Pavement Sitting Rebels!

San Francisco has a new law; people cannot sit or lie on the sidewalk during the hours of 7am until 11pm! If they disobey this law, they can end up with a fine and even jail-time. Yes, it's true; pavement sitters can spend a month locked up in a cage for simply sitting down!

I realize this law came to pass, because the majority deemed it as the right thing to do! I'm sure most people read the proposal and thought, "I don't want to have to see people sitting or lying on the sidewalk as I go shopping: they make my city look dirty, they devalue my property and they just need to loiter somewhere else!" Most people probably had good intentions when they voted; thinking they could sit or lie in a park, that the city will create places to congregate or they just need to hang out in the shelters, community rooms or their own apartments! I'm also positive, good propaganda techniques were used to "clean up the city, create business and attract tourists", while promoting a fear of these dangerous sitting lying nameless loiterers!

I live in Chicago and walk about 3 blocks to work. This is not a law here, but I pass a number of street sitters’ every single day! I know most of them by name and know some their stories. It makes me sad, as this seems to be just another way of incarcerating "the least of these" and increasing the debt of people who have no money and possibly already owe thousands! Could this law, along with many other misdemeanors, just serve as modern examples of a debtor’s prison, where we see people accumulate fine after fine until they tossed into a jail cell?

Maybe San Francisco's loiterers are different from Chicago, but I have a sneaking suspicion they are very similar. Let's look at the ones I pass every single day.....

As I step out my front door, I pass a few senior citizens who rent rooms at Friendly Towers. They live by themselves in small stuffy rooms and are on fixed incomes! Everyday, they shuffle out the front door and spend hours sitting or lying on the sidewalk (crates also) getting air, fellowshipping and smoking cigarettes.

As I come to McDonalds, various homeless couples sit on the corner. They reside in secluded locations on the streets every night. During the day, they are not allowed to sit in McD's or other restaurants for extended hours. Most day-time drop-in centers separate male from female. Unsure of where to chill, they simply plonk down on various corners to eat and drink, smoke cigarettes and fellowship.

Nursing Home residents sit and lie in various spots along Wilson. After all expenses, they are given only $30 per month to spend on whatever they choose. They live in a crowded institution with room mates and prepared meals, so they want air, peace from fellow residents, to smoke their cigarettes and a few dollars to buy their own food. The ones who sit are not the "feared" aggressive panhandlers, they simply hold out their hand and say phrases like, "hey Hun, can you give me a quarter?"

As I move on, I pass some people housed in transient hotels and in tiny little rooms. Their houses are smaller than many people's bathrooms and often have no windows. These hotels and SRO's are overcrowded with many personalities. Being poor, they are often without the entertainment the affluent find on multiple screens. Just like we don't want to be enclosed in our bathrooms all day, neither do they! These renters gravitate outside for air and fellowship!

Homeless residents from shelters also occupy the pavement. In the evening, many women sit on the corner of Wilson and Sheridan waiting for the Uptown Baptist overnight shelter doors to open. At CCO and elsewhere, there are drop-in centers and community rooms, but they are very crowded, governed by various sensible rules and are often loud! They want and need time alone to be free, clear their heads and think! I don't blame them!

There are also a few individuals who generate cash by selling loose cigarettes and other things. The people who do this are both homeless and housed. They sit on the corner conducting a small business! I know these guys; they aren't hardened criminals secretly selling drugs or laced "squares", but poverty stricken folk trying to make an extra few dollars!

There are also a few other irregular pavement sitters; like those who are trying to hustle themselves a "moving job" or deliver “flyers", they sit waiting until the truck or van takes them away. Finally, there are the floaters; people who are from church groups and outreach workers who come in with a mission; to sit and chat with the above folk!

I would consider myself an irregular sidewalk squatter or hoverer! When I do outreach or go on a walk, I often stop and chat to the likes of Sheena, Frenchie, Big Tee and Lucy. I normally don't sit, but stoop down in a squatting position, because I've learnt how hard and cold the concrete truly is. I've learnt how bitterly cold or blistering hot outside can be! I've learnt how the blustering Chicago wind can blow leaves, dust and cheetos packets all over you. I've learnt how yuppie's dogs feel at liberty to come up and sniff you as you sit. I've learnt how negative, rude, obnoxious, degrading and even threatening people from all walks of life can be. I've learnt how the sidewalks of Uptown do not resemble luxurious "streets of gold", but a realistic picture of hardened gum, spit, cigarette butts, vomit, splattered food, blood, broken glass, smashed crack pipes and the revolting urine and poop of both dog and human! Need I go on?

This is just a brief glimpse into Uptown's pavement sitters. They are governed more by necessity than anything else. Due to physical and mental disabilities, parks are too far to walk for some and libraries only tolerate a few of these folk! They are harmless loiterers who do not have the luxury of a big comfy sofa, large yard and an electronic empire to keep themselves occupied, so they gravitate to the stimulating stained streets, sometimes protecting themselves with only a piece of cardboard or a crate!

When we analyze the fear factor, we see that society's so-called dangerous criminals actually aren't our sitting loiterers! Gang-bangers and drug dealers always keep moving and avoiding! Aggressive panhandlers are too energized to sit or lie on the sidewalk. Society's "feared" crack addicts aren't going to sit still; they need to move, move, and move again to get their next fix!

With all this in mind: Does this mean the police will run around power-tripping on mentally ill and physically disabled senior citizens? Does this mean they will be giving them countless tickets and laughing at them as the judge tosses them in jail? No! What I think it means is money hungry individuals will use this law to their advantage by calling 911 on "undesirable" folk; people who hinder their profit, progress and prestige. The police then have no choice, but to respond in accordance with the law and, once again, the “least of these” suffer!

I believe Jesus would have mourned and challenged a bigoted law like this: he loved with a love that was both rebellious and revolutionary! When He helped set free and save the life of the adulterous woman. Jesus knew it took two to tango and the law condemned this lady to die while favoring the man she was caught with. It had allowed him to wander the streets freely! Jesus also challenged how the religious leaders in first century Israel operated the Sabbath; it benefited the elite, powerful and rich while degrading, punishing and controlling the poverty stricken paupers. He didn’t protest, get signatures or start a rebellion; he caused uproar after uproar by compassionately healing the sick on the Sabbath. Throughout his life, Jesus was accountable and obedient to the Father, so he never let unjust laws dominate or control him; he continued to touch lepers, dine with tax-gatherers and chat with prostitutes. He was motivated by divine love and his subversive words and actions enraged the law-makers, who took him to the cross. Jesus moved in compassion and met the needs of those whom he came in contact with.

We must do likewise!

Jesus boldly proclaimed, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine; you did it for me!” Our pavement dwellers occupy the bottom of American’s ladder: they are hungry, they are thirsty, they are strangers, they are without appropriate clothing, they are sick, they go in and out of jail; they are America’s “least of these”. We need to see Jesus in them. If Jesus was in Uptown or San Francisco today; I bet we’d see him sitting on our dirty, disgusting sidewalks talking with someone and sharing some buffalo wings. By this small and seemingly insignificant deed, he would be making certain people raging mad. I could imagine him listening to, chilling with, loving and compassionately meeting the needs of our many pavement sitters. Revolutionary Love calls us to do strange, awkward and rebellious deeds; sometimes that deed would simply have us sitting and sitting and sitting……



here are 2 links about the San Francisco sidewalk sitting ban:
http://homelessness.change.org/blog/view/sitting_is_now_illegal_in_san_francisco_next_up_breathing
http://homelessness.change.org/petitions/view/overturn_san_franciscos_discriminatory_sidewalk_sitting_ban
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