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What’s Up with Goodwill?

The National Employment Law Project calculated that two out of three low-wage workers are employed by large corporations. Only one-third work for small businesses, which throws shade on the argument that raising the minimum wage will destroy the economy by slaughtering small businesses. No, two-thirds of the stingily-paid are in the employ of huge, profitable enterprises.

And some underpaid Americans work for Goodwill Industries, much to its shame. Investigative journalist John Hrabe has called the nonprofit exploitative, a racket, and the worst charity in America. Investigating for Watchdog.org, he learned that most Goodwill branches were paying disabled people less than the federally determined minimum wage.

Hrabe’s reportage contains sentences that are scarcely believable, such as this one:

More than 100 Goodwill entities employ workers through the Special Wage Certificate program, a Depression-era loophole in federal labor law that allows organizations to pay subminimum wages to people with disabilities. According to Goodwill, 7,300 of its 105,000 employees are subject to the minimum wage exemption…

Well, it’s a charity, right? It takes in used items of all kinds, and sells them cheaply to the economically disadvantaged. Maybe there simply isn’t enough money to go around. Except, there is. Goodwill was paying out more than $50 million per year to its top earners, with some individuals making $1 million a year. Hrabe gives many shocking examples of executive compensation that has really gotten out of hand.

And the travel expenses? Nearly $40 million, for a year’s worth of travel for the upper echelon. What possible need is there for people who run a charity to travel so much? Goodwill isn’t a thirsty young startup, trawling for business. It’s a long-established, staid, and supposedly trustworthy nonprofit organization. And nowadays, we have the Internet and video-conferencing, and all that good stuff. So the question is worth asking — what’s up with the urgent need to go somewhere?

Busted

Goodwill was accustomed to skating along, enjoying an excellent reputation that received bushels of good press — and didn’t expect its labor practices to be questioned. Some reporters latched on in the early 2000s, and found that the workers were making as little as 20 cents per hour, but their complaints did not gain much traction. In 2012, it was 22 cents an hour.

When you hear someone disparage the minimum wage because it supposedly prevents less-abled people from ever getting jobs, don’t listen. That is a downright fib, as they very well know or ought to. In government, for every regulation, there is a waiver. In this case, a thing called the Special Minimum Wage Certificate allows companies to pay some people far less than the legal minimum.

So, even if the minimum wage went up to $50 an hour, the government would still be willing to cut a deal for businesses that find and exploit the Special Minimum Wage Certificate loophole. And even though Goodwill is nominally a nonprofit, and doesn’t pay taxes, it is one of those privileged businesses.

Hrabe learned some details from Brad Turner-Little, Director of Mission Strategy at Goodwill International, Inc. The special work certificates are only good for two years, and a massive amount of paperwork is supposed to prove that the organization complies with all the applicable regulations. Consequently, the journalist asks:

Why is Goodwill spending so much time and money on this bureaucratic nightmare? Remember, Goodwill claims that the sub-minimum wage policy helps them save money and hire more workers.

It would be nice to reassure readers that this is just a history lesson, and that all discrepancies have been remedied, but sadly this is not the case. In 2016, after four months of investigative work, Henry J. Cordes wrote a highly revealing series for the Omaha World-Herald.

Among other problems, the local Goodwill execs were quite disproportionately overpaid, in comparison with other Goodwills and other nonprofits. Here is a rather incendiary quotation:

While Goodwill Omaha runs job training and assistance programs that serve thousands annually, nearly all of those activities have been funded by government grants and contracts — not the $4 million in annual profits generated by Goodwill’s thrift stores in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa. Even its signature program that employs disabled job trainees within its stores is primarily funded by school districts.

Whoa! Did he just say Goodwill takes money from school districts? In what universe are schools so lavishly bankrolled that they can financially support an charitable organization whose bigwigs collect gigantic paychecks? This alone should be enough to inspire some real public backlash.

Reactions?

Source: “Goodwill Minimum Wage Loophole Will Shock You,” HuffingtonPost.com, 05/15/13
Source: “Goodwill’s Charity Racket: CEOs Earn Top-Dollar, Workers Paid Less Than Minimum Wage,” HuffingtonPost.com, 09/25/12
Source: “Goodwill Omaha: No Culture of Thrift,” DataOmaha.com, 10/22/16
Photo credit: Mike Mozart (JeepersMedia) via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Nonsense Around a Corporate Decision

Apparently, the minimum wage issue is vulnerable to all kinds of potential spin, depending on particular number-crunching techniques, how various terms are defined, and so forth. As in so many fields of human endeavor, unreliable data can doom to failure any attempt at meaningful analysis.

