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HPCR: Targeting the Homeless Is Un-American

Bates & Dodds Funeral ServicesThe increasing violence against people experiencing homelessness is a subject that previous posts have barely even begun to touch. The long list of incidents in “HPCR: Protect the Homeless From What?” was only the tip of the iceberg. Of course, the USA is not the only place where this happens, but it’s the place we know most about, and wish we didn’t.

Earlier this year, bizarre news came from Cleveland, OH, where Frank Dienes was charged with aggravated murder, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. What he allegedly did was shoot a homeless man in the head and bury the body in a shallow backyard grave. Actually, the victim, Joseph Kopp, was not technically homeless, since he had been staying there for more than a year. Why Kopp’s landlord went from benefactor to murderer is a murky question.

Journalist John Caniglia reported,

The Dieneses’ took in tenants, often people who had few other places to go, neighbors said. They said they believed the Dieneses wanted Kopp to move out, but they were unsure why.

Fifty-eight-year-old Kopp got around on a bicycle. Though mentally ill and resistant of treatment for it, he seems to have been known around the neighborhood as kind, friendly, and gregarious. He once saved up $400 working at odd jobs and donated it to a soup kitchen. Eight hundred people stopped by the funeral home to pay their respects, and 350 went to the service.

Apparently, Dienes tried to establish that he too was mentally ill, having hallucinations and so forth, but the judge didn’t buy it. The plot thickened when police began to look at Dienes again for the 1989 murder of a 10-year-old girl, Amy Mihajlevic, that he had been questioned about in the past.

Journalist Paul Kiska wrote,

Several neighbors say Joe Kopp… told them for years in the 1990s that Dienes killed Mihajlevic… Dienes and Kopp were neighbors 21 years ago in Seven Hills. ‘There was a relationship that went back quite some time and to what extent that relationship was and exactly what it was is something that I do think will be an issue at trial,’ [defense lawyer] Friedman said.

Supposedly, Kopp had even gone to the local police, to report something about Dienes and the dead girl, but they were not inclined to listen to a mentally ill homeless person. At any rate, Dienes is facing a jury trial next month, and no doubt the story will become even more complicated.

Most stories aren’t that complicated. Usually, it’s more like, a group of swaggering young men get drunk and go out looking for a homeless person to assault. Leaving aside for a moment all other considerations of morality and civilization, hate crimes are particularly stupid because they have no utility. Theft is at least understandable — the criminal gets money, or something to sell for money. There’s no profit in kicking the stuffing out of a homeless person.

Maybe that argument would work to stop these predators. They seem to think of themselves as great American patriots. But doing something without a profit motive is very un-American. So, cut it out, violent attackers.

And what about the rest of us, who don’t spend our evenings trolling for victims? We’re tuned in to the other ways in which persecuting the homeless is un-American. American is the Emma Lazarus poem attached to the Statue of Liberty, which explicitly mentions the words “poor” and “homeless”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Everybody who ever arrived in this country started out homeless. Even the king’s favorites, who were given land, had to build shelter. Everybody’s ancestors included people experiencing homelessness, and some of our family trees have homeless people in them right now. And they’re having a rough time of it. Which is why the Homeless Protected Class Resolution proposes to recognize the indigent homeless population as deserving the rights and protections that go with that protected-class designation.

Reactions?

Source: “Seven Hills businessman charged with killing homeless man,” Blog.Cleveland.com/04/18/11
Source: “Family, community mourn Joe Kopp, slain homeless man,” Blog.Cleveland.com, 04/23/11
Source: “Attorneys for Frank Dienes say he’ll be cleared in Mihaljevic case again,” NewsNet5.com, 05/12/11
Image by striatic (hobvias sudoneighm), used under its Creative Commons license.

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HPCR – Protect the Homeless From What?

Police Brutality

Some people feel vulnerable just walking from their car to their house. Imagine the paranoia quotient of being outside practically 24/7. Days are spent looking for work, medical care, or a meal. Or aimlessly filling in time, trying to find a corner where it’s possible to simply exist for a while. Nights are spent, with any luck at all, crowded in with a bunch of strangers who have TB and bedbugs. Sometimes, the nights are spent in parks, alleys, and other dangerous public places. Sometimes, when people have no other choice than sleeping rough, they never wake up.

