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Another Bad Example: San Diego

homeless-san-diegoAn essay that Dan Arel wrote for Counterpunch about the current goings-on in San Diego is vital because it concerns two topics that have been extensively covered by House the Homeless: the Housing First concept and “sweeps.”

Arel speaks of the violent El Nino weather patterns that afflicted Southern California early last month, just when “community frustration” about the large number of people experiencing homelessness was rising. The only answer the mayor’s office could come up with was to order a “cleanup,” as if poverty-stricken, unhoused people are dirt that needs to be swept away.

Many police officers took part in the tearing down of shelters and the relegation of people’s possessions to garbage trucks. Arel writes:

To make matters worse, the officers timed their action when many of the homeless in the area had gone inside to access restrooms at the Neil Good Day Center. When the homeless citizens went inside, police deemed their property abandoned and collected it all.

Aside from everything else, the reporter was told by activist Michael McConnell that the response rate of the police department to actual crimes is far from admirable, and to have police personnel throwing away blankets and tents is a terrible waste of public funds. Caltrans also keeps its workers busy with “a crew out almost every day cleaning out downtown area camps.” Supposedly, the homeless are given three-days notice to move elsewhere, which is a cruel joke when there is no other place to go.

As always, the city cites sanitation and hygiene concerns. As always, decent people wonder why there can’t be public restrooms and even places for washing up and doing laundry. The society we live in has ambitions to build colonies on other planets, yet can’t figure out how to provide sanitation and hygiene in a modern, advance city here on Earth.

In addition to “sweep” and “cleanup,” civic authorities also use the term “purge” which has even worse connotations. A purge is the abrupt or violent removal of people from an organization or place. The word has many synonyms, including expulsion, ejection, exclusion, eviction, and eradication. Purges were and are engaged in by conscienceless tyrants in banana republics, Iron Curtain countries, and places ruled by medieval-minded warlords.

Somewhere around 9,000 homeless people live in San Diego, and a lot of them lost vital medications, personal papers and documents, irreplaceable belongings, sleeping bags, spare clothes, and more in this effort to clean up the city. The local activists, when they show up at protests and meetings, wear trash bags to convey the message, “Stop treating human beings like garbage.”

The reporter says:

Roughly one-third of the unsheltered homeless have a physical disability, and one-fifth suffer from severe mental illness. These men and women need more help than is available and what they receive instead is harassment by law enforcement and the city government… Throwing away possessions and destroying homeless camps does not solve the crisis facing the city… With mentally ill and elderly people lining our streets, San Diego must do better.

Allegedly, “tens of millions of dollars” are available to help people pay rent under the Section 8 program, but as in so many other places, landlords refuse to take Section 8 tenants. Obviously some other solution is needed, and needed now.

One of the most disturbing paragraphs in this deeply disturbing story concerns the reporter’s assessment of the Housing First paradigm as a failure — at least in San Diego:

The solution, which looks fantastic on paper, gives these men, women, and families a stable living situation and allows them to rebuild their lives and even reenter the workforce. However, this plan has never been successful and instead of rethinking the strategy, it seems that city officials have just thrown their arms up in frustration… Using landlords as a scapegoat for inaction accomplishes nothing…

Who should be the scapegoats? The municipal administrators who allegedly are smart enough to run things, but who can’t figure this stuff out — not just in San Diego, but everywhere in America.

It’s funny how, whenever a city wants to build a dog park or a racetrack or a sports arena, funding is available and obstacles magically melt away. But when it comes to creating places for people to live under roofs with electricity and running water, it’s like this enormous puzzle that none of these college-educated, highly-paid bureaucrats can wrap their heads around.

Housing? For humans? The clever, suit-wearing winners are at a complete loss. Imagining how to get people in out of the weather is an insurmountable challenge.

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Source: “‘A Cold and Callous Operation:’ San Diego’s Mass Evictions of the Homeless,” Counterpunch.org, 04/18/16
Photo credit: Rick McCharles via Visual hunt/CC BY

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Traumatic Brain Injury — Promising Developments

head-injury-kidIn previous House the Homeless posts, we have outlined the basic facts that are just beginning to appear clearly, about certain relationships between various groups of people. The report on this year’s HtH Survey described how a concussion occurs.

Sometimes, the brain is concussed even when the person has not received a direct blow to the head. As with “shaken baby syndrome,” any violent activity that causes the brain to strike the inside of the skull can potentially do serious damage.

The 2010 HtH Health Survey had already established that about half of the people experiencing homelessness are too disabled to work. This year, the 248 people who filled out survey forms provided a frightening picture of how much of that disability stems from traumatic brain injury.

Eighty percent of the respondents had been struck in the head hard enough to describe the result as seeing stars or getting their bell rung. Nearly half of all the respondents had at some point in their lives been knocked unconscious.

Not surprisingly, many of Austin’s homeless residents have sustained multiple head injuries. Almost half have been in car accidents, and the number of street attacks on people experiencing homelessness is astonishing. Of course, domestic violence plays a role. Many women flee hellish situations with no safe place to land.