Putting that aside, there are things the voting public forgets, for better or worse. For instance, these few sentences from Garry Reed say a lot:

It’s not so much that the minimum wage is back in the news again as it’s always in the news. No matter how high it’s raised there will always be someone demanding that it be raised more. They miss the point that the minimum wage is not, was not, and never should be meant to be a “living wage” and no one should ever think that it ought to be.

Keeping that in mind, it is not surprising that in no state of the Union can a full-time minimum wage worker afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment. It is difficult to reconcile a full-time worker’s inability to afford shelter with the fact that corporate executives pull down as much as $10,000 PER HOUR.

Here is a repetition of the assertion that we just don’t understand what the minimum wage is meant to be, phrased this time by Sara Lin:

The minimum wage was never intended to be a “living wage” on which one could support oneself, let alone a family… The minimum wage was meant to be an “entry level” wage, that is a minimum wage allows an employer to hire and pay a lower wage to someone who has no job skills, let alone any experience in holding down a job.

That last bit is important. Anyone who has owned or managed a small business has stories to tell about absolutely clueless new hires. Through ignorance or carelessness or just plain inability to function in a socially acceptable way, a single employee can cause enormous damage. But they still have to be paid!

In some businesses, elderly retirees are welcomed because at least they’ve got the basics down. A person accustomed to the world of work is familiar with the concept of showing up on time, wearing shoes rather than bedroom slippers. It is possible to empathize with employers who resent compensating incompetence.

Of course, salary isn’t the only factor. There are unemployment and work comp insurances to be paid. And the phenomenon known as “wage compression,” which is what happens when starting salaries are too close to whatever the existing workers are getting. Not surprisingly, the old hands feel unappreciated and indignant, and ask for raises.

Big businesses

It is appropriate to worry about effects on small businesses, but statistically, most minimum wage workers are employed by companies with over 100 employees — in some cases, thousands and thousands of employees, who are slighted by such tricks as keeping their hours under the “full-time” limit, to avoid paying benefits. As a result, America is full of people working at two or three different minimum-wage jobs that add up to well over “full-time hours,” who are still not entitled to any benefits.

One of the behemoth corporations is Walmart, famous for the fact that its employees are so poorly compensated, many are on food stamps and other forms of government assistance financed, of course, by the taxpayers. At the top of our page is an internet meme discussed by a writer named Steve Straub in a piece titled “Another Ridiculous Liberal Minimum Wage Meme DESTROYED by Facts.”

Here is how the writer purports to annihilate the concept that Walmart could easily afford to pay its workers more:

Earlier this year, Walmart raised the starting wage for more than 100,000 of its employees. This move reportedly cost at least $1 billion to implement, though the long-term costs could potentially be far worse.

Supposedly, because of this gesture, Walmart had to not only fire 1,000 employees from its home office, but close five of its stores across the nation, affecting another 2,500 employees. As Straub predicted, it did get worse, because only weeks later Walmart announced it would close 154 stores, affecting 10,000 workers.

All, supposedly, because the extraordinarily generous (yes, that is sarcasm) company raised some workers to $9 an hour. Straub winds up with:

When either government or businesses raise the minimum wage, it skyrockets costs.
To compensate, businesses then lay off workers. So yes, some workers wind up with a more livable wage, but at the cost of a bunch of other workers winding up with NO WAGE at all!

Economists could argue about the validity of this conclusion all day. The point here is: How does any of this realistically discredit the disputed meme?

Let’s review the text:

The Walmart family is worth $144 billion. Tell me again why they can’t afford to pay their workers $15 an hour?

The question still stands. As the old saying goes, the Walmarts already have more money than God. With the family taking such a huge cut of the profits, ordinary people are indeed still asking why the Walmarts can’t afford to pay their workers better, or even a lot better.

Straub’s article didn’t even put a dent in that question. There is nothing ridiculous about wondering why the executives and shareholders of Walmart are justified in taking such a large share. The only ridiculous part is that they are able to get away with it.

Reactions?