This little catalog of horrors will quickly exemplify some of the incidents that have become all too frequent and familiar (sources available upon request):

* Cincinnati, OH, April 2010
Four men armed with baseball bats go to a homeless encampment, pick a victim at random, and assault him. (One of these creeps also recently shot the girlfriend of one of the other assailants.)
* Indianapolis, IN, April 2011
A schizophrenic, sleeping homeless man is beaten to death in an alley by a gang of youths, who leave and then return with more friends, to show off the dead body.
* Jersey City, NJ, May 2011
A resident stabs a homeless man nine times, killing him.
* New Bethlehem, PA, May 2011
Two male youths beat an elderly homeless man with iron pipes; a female accomplice drives the car.
* Columbus, OH, May, 2011
Two youths beat a homeless man and his dog.
* Charlotte, NC, June, 2011
A homeless man is assaulted by three teenagers.
*Boston, MA, July 2011
A 23-year-old stabs a 64-year-old homeless man, badly enough to put him in the hospital.
*Anchorage, AK, September 2011
Four youths, three of them technically minors, swoop down on mountain bikes to rob and seriously beat a homeless man.
* Sanford, FL, October 2011
A police lieutenant’s son assaults a homeless man for no reason. (This dude was also previously in trouble for beating up his girlfriend and for shooting somebody.)

Probably the most notorious instance of violence against the homeless, the one everybody has heard of, happened in Fullerton, CA, on July 5, when mentally disabled Kelly Thomas was pulverized by six police officers. After several days, the victim’s family gave up hope and had the life support turned off. Soon a videotape of the confrontation showed up on YouTube, causing outrage.

OC Weekly reporter Nick Schou remarked,

The onlookers discuss how the cops apparently have tased Thomas five times while he was already down on the ground. Disturbingly, you can hear someone, presumably Thomas, sobbing ‘Dad, dad, dad…’ over and over.

Fortunately, the victim’s father Ron Thomas is a former member of law enforcement himself, who personally put a lot of effort into cultivating the public indignation that will hopefully end the barbarous practices of the police department.

The following month’s City Council meeting overflowed with citizens anxious to have their say, reported Marisa Gerber. Many of them gave their own examples of police callousness and even brutality. Fullerton’s City Council decided to hire an independent investigator to look into Kelly Thomas’s death and the comportment of the police in general. It was suggested that some city officials should do the honorable thing and resign their offices. The city manager, with unbelievably inappropriate timing, asked for a raise.

Finally, in September, Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Corporal Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force. Gerber filed another story with the explicit title, “Where Things Stand A Day After The D.A. Charged Two Fullerton Policemen In The Beating Death of Kelly Thomas.” She wrote,

Three members of the Fullerton city council… Mayor Richard Jones, Mayor Pro Tem Don Bankhead and Councilman Pat McKinley … are being recalled largely because of how they handled the aftermath of Kelly Thomas’ beating …

Not surprisingly, Mayor Pro Tem Bankhead is a 31-year veteran of the Fullerton police force, and Councilman McKinley was the city’s chief of police for 16 years. McKinley had, in fact, hired the two officers charged in the death of Kelly Thomas.

Ron Thomas and his backers, known as “Kelly’s Army,” then turned their efforts to making sure blame will be shared by the other four officers involved in his son’s death, which is also being investigated by the FBI.

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) keeps track of hate crimes by state. In 2009, the Coalition counted 74 non-lethal attacks and 43 lethal attacks against people experiencing homelessness in the United States. These are not violent altercations between homeless people, but aggression committed by housed people against people experiencing homelessness.

NCH also sums up the decade:

Over the past eleven years (1999-2009), advocates and shelter workers around the country have received news reports of men, women and even children being harassed, kicked, set on fire, beaten to death, and decapitated. From 1999 through 2009, in forty-seven states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, there have been one thousand seventy-four acts of violence committed by housed individuals, resulting in two hundred ninety-one deaths of homeless people and seven hundred eighty-three victims of non-lethal violence.

