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Sweeps and Cleanups

homeless shantyIn mid-August, in Riverhead, New York, an emergency homeless shelter located in a motel was subjected to a raid that some local citizens called despicable and Gestapo-like. Ten officers and officials descended upon the shelter and searched 37 rooms, questioning the people and photographing their personal papers and other belongings. What kind of a judge would even sign a warrant for something like that?

Supposedly, the authorities were looking for overcrowded conditions and improvements made to the premises without permits, stuff that all sounds very above-board but offers no justification whatever for interrogating resident families and taking pictures of their ID and possessions. They ran everybody through the computer and arrested a woman for a traffic violation, who had to leave her baby at the shelter.

The raid was cunningly timed for just after the close of regular business hours on a Friday, making it impossible for homeless advocates to reach anyone with the power to stop it.

Around the same time, a camp in Oregon was broken up, as reported for The Register-Guard by Saul Hubbard. Eight people lived on the small bit of land behind an auto repair business, where contractors hired by the railroad cleared away brush that had previously obscured the site, and allowed their machinery to damage structures and tents.

Hubbard writes,

James Potts, director of operations for Northwest HazMat, said that the work was part of a monthlong cleanup all along the tracks. He added that their goal Thursday had been ‘to expose the area so that these people are inclined to leave.’

One of “these people,” a middle-aged woman, told the reporter that the small group of residents had banded together as neighbors, and that she felt safer in the bushes than in many designated homeless shelters. But the neighboring businesses and residents have always been opposed to the settlement, from which some disruptive behavior has originated.

The strange twist to this story is that the land where the camp sits is not owned by the railroad or the repair shop, but by an absentee landlord who leases it to St. Vincent de Paul, the long-term tenant and proprietor of an adjacent used-car lot. The charity organization has been extremely active in serving people experiencing homelessness in Eugene for many years.

The journalist says,

Charley Harvey, assistant executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, said he was aware of the homeless camp but that ‘he didn’t have any problems with it.’… ‘Criminal activity has actually gone down there since people started staying there,’ he said.

Eugene, Oregon, once known as a progressive city with a model safe parking and homeless camping programs, is struggling, but is still known as a better place to be homeless than, for instance, neighboring Medford or Central Point.

Sometimes the displacement is not sudden or violent. Back in January, in Fort Worth, Texas, members of the Abbey Church helped a group of homeless people disassemble and clean up an encampment that had held about 50 tents. They had graciously been given a week’s warning by landowner XTO energy, which is more than such settlements have been granted in many other places.

Alex Branch reported for the Star-Telegram,

Volunteers are paying to put some campers in motels for the short term, Paredes said. The long-term plan is to pair the homeless people with churches whose members will try to help them overcome the problems that forced them onto the street.

*****

Here’s a way to donate to your favorite cause, such as House the Homeless, just by shopping online. iGive’s literature says that since 1997, its members have donated $5,600,000 to more than 28,000 causes in this painless way. They promise “No pop ups, ads, toolbars, special search engine, or unwanted emails.” Check out iGive’s FAQ page (PDF) and Facebook Page, or just hop to the sign-up page and get started.

Reactions?

Source: “Social services chief blasts Riverhead for ‘gestapo-like’ raid of homeless shelter,” Riverheadlocal.com, 08/13/11
Source: “Crew breaks up homeless camp,” RegisterGuard.com, 08/19/11
Source: “Church volunteers help clear away homeless camp near downtown Fort Worth,” Star-Telegram.com, 01/15/11
Image by Kevin Burkette, used under its Creative Commons license.

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The Fairfax Model for the End of Homelessness

Unemployed and HomelessThe Fairfax Connection recently published a guest editorial by Gerald E. Connolly, who represents the 11th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Located in the state of Virginia, Fairfax County is one of the most affluent areas in the entire nation, so of course its problems would not be the same as, for instance, Los Angeles County’s. Still, it has declared a goal of ending homelessness by the year 2018.

