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Ending Homelessness from a Socio-economic Perspective

HOUSE THE HOMELESS

Ending Homelessness from a Socio-economic Perspective

by Richard R. Troxell

Livable Incomes Coordinator

National Coalition for the Homeless

News Flash; If you think that we can just put homeless people back into a broken socio-economic system …think again.

As we look at the socio-economic condition of homelessness, we recognize that we can view homelessness into two major categories, those who can work and those who cannot work.  

Hard working people are falling out of our work force. They are ending up homeless on our streets.  We see these people as broken individuals standing on our street corners, painfully visible and asking for help; some call it begging, others know it as panhandling.  In any event, they are no longer seen as members of a family that they once were.  Now, she lives in a shelter and he stands on a street corner…broken and pleading for help from his fellow human beings. 

We respond as best we know how.  We, “the community,” brush these individuals off, detoxify, them, teach them the art of resume writing and interview talking and place them into jobs and point them to the general housing market.  Well done!  Bravo!  Everyone pitched in to help.  The entire community rallied behind our needy…our homeless.  But what has really occurred?  Who knows?  Without follow-up evaluation one year later, we won’t learn if the minimum wage job or even the $10.00 per hour job into which they were placed was or wasn’t enough to sustain them through the economic bumps ahead.  However, we do know that the minimum dollar amount needed to sustain them can be simply stated with the phrase: “Living Wage.”   A “Living Wage” is the base amount necessary for a person to afford basic food, clothing and shelter…no more no less.  This is the same vision and understanding embraced by the U.S. Congress following the Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression in the 1930s.  Then, in 1938, in response to the wage problem, the U.S. Congress created the Federal Minimum Wage.  This worked fairly well until the 1980s when because the wage was not indexed to the cost of living, or anything for that matter, our nation’s housing rents outstripped the wage being earned.  So now we must “reset” the wage just like a clock and index the wage to the local cost of housing throughout the entire United States.  Therefore, that is what we have done.  Using existing Government Guidelines, we have devised a single national formula that ensures that if a person works 40 hours in a week, they will be able to afford basic food, clothing, and shelter (including utilities).  In other words, a roof over their heads…other than a bridge. 

But in further examining the idea of simply putting people back into the work force, we must explore what that looks like. Minimum wage workers work 5-6 days a week, fifty-two weeks a year.  They are only assured (hopefully) of a day off to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. Additionally, he rigorous demands of daily work are ever accelerating and continue to expand exponentially.  Think about the technological advances in the last ten years alone that range from desk top computers to laptops, cell phones, camera phones, Blackberries and i-phones with Apps.  Think of the world as a merry-go-round full of a dozen kids spinning like crazy and holding on for dear life.  As the merry-go-round accelerates, regardless of the strength of their white knuckle grips, some can’t hold on and they go flying off as the speed continues to increase.  It’s the same in the work place.  Minimum wage workers don’t get two weeks paid vacation.  They don’t get vacation time, personal time or even the luxury of getting sick.  Minimum wage workers are subject to endless stress.  As the stress demands increase, so does the pressure on the individual worker.  They must show up day in and day out regardless of their problems at home, their energy levels, or routine bouts of depression.  The instant they say, “I can’t go in tomorrow, I’m calling in sick,” they get replaced. They spin off the merry go-round of life and end up homeless on the streets of America.

It makes little or no difference what kind of worker you’ve been.  To the employer, what matters is that you show up day in and day out…no matter what.  Failure to show up every single day will get the minimum wage worker the instant boot.  Someone else is waiting in the wings who is desperate to fill the worker’s vacant slot.  Clearly, the employer must have workers present everyday to accomplish what needs to be done to advance the business.

But what if we start “thinking outside the box with both employer and employee’s welfare in mind?  Example:  Employer with financial means purchases production equipment beyond the means of the individual workers such as a $5,000 hot dog stand.  The employer leases the use of the equipment to an individual worker or workers.  The worker operates the equipment on a daily basis as one would expect.  However, to address the employee needs for time-off, another (swing) worker is tapped to come to work and fill in the vacant times so that the equipment is used to its fullest. This is referred to as “flex” work.  In this fashion, both the employer and the employee attain what they need and want: job stability and economic growth.  This is one simple example of the kind of change and flexibility needed to enhance our chances of successfully ending homelessness for workers. 

For those who cannot work, the U.S. Congress established a government based financial support system, Supplemental Security Income, SSI, designed to provide a small monthly monetary stipend.  This is presently set at $674 nationwide.

However, ours is a nation of thousands of local economies ranging from poverty in Clay, West Virginia to the opulence of New York City. And yet, the current approach is to award a single uniform dollar amount to every individual with disabilities no matter where they live throughout America. Clearly, this “one size fits all” approach is an illogical response that has the result of leaving millions of recipients susceptible to the economic forces of homelessness.

This solution is simple.  We must index this stipend to the local cost of housing throughout the United States.  As with the Universal Living Wage, we can use the Housing and Urban Development, HUD, Section 8 Fair Market Rents to ensure that we properly index the SSI stipend to local economies across America.  This will ensure that whether someone is working forty hours in a week or struggling with disabilities, they will be able to afford the basics of life: food, clothing, shelter (utilities included) and have access to the emergency room.  And finally, if others are working by utilizing  flex work days of an unlimited nature, they will be able to re-enter the work force in a calm, productive, stress free manner, that provides them a living and the employer the work performance required for a successful business. 

