Metal bars on downtown city benches have divided Lodi. Do we help the homeless or the businesses?
On July 9, 2019 SFGATE wrote an article in Real Estate entitled “Livable, Lovable Lodi.” In that article it states that Lodi has a “reputation for bold, fruit-forward Zinfandels.”
They go on to describe our downtown, “A charming collection of boutiques, secondhand stores, restaurants and wine bars highlight Lodi’s reimagined downtown.” If you live in Lodi and see something like that in print, you might have a chuckle or two. The article finishes off with two listings of homes located “along the shore of the Mokelumne River.” At this point you are on the floor laughing your butt off. Why would you be laughing? Well, because the article leaves out the part about the homeless that sleep on the downtown benches in front of the boutiques and restaurants. It also leaves out the fact that the Mokelumne River is home to the biggest homeless encampment near Lodi.
Like every city across America, Lodi has a homeless problem. As Council Member Shak Khan stated during the Lodi City Council meeting on April 21st, 2021, “The last week it’s been heated up and it’s on the news and everything…” The reason for the “heat up” is because a resident here in Lodi took it upon themselves to install what is called “Hostile architecture.” It has been rumored that a small business owner in the downtown area was responsible for installing metal bars on some of the benches to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them. However, the business I speak of has denied any involvement of such activity. Lodi City Council also denied any involvement when it was brought to their attention on April 7th, 2021 at a City Council meeting.
When I first heard of the bars, I went straight to Facebook to one of the many local clubs to learn more. Some people call the bar placer a “vigilante.” Some made jokes about the bar, one resident said “it is a body shaming bench,” claiming they could fit through the bar pre-COVID. Others have called it a “homeless seatbelt.” However, as I read through a lot of comments, I concluded that the city is split in half regarding the bars. The ones against the bars think this is a “heartless and cruel act to people who are already having a tough time in life.” Another resident stated “It is making a resolution to the downtown homeless issue because the city will not do anything.” This resident has a point, the city will not do anything. The bars are still on the benches weeks later and the city has done nothing to investigate who did it. The city has not even removed them from the benches.
Many citizens wrote e-mails to the council for the April 21st meeting. These letters displayed the resident’s anger over the bars and the City’s lack of action. They would not even really comment on the bars because the Lodi City Manager, Steve Schwabauer, reminded the Council that this issue is on the next meeting’s agenda. I ask the City where is the transparency?! Why will you not give answers? Council Member Mikey Hothi gave an answer that could leave your mind to the imagination that the city could invest in different benches that have these bars professionally installed instead of some make shift, DIY, like the ones installed by the said “vigilante.” Council Member Hothi stated:
“I think because this is an unpermitted alteration of city property, we should look to remove these. And if it’s the case that we as a council as a city want to install benches with architecture that would prevent an individual from laying–other cities have done that, that’s not uncommon to do–but for somebody to just go on their own and alter city property, I don’t think that’s the way to do it. So, for that reason I’d hope that we’d remove these bars.”Lodi City Council Member Mikey Hothi
Unfortunately, putting bars on the benches downtown does not solve Lodi’s homeless problem. All it does is show the homeless that we do not care about them or their needs. Council Member Khan, however, wanted to “assure the citizens that the homeless people are close to our heart.” He also states that the council is “working really hard” to come up with solutions for the homeless. He talks about a ready to work program, that has no funding according to a presentation during the April 21st council meeting. He also talks about having a place where the homeless can stay. Needless to say, his response was vague at most, and left people wondering how the Council is “working really hard.”
City Manager Steve Schwabauer tried to add clarification and show how the City Council was working hard for the homeless. Steve talked about a $6 million navigation center along with a $2.1 million grant that the council approved two weeks ago for placement of housing. Then of course there is the $1.5 million Harmony Homes project that would provide housing for four people coming out of homelessness. Then he talks about funding for the Salvation Army and Lodi House. The question is, will this help?
Let’s face it, Lodi has a homeless problem and the citizens are angry about it. Half of Lodi would like to herd all the homeless people up like cattle and ship them off to a far away land. Others want to show compassion and help a fellow human in need. Can Lodi citizens set aside their indifferences towards the homeless and come together as a community and help their fellow citizens?
I’m aware it’s hard to come to the table and compromise when you feel that the homeless should be in jail. I know it’s hard to come to that table when you have been victimized by the homeless. It’s also hard when you are aware that some homeless do not even want help, they prefer being on the street. There are solutions to these problems, we just have to all come together in a civilized manner without bias, and with the understanding that the majority of us are just a pay check away from the same fate.