In fact, Fairfax County, Connolly says, reported a 15% decrease in its homeless population over the last four years. He salutes this successful step toward ending homelessness, and attributes it to “a years-long effort by Fairfax County and its community partners.” His career also included 14 years on the board of the Fairfax County supervisors and, back when he was its chairman, he noticed something that may have surprised the supervisors, but does not surprise House the Homeless. Listen to this:

Particularly alarming was the fact that 60 percent of homeless adults in families already were employed.

Yes, Fairfax County in 2003 recognized the people we know as the economic homeless — they have jobs, they go to work, and they still can’t afford a place to live. Two basic reasons for that: they don’t make enough money and housing is too expensive.

Connolly saw a need for affordable housing units. In practical terms, keeping existing housing is just as good as putting up new housing. Either way, people have places to live.

He says,

Knowing government could not tackle these challenges alone, we convened separate community summits to devise action plans to preserve affordable housing and to prevent homelessness. The results were innovative partnerships with the non-profit, faith and business communities that yielded positive results, among them the preservation of more than 2,200 affordable housing units…

The plan approved by the Fairfax board of supervisors in March of 2008 is available online as a 64-page PDF file. Strong participation from the business community is one of its guiding principles. In his guest editorial, Connolly mentions how much benefit comes to the whole community when homelessness is reduced or eradicated. Hopefully, one of the things learned was that homeless people, too, are the community. Once you get the homeless back into housing, it’s kind of hard to tell them apart from anybody else. (That was a bit of dark humor, by the way.)

What was done in Fairfax County is worth looking at for replicability elsewhere. Rep. Connolly thinks so too, which is why he says,

I wish I could bring some of my colleagues from Congress to Fairfax to witness the value of these investments firsthand… At the federal level, I’ve sponsored legislation in the U.S. of Representatives to replicate the Fairfax model with the aim of preventing homelessness for all Americans.

*****

As House the Homeless points out, Congress is always talking about jobs, tax savings, social responsibility, and economic responsibility. As House the Homeless also constantly points out, the Universal Living Wage offers all these things. Now, every member of the Senate and the House of Representatives in Washington has received a copy of Looking Up at the Bottom Line, by Richard R. Troxell. All the state governors and the President himself have received copies of the book. Dare we hope that some might listen?

Reactions?

Source: “Guest Editorial: Partners in Ending Homelessness,” Fairfax Connection, 08/16/11
Image by JanahPhotography (Janah Hattingh), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Property Theft in Oregon

bagsFor people experiencing homelessness, holding onto belongings is difficult. The danger of theft is one reason why shelters are sometimes avoided. And if some desperate person doesn’t take things away, the authorities will. What is called a “cleanup” of an area naturally includes the theft and destruction of property that belongs to homeless people.

It may be property that no one else would want or care about, but if an old bedroll is the only thing a person owns, the loss is grave and significant. For the Portland Tribune, Kevin Harden reports on the “cleanup” of a homeless camp in Oregon, as seen through the eyes of a homeless man named Joel Tucker. Harden says,

In March 2010, while he was away from his campsite near Interstate 205 and Southeast 92nd Avenue, state employees swept through the area, rousting campers and gathering up Tucker’s tent, sleeping bag, clothing, medication and tarp. Tucker returned to discover that his few possessions were missing. It took him 21 days to retrieve them from a state storage facility…

A lot of homeless camps exist on property belonging to the Oregon’s Department of Transportation (and one school of thought says, if it belongs to the state, it belongs to the people — and why should the people not sleep on their own land?). So it’s mainly ODOT employees and law enforcement personnel who carry out these sweeps. One of the problems is that they are none too careful about separating belongings from junk or trash.

Harden says,

In mid-April, Tucker joined five other homeless people who are suing Oregon’s Department of Transportation, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and up to 50 unidentified county and state employees in federal court for what they say were violations of their Fourth Amendment constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure and the failure of the agencies to follow state rules on storing personal items found in homeless camps.

The six plaintiffs, who camped in the same area, were relieved of such crucial items as ID cards and birth certificates, bus passes, bikes, sleeping bags, and a personal DVD player. Yes, that’s crucial too. When a person has nothing else, morale can stand or fall on a device that plays music and movies.