We are committed to creating the systemic and attitudinal changes necessary to prevent and end homelessness.

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Worker’s Hotel

Subject: Immediate help/action required-Worker’s Hotel 
 
On Thursday, January 7th, I testified before The Community Development Commission in response as how best to spend the remaining 34 million dollars in General Operating Housing Bonds that we created in 2006.  Thus far, none of these funds have gone to aid people experiencing homelessness.  It seems to me that tax dollars should be used to aid the truly destitute.  Our meager request  is the only proposal that gets down to the economic level of people living on the street.  Today, I am making a personal plea to you to help us help the truly poor in our City not just the near poor or the housed poor. 

Please send your e-mail, letter of strong support and my core proposal to Kathleen.saenz@ci.austin.tx.us. She is with the Community Development Commission. Ask her to immediately distribute my statement and your letter of support to the entire Commission.  The CDC will make it’s recommendation to City Council before this Thursday. 
 
AND 
 
Most Importantly, please then also send my statement and your strong letter of support to each of the City Council members: 
Lee.Leffingwell@ci.austin.tx.us; Mike.Martinez@ci.austin.tx.us
Randi.Shade@ci.austin.tx.us; Cheryl.Cole@ci.austin.tx.us
Chris.Riley@ci.austin.tx.us; Laura.Morrison@ci.austin.tx.us
Bill.Spelmaman@ci.austin.tx.us 
 
Thank you for helping. 
Richard 
 
PS please shoot me an e-mail so I will who was able to accomplish this task.  Thanks again. 
 
Richard R. Troxell, President of House the Homeless, has just testified before the Community Development Commission and made the following recommendation for the expenditure of some of the General  Operating Housing Bonds. 
 
Presentation: By recent head count, there are 4,4,00 people experiencing homelessness in the Austin area.  The last several U.S. 
Conference of Mayors’ reports have stated that at the current Federal Minimum Wage of $7.25/hour, a full time worker is unable to afford basic rental housing, not only in Austin, but also in any urban center across the United States. 

Recently, a firestorm of controversy over highly visible homeless people who are panhandling/soliciting caused the City of Austin to 
commission an  explanatory survey with the University of Texas.  The study showed that 51% of those surveyed, (103), wanted job training, and 52% were looking for work.  Their over-riding common theme was that they were “soliciting for daily survival.” By a more recent House the Homeless survey of 527 people, 90.7% said they would work 40 hours  a week for a living wage.  Additionally, 
37.8% said they were working at the time of the interview.  In fact, these people are helping to build this city even as we speak and yet the wage that they are being paid is insufficient for them to be housed. 

In the past, we had a national network of highly affordable worker rental housing.  The Young Men’s Clubs of America, YMCA, offered single room occupancy units, SROs, where a worker could pay his $10.00, get a cheap room by the day, stash his belongings, get a good nights sleep, get up in the morning well rested, go down the hall, take a shower, and head out to find work.  Every worker was able to chase his own version of the American dream.  That housing network no longer exists.  Now our 4,000 plus people try the impossible task of fitting into only 600 emergency shelter beds by way of nightly lottery or trying to work while living under a bridge.  Well, in November, 2009, House the Homeless read the names of 158 men, women, and children who have lived and died on our streets in the last year alone.  People, businesses, community leaders, and whole neighborhoods are clamoring for relief from the rapidly growing number of homeless people in our streets, on our sidewalks, in our parks, and in our green belts. 

Proposal 

At present, there is no pathway for minimum wage workers to exit homelessness.  There is no single door where we can say, “Line up  here, take that job, work hard, and you can work your way out of homelessness.” 

If our businesses are not going to pay living wages, we can still create a pathway out of homelessness if we create a Workers Hotel.  This would replicate the YMCA format of old.  It would create a pathway and incentive for minimum wage homeless workers to work themselves off the streets of Austin.  The hotel should be located in downtown area at a site like the fallow Young Women’s Club of America, YWCA building on Guadalupe Street. 
 
This is an historic moment in Austin’s history.  We have an incredible opportunity for the Commission and City Council to take the first proactive step in turning the head of homelessness in Austin.  We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.

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10th Annual House The Homeless Thermal Underwear Party

On January 1st, we had our 10th annual House The Homeless Thermal Underwear Party.

HTH Donate

If you prefer, you may send a check* to:
House the Homeless
P.O. Box 2312
Austin, TX 78758

*A check means that 100% of your dollars goes to those we serve.

Thermal Underwear Give Away

On New Year’s Day, House the Homeless, with 40 volunteers from the community and from the First Baptist Church, provided a city wide Thermal Underwear Party for homeless citizens from Austin. Rockin’ Gospel Project provided the music and entertainment while a ham lunch was serviced and participants received thermal tops and bottoms, socks, gloves, hats, and ponchos to help them survive this winter’s weather.

Thermal Underwear Party 2009 018

Thank you to Trianon Coffee House, Central Market, Sweetish Hill Bakery, Whole Foods, Texas honey Ham, and JoAnn Koepke and Family for providing many donations to make the holiday lunch a success.

Thank you and Happy New Year to all!

Richard