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Outhouse Wars

outhouseIncredibly, people don’t seem to understand the repercussions that a criminal conviction can have on a person’s life. Those who perceive “the homeless” as members of a different species don’t seem to stop and think at all. Their war cry is “Get a job!” — yet they appear to have no clue about the policies of potential employers regarding past offenses.

While demanding “Get a job!,” harsh critics find the time and energy to convince lawmakers to punish humans for the most life-essential activities. Many people experiencing homelessness are served with legal paperwork for performing necessary natural functions.

Sure, a small percentage are needlessly gross, and take perverse pleasure in sullying the environment. But then, so do some wealthy and privileged college students.

Speaking of which… Remember how, only a year ago, the New York Post stirred public outrage by assigning a squadron of reporters — allegedly, 16 of them — to follow around a schizophrenic man and take a picture of him urinating in the street? He was called a “peeing menace,” a “foul-smelling vagrant,” and a “disgusting derelict” by the seven journalists who collaborated to write up the vital news. Then, The New York Times appropriated the story, allotting it 1,500 words crafted by three reporters. Although the venerable paper of record had no suggestions toward solving the homeless restroom problem,

They did, however, offer a solution for wealthy people who had already been charged with public urination and wanted to spend about $1,000 to get their ticket changed to “littering.”

In cities, of course the lack of restrooms has societal effects. Business owners find human waste in bushes, on sidewalks, in alleys and parking lots and garages, and sometimes in front of their doors. Downtown residents and visitors aren’t happy either. Some urban areas are said to stink for blocks. In parks, dog owners are against human poop, because their dogs like to roll around in anything malodorous and wear it home on their fur.

California is a mess

In Santa Ana, displaced people camp next to the county Civic Center and Central Justice Center, causing great distress:

Staff members have witnessed the homeless emptying their “potty buckets” in the bushes near the back entrance of the courthouse, and observed feces in the bushes adjacent to the courthouse as well as in the stairwell in the library-parking garage. There is a constant puddle of urine by the east side of the building at the base of the emergency stairwell, and individuals often urinate very near the courthouse, occasionally in front of courthouse windows.

You’d think the officials would have gotten a clue, after the first few days, and made sanitation arrangements, but apparently this situation has been ongoing for some time.

In Salinas, people camped in the alley behind the local Buddhist Temple, and “about 30 bags of human waste” were reportedly flung into the backyard of a local minister. In San Francisco, where they paint walls with hydrophobic paint that guarantees urine splash-back, Debra J. Saunders reported:

Monday night, a light pole corroded by urine collapsed and crashed onto a car, narrowly missing the driver.

As of two months ago, according to an online report, this was the situation in a place that reportedly attracts 16 million tourists per year:

The restrooms in Venice Beach have been closed for a long time except during peak daytime hours…

Back in 2012, DearDirtyAmerica.com published a wickedly satirical “news” item which announced then-mayor Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to build a giant sandbox where people experiencing homelessness could take care of their needs:

Instruction placards showing a homeless person how to properly relieve himself would hang around the tall chain-linked fence shielding the sandbox from the outside. “We could have a few city officials the first couple of weeks training people how to squat, or basically do their business with as little hassle or mess as possible,” Villaraigosa said.

Some officials are unintentionally self-satirical, as in this item from Oregon:

While volunteering at a warming shelter this winter, Salem Mayor Anna Peterson says she learned the number one request from the homeless is toilets. She says it’s a basic human need…

Well, duh! Isn’t it mind-boggling, how a grown adult, who runs a city, has just now learned that elimination is a basic human need?

NOTE: Next time, we will look at some “best practices” in this realm.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless People Have to Pee, Too. Find a Place for Them & Stop Complaining About It, You Monsters,” TheDailyBeast.com, 07/19/15
Source: “Santana: Homeless Camp Now Keeping People From Jury Duty,” voiceofoc.org, 05/23/16
Source: “Ordinance passed to remove homeless property,” TheCalifornian.com, 10/14/15
Source: “San Francisco’s summer of urine and drug-addicted homeless,” 08/05/15
Source: “SoCal businesses debate closing bathrooms to homeless,” Scpr.org, 05/05/16
Source: “New Bathroom Facility for Los Angeles Homeless To Be Giant…,” deardirtyamerica.com, 06/12/12
Source: “Salem considers portable toilets for homeless,” opb.org, 03/10/14
Photo credit: archer10 (Dennis) 78M Views via Visualhunt.com/CC BY-SA

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A Few Assorted “Sweeps”

pile-of-rocksMany cities are on the “sweep” bandwagon, and newspapers across the country are full of “sweep” news. Somehow the idea has become popular that the best thing to do with people experiencing homelessness is keep moving them around.