Source: “There’s More to Minimum Wage Jobs Than Wages,” SoapBoxie.com, 03/23/17
Source: “Minimum Wage Should Not Be Living Wage,” CivilBeat.org, 05/17/13
Source: “Another Ridiculous Liberal Minimum Wage Meme DESTROYED by Facts,” TheFederalistPapers.org, 11/26/17
Image by Other 98.com

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Things People Say About Minimum Wage

When all else fails, minimum wage opponents become fervently patriotic, because freedom is at stake. Shouldn’t a person have the right to work for any amount they are willing to accept? There is one little problem with that. If everyone believed it, we would never have had labor unions, and America would have never become the economic powerhouse that gives patriots something to wave the flag about.

A version of the red, white and blue sentiment was phrased by Michael Rathbone, former policy researcher at the Show-Me Institute:

If workers do not feel that they are being fairly compensated, they are free to look for employment elsewhere.

The trouble is, America is full of people fearfully hanging onto awful jobs. Hasn’t this guy ever heard of one-industry towns? If the catfish processing plant is the only local business, you work at the catfish plant, or else as a bartender, and there are only so many bartender jobs.

On the other hand, Garry Reed wrote in an article for Soapboxie.com:

It’s true that some people get stuck in low-paying jobs and can’t get unstuck through no immediate fault of their own… Maybe they dropped out of school, had a kid, had another kid, never learned to manage their money, did drugs, weren’t willing to leave family and friends and familiar surroundings to seek out a better life, so they took the first job they could get and turned it into a rut.

So, in other words, he’s saying it is their own fault. They quit school, didn’t learn how to balance a checkbook, started drinking, didn’t use contraception, or possess quaint old family values that require caring for elderly or disabled relatives. These people, according to Reed, are victims of their own bad choices.

In which case, expecting the government to make things better, by forcing employers to pay a minimum wage — and even increase it every now and then — is grossly unfair. Making businesses subsidize low-paid workers is “wrong” and constitutes an injustice.

The thing is, somebody is going to wind up subsidizing those low-paid workers who need food, medical attention, etc., and it’s going to be the taxpayers. Shouldn’t it be instead the businesses they work for?

But wait — Reed perceives even more injustice perpetrated upon employers who, after all, provide valuable training:

And in some cases the employer of a low-skilled part time worker just may be training someone who becomes a future competitor who out-works, out-performs and out-competes that former employer and runs him or her out of business.

Wait a minute. It seems like, in line with the writer’s own tough-love philosophy, if somebody does the job better than the company where they started out, that too should be accepted as a price of freedom and the marketplace!

This sentence written by James Dorn in a Forbes article is an example of one type of the mind-boggling statement that comes up in these discussions:

But if a worker is producing $5.15 per hour and now the employer must pay $9 per hour, there will be little incentive to retain her…

The verb “produce” is interesting. While it has yet to be proven that any Chief Executive Officer, anywhere on earth, even the head of Walmart, “produces” $9,000 per hour, it never occurs to any of these theorists that, just maybe, executive compensation should be cut.

Dorn writes:

Employers have more flexibility in the long run and will find ways to economize on the higher-priced labor.

By economizing, he’s talking about such strategies as holding back on raises for the more established, higher-paid employees. Well hey, how about economizing on the millions doled out to CEOs, rather than penalizing long-term employees?

Incidentally, arguing some aspect of the minimum wage debate, another Dorn sentence goes like this:

If one gets empirical results that go against the grain of long-held economic laws, one should be very wary of advocating policies based on those results.

What??? He’s not talking about legislation, but law in the sense of the law of gravity, the laws of nature; and it doesn’t even make any sense. If empirical results — otherwise known as reality — go against “long-held economic laws,” then maybe they weren’t laws in the first place. But this is an example of the kind of mumbo jumbo that surrounds minimum wage discussions.

In his 2013 OurFuture.org article, Richard Eskow looked at another objection:

There’s also their much-beloved fantasy of the minimum wage as “racist.” Seriously. It’s a dirty argument to make — but then, there’s a lot of money at stake.

He refers to a writer named Jonah Goldberg who asserted that the original promoters of the concept were racists who instituted minimum wage because it would harm black workers, saying, “The Wall Street Journal even calls an increased minimum wage ‘The Minority Youth Unemployment Act.'”

There is one very frightening potential consequence of minimum wage legislation that is even worse than the outsourcing of jobs to workers overseas: the probability that increasing numbers of jobs will be filled by robots. Twenty years ago, many people thought the idea that supermarkets could get along without cashiers was ridiculous. Now, grocery chains have installed self-checkout operations that not only eliminate cashier jobs, but turn customers into unpaid workers for the corporation.

Reactions?