Plaintiff Jeff Nelson lost belongings in three different sweeps. Ironically, a few years back, while residing in the Multnomah County jail, he used to be on a crew of prisoners who were paid a dollar a day to “clean up” homeless encampments. There is something distasteful about the state (or the prison’s corporate owner) using inmates to do things against the interests of people who are, in some cases, even worse off, even though they are technically free.

It certainly went against the grain for Nelson. He told the journalist,

I felt that what happened at camps sweeps was stealing from people who had nothing to steal.

The Oregon Law Center represented the plaintiffs, who also wanted an injunction to prevent employees of the county from taking personal property without notice. Apparently, sometimes that “notice” thing just slips right by them. The state is supposed to keep property for at least a month, during which time it ought to be “reasonably available” to the owner who wants to claim it. Which doesn’t always happen, either. In April, Law Center attorney Monica Goracke did not foresee an out-of-court settlement.

But when Harden followed up this story less than a month ago, a settlement had been reached, and ODOT is to pay $14,000 for attorneys’ fees and $10,000 to be divided among the six homeless plaintiffs. The agency also agreed to make some better rules for campsite “sweeps” and tell its employees to follow them.

It seems like business entrepreneurs would be looking for ways to provide cheap storage for the homeless. The space could be anything from a small locker for a winter coat and boots, to whatever size a person could afford. Salvage yards must be full of old metal lockers removed from schools. Mini-storage cubicles must be one of the easiest types of buildings to build. It would be helpful if anyone reading this could point to an example of someone who is doing this.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless campers sue to block state from destroying belongings,” The Portland Tribune, 04/27/11
Source: “ODOT settles federal lawsuit by homeless campers,” The Portland Tribune, 07/26/11
Image by Garry Knight, used under its Creative Commons license.

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London Tries a Different Way of Giving

El ViejoIn Britain, the homeless are known as “rough sleepers,” and like any metropolis, London has its share of rough sleepers who are, for whatever reason, uncooperative with efforts to get them indoors. It happens for a variety of reasons. A married couple might flat-out refuse to go to a shelter where they will be separated into male and female dormitories. A veteran with PTSD might be phobic about any enclosed space and only comfortable outside.

A very small minority of rough sleepers live in the midst of society but are so disconnected from it, they seem to have reached a point of no return. Their presence on city streets creates problems for law enforcement personnel, frustration for agencies that want to help, and a big public relations problem for the much larger majority of people experiencing homelessness. It only takes a few individuals perceived as “bums” to make a whole lot of people look bad.

Most of the people experiencing homelessness want help, and even more than help, they want jobs so they don’t need help. But this isn’t about them. This is about one organization’s decision to work with a handful of seemingly intractable hard-core, long-term holdouts.

Juliette Hough and Becky Rice write on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website,

This group often perceived themselves as different from people who went into hostel accommodation. There was strong resistance and even antagonism towards outreach workers, who were viewed as part of the establishment, aiming to force rough sleepers into accommodation they did not want to go into.

A charity organization called Broadway recently tried out a pilot project directed at helping this particularly problematic sub-group whose reclamation would not have been expected by anyone, least of all themselves. It started with a radical notion that departs from the traditional wisdom regarding rough sleepers: give them money and let them exercise control, rather than telling them what to do.

The “personalized budget” is only one part of a coordinated plan, according to Hough and Rice. The authors write,

Fifteen long-term rough sleepers were offered a personalised budget plus flexible, personal support from the project co-ordinator; 13 accepted. These 15 were targeted because they were the hardest to reach using standard methods. They had been sleeping rough for between four and 45 years.

Eleven individuals eventually moved into accommodations; four went back to the streets or to prison. Of the seven successfully transplanted people, at the time of the report, they had been housed for periods ranging from four months to nearly a year. Of that number, six adjusted to such an extent that they were making plans for long-term future accommodation. Given that these people had previously been pretty much written off as hopeless cases, even this success rate far exceeded the expectations of some supporters.

The basic elements of the pilot project were coordinator and a budget allotment of £3,000 per person (currency rates change, but call it around $5,000). Each participant was asked what it would take to encourage them to get off the streets, and told that funds were available to help accomplish this. The difference here was that the assessment of needs was made by the person concerned, rather than by a social worker. With the help of the coordinator, each participant made a plan of action, subject to approval by the local authority.

