in fast-food restaurants, denying the homeless pre-cooked food and 24/7 restrooms, many of which otherwise require a token to enter.
  • Homeless men are not allowed to use the computers in the public library to search for work or even healthcare resources.
  • Although there are no emergency shelter beds available anywhere after 2:30, the SAPD nevertheless, in contradistinction to Tobe v. Santa Ana, consistently arrests the homeless for "camping" upon all public property within the City, in spite of the their necessity for sleep.

The DFA has distributed my whitepaper on the COC, the Continuum of Care, which is the culmination of my fifteen years working with the homeless.

Because I am a "religious" volunteer, I don't need to be successful to be funded.

As a result I can reveal the criminal failure that characterizes the OC’s utter dereliction of the homeless.

And I'm happy to point out the “conspiracy” that virtually guarantees subsequent tax-dollars spent on behalf of the homeless will likewise be totally wasted.

So, please, honor me and my decade and a half of failure by reading the COC paper, and then volunteering to organize the OC on behalf of the poor.

Copies are also available by request at, or feel free to call my cell at (714) 469-4603 (or to give it out freely to the homeless.)

Dwight Smith,