Who knows how many unreported attacks and undiscovered murders there might be? And how can all this be ended? Please discover the Homeless Protected Class Resolution and learn how to help.

Reactions?

Source: “Kelly Thomas’ Officer-Involved Death Was Videotaped; Councilman Calls For Release to Public,” OC Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog, 07/25/11
Source: “Fullerton Hires Independent Probe Into Kelly Thomas Beating, Dozens Speak At City Council Meeting,” OC Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog, 08/17/11
Source: “Where Things Stand A Day After The D.A. Charged Two Fullerton Policemen In The Beating Death of Kelly Thomas,” OC Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog, 09/22/11
Image by quinn.anya (Quinn Dombrowski), used under its Creative Commons license.

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HPCR – Who Is Affected?

Viejo y cansadoWhether we are aware of it or not, we all know people who used to be homeless. We all know people who will be homeless. It could even be us. It’s interesting to ponder on the people who have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

The life of a recently deceased millionaire computer genius Steve Jobs had a precarious beginning, as described by Ivana Kvesic:

Jobs ultimately decided to drop out of Reed College and did so because he trusted that ‘it would all work out ok.’ However, during this process, Jobs became homeless. As a Reed drop out, Jobs did not have a dorm room and slept on the floor of his friends’ dormitories. Being a homeless and unemployed student required Jobs to return coke bottles to earn money for food and walk seven miles across town to get a free meal once a week at the Hare Krishna temple.

British author Colin Wilson was one of the “angry young men,” the creative yet alienated generation whose influence led to what we call the Sixties. After the 1956 publication of The Outsiders, he was recognized as the foremost philosopher of phenomenological existentialism, and went on to a prolific career as a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. Before The Outsiders, he was just another young bum, by night sleeping rough in one of London’s parks, by day working on his manuscript in the reading room of the British Museum.

Vietnam veteran and multi-book author Bruce Goldwell was homeless in Los Angeles for more than nine years. He is quoted as saying,

To have gone from living in an alley behind Dennis Hopper’s house to now having a book published in another country felt like such a different direction for me. I was no longer falling deeper into despair but climbing the ladder to a whole new level of success.

In the November 2005 issue of Smithsonian Magazine (which is not online), Roy Rowan profiled photographer Gordon Parks as one of the 35 people who made a difference in the world. When Parks was 16, his mother died, and he stayed only a short time with his sister before, as Rowan says,

Her hard-boiled husband soon kicked him out of the house, forcing Gordon to spend his nights riding trolley cars back and forth… and scrounging food to continue going to high school.

Today, thousands and thousands of kids are in that kind of situation, and not all of them are so lucky in finding places to spend the night. (Incidentally, Ben Franklin, whose portrait is on the $100 bill, was a 17-year-old runaway.)

After his first self-produced stage play failed, Tyler Perry called his car home, or inhabited a succession of hotel rooms rented by the week. As an actor, writer, director, and producer in movies and TV — and doing it his way every step of the way — Perry went on to become one of the wealthiest African-Americans in show business, said to have a net worth of about $350 million.

Other current celebrities who were once homeless include Halle Berry, Sylvester Stallone, William Shatner, Hilary Swank, and Jim Carrey. A documentary film called Dressed was made about fashion designer Nary Manivong, formerly a homeless abandoned child. Athlete James Jones grew up in shelters. Mark Bittner, whose life was documented in The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, spent 15 years on the street. The list goes on and on.

At AngelFire.com, someone has taken the trouble to compile a list of “Noted Individuals Who Have Experienced Homelessness” — 182 of them, including Charlie Chaplin, Sally Jesse Raphael, Cary Grant, David Letterman, “Colonel” Harland Sanders, Martin Sheen, Shania Twain, Dr. Phil, The Road to Wealth author Suze Orman, and Gautama Buddha.

You are invited to learn more about the Homeless Protected Class Resolution, a document that could impact the life of someone you love.

Reactions?

