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Animals Exploited to Force People From Homes

a goatIn “Creating Homelessness in the Antelope Valley,” we talked about how the residents of that part of Southern California are being systematically pushed out of their homes for some as-yet-unknown purpose. It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a conspiracy that has pretty much been successfully accomplished already.

Mars Melnicoff of the LA Weekly did wonderful reporting on the domestic terrorism practiced by Los Angeles County’s Nuisance Abatement Teams. (For a brief introduction, see Reason TV‘s 10-minute video, “Battle for the Desert: Citizens Fight for their Right to Live on Their Land.”) The object is to make these people homeless, and typical language for these complaints says the property is substandard, and a public nuisance. Property itself can be convicted of being injurious to health or offensive to the senses. The big sin is when it “obstructs the free use of neighboring property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property.”

A local couple had an old rowboat, destined to become a decorative planter. But the county came around saying a neighbor had registered a complaint about unsightly “debris.” The catch is, the Castanedas have no neighbors. Apparently, the government is wasting resources doing flyovers or beaming pictures from orbiting satellites, or some outrageous thing, to find a reason to make people tear down their homes.

Folks who repair machinery are made to get rid of inoperable cars and parts. It’s insane. People live in rough, inaccessible areas so they can do things like auto repair. That’s what the outback is for. It’s for people who like to “use it up, wear it out, make it do,” as the old saying goes; people who are into things like recycling. There is almost no way to maintain an attractive-looking storage area for objects meant to be recycled. The bins and containers made for the purpose are almost as ugly. But who cares, when the nearest neighbor is half a mile away? The county cares, very much.

One guy’s violation was having two seagoing containers on his property. It’s a very practical storage option, it’s recycling, it’s green… and it’s forbidden. A building at the end of a five-mile private road had to be moved because it wasn’t sufficiently “set back.” The officials make people do ridiculous, difficult, ruinously expensive things to comply, and then demand more and more, and end up throwing them out anyway.

We spoke before of how the authorities forced Kim Fahey and his extended family to leave Phonehenge West and destroy the home they built. Here is Fahey’s description (from a Facebook message) of how the predators descend:

The last time the County came out, just before they bulldozed the place, here’s who they arrived with… The D.A. and five armed bodyguards. Four sheriff N.A.T. Team guys with automatic weapons, three Fire Chiefs, Animal Control, Health and Safety, Regional Planning, Building and Safety… Nineteen in total. I say to them at my front gate, ‘You guys can’t come on my property without my attorney here!’ They walked right past me….

Fahey faces as much as five years in prison and was supposed to be sentenced in November, but the sentencing was put off again until February 10, 2012. Apparently, the reason for the delayed sentencing is that, once sentenced, he can file an appeal to put further demolition orders on hold. Meanwhile, the court can force demolition of other structures to continue. The main building on his property has already been destroyed, and there is a dispute with the demolition contractor who didn’t clean up as agreed, which adds more penalties.

California F.A.C.E.OFF. runs a lively blog full of spirit, whose description is,

A Grassroots Citizens’ Movement Dedicated to Restoring Property Rights by Exposing and Eliminating Abusive, Aggressive, Illegal and UnConstitutional Code Enforcement Practices…

Those practices are, of course, the very ones responsible for creating homelessness. California F.A.C.E.OFF. quotes one of the stories Fahey told about a neighbor on a recent radio show:

One morning a few months ago, he gets a knock at his door. He finds he’s being visited by a… ‘Nuisance Abatement Team’. The old man is informed by seven ‘officers’, each with bullet proof vests, fully-auto assault rifles and real attitudes, that he has to remove all offending trucks and equipment, or go to jail. The old man is then told he has to vacate the premises until he has complied with all of their requests. The old man, now homeless and scared to death, starts sleeping in one of his old trucks with his pets. It hits below thirty degrees. He makes a small fire to stay warm. His truck catches on fire and he burns to death with his pets.

There is even more to that particular ugly tale but you’ll have to go to the website to read it. House the Homeless also elicited more information about the perverse way in which the authorities use the residents’ animals as pawns in their quest to seize property.