Handing over control of the process was accomplished in a number of different ways, such as letting the rough sleeper choose where to meet with the coordinator. Apparently, social workers usually work in pairs, which is off-putting to the individuals they are trying to help. Under the Broadway project’s plan, the coordinator usually worked one-on-one with the rough sleeper, and devoted a lot more time than state-sponsored outreach workers were able to. And rather than being hurried or pushed, each participant was brought along at his or her own pace.

In one case, all the person needed in order to stay off the streets was a place with a working television. Some of the participants went so far as to sign up for courses, and some used the opportunity to learn skills that had always eluded them, such as how to pay bills or cook simple meals. Some took steps to address their mental health or substance abuse problems. Four people signed up for welfare, which British society would much rather pay than see people living like feral creatures. Some got back in touch with the long-forgotten family members.

Broadway found that for such a program to succeed, continuity of personal contact is essential. Because of deep-seated trust issues, the rough sleeper coming in from the cold really needs to bond with one particular coordinator, and the contact needs to be intense and continuing. Still, it was clear to both the participants and the professionals that such an approach has a chance of working when other avenues have failed.

The report says,

This suggests that even long-term rough sleepers who say that they do not want to go into accommodation can choose to do so when they are in control of the conditions for making such a move. Throughout the interviews, many people used the phrases ‘I chose’ or ‘I made the decision’ when discussing their accommodation and the use of their personalised budget, emphasising their sense of choice and control.

Interestingly, the participants were not told how much their personalized budget amounted to. The report says,

Instead, they were asked what they wanted in order to help them. Total spending in the first year averaged £794 per person, compared with the £3,000 allowed.

Speaking of Giving…

Here is a way to donate to your favorite cause, such as House the Homeless, just by shopping online. iGive’s literature says that since 1997, its members have donated $5,600,000 to more than 28,000 causes in this painless way. They promise “No pop ups, ads, toolbars, special search engine, or unwanted emails.” Check out iGive’s FAQ page (PDF) and Facebook page, or just hop to the sign-up page and get started.

Reactions?

Source: “Providing personalised support to rough sleepers,” JRF.org, 10/28/10
Image by garryknight (Garry Knight), used under its Creative Commons license.

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What Kind of Help Really Helps?

Music is Life @ Djemaa el FnaPeople experiencing homelessness do not always remain adrift. Sometimes they land on a friendly shore. Is it all a matter of luck? Or do their stories contain factors that could be applied more generally? What kind of help was extended to them by nonprofit groups, local businesses, individual benefactors, faith-based organizations, the media, or the government? What kind of help really helps?

Last time, we found that, for veteran Bill Jenkins, the things that made a difference were Alcoholics Anonymous and the nonprofit Veterans First. What helps even more, he told the reporter, is the respect given him by fellow citizens who recognize the contributions he has made to the community.

In the realm of show business, a person’s housing status is less important than whether they make it to the recording studio on time. Of course, it always helps to have a stable residence as a center of operations.

In January, Eminem signed a rapper called Yelawolf, who had been on the streets for about a year, to his record label. Since then, the young musician has been homeless in a whole different way, touring the U.S. and Europe.

Everybody heard about Ted Williams, the widely publicized “Homeless Man with a Golden Voice.” After being “discovered” by a journalist, he was introduced to many opportunities, but was psychologically unable to cope with the sudden changes in his life. This seems to be the theory held by Cord Jefferson, who describes the arc of Williams’s career and reflects,

In the future, it would probably be wise for Americans and the media to remember that people emerging from the depths to which Williams sank need time to recover before they’re thrown in front of cameras and lights and millions of people. Nobody’s saying that it can’t be done, of course, but it shouldn’t be done over night. And when people crash and burn because they weren’t ready for the spotlight, it seems wholly wrong to immediately forget about them.

Vicki Lawrence followed up with a video piece in which she plays a character called “Homeless Mama,” which is seen as either a humorous parody or a mean-spirited attack on the homeless, depending on who you ask.

