Chuck Nevius: The Cancer of the San Francisco Chronicle

Forget the horrors of The Family Circus. Do you really think your biggest concern when reading the daily paper is yawning over a comics section that takes no chances?

Frankly, if you’re a newspaper devoting column inches to a far from magnificent man in his flying machine, a far greater danger is that you, your child, or your pets will somehow believe in the xenophobic and thoughtless doggerel that the op-ed columnist in question considers a well-informed take by a responsible citizen for responsible citizens. Step off the paths into ruminative territory, and you’ll have less knee-jerk views on a highly complex situation that won’t go away anytime soon.

I’m not suggesting that the homeless situation shouldn’t be looked at through a critical prism, with criticisms extending to the homeless and municipal failings alike.

But, on a recent Sunday afternoon, I examined the newspaper in my former hometown and found — without trying too hard — a heartless and complacent yuppie writing very much in the thoughtless and vacant manner I used to find in that reactionary cad of a columnist, Ken Garcia. I saw the smiling visage of a man cast lovingly in a blue-toned circle — a smug and self-satisfied man who probably wouldn’t last twenty seconds in a bar brawl, and who certainly wouldn’t attempt to understand those people who were “beneath” him, who were possibly “more common,” and who didn’t sign their columns or their checks with pretentious initials like “C.W.” (If Chuck Nevius thinks he’s some kind of bullshit aristocrat with this preposterous handle, then I’m a small rhesus with a commodious shard of banana up his sphincter.)

Here was a man who was entirely uninterested in coming to terms with the homeless in Golden Gate Park for his piece. (Note how Nevius, like a well-trained corporate bitch, weighs the quotes of city officials and residents over the people who camp in the park.) I saw a man who witnessed needles and ran away and didn’t stop to think that maybe one of the guys he talked to, Christopher Ash, was troubled and didn’t have another place to go. I saw a “journalist” who didn’t have the balls to ask hard questions about where the homeless in San Francisco will sleep or how they will be fed or how they will be cared for. These were questions I asked myself when I lived on the edge of the Park and when I tried to pass along food and a few bucks and when I went out of my way to talk with people and understand a horrible problem. In this wicked web, these were uncertain questions with no immediate answers that sometimes brought tears to my eyes. San Francisco was, in many ways, very cruel in the manner that they threw the homeless to the wolves — now, the coyotes apparently — and in the manner in which they denied organizations like Food Not Bombs the means to disseminate food or help those in need.

With this column, I saw a “journalist” who was more concerned with banging out a piece instead of examining these harder issues, who described “the jewel of a public park” but didn’t consider that the people who slept there simply had no other spot and were just as human as the upper middle-class people who this journalist likewise spoke to.

Inevitably when we write a story like this, there are complaints that we are unsympathetic to the homeless. But this isn’t a homeless issue.

Is Nevius really this fucking daft? Here is a story that involves people camping out in the park and shooting up. If that isn’t a homeless issue, then tell me what is. An unexpected conflagration taking out the many expensive homes above Lake Street and causing San Francisco’s precious aristocrats to check into a hotel? (“Oh dear! I’ve become homeless! Thank goodness I have my driver and valet!”)

In the Nevius world, bravery is attached not to the everyday people who are trying to find a new place to sleep every night and live with their drug addictions, but to those volunteers who work to clean up the neighborhood and who pay $8,500 a year in property taxes. And if Nevius is gullible enough to think that Central Park is devoid of the homeless, he might want to consider this Wall Street Journal item from last month that reported how New York City was undercounting the homeless. Just because Gavin Newsom didn’t see them doesn’t mean that they aren’t there.

Consider Nevius’s nonsense when compared against the Chron‘s detailed series of articles in February that examined the homeless problem in depth, hitting it from numerous angles. In writing this sham of a column, Chuck Nevius has demonstrated that he is a hack who defames journalism and who defames what is, for the most part, a pretty good paper.

I may have had my quibbles with William T. Vollmann’s Poor People, but if you want real journalism, you’ll find more honesty on this subject in one highly reflective chapter that begins with the line “I am sometimes afraid of poor people,” and that proceeds to explore the problem of maintaining a neighborhood while contending with the equally necessary quality of human compassion.