Undoubtedly, police actions account for some head injuries among the homeless, but also consider this — nearly three-fourth of the survey respondents had fallen from a height. A fall from a roof, scaffold, or tree is almost always a work-related injury.

Sub-groups

Of the 248 survey respondents, 26 individuals, mostly veterans, said they had been in an explosion. Here is a weird coincidence: 26 symptoms characterize traumatic brain injury. The signs are present among a huge number of veterans, and a gigantic number of people experiencing homelessness, and also among a very large number of former contact sports players.

Many people fit in all three categories, and here is the incredibly ironic thing. Two of these groups of Americans — soldiers and athletes — are praised and rewarded as long as they are in good working order. But if they should happen to become members of that third group, the homeless, their reputation suffers a sudden and dramatic change. Interest in their well-being evaporates, and concern for their fate drops to zero.

HtH President Richard R. Troxell says this:

What if what we are seeing is that many of the nation’s homeless population has suffered some kind of head injury not necessarily because they are homeless, but rather, causing them to fall into homelessness and even preventing them from escaping it? […] Perhaps, ultimately, we can take preventative measures to counter these life-altering events that are so costly to the individual and to our nation…

Concussed people very often fall through the holes of the societal safety net. What we are zeroing in on here is the relationship between head injuries, ongoing disability, veterans, and homelessness. This is where Dr. Mark L. Gordon and his Millennium Health Group colleagues enter the scene.

As we have mentioned, Dr. Gordon is an endocrinologist who has specialized in Traumatic Brain Injury for many years. His work is based on the fact that brain injury damages the nearby pituitary gland, which is in charge of all the the body’s neurosteroids (hormones.)

Unfortunately, popular imagination associates hormones only with the reproductive aspect of human life. In actuality, neurosteroids rule every physical process and mental condition, and their absence causes deficiencies that Dr. Gordon lists as including:

… depression, anger outbursts, anxiety, mood swings, memory loss, inability to concentrate, learning disabilities, sleep deprivation increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes… and a number of other medically documented conditions.

Restoring neurosteroid homeostasis can return a person to a state of health and productivity that is not only addiction-free, but medication-free. On April 12, House the Homeless issued a press release announcing a new effort to combine the resources of our organization with those of National Health Care for the Homeless, directed by John Lozier, and with Dr. Gordon’s hormone replacement therapy protocol.

The precedent for this type of united initiative has been set by Dr. Gordon’s work with the Warrior Angels Foundation, resulting in the successful treatment of more than a hundred veterans afflicted by traumatic brain injury. We want to see this healing work continue for veterans, for homeless people, and most particularly, for homeless veterans.

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Source: “Survey Links Brain Injury to Medical Causes of Homelessness — Follow Up,” PRNewswire.com, 04/12/16
Photo credit: Becky Houtman via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Tax Day Hurts

taxesThere are a thousand different reasons for it, but the bottom line is, income tax is a huge issue for almost everyone. For more than 15 years, House the Homeless has promoted the annual “Tax Day Action!” on April 15.

This year, as always, the HtH family will take part in protests at Post Offices throughout America. Richard R. Troxell, the organization’s president, explains the rationale:

Workers have been forced in ever-increasing numbers to depend on food stamps, general assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Congress intended these to be emergency, stop-gap measures. Instead, many businesses use government support to save on basic payroll. This is creating an ever-increasing burden on the taxpayer.

What happens when businesses take unfair advantage of the tattered few remaining shreds of the social safety net? Children don’t have proper nourishment and are unable to get the most out of their schooling. Families can’t afford rent, and wind up living in garages, basements, vans and, in the worst-case scenarios, in shelters or constantly-harassed homeless camps.

Learn more about the Universal Living Wage concept and what to do about it. Meanwhile, let’s look at some specific issues connected with how the refusal to end homelessness impacts the taxpayer.

Whether a service is paid for by local, state or federal taxes, all taxes come from the same source: us. The government, per se, does not have any money. At the municipal, state, or federal level, the government has no money except what we hand over to it in the form of income tax, property tax, sales tax, and so forth.

Sure, the government takes in a little something from the few remaining corporations that deign to pay taxes, but how do those businesses make up what they consider to be their rightful profits? Again, they get it from us.

What happens when a business, large or small, does not pay employees fairly or adequately? Every taxpayer chips in to pay for food stamps, medical care, and other necessities for those employees and their families. There are all kinds of less obvious costs, especially when people are unable to pay to live under a roof, and experience homelessness. Taxpayers finance the building of shelters or, more likely, the repurposing of old buildings to become shelters.

Police are kept busy chasing unhoused people from one makeshift settlement to another, and arresting them for minor crimes, and who pays to keep them in jail? We all do. The mission of the police, supposedly, is to serve and protect the citizens. That mission has been perverted into serving and protecting only property owners, while making life miserable for those who need protection the most, the people who have lost almost everything and really don’t need to be served any more grief.