Country singer Miranda Lambert’s parents were private investigators, a profession which apparently doesn’t pay very well or support a stable domesticity. Journalist Carina Adly MacKenzie titles her article, “Miranda Lambert spent part of childhood homeless bankrupt,” and says,

In fact, her family occasionally sheltered abused women and children at their home. These women inspired one of Lambert’s biggest hits, ‘Gunpowder & Lead.’

In The New Yorker, Dana Goodyear recounted the story of Nathaniel Ayers. This amazingly talented musician suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and went from the Skid Row streets of Los Angeles to being the subject of a book titled The Soloist: A Lost Dream, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Redemptive Power of Music. And then his story was made into a movie that starred Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr.

In fact, it appears that what turned things around for Ayers was the interest taken in him by Steve Lopez, who first publicized the story of the homeless musical genius in a series of columns, then published the book. Like the golden-voiced homeless man Ted Williams, Ayers and his story captured the imagination of someone with the skill and the platform to make it public.

The other deciding factor was his membership in the Lamp Community, the Los Angeles nonprofit organization that follows the “housing first” principle. For helping people one at a time, there are not enough reporters to go around. Or enough facilities like Lamp.

The good news is that we don’t need to be newspaper journalists or shelter administrators in order to help this situation. There are plenty of different ways to help, and one of them is to learn about, and spread the word about, the Universal Living Wage.

Reactions?

Source: “Eminem signs homeless rapper,” Musicrooms.net, 01/18/11
Source: “A Month Later, ‘Homeless Man with a Golden Voice’ Is Abandoned by His Corporate Friends,” Good, 02/25/11
Source: “Vicki Lawrence as Homeless Mama,” Youtube.com
Source: “Miranda Lambert spent part of childhood homeless, bankrupt,” Zap2it, 11/04/10
Source: “Dana Goodyear, Letter from Los Angeles,” The New Yorker, 05/05/08
Image by Vincent van der Pas, used under its Creative Commons license.

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A Veteran’s Success Story

Homeless in BostonYvette Cabrera, a columnist for the Orange County Register, recently profiled Bill Jenkins, a disabled Army veteran who, after experiencing homelessness for a spell, has now found a place. The publication of the article, “Homeless to respected: Vet earns it” coincided with Jenkins’ graduation to the independent-living phase of his program.

The program is sponsored by Veterans First, described as “the only nonprofit in Orange County, CA offering veterans a wide range of services: case management, counseling, substance abuse programs, job training and placement and homeless shelter.” In the usual way of things, a participant has as long as two years to reach the independent-living stage. Jenkins has fulfilled the requirements in a mere eight months.

Now in Alcoholics Anonymous and sober for nine months, Jenkins lives on his military pension. The apartment he moves into will be partly paid for with federal funds, and he will be subject to case management for a period of time. Someone keeps an eye on the graduates so, if there is any backsliding, they can help before it’s too late.

Cabrera says,

Jenkins is proud of the work he’s done to turn his life around. But he gets even more satisfaction from his work helping other veterans who are still homeless. Others might ignore or look down on these men and women, but Jenkins considers many to be friends and all well worth helping.

At the group home, he was the “Information Liaison” person, responsible for keeping up with and spreading the latest news on available resources and how to tap into them. He speaks to groups, and he helped as a street guide for the Orange County homeless census. Jenkins is working to organize the county’s first Veterans’ Stand Down.

For his service at the cold-weather shelter, the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation gave Jenkins an award. The journalist says,

Jenkins acknowledges that much of his progress is due to sobriety and to having a home base, a place where he can stabilize himself. But there’s more to the equation. Jenkins has carved out a place for himself in society, a role; a reason to stay sober and in a home… ‘It’s neat for me to have people who call me by my first name and know that I’ve made a difference somewhere along the way; where they actually remember me,’ says Jenkins. ‘This isn’t something I want to walk away from.’

In general, there are at least three things to consider about volunteer work. The obvious and empirically proven aspect is that helping others is one of the essential elements in any recovery program. That’s just how people are built, and if it works, don’t fix it.

Sometimes a volunteer situation turns into or leads to paid work, which is even better. A space is left for someone else whose recovery program includes helping others, while the person who now has a paying job can move on, to volunteer in some other area of need.