Source: “The $22 (An Hour) Question,” ShowMeDaily.org, 03/31/13
Source: “There’s More to Minimum Wage Jobs Than Wages,” Soapboxie.com, 03/23/17
Source: “The Minimum Wage Delusion, And The Death Of Common Sense,” Forbes.com, 05/07/13
Source: “Real Faces of the Minimum Wage,” OurFuture.org, 04/21/13
Image: United Food and Commercial Workers Union

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People, Robots and Minimum Wage

One of the most interesting aspects of the ongoing minimum wage debate is a warning that we will all be replaced by mechanical substitutes. An article from the Cornell Roosevelt Institute echoes a point that House the Homeless has made many times: that a person who works full-time ought to be able to support himself or herself without needing to apply for food stamps or other government assistance to get by.

There are pro and con arguments: If workers are better paid, they can buy more stuff and boost the economy in general. Human misery is ameliorated, because people don’t need to work multiple jobs just to survive. When people are happier at their jobs, they don’t engage in slacking, sabotage, embezzlement, or other acts harmful to the business. They stay in place, and employers are not faced with the expenses associated with hiring and training.

Jack Robbins quotes experts who do not foresee a higher minimum wage as leading inevitably to a catastrophic result:

According to economist Arindrajit Dube, a relatively small increase in the minimum wage could lift 4.6 million laborers out of poverty. Longer-term effects could reduce the number of people living below the poverty line by 6.8 million. Sarah Lemos of the University of Leicester finds that a 25% increase in the minimum wage would only increase aggregate prices by .4%.

On the other hand, raising the minimum wage is said to increase inflation and unemployment. When the cost to businesses is raised, business fires people, so rather than X number of workers struggling along, you get Y number of workers doing okay, and Z number of workers back out on the streets without any job.

But then comes the most devastating possibility of all: When human employees cost too much, businesses respond by installing robots. An Oxford University economist theorized that 47% of American workers are at risk of having their jobs automated — in other words, taken over by robots of one type or another, even if they don’t appear humanoid.

A counterargument to that is, whenever possible, businesses are going to go ahead and install automation anyway, regardless of whether or not they are being entreated to raise the minimum wage. So, either way, human workers are out of the picture.

On a global scale

Historically, there has been another devastating argument against even trying for a higher minimum wage in America: We had best not annoy manufacturers with further requests for decent pay, because it will only encourage them to send jobs overseas.

Today, that point is almost moot. So many manufacturing jobs have already been shipped overseas, what else can industry do to us? And if workers in one country decide to demand reasonable pay, business will just pull up stakes and move to another country that is even more deeply sunk in poverty, where workers will be satisfied with even less.

As writer Hamilton Nolan says it:

The global economy is the delightful playground of multinational corporations. They’re able to drastically lower their labor costs by outsourcing work to the world’s poorest and most desperate people. And they’re able to escape paying taxes… The global economy is extremely advantageous to corporations, who owe no loyalty to anyone or anything except their stock price…

Nolan characterizes the concept of a minimum wage as society’s assertion of its moral grounding, a “statement of our belief that the economically powerful should not have a free hand to exploit the powerless.” One answer would be to initiate a worldwide standard, a universal minimum wage that would confound businesses engaged in the race to the bottom.

Of course, getting the whole world to agree on anything is not an easy task. The writer mentions how the rich tend to scoff at proponents of a living wage, and accuse us of being naive dummies who just don’t understand the inherent and immutable rules of capitalism.

He writes:

Not true. We understand them all too well. We understand that, as history has amply demonstrated and continues to demonstrate, absent regulation, economic power imbalances will drive worker wages and working conditions down to outrageous and intolerable levels…

The system that we have — in which the vast bulk of profit flows to corporate shareholders, rather than workers and governments — is not a state of nature. It is a choice.

Nolan makes the point that we no longer tolerate outright slavery where people are paid nothing at all. (Except that we do, with prison labor — but that is a whole separate discussion.) He says:

We would never countenance buying goods produced with slave labor, just because they were cheap… Today we only tolerate economic slavery. Today’s workers are free to quit their jobs at any time, and starve to death.

Reflections from House the Homeless President Richard R. Troxell:

The remaining minimum wage jobs cannot be outsourced. For example: You cannot outsource digging a ditch to China. You must be on site to take tickets at the movie or show theaters. Babysitters must be present to kiss, hold and care for our babies as do childcare workers. Restaurant workers including servers, hostesses, busboys, and pot-shack workers must also be on site.