Source: “Steve Jobs: From Homeless Drop-Out to Innovative Millionaire,” Christian Post, 10/08/11
Source: “Vietnam Veteran Turned Homeless Veteran Turned International Author,” PRLog, 03/13/11
Source: “Dressed, a Doc on Fashionista Nary Manivong, Gets Snagged on Cliches,” The Village Voice, 02/02/11
Source: “Noted Individuals Who Have Experienced Homelessness,” AngelFire, 10/01/11
Image by Kedume (David Alcubierre), used under its Creative Commons license.

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HPCR – Why Is Housing So Impossible?

In our society, housing is a problem so impossible that people with multiple university degrees have spent entire careers concentrating on one little corner of the problem. And, apparently, haven’t gotten very far. Part of the problem is always the current structure and personnel of the government, whether local, state, or federal.

There are answers to the housing dilemma. And there are local, state, and federal laws. And there is a very small area of overlap, where some of the answers that have been found are congruent with what’s allowed by the law.

Year after year, brilliant young architecture students win awards for designing livable spaces that can be mass-produced, or made from recycled materials or repurposed buildings, or made cheaply from indigenous materials. Plenty of good solutions have been found that could increase both temporary and permanent housing. Where are they? Lost in a maze of zoning laws, code requirements, and other rules that exist all too often to prop up the privileged status of some group or profession, having nothing at all to do with real human needs.

Trailers have always been a cheap housing alternative. Now, in cities where mobile home parks were formerly tolerated, local real estate interests, neighborhood associations, and callous politicians band together to get rid of them. In many places, even house-like doublewide trailers that are anchored down and landscaped are shunned by neighbors.

There are all kinds of solutions. This six-minute video shows a 78-square-foot apartment created by a Manhattan architect who is very happy in it. Sure, there’s a shared bathroom, but many people get along fine sharing bathrooms, including college students and soldiers. A shared bathroom is better than no bathroom at all. An old factory could be retrofitted with hundreds of mini-apartments like this one.

Here is the kind of headline we see all too often lately: “Recession Takes Severe Toll on Low-Income Renters,” a story in which Tony Pugh traces the recent history of housing in America:

Very-low-income renters who don’t receive government housing assistance are considered to have ‘worst-case housing needs’ if they live in poor conditions or their rent consumes more than half their incomes. All family types, all racial and ethnic groups and all regions of the country saw an increase in these distressed renters…

In many areas, government programs are a joke, with waiting lists so long the children grow up before housing becomes available. Incredible amounts of money are spent providing the band-aid of temporary shelter. Emergency and short-term shelter is necessary, of course, but somehow nothing gets done toward providing any lasting alleviation of homelessness. For example,

Massachusetts spends tens of millions of dollars for this yet the long-term result is hundreds of families are still without permanent homes.

The problems of housing are endless, and the whole mortgage mess is almost beyond human comprehension. One of the interesting tales in Looking Up at the Bottom Line, by the way, is of Richard R. Troxell’s days as “self-appointed Mortgage Foreclosure Preventionist.” His activist organization actually convinced a sheriff to initiate a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures in the county. (Apparently this set a good precedent, as the same thing also happened more recently in Chicago.) This is the kind of law enforcement we need more of.

For Richard, his knowledge and experience led to a job, and to his moving west, of which he says,

The town of Austin, Texas had already had a boom in the mid 1980s involving questionable savings and loan lending practices, which had ended in a debacle. The banks had been left holding thousands of foreclosed upon houses and empty buildings across the southwest in its wake. Homelessness had already come to Austin.

In the Homeless Protected Class Resolution (HPCR), Richard takes note of the fact that the U.S. government has adopted the United Nations’ Habitat Agenda, whose aims include:

… protection against discrimination, legal security of tenure and equal access to land including women and the poor; effective protection from illegal forced evictions, taking human rights into consideration, bearing in mind that homeless people should not be penalized for their status…

Signatories to the Habitat Agenda agreed to adopt policies making housing more habitable, affordable, and accessible, even to those who are “unable to secure adequate housing through their own means.”

Here in America, there is a nationwide shortage of affordable housing, and it’s one of the major areas needing change. Massive change. The Homeless Protected Class Resolution can’t make anybody go out and fill the landscape with affordable housing for everyone. But it can go some way toward dealing with the consequences of the fact that everyone does not have affordable housing.

Learn more about the HPCR today, subscribe to the newsletter, and sign the petition.