A message from Fahey says,

It is so insidious what these County goons are doing, it’s almost beyond comprehension. In our situation, we placed all our animals at friends and family members, long ago, to thwart the N.A.T. Team goons.

Others? Not so lucky. A favorite tactic is to come out with twenty ‘Intimidators’ to run a family off. The first thing they do is have their animal control reps take possession of horses, dogs, goats, etc. ‘For health reasons’! They can say whatever they want.

Next, they red tag the ‘Unsafe home’, putting the people in the street. By the time you get into court, you’re already dead. Most trade their homes to get their animals back. End of story…

Naturally, we can’t leave the subject of homeless pets without recommending the 2012 House the Homeless Pet Calendar, which is a free download, with only the mildest, most subtle suggestion for a donation. And if you can’t donate, may you and your pets enjoy it anyway throughout the upcoming new year.

Reactions?

Source: “L.A. County’s Private Property War,” LA Weekly, 06/23/11
Source: “The Unsolicited Opinion on Code Enforcement!,” californiafaceoffmovement.blogspot.com, 06/29/11
Image by Kevin Lawver, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Thanksgiving All Year Round

 

Yvonne ShieldsThanksgiving greetings to all the volunteers and donors who provide holiday dinners for people experiencing homelessness. We also honor those who attend to the nutritional needs of the homeless throughout the year through a variety of programs.

Not long ago, Fox News carried an article written by Rabbi Abraham Cooper about activist Jay Goldinger:

For the last 805 Sundays, he and a small cadre of volunteers have stood on the frontline of Los Angeles’ forgotten jobless and homeless population and delivered change we can truly believe in. Goldinger’s initiative called ‘Food on Foot’ does not merely give out food and clothing to the down and out but has helped turn many of them into productive taxpayers.

The method is described as a tough-love approach. The author relates how Goldinger will give a new participant a mirror and say,

Take a good in the mirror. You are looking at the enemy; the only person holding you back from a bright future.

There’s nothing wrong with telling people that. It’s what plenty of sages have told us, from Gautama Buddha to Sigmund Freud to Werner Erhard. Of course, technically, it’s only true some of the time. There are other things that can hold a person back.

Richard R. Troxell enumerates some of those things:

However, it perpetuates the stereotype that people experiencing homelessness are drug addicts. Let’s just suppose that if it were true, it does not change the fact that after they go about looking into that mirror and ‘turning their lives around,’ they will be returned to a world that pays them ‘slave wages’ that are so little, it prevents their escape from poverty.

And what if we consider for just a moment that it may well have been those ‘slave wages’ that caused them to lose hope, and cause them to turn to drug use, and possibly drug sales as their only escape for their situation? And what is the criminal charge for the Federal Government that created the ‘slave wage’ standard that drove them to using drugs and selling drugs in the first place?

And what about the employer who surrendered his ethical standard to a non-living, non-feeling, non-thinking, non-human institution? What criminal charge is there for the employer who is a real-life human being who hides behind this ‘thing’ and takes a worker’s wage for less an amount that affords him a roof over his head… other than a bridge?

Where is the righteous indignation? How can we expect to change the way the world looks at this if we don’t promote it like a steady drum beat?

At any rate, the purpose of the “Food on Foot” program is to motivate the participants to take responsibility for their actions. Actually, that’s an excellent principle for all of us to follow, and many would approve the fact that the program has never taken any funding derived from taxes.

Cooper goes on to say,

Backsliding is never rewarded. And there is another key component. Jay demands of everyone — random acts of kindness — like sharing some food, guiding a blind person across the street, helping an elderly person with their shopping… These simple acts challenge people clinging to the lowest rung of society to validate their self-worth and to realize that victimhood isn’t a coat that protects you from the elements but a straitjacket that locks you in to a cycle of misery.

Obviously, this is not a program for everyone. But for those who apply and are accepted, the success rate is said to be 89%. If that impressive claim is accurate, it’s a program that needs to be replicated.

In Seattle, Washington, they have FareStart, a nonprofit organization that has been training at-risk kids to work in the food industry, not as counter help but as actual chefs. Thanks to FareStart and the network it inspired, Catalyst Kitchens, a lot of homeless lives have turned around since 1992.

