Friday, March 30, 2012

Could they call it "Veterans' Uncommons"?

One of these ungrateful posts s'morning. San Francisco has 200 federal housing vouchers for homeless veterans. So, yay vouchers. Now, here's what the city's going to do with them:
"Some of the vouchers will be used to provide veterans with rental assistance throughout the City through the San Francisco Housing Authority. The balance of the vouchers will be used to support the Veterans Commons housing project at 150 Otis Street, a new permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless, senior veterans in San Francisco. Spearheaded by community-based non-profit organizations, Swords to Plowshares and Chinatown Community Development Center, the Veterans Commons housing project will provide 75 chronically homeless and senior veterans with permanent homes and wrap-around care.

The property for Veterans Commons, a 95-year old City landmarked building was originally built in 1913 as a juvenile detention center building and recently used by the City’s Human Services Agency as an emergency temporary housing and storage center, was made available through the City’s Surplus Property program..."
Anyone who was in the poverty business in the '90s knows that building. In the comparatively generous days when the city General Assistance program handed out crappy hotel rooms by the night to anyone who made a reasonable showing of destitution, people went to 150 Otis to get their room assignments. It's an unattractive yellow brick building in front of the big concrete city office building where they run the families' welfare programs and much else.

It has little narrow windows -- I guess the history as a children's prison explains that. In fact from this picture at the SocketSite real estate blog I now realize the windows are also actually barred. (And, sheesh, the comment thread on this blog item -- written when the proposals went out two years ago -- was all about whether to spend money on homeless veterans at all. One commenter called them "marginal people". Jerks.)

Otis Street is a short little important busy noisy street: it makes up the west side of the little one-block diamond on the map where the Mission Street traffic lanes diverge in making their curve from southwest in SoMa to due south in the Mission. The island they split around is mostly the newish buildings of the city Planning Department. Then the lanes rejoin to cross under the freeway at the end of that same block.

So, OK, I guess most homeless veterans have been through worse in the way of chronic noise and hassle. (Though you'd think, having endured their share of it, they should get someplace peaceful for a change.) It's a good location for veterans in one way because a good big vets' outpatient clinic is right there on Mission at Thirteenth half a block away.

But why are they calling it a "commons"?

The 150 Otis building doesn't look like a "commons". I'm from New England. To me a "commons" is a town common. It's a green lawn dotted with maple trees and lined with white houses. There's probably a church and a tavern, or buildings that used to be those things, and there are a few functioning shops where you can at least buy milk and a newspaper.

At Veterans' Commons (or are they dropping the possessive-plural apostrophe?) you'll be able to get milk and coffee, if not a newspaper, several places within two blocks, but only after crossing through a jangling amount of traffic.

In writing about low-income housing I've run across a suspiciously large number of buildings called "commons". Not "Tragedy Of The". Not "Nice Clapboard House On The". More, I suspect, like common places for common people. Google "LIHTC" with "The Commons At" and you'll see what I mean.

I suppose the paternalists in these agencies like "commons" because it suggests the kind of happy-go-lucky familial community that they imagine to develop among people who are segregated together by level of poverty and/or by type of trauma suffered. I suppose the left-liberals don't object to "commons" because it implies solidarity or something.

Eh. Why don't they call a place "The Uncommons" for a change?

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