On the other hand, things could still be better. To make an approximate analogy, large numbers of recovering addicts have become drug counselors. Sometimes, that’s the best they can hope for as employment. Which shows that society still needs a whole lot of fixing. If a formerly homeless person becomes a homeless advocate, it should be a choice made because they have a passion for the work, not a position accepted because there are no better options.

Let’s dare to imagine a world where there is no need for drug counselors or rape counselors, or any other kind of trauma counselors, or even a need for homeless advocates. Let’s go all the way and just end homelessness. Richard R. Troxell is convinced this can be done. House the Homeless supports the Universal Living Wage, the benefit of which is that it will end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all of 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless to respected: Vet earns it,” OCRegister.com, 08/03/11
Image by jdn (Jack Newton), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Letters of Support from Governors, Senators and Congressmembers

As our campaign to put a copy of our book into the hands of each member of the U.S. Congress and all governors continues, favorable responses abound from Governors, Senators and Congressmembers across the country. See some of their letters of support!

Support Letter From Terry E. Branstad

Support Letter From Brian Sandoval

Support Letter From Deval Patrick

Support Letter From Olympia Snowe

Support Letter From Michele Bachmann

Support Letter From Lamar Smith

Support Letter From Charles Gonzalez

Support Letter From Joaquin Castro

Support Letter From Mo Brooks

Support Letter From Rosa DeLauro

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Shifting Gears: A Statement by Richard R. Troxell

Shifting gearsAs you may know, it was never about the book. That’s right, I have written a book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line. It is about homelessness and the Universal Living Wage, which will end economic homelessness for millions of people. I view the stories and the struggles in the book as the icing on the cake. It is a way to get people to eat the cake — the concept/formula of the Universal Living Wage. The goal remains the same: a pragmatic solution that will end homelessness in our lifetime.

Rather than looking at folks on the street as “The Homeless,” I prefer to think of them as human beings. They are people who can either work or not work. To those who cannot work, I offer my sympathy, my help, and my tax dollars. To those who can work, we can offer opportunity: a Universal Living Wage that will ensure that anyone working 40 hours in a week can afford the basics in life, such as food, clothing, and shelter (utilities included). But they are not in need of my tax dollars.

Did you hear that?

The Universal Living Wage offers tax-dollar savings, stable jobs, stable work force, a way to stimulate the economy (97% of minimum-wage hikes get re-spent right back into the economy), and a way to stimulate the housing construction industry. Wow! This is an idea whose time has come. But first, we must reshape our thinking.

Business is a FULL, equal partner in this concern. Those who operate businesses and profit from our labor must be convinced to act as full community partners. Our cry is, “A Fair Wage for a Fair Days Work.” Anyone working 40 hours in a week should be able to afford a roof over their head — other than a bridge. Who benefits from the work of the laborer, if not business? It is up to us to begin to stress all these benefits to business.

We must show them that using people like tissue paper and replacing them on a whim only results in exorbitant retraining costs. We must show them that, according to the Small Business Administration website, with 64% of all new small businesses failing by the fourth year, they must stabilize all parts of their business, including the wage of the worker.

Thus far, our campaign has focused on the “fallout” of this phenomenon that we call homelessness. Our efforts have been to assist those who fall into this condition. I believe we must continue to reach out and take care of folks, but now we must also emphasize the concept of ENDING HOMELESSNESS! It’s good for business, it’s good for the worker and, with 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness, it’s critical for our society.

The alternative is a nation of cast-off, disenfranchised workers who are growing angrier by the day. No doubt we’ll face more draconian laws that arrest people for things such as feeding the homeless people in our parks. Cruel laws like that have given life to vigilantes, such as “Anonymous,” who vow to crash official websites and disrupt communication systems in response to perceived injustices.

The cry in Congress is for jobs, tax savings, and social/economic responsibility. The Universal Living Wage offers all these things. To this end, I am taking our campaign to the next level.

Just last week, we completed our mailing of the book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line, to each member of the House of Representatives (435). We sent a copy of the book to each United States Senator (100). We sent a copy of the book to all 50 Governors and, of course, we finished with a book going to the President of the United States.