Associated Press reporter Gene Johnson lists the three goals pursued by these entities:

… feeding hungry people, providing housing and other support to those on the margins of society, and giving people the skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Johnson interviewed some of the participants who are trying out new ways of interacting with society, like being on time, and being sober on the job, or at any point during the day. Some have been through anger management therapy and other self-improvement programs, and it appears that the overwhelming majority of students flourish and go on to brighter futures.

He also interviewed a staff chef, Sam Clinton, who was once a successful and well-compensated professional, until he became a homeless addict. And this quotation from Clinton is one of the most profound things ever said:

If you want to be sober, you need to be with people who want to be sober.

Reactions?

Source: “Could LA’s Jay Goldinger Hold the Key to Defeating Homelessness?,” Fox News, 08/20/11
Source: “Seattle program teaches homeless to feed hungry,” The Washington Times, 09/04/11
Image by Vadim Lavrusik, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Holidays, Homelessness, and a Living Wage

Mitch Snyder 1943-1990Eric Sheptock once revealed a thing that some people experiencing homelessness have found. On a special day, there can be too much bounty. In certain cities, it would be theoretically possible for a person to have several Thanksgiving dinners at different venues, and the donating organizations would still have food left over.

Earlier this month, journalist Jordan Schatz interviewed Sheptock and elicited what are, in his view, the five leading causes of homelessness:

… a lack of affordable housing, a lack of a living wage, domestic violence, medical bankruptcy and mental illness.

Sheptock is one of 1,350 residents of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which is a stone’s throw away from the Department of Labor. The reporter quotes him as saying,

In spite of how close they are, the Department of Labor has never walked across the road to enter the shelter and ask the people in there how they can help them get any work. One of the biggest causes of homelessness is the lack of employment and the lack of a living wage. You’d think [the Department of Labor] would walk across the road and say, how can we help you to get employed?

Schatz must be thanked for reminding us of the history of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which was created by Vietnam veterans as a tangible statement of their renunciation of violence as a solution to anything. Back in the early 1980s, hundreds of people were informally living in the building.

Sheptock is again quoted:

The feds came to remove the homeless and a guy named Mitch Snyder organized the homeless and went on a hunger strike, and they got the building from the Reagan administration. Mitch Snyder and Ronald Reagan signed a restrictive covenant to keep that building a shelter from 1988 to 2018, and it’s actually one of the best shelters in the city.

So, getting back to Thanksgiving, could a person be blamed for taking part in every banquet that extends an invitation? There must be a strong temptation to absorb as much nutrition as possible. Unfortunately, the human body doesn’t function well on a feast-and-famine cycle. Over-nourishment on one day doesn’t really do much long-term good for the system.

If a homeless person owned a nice set of plastic containers, a refrigerator, and electricity to run the refrigerator, holidays would be great. If a person waited until everyone had been served, and then asked the staff of the shelter or church for some leftovers to take away, and had a place to store food, these seasonal gifts would stretch farther, and holiday sharing could get more bang for its buck. But, of course, no refrigerator is available.

Mitch Snyder 1943-1990If there is a little extra at some holiday meal-sharing events, let no one interpret that as a reason to give less. Even if abundance exists in some places on a few days per year, it might not be that way in your town. Almost everywhere, the current holiday season is bound to be more needful than the last.

Thanksgiving is a day fraught with emotional traps and traumas even for people lucky enough to be housed and/or employed. Imagine how it feels to be homeless on Thanksgiving. Imagine that you want to help, but your own finances are pretty well tapped out, and you may even feel in danger of becoming homeless yourself.

When facing the evidence of homelessness, the housed citizen’s psyche becomes a battleground of warring emotions, as expressed in a poem by Eric Lawson. Out of hopeless frustration, the poet asks,

I am just one man… How do I help others when I cannot even help myself?

Now, imagine that there is a way to help others, and possibly even do one’s own self some good, and it doesn’t even cost a cent. Please become acquainted with the Universal Living Wage and sign the petition.

Reactions?

