Rick Shade is a fifth generation California avocado farmer, and he can’t find enough workers. Nearly half of U.S. farm laborers are undocumented immigrants, according to the Department of Labor, and years of inconsistent policy and recent border crackdowns are taking a toll on the already short supply. Farmers like Shade can participate in the arduous H-2A guest farm worker visa program, which allows immigrants to work up to 10 months. Besides requiring a lawyer to get through the documentation, the H-2A program is expensive: Farmers must provide workers with housing, transportation to and from their home country, and workers’ compensation insurance.
Shade needs 50 harvesters for peak season, he told CNN reporter Kristen Holmes in a June 15, 2018 article, and at the time he had just 25. Experienced harvesters at Shade’s farm make up to $400 a day, with “rookies” starting off at minimum wage and moving up to between $200 and $300 a day after just a few weeks. Looking at my salary as a journalist, I was thinking maybe I should hit Shade up for a job. In fact, every able-bodied, sound-minded, nonaddicted homeless person in the Bay Area should be doing the same. Perhaps San Francisco’s new mayor London Breed should consider a work partnership program with farmers like Shade to hire the homeless — it would be a lot simpler and less expensive for him to skip the H-2A visa gauntlet and cut his transportation costs to and from the home country by hiring Americans.
That, of course, will never happen. The far left “progressives” and “advocates” like Jennifer Friedenbach (executive director of Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco) would cry “Inhumane!” “Don’t make them work!” “You’re violating their civil rights!” “They have a perfectly good life in those tents!” Friedenbach, you may recall, was angry about removal of homelessness encampments before the 2016 Super Bowl, the late Mayor Ed Lee’s plan to quickly make the city squeaky clean for an international audience. That plan was hampered by activists Shaun Osburn and Tara Spalty handing out new REI tents after the San Francisco Police Department and Department of Public Works confiscated the existing ones. Friedenbach and other activists also vehemently opposed Proposition Q, a measure passed by San Franciscans in 2016 prohibiting tents on public sidewalks while requiring the city to offer temporary shelter before removing the tents. In a city that spends nearly $300 million on homelessness, a cottage industry of city departments passing out contracts to myriad private organizations has popped up — but we’ve yet to see an audit of how those dollars are spent or tracked. Audits and tracking aside, it doesn’t take a SpaceX engineer to figure out whatever activists, advocates, and city officials are doing is a dismal failure.
While a significant percentage of the Bay Area homeless population are truly down on their luck after losing jobs and housing, others are chronic alcoholics and drug addicts, and a large swath of both demographics suffers from mental health issues. But there’s another group nobody likes to talk about — the hardcore homeless who are just plain lazy and have no interest in becoming productive members of society.
JOHN THE NUDE MODEL
While in college I had an on-campus job during the school year. My title was Model Secretary, and I was in charge of hiring and managing the nude models for art classes. It was easier to get female models than male (even my boyfriend — the drummer for a rockabilly band called “Buck Naked and the Bare Bottom Boys” that played pretty much in the nude — wouldn’t do it, nor would his band mates), so in desperation I posted flyers all around campus. The pay was good — $25 an hour cash for a minimum two-hour class.
One of the applicants, John, became my most reliable male model. He was fit, handsome, in his 50s, with a nicely trimmed beard. When he came to pick up his money, we would sometimes converse in my office. He never talked much about his past. “I’m a hobo,” he often said with a modicum of pride. “I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, but I like to live outdoors.” John was articulate, intelligent, and, one day when my computer went down, I discovered he was skilled at fixing them. During the summers I worked for Apple, so as the semester wore down and I knew John would be out of work, I offered to introduce him to my boss. He smiled. “Thanks Suzie, but I’m just not cut out to work on The Man’s time. This is perfect for me because I make my own schedule. See you next year.”
Fast forward more years than I care to recall and I now split my time between San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. The homeless situation in San Jose is nowhere near the crisis level of San Francisco, but it’s steadily increasing. When I walk my dog in the nearby park, I often stop to talk to a young man who goes by the name of Tyler (though he admits that’s not his real name). Tyler is in his late 20s to early 30s, overweight, and unkempt, but he isn’t a big drinker and he doesn’t do drugs. Like John, he’s smart and gregarious. The day before last Christmas Eve I ran into Tyler panhandling in front of a grocery store. “Hey, I’m really hungry. Would you get me something to eat?” he asked quietly. I suggested a rotisserie chicken. He squinted his eyes and smiled. “A lot of people have gotten me those lately so I’m kinda sick of ’em,” he said. “Would you mind getting me a meatloaf?” I was a bit taken aback, but I got him the meatloaf and sat down beside him while he ate.
His parents, he told me, live in Gilroy but he’s only allowed to visit them twice a year because of “something that happened with a young relative.” Since his parents have custody of his niece and nephew, the courts won’t allow him to be in the house with them. Just then a store employee came out and told him to move along. He obliged, and I walked with him across the parking lot to McDonald’s, where he settled near the drive-through with his usual cardboard sign asking for money.
“Everyone is hiring around here,” I pointed out. “Even that grocery store and this McDonald’s. The new Costco pays $18 an hour with benefits…” Tyler shook his head. “Naw, dude, I can’t be on someone else’s schedule. I need my freedom. …” Freedom to do what, I thought — guilt people into giving you meatloaf and money so you can spend your days lounging under the pine trees at the park? I’m sure a lot of people working 9-to-5 jobs would like that kind of “freedom.”
I still see Tyler from time to time, but I just nod and keep going. I no longer buy him food, and I won’t bother telling him about that $400 a day avocado-harvesting job, because that would most certainly cramp his style.