Reactions?

Source: “Manhattan shoebox apartment: a 78-square-foot mini studio,” YouTube.com
Source: “Recession Takes Severe Toll on Low-Income Renters,” McClatchyDC.com, 02/01/11
Source: “Millions Spent On Motels For Mass. Homeless,” TheBostonChannel.com
Image by Glamour Schatz (Angel Schatz), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Why the Homeless Protected Class Resolution?

HomelessAs a document that people were eager to sign, the American Declaration of Independence was pretty successful. One of the reasons might have been its massive list of the wrongs done to the colonists by England’s king. By the time you get to the end, you’re like, “Where do I sign up?”

In just the same way, the Homeless Protected Class Resolution (HPCR) provides an exhaustive list of the horrendous conditions faced by people experiencing homelessness in the USA.

Speaking of signing, HPCR author Richard R. Troxell points out that the United States itself has signed on to a United Nations document known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document says that every member of society has…

… a right to basic economic, social, and cultural entitlements, that every [nation] state should recognize, serve, and protect, of which food, clothing, medical care, and housing are definitive components of the right to a minimum standard of living and dignity…

“Universal” means everybody. If every member of society has a right to these things, where are they? How can they be made real? At the very least, we can refrain from persecuting people for being homeless, which is just as ugly as persecuting them for their color or religion, or sexual preference, or any other arbitrary and hateful reason.

A child or a disabled person is vulnerable compared to a healthy adult. Children and the disabled have extra consideration extended to them, in a sane society, and those who prey on them may reap extra penalties. A homeless person is vulnerable compared to a housed person, but just because someone is an easy target doesn’t mean they exist to be prey for aggressive criminals. We really must banish the dangerous belief that street people are fair game.

The idea here is that the homeless, as a class, need their civil rights to be legally protected in a special way because they make particular tempting targets. Nobody is looking to give the indigent homeless population jewels and furs, or the keys to Fort Knox. What we endorse is the right of people to live without being busted for Breathing While Homeless. That is not, we think, too much to ask. Or expect.

People who live nowhere are not easy to count, but, on any given night, here, in America, there are about 760,000 of them. One excellent reason to refrain from persecuting them is that, increasingly, “them” is “us.” The indigent homeless population are veterans and the mentally ill, and teenagers, and single mothers with their kids, and even entire nuclear families, complete with fathers — a sign of very severe economic conditions.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about homelessness in America today is the large number of people who are totally stunned by the turn their lives have taken. People who did everything right, worked hard, and led decent lives are finding themselves on the street and simply not believing it. It’s not smart for any of us to tolerate the persecution of a group that we ourselves might suddenly become a member of.

The HPCR contains another list, of things that the indigent homeless population, the class of people experiencing homelessness, needs to be protected from:

■ Laws against sleeping, sitting, and lying down in public
■ Laws that restrict them from being provided food
■ Acts or laws interfering with their right to travel
■ Wages that are so low that they are denied access to housing
■ Laws or practices that disregard their rights of ownership and protections for their personal belongings
■ Being made targets of hate crimes
■ Being characterized and treated as non-citizens

Please take this opportunity to become familiar with the entire Homeless Protected Class Resolution and sign up.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless Protected Class Resolution,”House the Homeless
Image by runran, used under its Creative Commons license.

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A Family Experiencing Homelessness, and Two Questions

Rise of the Super Rich

Some Americans are comfortably situated and equipped to handle an unpleasant surprise. But many are on the brink of disaster. After an adverse incident, if a person or family can’t recover fast enough before the next crisis looms, the whole house of cards can collapse.

Many people think they know what homelessness is all about. But they don’t, which is why reporters like Eric Wahlgren are so valuable and why publications like DailyFinance must be thanked for devoting energy and space to profiles of people experiencing homelessness, reminding us that just about any life has the negative potential to go off the rails.

In a series called “The New Homeless,” a young fellow named Mike is interviewed. Having worked as a chef for years, Mike wanted a new career, and pursued it by returning to school to study software engineering. But his employer reduced his schedule drastically, and although Mike was able to hang in there long enough to get a bachelor’s degree, the domino effect had started.