Construction laborers must be on the job to pick up the scraps of lumber and sweep and bag or barrel the trash. Dry clean workers must be present to take our shirts and skirts, and circle the areas of special cleaning concern. America’s retail workers must be on site to service us and restock the shelves. Farm workers must be on site to pick our cotton, tomatoes, corn, etc.

Receptionists must be on site to attend our front desk phones, to field questions and redirect calls. Nurse’s aides who clean hospital rooms, clean up vomit, empty bed pans, and even give us bed baths must be on site to care for us. Hotel and motel maids clean our rooms, change our sheets, and turn our beds to welcome us here in America. Janitors clean entire buildings including sweeping, mopping and waxing floors in schools all across our homeland.

Fast food workers who work at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, Wendy’s, What-a-Burger, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Stub’s Bar-B- Q must be present. The Texas Chili Parlor, TGIFs, Marconi Grills, Olive Gardens, a bazillion Chinese restaurants, etc., and of course McDonald’s workers must be present, on sites all across our nation to serve our people. And they deserve to be paid a minimum amount sufficient so that they won’t require a subsidy from you and me, when it is the employer who benefits from their labor.

Also recommended: Writings by Richard R. Troxell

Higher Minimum Wage Won’t Cure Homelessness. This Will.

Open Letter to the Presidential Candidates

Livable Incomes: Real Solutions that Stimulate the Economy: A call to action to create economic stability and growth (Kindle Edition)

Reactions?

Source: “Rise of the Automaton: How Robots Change the Minimum Wage Debate,” undated
Source: “We Need an International Minimum Wage,” Gawker.com, 05/22/13
Image: Internet meme, fair use

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The Future of Diabetes and Homelessness

turmeric

Note: This post is part two of our discussion of diabetes and homelessness. Part one, “Background on Diabetes and Homelessness,” was published last week, 6/11/17.

The possibilities

A brand new, hot-off-the-presses story describes the upcoming tests of a drug called GK831, which may turn out to be the answer to Type 1 diabetes and diabetic kidney disease. But even if it turns out to be effective, trials and the approval process take a long time, and, of course, pharmaceuticals are expensive.

Meanwhile, other interesting developments are happening in diabetes research, and many of them are based on the ancient wisdom of food as medicine.

Are you ready for broccoli pills? Or, better yet, fresh broccoli sprouts, which contain very concentrated amounts of the “miracle compound” sulforaphane. It works by suppressing liver enzymes that would otherwise stimulate glucose production.

Alex Pietrowski explains:

Sulforaphane is a precursor nutrient. Meaning, when it enters the body, it starts out as something else and is processed into the super beneficial compound which can stop cancerous tumors from doubling, and help diabetics to balance their blood sugar levels, among hundreds of other clinically-proven health benefits…

In recent years, concentrated broccoli has also been researched as a treatment for high blood pressure, damaged lungs, some cancers, and even seen as a possible preventive measure against strokes.

An individual with one glass mason jar can grow enough broccoli sprouts to eat some every day. On a bigger scale, sprout production is incredibly easy, and requires no investment except for the seeds and some clean water. It would be the ideal business for a homeless entrepreneur, even working from a van; or as a group project in a transitional housing facility.

Monk fruit, or lo han guo, whose juice is from one to 200 times sweeter than sugar, might be a hit as a diabetes intervention. The fruit contains plenty of Vitamin C, protein and amino acids.

Sandeep Godiyal writes:

Even though it is an incredibly sweet fruit, monk fruit is able to lower the blood sugar levels of diabetics (and their cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well) and can even support healthy liver function, which is very important for diabetics to maintain.

The idea of natural blood sugar control is quite alluring. In addition to that, animal experiments indicate that monk fruit can help to protect the vulnerable kidneys of the diabetic.

The spice known as turmeric (pictured) has inspired at least 10,000 scientific papers. For instance:

A study published in the journal Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome showed that turmeric may even help reverse type 1 diabetes. The study found that diabetic rats who received curcumin for 40 days showed an improvement in blood sugar levels and insulin. The improvement began after 4 months, and continued to improve at the 10 month mark when all levels almost normalized, and regeneration of the pancreas was observed.

Pancreatic regeneration sounds like the stuff of miracles, but how great would it be if the curse of chronic, Type 1 diabetes could be lifted? Even in a less optimistic scenario, the substance seems capable of mitigating high blood sugar, improving insulin sensitivity, and even of reversing the foreboding diagnosis of pre-diabetes. And it works through oral administration, not hypodermic injections.