Source: “Sheptock: Homeless because of no jobs; jobless because of no home,” DC Spotlight, 11/02/11
Source: “Peripheral Vignettes,” theericlawson.blogspot.com, 04/25/11
Image by dbking, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Help Make the Thermal Underwear Party a Big Success

South Austin Rockin’ Gospel ProjectOver the years, our Thermal Underwear Party has grown from a gift of warm clothes, a cup of coffee, and a dessert donated local bakeries to a three hour party with music from P.J Lyles and the South Austin Rockin’ Gospel Project with a hot lunch of ham or turkey, desserts, and coffee and cocoa.

We need your help this year with your donation of $25.00 for the HUGS (Hats, underwear, gloves, socks, and scarves) and if possible a donation to sponsor a honey ham from Texas Honey Ham.

Texas Honey HamFor several years now, Texas Honey Ham has given HTH 3 hams to help with our lunch and HTH has purchased the rest to feed our 400-500 guests. At $6.99/pound, their wonderful hams cost between $49 and $70, feeding 10-22 people.

Sponsor a pound or two of ham today and feed a few people experiencing homelessness at the Thermal Underwear Party on Monday, January 2nd and support this local business.

Click the button below to donate online!

Or, please send a check to:

House the Homeless
P.O. Box 2312
Austin, TX 78768

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The Homeless Vets Situation

Last time, we looked at some of the bright spots in the homeless veteran situation. For example, by one count, over 2,400 nonprofit groups in America have programs for homeless veterans. Still, despite those and other good programs, the situation is still desperate.

For starters, there are public misconceptions. Some people have known vets who were very well cared for by Uncle Sam. Maybe some still are. But, overall, things are not looking good. People think, “Oh, they can go to the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars,” but there are strict limits to the available benefits. If the person was never awarded a Purple Heart, for instance, or never actually fought overseas, they don’t qualify.

Media-wise, the situation is unclear. Compare these two headlines that appeared within two weeks of each other:

Homeless veteran numbers drop by 55000: VA

Number of homeless veterans explodes

In the first one, Molly O’Toole reports for Reuters:

The number of homeless veterans on any given night has dropped by over 55,000, the Department of Veterans Affairs said on Friday.

The second headline belongs to a USA TODAY article, published only a few days later, in which Gregg Zoroya said,

More than 10,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are homeless or in programs aimed at keeping them off the streets, a number that has doubled three times since 2006, according to figures released by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The rise comes at a time when the total number of homeless veterans has declined from a peak of about 400,000 in 2004 to 135,000 today.

That report was based on the most recent (2009) count, which found 75,609 homeless veterans on a designated night. Slightly less than half of those people were sleeping rough, while slightly more than half were in shelters or transitional living facilities.

Over the year when the information was gathered, a significantly larger number of veterans were homeless for various lengths of time, because the number of those who spent at least one night in a shelter or transitional facility totaled 136,334.

Horror stories show up periodically, like the shooting of Thomas Higginbotham by police in Portland earlier this year. And, of course, there is always corruption. In June, Renee Dudley reported on the legal difficulties of the head of a nonprofit organization for homeless veterans in Charleston, SC:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating whether the former director of a North Charleston veterans’ homeless shelter broke federal laws by using taxpayer-funded grants to bankroll her own lifestyle… The auditors called Cook’s $130,000 annual salary and additional benefits ‘unreasonable when compared to like positions in the industry.’…

The audit also found that health insurance coverage for the shelter’s two paid employees… was paid entirely by the veterans’ grants… Recently released bank statements show Cook used the account to pay for a hotel stay at Folly Beach, downtown dining and yoga lessons…

*************
Don’t forget to sign the Universal Living Wage petition!

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless veteran numbers drop by 55000: VA,” Reuters, 07/15/11
Source: “Number of homeless veterans explodes,” USATODAY.com, 07/26/11
Source: “Veterans 50 Percent More Likely To Be Homeless, Study Shows,” The Huffington Post, 02/10/11
Source: “Nancy Cook focus of Veterans Affairs inquiry,” PostandCourier.com, 06/17/11
Image by Valerie Everett, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Homeless Veterans Awareness Attracts Heroism

veteran stand downAs we know, it’s National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, and nobody could say that the plight of homeless veterans does not get media attention. Homeless vets are in the news all the time, and we can only hope that awareness is actually being raised.

When Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless was interviewed by Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Business Success Radio, one of the subjects turned out to be America’s veterans. (The entire show is available as a free, on-demand podcast download.)

Richard pointed out that we’re paying taxes so the Department of Veterans Affairs can take proper care of the nation’s vets, but for some reason there is still a lot of need. Part of the difference is made up by thousands of volunteers and businesses who make donations and do pro bono work.

There are large organized events called Veterans Stand Downs, where dozens of donor participants help hundreds of veterans at a time, gathered in a central spot. There are small, ongoing efforts and individual initiatives that warm the heart. For instance, some police departments organize donations of backpacks and basic supplies, including information on where to get various kinds of help, and each squad car carries a pack to give away if the officers encounter a homeless vet.

In San Francisco, a coalition made up of the apparel outfitter Chrome, Planet Sox, the VA, the St. Anthony Foundation, and Craig Newmark (of Craigslist fame) gives away massive amounts of shoes and socks to the homeless.

Last year, the homeless veterans of Texas lost a great benefactor on the retirement of Dr. Joel Feiner from the position of medical director of the Comprehensive Homeless Center. As reported by Kim Horner for The Dallas Morning News,

At the VA, Feiner served as medical director of a program with long-term treatment that included psychiatrists, psychologists, a dorm, transitional housing, job training and work programs.

Horner learned that the doctor worked with the civil rights movement in the 60’s, and had such unusual habits as inviting patients to call him at home.

Around 200 homeless vets have been in therapy with him, for such conditions as PSTD, severe depression, addiction, and bipolar disorder. He specialized in hopeless cases. The reporter interviewed a formerly homeless veteran, an actual cardboard-box-under-a-bridge kind of guy, who went on to become a GPA 4.0 student who aims to become a teacher, and then quoted Feiner:

We have some very quiet heroes and heroines here — the veterans themselves. Some have been clobbered by conditions they had, through no fault of their own. It’s their ability to keep on that I am in awe of.

Another person recognized as a hero, specifically a CNN Hero, is Roy Foster. Formerly a homeless addicted veteran himself, he co-founded (with another homeless vet) a nonprofit organization and opened Stand Down House, which has been helping ex-military people since 2000. Foster says,

I not only wanted to help homeless veterans, I wanted to help them before they became homeless, before they have to live through what I did. My charity in Palm Beach County, Florida, assists veterans, soldiers, and their families by providing supportive services, financial assistance, housing, mental health service referrals and more.

Foster also belongs to the Palm Beach County Veterans Task Force and the Veterans Advisory Committee. He has lent a hand in burials of indigent veterans and created a local Veterans Court, whose aim is to keep his constituents out of the criminal justice system.

Reactions?

Source: “St. Anthony’s Honors Homeless and Low-income Veterans With New Shoes and Socks,” PR Newswire, 11/08/11
Source: “To homeless veterans, retiring Dallas VA psychiatrist is a hero,” DallasNews.com, 10/31/10
Source: “Once homeless vet’s mission to save his brothers-in-arms,” CNN.com, 11/11/10
Image by MD GovPics, used under its Creative Commons license.

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HPCR – There Must Be a Better Way

Clothespeg Tent
This might be the quotation of the year:

The City of New Orleans cleared out the camp to reduce homelessness in the city.

Is that what they think they’re doing? Amazing. Reduce homelessness by clearing out camps. Who knew the answer could be so simple?

Here’s more of the story, as reported by Tania Dall:

A homeless encampment underneath the Ponchartrain Expressway along Calliope Street is gone… On Friday morning, city workers showed up to clear bicycles, sleeping bags, and other items belonging to the homeless. The city says it will continue patrols to keep this area clear.

About 112 people are said to have lived in the encampment. The city says that 85 were moved to temporary housing, 20 taken to shelters, and 10 “placed on buses to be reunited with family or friends out of town.” That already adds up to 115, and the reporter also says that some of the displaced people went to join Occupy NOLA. So, who knows?