No one would hire Mike as a Web developer because he had no experience in that field. In the lousy economy, restaurants were cutting back, not hiring. Mike and his wife and two children moved to California’s San Francisco Bay area, where tech jobs supposedly abounded, and Mike would certainly prosper.

The family stayed in a series of cheap lodgings while Mike hunted jobs. Then, his unemployment insurance ran out and they were really up the creek. As a last resort, they asked for and were promised a loan from a relative — which never arrived. Mike and his wife and their two kids were officially homeless.

How can this happen to a young man ambitious enough to improve himself through higher education, enterprising and courageous enough to transplant his family to a new place with better prospects, and able and willing to hold a steady job? Mike did everything right, all the steps we were taught would lead to security and success. What is wrong with an America where that formula no longer applies? So, that’s one question.

Mike’s longtime employer, before the move, was in the business of preparing food for private jet flights, and Wahlgren says,

In February, the catering company Mike worked for dramatically cut his hours. Thanks to the Great Recession, people just weren’t flying in private jets much anymore.

Okay, now the other question: What’s going on here? Somehow, it doesn’t add up, especially when you see an article like this one by staff reporter Annalyn Censky for CNN, that traces the different pathways taken by the fortunes of the very rich, and the rest of us, over the past few decades. Behold, the most in-your-face graphic ever, a chart that is cartoonlike in its obviousness, its zigzag lines diverging so emphatically to define the ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

The piece is called, “How the middle class became the underclass.” Censky writes,

Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for at least a generation, while the wealthiest tier has surged ahead at lighting speed… the richest 1% of Americans — those making $380,000 or more — have seen their incomes grow 33% over the last 20 years, leaving average Americans in the dust.

Censky discusses the various reasons for the death of the middle class, like greatly weakened labor unions, deregulation of banks, jobs outsourced to other countries, tax cuts for the wealthiest, and hanky-panky in the stock market.

The chart that illustrates Censky’s article comes from economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, and is apparently the very thing that caused President Obama to decide that raising taxes on the super rich is the right thing to do. Apparently, that chart was a game-changer, but according to certain people, such as Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal, not in a good way. He wrote:

Messrs. Piketty and Saez have produced the most politically potent squiggle along an axis since Arthur Laffer drew his famous curve on a napkin in the mid-1970s. Laffer’s was an economic argument for lowering tax rates for everyone. Piketty-Saez is a moral argument for raising taxes on the rich… Whatever its merits, their ‘Top 1%’ chart has become a totemic obsession in progressive policy circles.

Dan Ariely of Duke University says that 20% of the American population controls 84% of our country’s wealth. A Mother Jones article by Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot makes an even more astonishing claim:

A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

Imagine that! The top .01% of Americans, a tiny minority, controls a mind-boggling amount of financial resources. The entire top 1% are doing pretty good, too — much better, by comparison, than the rest of us, who are scrounging around under the sofa cushions for lost pocket change. The top 1% of Americans controls about 40% of the nation’s wealth.

The richest 1% are also the private-jet-owning demographic, and they’re not hurting. That stuff about how nobody can afford private jets any more doesn’t make sense. Something else must be going on, something they aren’t telling us about. The people who run everything treat the 99% like mushrooms: They keep us in the dark and feed us manure. What are they keeping us in the dark about, now?

We are not begrudging the rich, no one is calling for tar and feathers for the people of Wall Street. We are not even calling for equity but we are calling for a little bit of fairness: living wages. As a moral question, it is only right. “Pay me what my labor is worth… at least enough, so as a laborer I can afford basic food clothing and shelter.” From a business perspective, it only makes sense. With 64% of all small businesses failing in the first four years, it would be a great business practice to stabilize your workforce.  Support the Universal Living Wage. We are the change.

Reactions?

