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We didn't ask 

I’ve learned some important truths in the past 48 hours, lessons that came at the expense of my dignity and physical well-being. It all started when I learned that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell—the 18-year-old policy institutionalizing bigotry and homophobia in the United States military—is dead as a doornail. Or dead as that hillbilly cousin of mine who got sucked into a black hole that materialized in his corn field. It’s alright though, cause he was a bigot. Now you can go to Hometown Buffet—which is how I picture the United Nations—with your head held high. Lenny won’t embarrass you with his off-color comments about “the gays” anymore.

Being the sort of caring person who believes that happiness is magnified when shared, I shuffled into the nearest bar and, in a booming baritone, cried out, “Cosmos all ’round!” I know what you’re thinking: Why is Shredder, lady’s man, lady of the hour, man’s man, lady of the night, and man about town so determined to clog on the still-warm corpse of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?

It’s simple, really. I ring the bell of truth. I knock on people’s doors and chastise them if their grass is more or less than a quarter inch long. If I see a mother pushing an ugly baby down the street in a stroller, I stop her and gently compare her offspring to an eggplant, then recommend the name of a good plastic surgeon. Do they ask? No. But a true crusader, a genuine hero, doesn’t wait to be called into action.

It’s not always pretty, but such is the hero’s plight. Did Macbeth stop killing people just because he was a little unpopular? Did Heathcliff renounce his dreamy bad boy ways? Actually, did he? My book club meets on Tuesday and a new season of Glee just started, so I’m pretty much booked.

But it’s when you’re at your lowest that an angel brushes its wing against your cheek, and you see that you’re not alone. In my case, I happened across COLAB’s weekly list of issues to harrumph about. And as I was reading this report in which the authors cockily dismiss the county’s “anemic and symbolic” approach to resolving homelessness, I realized that I had found my brethren, a group of people only too happy to weigh in on issues they probably aren’t qualified to discuss. They too don’t wait for somebody to ask.

If you’re not familiar, COLAB is the collection of business types and ranchers who were semi-recently harangued as racist by our favorite county supervisor with a short fuse: Adam Hill. But that’s all behind us.

Of course, after delving into COLAB’s latest report, I realized that I should quickly renounce all previous claims of brotherhood, forget the secret handshake they taught me, and cancel the check I paid to be a member. It would have bounced anyway. Plus, it was written on toilet paper. In their report, COLAB takes a swipe at a demographic even I wouldn’t touch with my acid truth pen: the homeless.

    So, what’s their beef with the homeless? Just beneath their insistence on placing “a proven hardcore project manager in charge of the problem,” COLAB suggests that people “recognize that most of these poor people (not counting the children) are not going to miraculously morph into self-disciplined workers capable of holding a job.”

I don’t know about all of that. I saw a drunk homeless baby the other day who obviously had no intention of pulling himself up by his bootie straps and getting a job. Don’t let the kids off easy.

And though it appears callous to go after people who, on a daily basis, are forced to choose between bedding down in the creek and the overcrowded shelter, COLAB’s patronizing stance makes perfect sense. Under the guise of weighing in on an important social issue, they’re enabling people to say, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Don’t feel guilty. Those people are lazy at best. All you should worry about is not scuffing your loafer when you kick one of those bums and tell him to get a job.”

Of course, they do give themselves some wiggle room with the judicious application of the word “miraculously.” I agree that supernatural magic isn’t going to make people suddenly hold down a job. But hard work put in by social workers who truly care, as well as efforts made by everyday citizens who, well, also truly care, can go a long way to putting “these poor people” on track.

OK, maybe COLAB’s right. Getting that many people to actually, you know, give enough of a rip to do something would be a miracle. Well done, Mike Brown.

    Brown heads the local COLAB chapter, which is related to radio host Andy Caldwell’s Santa Barbara County-based organization. Brown’s name wasn’t explicitly on the report, but we all know who leads the COLABers. And here’s my deal with this: I may take cheap shots, but at least my targets have the money and clout (and, in certain cases, a radio show) to swing back with. I don’t dismiss people who lack the resources to feed and shelter themselves, certainly not while pretending to offer solutions to their problems.

So what was their solution to the homeless problem? Build more housing, paid for by the “billions which are now being spent on rehabilitation, mental health … etc.” Incentives for the for-profit sector get thrown in, too. So would construction companies be hiring the homeless people who would then live in the houses? I couldn’t find any mention of that, but it seems reasonable to me—assuming a miracle puts a hammer in their hands, of course.

It’s becoming increasingly clear why Brown struggled so hard to keep COLAB’s board members anonymous. Maybe next week we can get their opinion on how best to perform open heart surgery. ∆


Shredder acknowledges the irony of soldiers fighting for our freedom from the captivity of a closet. Send comments to

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