Ayahuasca has gained the reputation of a life-changing psychedelic which could turn out to be the “silver bullet” for both addiction and PTSD. Thanks to one of its chemical components, harmine, the plant has another side. When the pancreas does not produce insulin, it is because an auto-immune process has destroyed the beta cells.

It now seems likely that harmine can regenerate beta cells, the Holy Grail outcome of diabetes research. Scientists from the Icahn School of medicine have found that…

[…] harmine is able to induce beta cell proliferation, increase islet mass and improve glycemic control. These observations suggest that harmine analogs may have unique therapeutic promise for human diabetes therapy.

These are not a bunch of kooks. This work was funded by Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, which leads the world in Type 1 diabetes research, and the National Institutes of Health. Meanwhile, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute has discovered how to make insulin-producing cells in large quantities.

Someone needs to create a methodology to standardize the delivery of healthful anti-diabetes based foods for people experiencing homelessness. Some organizations, such as National Health Care for the Homeless, the Worldwide Health Organization, and the Centers for Disease Control, have the necessary influence and resources to make this a priority. Additionally, mini-pharmacies need to be accessible in all health care clinics in all shelters. Finally,

The homeless food services community needs to let the food banks and all food contributors know that foods such as white bread, white rice, fruit juice, cookies, sodas etc. will not be accepted for distribution. ‘Acceptable food lists’ should constantly be distributed to everyone experiencing homelessness and presented with a positive message, e.g. ‘We all deserve healthy food.’
                                           Richard R. Troxell, President,
                                           House the Homeless

Reactions?

Source: “New drug trial scheduled to combat kidney disease in type 1 diabetes,” Diabetes.co.uk, 07/03/17
Source: “Prescription Broccoli in a Pill Seen as the Potential Future of Diabetes Treatment,” WakingTimes.com, 06/19/17
Source: “Monk Fruit — A Power Food For Diabetes,” NaturalNews.com, 07/21/15
Source: “Can turmeric reverse type 1 diabetes?,” Stepin2mygreenworld.com, 06/02/17
Source: “Chemical Found In Ayahuasca May Be Able To Completely Reverse Diabetes,” OrganicAndHealthy.org, June 2017
Photo credit: Steven Jackson Photography via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Background on Diabetes and Homelessness

vietnam-war-vet-in-wheelchairIn both medicine and the societal disgrace of homelessness, one maxim is true: Preventive care is always less expensive than end-stage care. This is why smart cities go with the Housing First philosophy — because supportive housing is less expensive in the long run than a decades-long succession of stays in shelters, hospitals and jails.

It goes without saying, that Housing First also greatly reduces the toll of human suffering, but that is not the argument that holds the most sway when presented to the government and other entities responsible for doling out dollars. In the medical arena, everyone agrees that preventing or aggressively treating diabetes is much preferable to letting it run its course — better for the patient, and infinitely better for the budget.

Thirty million Americans have diabetes. 17% of people experiencing homelessness, according to the House the Homeless Health Survey, are either diabetic or pre-diabetic. Adding to this unsolicited, self reporting statistic, it was coupled with solicited, self-reporting with 40% declaring high blood pressure,thus exacerbating the problem in that these negative health conditions often go hand in hand. House the Homeless President Richard R. Troxell says,

A large number of these people can positively affect their situation through dietary response; however, no one has thus far devised a methodology for consistently providing a good diet.

Diabetes is disordered insulin. Insulin helps glucose (sugar) to get into the body’s cells so they can use it for fuel. If the pancreas doesn’t make any insulin, a person has Type 1 diabetes. Usually, they’re born this way. They need multiple injections per day, and may even wear a high-tech (and very costly) computerized pump that analyzes the blood and automatically delivers the right amount of insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is probably preventable, but a lot of people get it anyway, from less than optimal eating habits or other precipitating causes. Sometimes it can be handled with oral medication, but if it’s serious enough to require insulin, there are no pills, only shots.

It isn’t always easy to keep thing in balance. Either too much blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or not enough of it (hypoglycemia) can put a person into a coma. When insulin is called for, the need is urgent. Diabetes can spawn other expensive and medical problems, including the amputation of a foot or leg.

The grim reality

Managing this disease is difficult enough for a housed, insured person. Imagine being on the street, confined to a wheelchair, with no choice but to eat food you know will make you sicker. An amputee who still has one foot is supposed to take very good care of it, and inspect it carefully every day for signs of trouble. Not so easy to do when you live under a bridge in an artificial cave. Picture being non-ambulatory, in constant need of injections, having to prick your finger and then stick a needle into yourself in filthy conditions.