Source: “The New Homeless: Aspiring Web Developer Ends Up on San Francisco’s Streets,” DailyFinance, 12/28/09
Source: “How the middle class became the underclass,” CNN Money, 02/16/11
Source: “The Obama Rosetta Stone,” The Wall Street Journal, 03/12/09
Source: “How Rich are the Super Rich?,” Mother Jones, 02/11
Image of Rise of the Super Rich is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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Media, Homeless Reality, and the Universal Living Wage

Rogerbstillz VideoIn 1.05-minute video “Homeless Guy gets Paid with Square,” an entrepreneurial fellow holds a sign that says, “Too lazy to work, too dum to hustel.” That’s possible. It might not go over in Lawrence, KS, but in a place like Santa Monica, CA, where both the panhandlers and the public are more laid-back, people will pay to be entertained, even by self-deprecating irony in a street person’s pitch.

The really unusual thing is, this guy’s cardboard sign is decorated with decals representing the major credit card companies. Reviewing the video, Courtney Boyd Myers says,

Homeless guy Mark aka ‘Madwhite’ is raking in a lot more dough now that he accepts Square, Visa, MasterCard or DiscoverCard transactions. In fact, he’s making 4 times what he normally makes… Once he has your information, he’ll email you to let you know what corners he’ll be frequenting next… Watch Mark discuss his mobile payment transactions below in this nearly unbelievable video…

Okay, the reason why it’s “nearly unbelievable” is because it shouldn’t be believed. It’s a fake, a satire perhaps, or just a thought experiment. But who could be blamed for being taken in, even for a minute? Why not? The world gets stranger every day. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the real from The Onion or the political theater of the Yes Men.

At Rogerbstillz’s Blog, the maker of the video writes about the first time somebody used an iPhone to let him pay by credit card, and how it inspired his imagination, for better or worse:

Now I’m sure we have all been approached by a homeless person asking for change and we tell them ‘I don’t have any change/cash on me’ well what if they replied I accept credit cards lol What would your reply be?

The maker of the video hopes this will “go viral.” It’s obviously a plug for a mobile phone application that can accept credit card payments, and there’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. The software is real, and is said to be a convenience for sellers at farmers’ markets and many others.

Humor can sometimes be a redeeming virtue in media whose underlying assumptions we don’t really care for, but the video clip isn’t exactly funny. As a comment from “rictandag” points out,

it demeans homeless people and underappreciates greatly how mobile payments already are being used in the ‘developing world’ for social good.

Speaking of the demand for such a service, “rictandag” says,

For developing nations where access to other media has been limited, mobile is the great enabler… mobile is and will be their only access to the Internet and all the services that folk in the developed world now take for granted such as online banking, money transfer, email, up-to-date weather and news, commodity prices, commerce, government services.

These things are also true of the inner city homeless colonies and peripheral encampments in America. Another thing can be said too — no matter how helpful this technology may be to the homeless in our own country or to others throughout the world, it’s still dealing with the results of poverty and homelessness.

House the Homeless is interested in addressing the causes. The Universal Living Wage (UWL) intends to adjust the federal minimum wage and index it to the local cost of housing, throughout the nation. When properly adjusted, the ULW should ensure that anyone who works a 40-hour week can afford basic rental housing, and that means safe and decent as well as affordable, and includes utilities too. Of course, once the rent is paid, they should also be able to afford clothing and food. That’s what the Universal Living Wage is all about.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless Guy Makes More Money Using Square and Mobile Payments,” The Next Web, 09/30/11
Source: “Homeless Gets Paid With Square/Box,” Rogerbstillz’s Blog, 09/28/11
Screen capture of Rogerbstillz Video is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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Missoula’s Homeless Outreach Team

Where's the Homeless People?Here is an attention-grabbing start for a story:

Instead of shooing away the homeless, Missoula is now finding help for them — for their betterment and the health of downtown’s businesses.

Whatever they’re doing in Missoula, MT, it sounds like a win-win situation, if ever there was one. But how can this be? People experiencing homelessness and downtown merchants — where do their interests coincide? Before returning to that Jamie Kelly story in The Missoulian, let’s backtrack to June and let Jenna Cederberg (also of The Missoulian) explain how the Homeless Outreach Team started.

