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By Charles M. Kelly

For roughly four years now, I’ve worked within walking distance of the Bridgeport neighborhood in Seal Beach.

I never heard of Bridgeport until I got an e-mail from City Manager David Carmany concerning the ARCO gas station and the contamination issue that has complicated the lives of Bridgeport residents. At the time, I confused it with another ARCO-related story I’d worked on earlier in year. Later, in an inexcusable blunder, I misspelled the name “Bridgewater” when I wrote my first story on the subject.

We ran a correction in the Sun Newspapers and I made sure the community’s name was spelled correctly when that first story was posted on this Web site.

I wish I’d known about Bridgeport before this. Now all can do is hope I get to know some of the residents and hope I do right by all of them.

Here’s what I know for sure:

ARCO and Orange County Health Care Agency officials would like access to more Bridgeport homes.

Bridgeport residents are worried about their health, their safety and their property values.

The city has hired a consultant to make sure ARCO is doing the clean up right.

ARCO has agreed to reimburse the city for related costs.

The city is looking at its legal options.

The Sun Newspapers will let you know when the next ARCO community meeting is taking place.

I want to hear from Bridgeport residents. Have you allowed ARCO in your home? Have you had your property appraised? Do you live in the contamination zone or not? My e-mail is editor2@sunnews.org. My work number is (562) 430-7555, extension 221. (Please don’t call on Tuesday.)

Please identify yourself when you contact me. I won’t quote sources whose identities are unknown to me.

cleanup

By Dennis Kaiser

While gathering family members, senior citizens, Cub Scouts, brownie troops or others for a morning of volunteering to pick up trash on the beach seems like a nice, wholesome activity, is it really productive?
Some say these activities only add to the trash on the beach in the long run by giving people a false sense of solving the problem. Most if not all of the trash on the beach comes from inland. Shouldn’t more effort be made to stop this beach pollution at its source before it gets to the beach? Meanwhile, it is the cities’ responsibility to keep the beach clean. Why should people feel it is their civic duty to do the city’s work for which they pay taxes – especially when the problem is never solved?

homeless-streets

By Charles M. Kelly

One of journalism’s most destructive myths hold that there are two sides—and only two—to every story. Life is more complex than a football game—and a rougher contact sport, too.

Take the “homeless.” Recently, while covering the question of whether there needs to be a homeless shelter in Seal Beach, I’ve run across two very different views of the homeless.

They are victims or they are bums.

You know, I can understand these two views because each represents a fragment of the truth. Trouble is, they are only fragments. I know this, because I have known five people who experienced being homeless. Four of them fought their way back. It was a hard road.

One was my father, who voluntarily joined the ranks of the homeless during the Great Depression. (Considering the state of the economy, I should have listened more closely to his survival stories.) He lit out from home at 16. His father was the kind of man who would steal from his own son, so perhaps my father’s decision to go—go anywhere—was a wise one.

My father was luckier than many teens that ran off for … whatever reason. Some of the kids who flee to the streets are fugitives from physically or sexually abusive homes. Now, I suppose you could argue that those kids “chose” to be homeless … but I can’t bring myself to judge young people who have to choose between being raped (by someone who has access to them 24 hours a day, 365 days a year) and the harsh realities of life on the street.

I met another homelessness survivor when I was in college. Another survivor I knew got a job as a furniture repossessor. I’m guessing he lied about his homeless status, as most employers would have considered that an undesireable quality in an employee. Steve, that was his name, presumably saved up his money until he had first and last month’s rent and made his way back to the middle class. I don’t know how Steve became homeless. I only remember something he wrote in our college paper: that the hardest thing he ever did was the first time he ate a hamburger that he’d pulled from a dumpster. I don’t know if I could have done that. He did—and survived to escape the gutter because he could endure it.

Another survivor I know put up with the drawbacks of Salvation Army housing while she looked for a job and a home for her two children. Her ex-husband was the classic deadbeat dad. He kept a roof over his head and indulged his own needs. His wife and kids had to fend for themselves—and escaped the sidewalks only because the Salvation Army was there to lend a hand. This woman now lives in Orange County and as far as I know is employed. Does it make me a bad person to hope her ex gets hit by a large truck?

I nearly ended up in the street myself, once. I could have avoided long-lasting financial woes if I’d followed the advice I’m going to give you: never take your credit card to Las Vegas the week before your biopsy. If the cancer doesn’t kill you, the credit card debt just might. Had I ended up in the street, I would have been someone who volunteered to be stupid. I expect many a fool has ended up in a homeless shelter. My advice to those guys: get smart, get tough—and do it fast.

There are many roads to the street. Some will get there by foolish financial decisions and drag their spouses and children with them. Others will simply cast off the shackles of normal, middle-class life and the struggle to make money to buy things you can’t take with you when you die. Some will drink booze or abuse other drugs until all they can focus on is getting their next substance-induced stupor.

I wish people who support or oppose homeless shelters would take a moment to realize that thinking of the “homeless” as a single mass will not rescue anyone from anything. That’s collectivist thinking. They are individuals. And I have no earthly idea how to help the ones that can be helped. I’m afraid a good deal of the heavy lifting belongs to them.

This is a story with thousands of sides—maybe millions, considering the size of the United States. It’s far too big a story for one small-time journalist to tell. But I’ll try to keep tabs on what happens here in my home town—and hope I never run out of money to pay my mortgage.