Picture needing to get back and forth to a pharmacy with tedious frequency. Or to and from a medical facility for dialysis. The plight of a wheelchair-bound person experiencing homelessness is dire. Where and how do you wash your clothes and yourself? Even in cities with some sense of decency, how many handicap-accessible porta-potties have been set up?

Diabetes can also affect the eyes. Imagine being blind, with or without the amputation. To look at this situation is to see a lot of human suffering, and premature death, and unnecessary expense to the taxpayer. Creative innovation could make a big difference.

This has been the introduction to a difficult and complicated topic. Next week, we shine a light on some of the potential pathways toward getting this diabetes thing handled.

Reactions?

Source: “Diabetes Latest,” CDC.gov, 06/17/14
Photo credit: expertinfantry via Visualhunt/CC BY

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The 5th of July

singing-hanging-outOkay, so we’ve celebrated July 4th, now is it time to forget about veterans until the next patriotic holiday? Not on this page. We haven’t concentrated specifically on vets for a while, so there are a couple of little matters to catch up on, like the outrage felt by some when they learned that the big boss at one veterans’ hospital took 80 days off in a year.

DeWayne Hamlin still drew a salary of almost $180,000, “despite being absent from the hospital approximately one in three business days” in 2014. On one vacation trip…

He was arrested by Florida police while sitting in his car at 2:00 a.m…. Police said that he smelled of alcohol, twice refused to take a breath test, and that they found oxycodone for which he did not have a prescription. He reportedly refused to say where he got the painkiller.

Journalist Luke Rosiak went on to explain that high-ranking civil servants generally get away with any amount of questionable activity. Usually the worst that happens is early retirement with full bennies. He gives the example of Glenn Haggstrom, who used to be in charge of all the VA’s construction projects. The Government Accountability Office found all the department’s major building projects to be “behind schedule and hundreds of million dollars over budget.”

But what the heck, the whole point of being a senior executive is the opportunity to rip off the taxpayers who foot the bill, and shortchange the veterans in need of medical care, housing, and other services — the veterans who wait, and wait, and wait.

The very next month, the heat was on Philadelphia, according to a Washington Examiner piece, also by Rosiak, whose headline said it all: “Philly VA office altered wait times, doctored reviews, hid mail, ignored warnings.” According to the article:

More than 31,000 benefits claims were pending an average of 312 days instead of five, which is the standard, because they were “mismanaged” at “various levels.”

[…] Numerous times, management ordered staff to change the dates on old claims to be the current date…

The claims backlog should have been obvious to Washington headquarters earlier because it was many times the size of other offices.

At the same time, with nobody keeping track of deaths, or of duplicate records, millions of dollars were paid out that should never have been authorized. Even when wrongful recipients honestly reported that they were receiving too much money, those communications were ignored. The Inspector General’s office found laxity in the safeguarding of patients’ confidential information, and pointed to inefficiency and disorganization as two of the major problems:

The inspector general found 6,400 pieces of military mail that workers said were unidentifiable, but which the inspector general said could easily be matched to veterans. One employee also hid bins of mail.

Investigators learned a particularly dirty little secret. Someone in the Philadelphia VA office made liars out of the veterans who did receive help. Of the reviews that customers were asked to provide about the quality of service, 60% had been rewritten, and what’s worse, management knew about the practice and did nothing to stop it.

Other parties

Of course, the federal government is not the only entity in a position to hurt veterans. Some people do it as a freelance occupation. This story took place in the San Francisco Bay area, in such towns as Palo Alto and San Carlos. People dressed in military fatigues and camo were collecting money from the public for the National Paradigm Foundation.

When journalist Betty Yu met with its CEO, he said the group had helped maybe 45 vets over a three-year period, by providing food, clothing and referrals to agencies. They also discussed how the foundation’s not-for-profit status had been suspended, which seemed to surprise the National Paradigm leader.

Yu followed up by interviewing Vietnam veteran Michael Blecker, who has headed up Swords to Plowshares for nearly four decades. She quotes him as saying:

They have the American flag, they have the symbols and they take advantage of this sea of goodwill. It hurts a group like Swords doing legitimate work, to make people feel like everybody is ripping them off so they can’t support anybody. So it’s bad for the whole system of care when people exploit that.