She wrote,

Members of the Homeless Outreach Team hit the streets Friday, and will work throughout the summer to provide real-time street intervention with people, often the chronically homeless, who cause disruptions and are resistant to traditional shelter services. …the Poverello Center is coordinating the effort and will have trained volunteer teams on the street during daylight hours and at community events throughout the summer. An on-the-street presence will help build relationships with the chronically homeless and encourage them to seek available help that can improve their lives…

This all happened due to the combined efforts of the Poverello Center and the police department, as well as social-service agencies and, of course, downtown business people. United Way of Missoula County gave $10,000 and the Business Improvement District gave $13,000. There is also a connection with something called “Real Change Not Spare Change,” which is a great name for a program.

The Homeless Outreach Team gave out packages of “socks, first aid supplies, food items and brochures,” and one of their aims was to prevent street incidents from escalating into law enforcement matters. Volunteers wore orange shirts with the Homeless Outreach Team hotline’s phone number prominently displayed, helpful not only to the homeless, but convenient for business owners, who could call in the on-duty intervention team.

The program yielded results, and, a few months later, Kelly reported on the speeches made by various business people, officials, and representatives of nonprofit organizations, at a celebration of the Homeless Outreach Team. Kelly summarized the presentations, describing how the program gave the homeless…

… options other than camping on downtown pavement and panhandling or harassing shoppers… That has been a consistent complaint of downtown businesses, who say such activity has not only warded off customers but also been encouraged by Missoula city policies regarding the homeless… The teams have made Missoula streets cleaner and safer while also steering Missoula’s homeless to much-needed services…

City policies were too kind to the homeless? It is a rather unusual complaint to hear, but apparently the sentiment was felt by many local residents before the political environment was improved by the success of the program.

In any city, downtown business district anecdotes can be harvested. However compassionate a store owner might be, or however much a supporter of helping the homeless, nobody likes to come to work in the morning and have to clean up a puddle of vomit in front of the door. Broken windows are a messy, expensive pain in the butt, and so on. A person can see where they’re coming from. Hopefully, such conflicts have been minimized by the new approach.

The story contains a hint of how it used to be. Local businessman Tim France, owner of Worden’s Market & Deli, is quoted as saying,

I can tell you my employees would give the greatest testimony for how good it’s been for them because we are on the front lines of this…

“Front lines” is war talk, and implies a certain amount of us-versus-them. Then again, France has a unique background, having spent six years as a county sheriff, mostly fighting the War on Some Drugs. In an interview conducted by Bob Zimorino, France said that when he bought the eatery, neighborhood people threatened to quit patronizing the place. According to rumor, he was probably still an undercover agent posing as a restaurateur. But it worked out all right, thanks to one of the legal drugs, and to Missoula being a college town.

A mention by Alex Sakariassen of the Missoula Independent says,

When he first bought Worden’s Market 30 years ago, France sold about 6,000 kegs annually. Whether it was fraternity rush parties or a night with the guys, ‘beer was the social lubricant.’ People just drank to drink, France says, end of story.

Along with other local businesses, Worden’s Market went on to initiate what became the annual Garden City BrewFest. This is one of the ironies of urban life everywhere. The very basis of many downtown businesses, i.e. alcohol, is also the substance responsible for the downfall of some of the homeless people who present such a challenging obstacle to downtown businesses.

But, of course, no central city is entirely made up of nightclubs, restaurants, and liquor stores. Often, the public library is a source of friction between city residents and people experiencing homelessness. This happened here, as Kelly reported:

Honore Gray, director of the Missoula Public Library, said she and her staff have noticed a precipitous decline in disruptions in and outside the library, where many homeless people routinely gather. Instead of calling 9-1-1 constantly, ‘We’re now able to call Homeless Outreach Teams,’ she said. ‘They make a very positive impact with the at-risk population. They’re able to curb questionable behavior before we have to deal with it in a library situation.’

The situation in any city American city could be improved by adoption of the Universal Living Wage, which can 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 outreach program working downtown, speakers say,” Missoulian.com, 09/28/11
Source: “New team reaching out to homeless in downtown Missoula,” Missoulian.com, 06/17/11
Source: “Missoula Restaurant Owners and Chefs: Tim France of Worden’s Market,” MakeItMissoula.com, 07/18/11
Source: “Missoula and beer: A history,” Missoula Independent, 04/20/10
Image by elias_daniel (Elias Gayles), used under its Creative Commons license.