Citing the frequency of fights, fires, and drug overdoses in a 31-acre encampment, Brockton, Massachusetts, swept the area last month. The former residents, who were given a week’s notice before the place was bulldozed, are now scattered throughout the city.

Reporter Benjamin Paulin talked with Leigh Fuller of Church in the Woods, which provides clothing and tents, and feeds about 50 people every Saturday. Fuller told the reporter that the Tent City settlers “brought it on themselves” with unacceptable behavior, and expressed his disappointment that so few of those who could use rehabilitation are willing to accept the available programs. Some people moved to available shelter, while others returned to a roaming existence, sleeping in alleys.

West Coast

What happens when the city with the nation’s fourth highest homeless population gets ready for its biggest-ever month of tourism? Looking ahead to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and the many events surrounding it, San Diego, California, started months ago to shuffle the homeless out of sight. Back in April, the city attracted unfavorable publicity by piling $57,000 worth of jagged rocks along the walkways of a pedestrian underpass, to prevent people from sleeping there.

In late June, hundreds of campers near Petco Park were given 72 hours notice before city crews cleared the area to wash sidewalks and throw out trash. A woman who was camping two blocks from the ballpark told a reporter that she and others had been threatened with arrest, while a city spokesperson said that most of the people who had been moved for the cleaning would end up back in the same place.

Early in July, a group of protesters made their displeasure known. A local pastor reported that he had been threatened by the police and a civic group, and told to stop serving weekly meals. Word on the street is that at least two other organizations were asked to stop feeding the homeless during July.

Reporter John Magdaleno says:

During a February 12 meeting with the San Diego Police Department and Clean & Safe, police officers allegedly threatened to “bring the hammer down” on [Pastor James] Merino if his non-profit hosted one of their meals during the week of the All-Star Game.

While the local police department declined to comment about procedures or the number of “encroachment” tickets it has distributed, homeless activist Michael McConnell gave the reporter his point of view:

“It’s a process of criminalizing homelessness,” says McConnell, speaking about the city’s protocol when it comes to its clean-up sweeps. If you have outstanding tickets, you’re liable for arrest, and one of the bargaining chips police might use in that case is a stay-away order for the area you were ticketed in, according to McConnell, who regularly interviews the homeless. “[It’s] the ultimate displacement because if you come back to that area, then you just continually get arrested,” he says.

Earlier this summer in Portland, Oregon, the city carried out a cleanup in an area where an estimated 300 people camped. Apparently the people just moved eastward a bit along the Springwater Corridor to join up with an existing camp in a wildlife refuge, making it one of the largest homeless settlements in the country. But no one is proud of the statistic, and now, that patch is scheduled to be depopulated of some 500 residents between now and August 1.

Like many other politicians, Portland’s mayor speaks of “public safety and environmental issues” as if the people experiencing homelessness are somehow not part of the public, and as if the environment is more crucial to housed residents than to the people who actually live out in it.

Meanwhile, in the city, a 200-bed shelter is expected to open next week — but a 267-bed shelter will close on the same day, making a net deficit of 67 beds. The really sad part is that Portland is an open-hearted and forward-thinking city that tries a lot harder than most. If it is capable of dislodging 500 people in a single action, imagine what goes on in worse places.

Recalling the old saying, “Everybody’s gotta be someplace,” reporter Rachel Monahan obtained from homeless advocate Israel Bayer a very eloquent quotation:

The situation on the Springwater is the direct result of not having any physical locations for people experiencing homelessness to be.

Reactions?

Source: “Brockton homeless advocate worried for those kicked out of ‘Tent City’,” EnterpriseNews.com, 06/27/16
Source: “No Action Taken Against Downtown Homeless Ahead of MLB All-Star Game: City,” NBCSanDiego.com, 06/27/16
Source: “San Diego’s Controversial Push to Hide Its Homeless Before the All-Star Game,” Citylab.com, 07/11/16
Source: “Mayor Charlie Hales is Evicting Hundreds of Homeless Campers from the Springwater Corridor,” Wweek.com, 07/15/16
Image by Michael McConnell

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Are the Kids All Right?

shadow-boy-playingFor a lot of Americans, their mental picture of a person experiencing homelessness is a scruffy man standing on a corner with a cardboard sign. Few stop to consider that close to half of the homeless population is made up of people who probably won’t be seen in such a public place. They are families with children, who now comprise 41%, or about two-fifths of the homeless total, and who are considered to be the fastest-growing homeless demographic.