We were able to send an advance email to each official. This turned out to be prudent. We have now begun to receive official letters of appreciation for the book from members of the House, Senate, and from state governors. I have chosen a select few of these for posting on our website, HouseTheHomeless.org.

One of the first letters we’ve received came from Minnesota Republican Congressperson and presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann. She says she wants to end homelessness and that we should contact her for anything that we need. I’ve been ridiculed for posting her letter. I’ve been told that “she doesn’t care about the homeless.” But I say that she does care. She has provided foster care for at least 23 children. They were all girls, many with eating disorders, and she cared for them until they could care for themselves.

Everybody cares about what we’re offering. They just may not realize it. It’s like when I approached people in the Green movement, only to find out they were all unassociated groups and couldn’t see how homelessness was their issue. I found perhaps their strongest leader, Nathalie Paravicini in Houston, and I showed her a picture of Austin’s Waller Creek. I made her guess what what was in the picture: a creek, an abutment, a sleeping bag, a blanket, a thousand Styrofoam cups. I explained that lots of my fellow veterans were now living in the woods along America’s creeks and estuaries without trash pick-up or toilets.

I believe I actually referenced the word “feces.” I asked how that could possibly be good for the environment? I suggested that they contact all the other “Greens” around America and form themselves into a single group, then endorse the Universal Living Wage. They discussed, both over the Internet and in person, for about two weeks. Today, they are called the Green Party. We have their endorsement.

We are poised to get our issue on the dinner-table agenda of America. Let’s go forward together. Use your voice.

Together, we are a great team.
Richard

Image by BinaryApe (Pete Birkinshaw), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Homelessness, Foster Kids, and Michele Bachmann

Michele BachmannAccording to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in September of 2009 (the last date for which statistics have been compiled), 423,773 American children were in foster care. That’s nearly half a million: Not such a large number these days when applied to dollars, but a very large number indeed when it’s children we’re talking about.

Kids in foster care are in an ambiguous situation, not actually homeless (PDF), but not in their own permanent homes, either. For about half of all the foster kids, the stated “case goal” is reunification with their families, a goal much more easily met if their families are lucky enough to have homes.

Although some are placed with relatives, about half of the children in foster care at any given time are with non-relatives. It seems that about half the total number of children remain in foster care for less than a year. Presumably, the family situation improves, and they are able to return.

Of course, a small percentage of kids “age out” of foster care each year, and their circumstances are often dire. Of the system’s graduates, only about half also graduate from high school. Only one in 50 goes on to earn a college degree.

It is estimated that a quarter of the teenagers too old for foster care are now homeless, and a third receive public assistance. Half are unemployed, and more than 4/5ths become parents at an age when they are not equipped for it, and without the means to prevent their children from joining a cycle of poverty, neglect, and even abuse.

Recently, all the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, all the state governors, and the president received copies of Looking Up at the Bottom Line. An enthusiastic reply came from Michele Bachmann, who represents the 6th congressional district of Minnesota, and hopes to be the next Republican president.

Bachmann’s political activism is said to have originated with her experience as a 23-time foster parent. Sheryl Gay Stolberg explained in The New York Times, saying,

… [I]t was her role as a mother, both to her biological children and to her adolescent foster daughters, that spurred her to seek public office.

The state allowed a family to take care of up to three foster children at a time, and the Bachmanns specialized in teenage girls with eating disorders. The Bachmann biological children were home-schooled or went to private Christian schools, but foster children must attend public schools, and Michele Bachmann became politically active through wanting to influence how the schools are run.

Stolberg says,

By the late 1990s… Mrs. Bachmann was upset by the education her foster children were getting in public school. Teachers gave them ‘little special attention,’ and many were ‘placed in lower-level classes, as if they were not expected to succeed,’ she told a House subcommittee in 2007.

Benjy Sarlin takes the story a bit further, noting that Bachmann, at the same time,

… [P]itched her own legislation that would allow states to use vouchers to move foster children into private or home schools, injecting a hot-button partisan issue into the mix of what had been a mostly apolitical process.