The nonprofit organization UNITY of New Orleans told the reporter,

… 60 percent of the people living in the old encampment suffered from mental illness, 25 percent of those had some sort of developmental disability…

Elsewhere, Bruce Eggler adds detail:

The area under the expressway has been closed and no one will be allowed to sleep or camp there… The Department of Sanitation will remove any mattresses, chairs or other items found there and pressure-wash the area…

According to the mayor’s office,

The city coordinated the relocations and respite housing in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, Volunteers of America, Travelers Aid, Metropolitan Health Services District, Grace Outreach and UNITY of Greater New Orleans.

But, getting back to Tania Dall’s piece, she said,

… the move came as a shock to some nearby shelters that claim they weren’t given advance notice.

So, what kind of coordination is that? Again, who knows?

Actually, the activities in New Orleans sounds relatively benign in comparison to some of the other cities described by House the Homeless in previous posts. A person could get tired of hearing about “sweeps” and “cleanups.” Seems like there are so many of them these days. As a group deemed undesirable, people experiencing homelessness today are pretty much like Gypsies have been throughout the centuries. Society definitely doesn’t want them in its backyard. They need be cleared out and cleaned up.

On the other hand, either group provides handy scapegoats. In the old days, if a child went missing, the Gypsies were assumed to have kidnapped him or her. Now, if there’s a beer can on the lawn, it must be the homeless people. In reality, whoever dropped that litter might have been a college student, or your spouse.

Either group provides convenient targets for the free-floating aggression of the settled populace. Any time a few local yokels get drunk and go out looking for somebody to beat down, who is out there in the open air, unprotected by locks, or even walls? Gypsies and homeless people.

And the townsfolk get to be all self-righteous, and feel superior to the people who own nothing. And they use the law to take away the very few possessions that remain. News articles blather on about how city personnel or volunteers come out to clean up all the trash after the homeless people have been ejected from the camp they called home.

Sure, it’s a mess, but there’s a dark humor in all this. Where do you take out the garbage, when you live in the junkyard? When you yourself are considered trash, where do you take out the trash?

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Just to have a good sleeping bag can make the difference between survival and despair. Imagine losing your sleeping bag because you went to find something to eat, and when you came back, the place where you had lived was bulldozed into oblivion.

And, really, would it be such an outlandish idea to get rid of the trash and leave the people in place? Couldn’t a city just put some portable toilets and a dumpster near a homeless settlement, and maintain them?

Better yet, what if we had a society where nobody is desperate enough to camp out in the woods? Is there an answer to this? Well, for now, the Homeless Protected Class Resolution could possibly put a stop to some of the worst excesses performed upon people experiencing homelessness.

And, for the future — the one where we don’t have any homeless people — we propose the Universal Living Wage. The exciting new development is that House the Homeless is encouraging the Occupy movement to turn its energy in this direction. (Please see “Living Wage Campaign: The Answer to Occupy Wall Street“) and don’t forget to sign the petition!

Reactions?

Source: “City of New Orleans closes homeless encampment,” WWLTV.com, 10/28/11
Source: “New Orleans ousts about 115 homeless people from underneath Pontchartrain Expressway,” NOLA.com, 10/28/11
Image (partial) by gruntzooki (Corey Doctorow), used under its Creative Commons license.

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First-Person Homeless: A Few More Stories

homeless posterThe book we see over on the right-hand side of the page here, Looking Up at the Bottom Line, is really several books in one. It’s kind of an activist-how-to manual, as well as a history of the struggle for social justice as carried out (non-violently and always with a certain flair) in several different places where Richard R. Troxell has lived, particularly Austin, TX. It lays out the rationale behind the Universal Living Wage, and makes the case for why the ULW should be implemented.

It’s also the place where many individual stories can be found, starting with Richard’s own. Coming back from the Vietnam conflict, he tried college, and then got a bit unbalanced after his father’s death. Like so many other young people have done, he ranged around the country, living in a car, a truck, and even a cave. Out west, he worked as a trail restorer and a firefighter, then bounced back eastward to live as a squatter in a house in a derelict area.

As time went on, Richard settled for a while in a rental house with several other guys, and eventually got married and learned everything there was to know about striving for a home of his own. Not content with that, he set about an ambitious project for reviving an entire neighborhood, and branched out from there into many other public-spirited projects.