Aside from visibility, there are other differences of course. Individuals, especially those termed chronically homeless, are more likely to suffer from mental illness or have substance abuse issues. But among displaced families, unemployment is the major cause, with low-paying jobs running a close second. Somewhere between one-third and one-half of homeless adults actually are employed.

To form a comprehensive picture of the situation, just go to the search box on this page and enter the term “living wage.” Plenty of people work, even full-time, and still can’t afford a place to live. When children are in the picture, things get complicated, because obviously someone needs to take care of them.

While it seems incredible that this should even need to be spelled out, Martha T.S. Laham notes:

People who are living in poverty are at greatest risk of becoming homeless. Demographic groups that are more apt to face poverty are also more vulnerable to homelessness.

Since 2010, Laham reports, family homelessness has been reduced by 15% thanks to “Opening Doors,” the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. (The chronic and veteran improvement rates are higher.) This is discouraging, because the program’s stated goal was to eradicate child and family homelessness within 10 years. Since it’s been 6 years already, a 15% reduction is not the number we might have expected, and certainly hoped, to see at this point in time. Why is child and family homelessness such a seemingly intractable problem?

It is easy to say, as decent people do, that safe, affordable housing is a basic human right. But we don’t seem to be making it happen. Homeless families face multiple barriers, one of which is transportation. We always seem to hear so much about the trend-setting places like California and New York, both of which have their own distinct cultures, but this illustration comes from a more modest place — Asheville, North Carolina.

When journalist Mark Barrett reported on local conditions, he talked with a mother who lived with her four children at the Western Carolina Rescue Ministries shelter. To coordinate with the city bus system, they all had to wake up at 4 AM on school days. Barrett also spoke with shelter’s executive director, Pastor Michael Woods, who confirmed that:

[…] a shortage of child care and the amount of time involved in using city buses to get to school or work make it much more difficult for homeless parents to find work… A mother “has to be there to put her daughter on the bus to go to school and she has to be there to pick her up, so she can’t get a job.”

Even when government money is available for rent vouchers, many landlords just don’t want formerly homeless families for tenants, and won’t rent to them. Another hitch is that landlords can be as picky as they please, refusing anyone who has ever paid a single utility bill late, or who has had a run-in with the law for even the most minor, victimless violations. Homeless families can rarely boast of spotless credit histories, especially if they took on debt in a desperate but failed attempt to stay housed.

Richard R. Troxell, co-founder of House the Homeless, reports that contrary to the mantra “Family First,” many shelters, starting with the Salvation Army in Austin, will demand that the homeless father and mother be separated in order to get services. “Mother remains with the children, Dad is sent to another facility clutching his wedding license and holding back tears,” says Troxell. “It is when they are down and out that the family truly needs the comfort and support of one another.”

Along with all the obvious practical aspects of living in a shelter, a single mother worries about less tangible issues. Because of the public nature of their lives in shared spaces, a mom can’t shield her kids from unwelcome influences. With no private space to retreat to, it’s hard to have intimate family moments, or sentence a child to a needed “timeout.”

Kids also can’t be protected from the foul language or wacky ideas of adults in the environment, or from the bullying of other children, or even their cold germs. If one kid gets sick, the whole shaky structure of coping mechanisms can fall apart.

What kind of a country are we building, when so many children grow up with instability, insecurity, and downright chaos? When they are grownups, 10 and 20 years from now, how will America look? As a nation, we really need to ask ourselves more often, “Are the kids all right?”

Reactions?

Source: “Fastest-Growing Segment Of The Homeless Population May Surprise You,” HuffingtonPost.com, 06/07/2016
Source: “Homeless families face multiple barriers, speakers say,” citizen-times.com, 06/30/14
Photo credit: Bryon Lippincott via Visual Hunt/CC BY-ND

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The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

homeless-on-thanksgivingThe housed people of San Francisco, and the businesses they run and patronize, are upset. For one thing, they pay for the weekly removal of an estimated 12.5 tons of garbage from homeless encampments. That sounds like a lot, but it turns out to be not even a truckful, according to John a. Bates via Answers.com:

The truck I drive is a 2005 Mack LE600 with a McNeilus 32 cubic yard packing body and I average weights ranging from 14.5 tons (multiple bulky items) to 18 tons (little or no bulky items). The most weight I have put on this truck in one shot is 21.74 tons.