Courts systems waste their time and our money assessing fines that will never be paid, for rinky-dink offenses like loitering. Another thing that courts do, occasionally, is to award damages to people who have been harmed by over-zealous policing. People whose possessions have been destroyed by police sometime band together, find willing legal representation, and sue cities for damages.

It’s never an easy battle, but hospitals that dump patients on Skid Row have been fined – and one way or another, the person who ends up paying the bill is the ordinary taxpayer. The families of homeless people killed by the police have been awarded damages. Allowing homelessness to continue in America damages everyone.

Tax Day always hurts, but when the panic and the cussing are over, it is totally worth sitting down to have a good hard think, about exactly who is paying for what, and why.

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Photo credit: efile989 via VisualHunt.com/CC BY-SA

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A Fine Idea

serving-the-homelessYes, the title of this post is a sarcastic joke, because the increasing propensity of cities to criminalize homelessness is anything but fine. If it were not so deadly serious, the insanity of trying to wipe out poverty by punishing it with monetary penalties would be hilarious.

Just last month, in the Italian the town of Bordighera, the mayor demonstrated his understanding of how foolish it is to fine the homeless. Instead, he announced that anyone caught giving money to a beggar would be fined.

House the Homeless mentioned the fellow in the Canadian city of Montreal who owes the equivalent of $18,000 in homeless fees. The London borough of Hackney announced its intention to fine the homeless between (the British equivalent of) $142 and $1,420 for such offenses as sleeping outside and panhandling. More than 65,000 signed a petition objecting to the idea, and the Hackney Council backed off.

There are plenty of similarly grotesque examples in America, where the following incidents have happened in recent history.

In San Antonio, Texas, chef Joan Cheever, who owns a commercially licensed food truck, was warned that she could no longer deliver food to the homeless in her personal truck, which apparently is necessary because it is not practical to park the larger food truck in some locations. The bureaucracy decided that she could only hand out industrially packaged food from the smaller truck, rather than the nourishing gourmet meals that she cooked.

After receiving the first ticket that fined her $2,000, she continued to serve food in the accustomed way and told reporter Stefanie Tuder:

I’m not going to settle and I’m not going to pay the fine and I’m not going to stop. They can come out every Tuesday and write me up a ticket and we’ll just start collecting them.

By the way, House the Homeless President Richard R. Troxell has called defiant chef Joan Cheever his hero.

In a Florida town where a 90-year-old veteran and two ministers were feeding people experiencing homelessness, a new law was passed that would fine them up to $500 and possibly send them to jail, and the veteran was arrested twice in one week.

In Kansas City, Missouri, charitable organizations can run afoul of the law by providing food or other services within 500 feet of a park or within 1,000 feet of a school.

Aside from food providers, people determined to help in other ways are penalized. In Portland, Oregon, a property owner was fined for allowing an impromptu community called “Right 2 Dream Too” to exist on his empty lot.

In Temecula, California, the only full-time homeless shelter was told it had to close within a month, and Jeff Horseman reported that Project TOUCH already been fined more than $2,000 and faced further penalties of $1,000 a day.

In Madison, Wisconsin, a couple set up lockers on their front porch so people experiencing homelessness could store their belongings. Sometimes, people even slept on the porch.

The neighbors complained, and the generous couple were threatened with daily $300 fines. Scott Keyes reported:

People being threatened or assessed with fines for helping the homeless is becoming a trend recently. Earlier this year, a Florida couple was fined $746 for feeding homeless people, while a Birmingham pastor was prevented from doing so because he didn’t have a $500 permit. Even church groups based in St. Louis and Raleigh have been blocked and threatened with arrest for handing out meals to their homeless neighbors.

In McMinnville, Oregon, a church that started by serving coffee and snacks began letting people camp outside at night, and was threatened with fines for the violation of zoning ordinances. In this case, a compromise was reached: Tents would no longer be allowed, but people could stay overnight on the property in sleeping bags.

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Source: “This town will fine you for giving money to homeless people,” WashingtonPost.com, 03/18/16
Source: “Hackney confirms it will not be fining homeless people,” localgov,co.uk, 06/08/15
Source: “San Antonio, Texas, Chef Fights City Fine to Feed the Homeless,” Yahoo.com, 04/22/15
Source: “90-Year-Old WW2 Veteran and Two Clergymen Face 60 Days in Jail for Feeding the Homeless in Florida,” LibertyBlitzkrieg.com, 11/05/14
Source: “How helping the homeless could get you in trouble in Missouri,” fox4kc.com, 12/19/14
Source: “Portland homeless camp faces closure,” DailyTidings.com, 02/01/12
Source: “Temecula homeless shelter has 30 days to close, avoid fines,” PE.com, 05/14/11
Source: “Church Could Face Fine for Allowing Homeless Congregation to Stay on Property,” texomashomepage.com, 03/17/15
Source: “Couple Who Let Homeless People Sleep On Their Porch Threatened With Daily Fine,” ThinkProgress.org, 09/19/14
Photo credit: thelesleyshow via Visualhunt/CC BY