As well as his own story, Richard gives us portraits of his various mentors and role models along the way, especially the incomparable Max Weiner, founder of CEPA (the Consumer Education and Protective Association) and the Consumer Party. Then, there are little pocket biographies of a number of people experiencing homelessness in Austin, where Richard founded House the Homeless.

There’s Chris Byrt Lyne, who was a construction worker until he was assaulted and suffered a head injury, and Jaime Maldonado, who was already just barely hanging on when serious dental problems sent his life into a downward spiral, and Kenneth Wayne Staggs, whose work-related injury may prevent him from ever earning a living again, even if a job were available.

Ronald Keith Johnson was held back by dyslexia all his life, but worked as a house painter until an on-the-job injury disabled him. James Hawkins underwent open-heart surgery at age 46, but it was unsuccessful, and he was rendered unemployable. Veteran Eugene Golden, like so many other Americans, lost his home through foreclosure. In these pages is the story of Edward Forrest Dutcher, a casualty of the streets who died around this time last year.

Not to disrespect the men caught in the cycle of homelessness, but the stories of homeless women are particularly distressing, like that of Camee Vega, who escaped with her two daughters from an abusive husband and went on to work at the Homeless Resource Center. And as we’ve mentioned before, there’s the tragic story of Diane Malloy, whose needless death inspired the inauguration of Austin’s annual Homeless Memorial Service.

A few of the thousands of people experiencing homelessness have someone like Richard to tell their stories. There is help and encouragement — for instance, last year, graduates of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop started a writing class for such folks. Thanks to the Internet, many of the homeless are able to relate their own histories online and even publish the tales of their lives.

For The Huffington Post, Gabrielle Canon recounted the life of Carey Fuller, homeless mother of two, and author of the self-published Writings from the Driver’s Side. Canon says,

Fuller was cast into homelessness after the birth of her second child, when she could no longer afford rent as a single mother… Sensing she would soon be on the street, she used the last of her income — a $2,000 tax refund — to purchase the Winnebago… Each day she faced a reality of sleepless nights and life on the move. She worked the midnight shift, printing newspapers for $8 an hour while her two children slept inside their old RV in the parking lot outside.

The only thing unusual about this story is that it isn’t unusual at all. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, around 600,000 American families find themselves experiencing homelessness. And something needs to be done.

Canon says,

This is why Fuller continues to write, to spread her message to others who may be going through something similar, or who may not understand what homelessness in America is really like. She encourages other homeless parents to do the same.

One thing that could be done, that would help a lot, would be the adoption of the Universal Living Wage. The sad fact is, even a person working a full-time job, at minimum wage, can’t afford housing. This is economic homelessness. The benefit of the Universal Living Wage is that it will end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.

Reactions?

Source: “Looking Up at the Bottom Line,” Amazon.com
Source: “Carey Fuller Chronicles Her Experiences As A Homeless Parent,The Huffington Post, 03/10/11
Image by bryan thayer, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Download the Free HtH Pet Calendar for 2012

Homeless People and their Pets

All of us love love our pets. They’re part of the family. And homeless people are no exception. Download the HtH 2012 Pets Calendar, featuring some of the homeless men and women of Austin with the pets they love so much.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD

This calendar is free, but if you would like to donate to HtH please click the PayPal button below.

Suggested Donation: $10

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First-Person Homeless: A Few Stories

Bread of LifeThere are three kinds of writing about the lives of people experiencing homelessness, and, naturally, the most authentic kind is a story told in the first person. When a street person tells the stories of other street people, that should count too, in the “first-person” category.

Ace Backwords writing about B. N. Duncan, for instance. Because these stories are often so similar, and because the lives of the storyteller and the subject intertwine, it’s the next best thing to an autobiography. And certainly a lot closer than anything attempted by a reporter.

Kirsten Anderberg is an outstanding chronicler, and we have mentioned other recorders of the homeless experience, like Mark Horvath, founder of We Are Visible and InvisiblePeople.tv. Horvath’s protracted escape from homelessness finally resulted in a “normal” life — but then he was homeless again, and then housed again.

In June, we reported the most recent development:

Mark Horvath will soon be technically homeless again, this time voluntarily. With another extensive InvisiblePeople.tv road trip coming up, it doesn’t make sense to keep an apartment. The furniture is going to newly-housed families, and the homeless advocate is hitting the road until November, and leaving things open-ended after that.