A skeptic could formulate questions. How much of every ton of “trash” actually consists of wanted and needed personal property like blankets, sleeping bags, and tents? Are the garbage numbers ever padded, like, for instance, the notoriously inflated drug raid totals that turn up every now and then, just to make a better story?

The crews remove a lot of human waste, too, and steam-clean the sidewalks for sanitary purposes. All this costs the taxpayers $4.7 million per year, and a reasonable person might ask why the beautiful and exquisitely civilized city by the bay doesn’t use some of that money for restrooms, or at least port-a-potties.

The SF Homeless Project is part media blitz, part conceptual “human catastrophe” prevention effort, around which many events were planned by numerous agencies and charities. Over 70 media organizations pitched in to raise awareness, starting last Wednesday, and Alissa Walker of Gizmodo has collected information on numerous aspects of the citywide campaign.

Remember our post about Airbnb? The company was founded in 2008, the same year that is generally acknowledged to have launched the recession that pushed homelessness to the top of the problem list. Only the most adamant conspiracy theorist would see a connection, but still…

The company ferociously resists any attempt to curb its voracious appetite. Proposed legislation known as Proposition F sought to impose a few restraints, and to require hosts to report their taxable income. But Airbnb reached into its $30 billion pocket and bought enough influence to defeat the attempt.

Maybe San Francisco’s current wretched housing situation stems partly from the fact that “the city is Airbnb’s most avid user.” Michael J. Coren writes:

A new Statista analysis found San Francisco has nearly double the listings per capita (9.8 per 1,000 inhabitants) versus any other city, based on InsideAirBnB data. (Airbnb cited its own similar statistics on San Francisco when we asked for confirmation.)

This fall, the city’s voters will have the opportunity to approve even more drastic anti-homeless measures. They will decide whether to pass a referendum designed to banish all homeless camps and tents from the streets. Kriston Capps cuts to the heart of the matter:

The ballot is a heinous way to decide the fate of San Francisco’s nearly 7,000 homeless residents. A referendum enables the city’s most callous voters to indulge in indifference, but that’s not even the worst of it. A referendum asks many more voters to accept a short-term solution to homelessness by pushing them out of sight and out of mind, which helps to foreclose on the possibility of a viable long-term structural solution.

And now the words from Richard R. Troxell, President of House the Homeless:

This week in LA a drunken woman drove onto a sidewalk and ran down a person experiencing homelessness.

After he crashed through her wind shield, she drove for a mile with the man collapsed in her passenger seat. Sound familiar? In 2002, Gregory Glen Biggs met a similar fate when a nurse’s aid, after a night of partying, did the same thing. However, she drove all the way home with the man still impaled in her windshield.

She parked in her garage and lowered the door. For three days she talked to him explaining her sorrow. Upside down and bleeding out for three days, he finally died. The nurse’s “aid” then got her cronies to dump his body in a park where homeless folks gather, knowing he would not be noticed too quickly.

Then while at another party, she retold the story in a cavalier fashion. Aghast and disbelieving the story, a listener contacted the police. The story was uncovered and the judge set her bond at $10,000. We were incensed and got the bond reset. Mr. Gregory Glen Biggs was an unemployed bricklayer in Fort Worth trying to turn things around at the time.

Post Script: The Coroner later said that the original injuries were not life-threatening and that had Mr. Biggs been brought to the hospital he would have, in all likelihood, survived.

I am saddened beyond explanation. So little has changed in so many years.

In longer form, this dark story also appears in Richard’s book, but to offset the grim realities, Looking Up at the Bottom Line is packed full of positive and uplifting accounts of many amazing accomplishments.

Reactions?

Source: “Tons of waste removed from San Francisco Homeless Camps Weekly,” ABC7news.com, 06/29/16
Source: “How much can the average American garbage truck hold?,” Answers.com, 2016
Source: “The Best and Worst Ideas from San Francisco’s Big Homelessness Project,” gizmodo.com, 06/29/16
Source: “San Francisco has a love-hate relationship with Airbnb,” qz.com, 06/30/16
Source: “One More Threat to San Francisco’s Homeless: San Francisco Voters,” CityLab.com, 06/29/16
Photo credit: Franco Folini via Visualhunt.com/CC BY-SA