Kathleen Strottman, executive director of the bi-partisan, nonprofit Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, is extremely appreciative of Bachmann’s advocacy for the organization, saying,

She’s been very helpful in speaking about what drew her to become a foster parent and using that for state and local recruiting efforts.

Although many of Bachmann’s ideas are frightening to those who fear the total disintegration of the social safety net, her sincerity and charisma cannot be doubted.

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Source: “Foster Care Statistics 2009” (PDF), ChildWelfare.gov, 05/11
Source: “Roots of Bachmann’s Ambition Began at Home,” The New York Times, 06/21/11
Source: “Michele Bachmann’s Foster Care Contradiction,” TPMDC, 07/06/11
Image by Gage Skidmore, used under its Creative Commons license.

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To Avoid Homelessness, Workers Need Better Pay

Abandoned-4Corporate America’s chokehold on wages” is a piece by Harold Meyerson that appeared in The Washington Post, Austin’s The Statesman, and many other newspapers. The author begins by engaging our interest in the question of why we, as American consumers, are still in a dismal economic situation. The answer is twofold: a lot of people are unemployed, and a lot of people with jobs are underpaid.

Writing in a conversational tone, Meyerson explores the implications of the words and ideas of J.P. Morgan Chase’s chief investment officer, Michael Cembalest. The journalist says of Cembalest,

He asserted in the July 11 edition of ‘Eye on the Market,’ the bank’s regular report to its private banking clients, that ‘US labor compensation is now at a 50-year low relative to both company sales and US GDP.’

There are three major reasons why corporate profits are flourishing: low wages, the offshoring of jobs, and innovation stemming from research and development. The biggest factor contributing to swollen profits, Meyerson says, is the low pay. In the 500 top companies that Standard & Poor keeps track of,

… profit margins (the share of a company’s revenue that goes to profits)… are at their highest levels since the mid-1960s…

Meyerson gives a very complete explanation, the gist of which is that, for workers, both wages and benefits have shrunk. He writes,

This decline in wages and benefits, Cembalest calculates, is responsible for about 75 percent of the increase in our major corporations’ profit margins.

As for the causes, there seem to be several. Although good pay is better than easy credit, something went wrong years ago, when it became easier for Americans to get ruinous amounts of credit than to get the adequate wages they needed and deserved. It’s like bringing up a child on cotton candy instead of vegetables. The long-term results can be gruesome.

Also, Meyerson blames the decline of the unions and talks about a hearing held by the National Labor Relations Board in July, during which testimony from 61 witnesses has revealed that…

… union elections have declined 80 percent since 1970… In the America of 2011, there are scarcely any union organizing campaigns. There are fewer union members: Just 7 percent of private-sector employees are unionized, down from 35 percent in the 1950s… The strike as a bargaining tool for workers is now the province of professional athletes, the last American employees who have enough clout even to contemplate taking a walk… Surely the fact that the great majority of American employers no longer have to sit down and hammer out collective bargaining contracts with their workers has contributed to the increase in profits at wages’ expense.

One thing that corporations often forget is that underpaid workers can’t afford to buy stuff. And who are underpaid workers not able to buy stuff from? The corporations. If almost everybody is broke, who is left to fill the role of consumer, customer, or client? In other words, stiffing the workers would seem to be a counterproductive policy, in the long run. Paying people fairly, even generously, is good for business.

Yet, most working people are underpaid. Some have supplemental means, or extraordinary management skills, or three jobs. They contrive to hang on by their fingernails to a viable lifestyle, and experience a relatively high degree of housing security.

Others are the working poor. Even with a full-time job, many workers are unable to afford housing even for themselves. And a family? Forget it. The working poor are tossed from one precarious situation to the next, sometimes living in a vehicle or a relative’s garage, often dependent on an aid program to make it at all, eternally teetering on the edge of disaster. The economic homeless are employed and ought to have every reasonable expectation of being able to afford a place to live, and yet, they can’t.

House the Homeless invites you to learn more about the Universal Living Wage. The benefit of the ULW is that it will end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all of 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.

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Source: “Corporate America’s chokehold on wages,” WashingtonPost.com, 07/19/11
Image by Vimages (Pierre Vignau), used under its Creative Commons license.