About one of his new acquaintances among the homeless, Horvath says,

This interview may be the most ‘interesting’ so far since I started InvisiblePeople.tv three years ago, and I am sure it’s at the top of the most colorful. I could have sit and listened to Brotha BlueStocking all day. In fact, this video does not even cover all the wonderful thoughts this man has to share. We have to work on getting people like Brotha BlueStocking their own cameras and laptops so they can tell their own stories, and we can all listen.

Now let’s enter the time machine and share with Mark Horvath the true story of his first night as a homeless person, way back in the mid 1990s. He wrote:

All of a sudden and without warning, I found myself homeless in Koreatown near downtown Los Angeles. I was sober, but I had no money, no place to go and no one I could call for help. I was officially homeless. This was all new to me. I had no homeless training. I had no clue how I was going to survive… I knew that the worst crimes in the city — muggings, beatings, shootings — happened at night to people living outdoors. I knew that when you sleep outside, you are vulnerable to just about everything. I was scared. Probably more scared then I have been or ever will be.

And then, there’s Michael Sullivan, the formerly homeless author of the novel Necessary Heartbreak, who vividly recalls the moment when he knew he had sunk low and his old life was truly gone:

My hair was grimy and my clothes smelled from having been worn for three straight weeks… It was holiday time and the train was packed, but it was my home at night during the winter of 1983-84. I was exhausted from walking so much, searching for a job. A seat opened up between two passengers and I sat down. A well-dressed woman gave me ‘the look.’

Ah, yes, the look that says, “You are something I should be scraping off my shoe.” For a self-aware person like Sullivan, the worst part of the experience was knowing it was the same look that, once upon a time, he had used on other people.

He says,

I was conditioned at a very young age to view all homeless people as worthless alcoholics and drug addicts. They were not human — they were thugs and murderers and a burden to society… During those bleak, frigid winter evenings and mornings, I realized that people who shared those subway rides probably thought of me in the same way.

Another author is Richard LeMieux, whose book is called Breakfast at Sally’s, and who was interviewed about it by someone from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. A formerly a successful businessman with three cars and three boats, he says,

On my 50th birthday, when I was traveling first class… the prospect that I would become homeless just eight years later would have caused me to double over with laughter… I considered myself a self-made man, successful by my own hard work and good judgment. I was confident and believed I had an answer for almost everything.

But when LeMieux first hit the streets, his answers came from the panhandlers and dumpster divers who gave him survival lessons. Suddenly, he was one of “them,” part of the ragged and faceless horde of wanderers, and, among “them,” he unexpectedly found sharing, protection, and respect. Even more so from the church workers.

He says,

When I lived on the streets I met many ‘angels’ who fed and clothed me and many others like me. I have known groups of women who have walked fearlessly down paths into the woods to bring food to homeless people in camps. Those women took dirty clothes out of the woods, washed them that night, and brought them back the next day with milk for homeless children, diapers for babies…

Like many others, LeMieux seems almost mystified at the disconnect between what’s happening at the bottom and what’s happening at the top. Face to face, one on one, he has met literally hundreds of people who were glad to help a down-and-out stranger. Yet the government bureaus and financial centers appear to be staffed by heartless robots intent on causing yet more destruction.

He says,

We live in what we call the greatest country on earth, yet we choose to let men, women, and children live on the streets, in the woods, and in parking lots as if they were living in a Third World country.

It’s a puzzler, isn’t it? And until we get it figured out, here’s what we have for now:

The benefit of the Universal Living Wage is that it will end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.

Reactions?

Source: “Chronicling Homelessness: Mark Horvath,” House the Homeless, 06/21/11
Source: “Brotha BlueStocking,” InvisiblePeople.tv/blog, 10/03/11
Source: “My First Night Homeless: A True Story,” The Huffington Post, 04/20/11
Source: “I was homeless; ‘the look’ judged me worthless,” CNN.com, 01/26/11
Source: “Take Five! Q & A with Richard LeMieux,” EndHomelessness.org, 01/29/09
Image by mahalie (Mahalie Stackpole), used under its Creative Commons license.

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