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Friday, September 6, 2002

From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn




$1.96 a Day - Proposition N Doesnít Add Up

There always comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two plus two equals four is punished with death.... And the issue is not a matter of what reward or what punishment will be the outcome of that reasoning. The issue is simply whether or not two plus two equals four.

- Albert Camus, The Plague

In 1939, when France signed an armistice with Germany, there were 5,000 souls living at Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. The town had been settled by Huguenots, a group of Protestants who were persecuted in Europe from the early 1500s to 1789. There was a small number of Catholics in the area, but there weren't any Jews.

Yet between 1939 and1945, five thousand Jews were hidden, sheltered, fed, and at times led to safety by the townsfolk living in and around Le Chambon. For the most part, the townsfolk worked independently - trying to shield their neighbors from being put in the line of danger with the Nazis and the Vichy government.

Their story is worthy of our attention. But itís even more remarkable that after the war ended and the Jews left, the townspeople went back to their routine and spoke no more about it. The full magnitude of their actions was understood only after grateful Jews came back to thank the people who had helped them stay alive in those difficult times.

Scholars have studied the amazing courage that this entire community displayed. The only possibly explanation that they found was that the Huguenots were also a minority. Like the Jews of the 1940s, they had fled to Le Chambon in the 1500s after suffering for their beliefs elsewhere.

It is thrilling to realize that the inhabitants of an entire village risked their lives to overcome hate.

But it is also depressing, because Le Chambon was the only village - in an entire continent full of villages - that understood the need of these refugees.

It reminds me of Care Not Cash.

Supervisor Newsom has put on the ballot Proposition N, a measure that would cut the monthly general assistance stipend for homeless people from $350 to $59. As Matier and Ross noted, our former supervisor Sue Bierman pointed out the fallacy right off: "How do you live on $1.96 per day?"

The simple answer is that you can't.

Mr. Newsom says that soup kitchens can feed the poor. But as anyone can attest who has passed the lines outside St. Anthony's Kitchen or Glide in the middle of the day, the cityís hungry people already exert a huge demand on the soup kitchens. And there doesn't seem to be a correspondingly huge groundswell of new donations to cover the additional work that the city's soup kitchens will need to do in order to feed more hungry people.

Mr. Newsom says that his legislation will give people vouchers for shelter. While there might be more vacancies this year in the Marina, where Mr. and Mrs. Newsom live, the waiting lists for subsidized housing in other parts of the city are growing longer every day, as more and more people are laid off in the depressed economy.

Mr. Newsom says that his legislation provides more help for substance abuse and mental health services. But in fact, it does not even outline where the funding for these additional services will come from. From the General Fund, where there is already a deficit? From the state and federal funding sources that are being cut in the face of state and federal budget deficits? Those details aren't included in Mr. Newsom's legislation.

Or is Mr. Newsom thinking that the funds could come out of the Health Department's existing budget. Anyone who followed the recent public budget hearings will recall that most of the people who waited hours to speak were protesting the lack of services and the cuts in funding at the already-beleaguered Health Department.

Like the people of Le Chambon, we in San Francisco are all refugees. We fled from the small-mindedness or downright persecution of New Jersey, Texas, and other locales that seem a long way from San Francisco. Some came with a moving van. Others came with a single suitcase. But almost all of us came to this city because San Francisco was known as the oasis where those who felt disenfranchised could find a home.

And yet, what would Care Not Cash do to the truly disenfranchised in San Francisco? Let them live on $1.96 a day. Without adequate support for shelter, food, and health services.

What would the good people of Le Chambon do?

What should the good people of San Francisco do?