That same spring, the Wounded Warriors Project (WWP), which has been around for a while doing such work as providing lifetime home care for some severely wounded vets, was spotlighted by Daily Beast reporter Tim Mak. Sadly, the story was not favorable. WWP had become known as a very litigious organization that spent a lot of time and money on “brutal” lawsuits against other charities. Additionally, rumblings were heard that its spending habits could stand improvement.

Anyone who wants to know more about that situation and how it turned out is urged to read the very detailed accounts in Stars and Stripes and The Washington Post

Not sad enough yet? For the New Yorker, David Finkel interviewed veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts, and quoted a soldier who said this:

I told my wife some of my stories about my experiences, and her response to me was “You knew what you were getting into when you signed on the dotted line, and I don’t feel sorry for you.”

Reactions?

Source: “Veterans Affairs hospital chief draws $179k salary despite missing 80 days a year,” WashingtonExaminer.com, 03/30/15
Source: “Philly VA office altered wait times, doctored reviews, hid mail, ignored warnings,” Washingtonexaminer.com, 04/15/15
Source: “Is Money Raised By Bay Area Charity Really Going To Help Homeless Veterans?,” CBSlocal.com, 02/04/15
Source: “The Return,” NewYorker.com, 09/09/13
Photo credit: Elvert Barnes via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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Homeless Tropes and Archetypes

graffiti-and-pile-of-stuffThere are reasons why a reporter chooses a certain individual for the “Face of Homelessness” type of article, just as there are reasons for picking the ideal subject for a “Face of Single Motherhood” story or a “Face of Traumatic Brain Injury” story. Last week, House the Homeless looked at a long profile written by John Flynn and Matt Kramer of Sacramento.

Their subject was Russell Bartholow, a Native American man who had been homeless for 15 years after a series of familial, medical and legal misfortunes. Russell had collected, at that time, 190 citations related to his lack of a permanent abode.

The things that happened to him as a person experiencing homelessness are typical of the experiences of many other homeless people. He had lost all his teeth. On the streets, he had been severely beaten several times, and once was set on fire, which resulted in a long, painful, and expensive (to the taxpayers) hospital stay.

A basic absence of justice

Homeless people are told to get jobs if they expect to eat, and told to stop begging and to quit trying to live off the fat of the land, and to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and so on and so forth. Not only are they blamed for their condition, but when they attempt to better themselves they are punished for it.

For instance, Russell Bartholow decided to feed himself by planting a garden. At a 2015 press conference publicizing the (unsuccessful) Right to Rest Act, he told a crowd at the State Capitol building about this foray into self-reliance. The writers quote him:

I had a beautiful garden, spent two-and-a-half years growing it. They came in and poisoned it with herbicide. Destroyed it.

How have we managed to create a world where growing food is illegal? Aside from all the other obvious and blatant absurdities of this stance, there is the hypocrisy issue. How can society yell about jobs — as if getting one were so easy — and berate people experiencing homelessness, and then prosecute those same people for growing food to feed themselves?

It was not his best-ever decision, but, Bartholow decided to eat the remaining vegetables, and fell sick. He believes the chemicals gave him cancer, though he might have already had it. While hospitalized, he saw his niece’s name in the local newspaper and reached out to her. In February of 2015, they met, and Jessica Bartholow became an advocate.

Flynn and Kramer describe how she turned things around:

Jessica had to overturn official government records declaring Russell deceased. She then got to work securing Russell a birth certificate, an identification card, a cellphone, Supplemental Security Income, health insurance and a spot at a methadone clinic.

There, he met an old friend who needed a roommate, giving Russell a place to live after shelters and hotels had turned him down due to lack of space and/or Russell’s lack of paperwork. He made friends on Facebook and reconnected with his son, Kieran.

“It was a couple months of advocacy, just a couple of hours at a time,” Jessica said of that period. “It didn’t take that much to find somebody a home and dignity and safety.”

She did not stop with helping her uncle, but became an activist for the Right to Rest legislation. Russell Bartholow also became a signature gatherer, but lived his remaining months in fear and uncertainty. There were still dozens of active warrants out on him, mostly for failure to appear in court to face various accusations, such as sleeping in the wrong place.

In this way, he was like many other people experiencing homelessness, who avoid contact with authorities because once they are “in the system,” who knows what negative details might turn up?

Before Bartholow had spent even two years indoors, cancer claimed him. His son came to say goodbye. While the Right to Rest law failed, California had just passed its Right to Die law, and in October of 2016 he took enough pain medication to avoid waking up again.

Reactions?

Source: “Sacramento’s $100,000 homeless man,” NewsReview.com, 02/16/17
Photo credit: Bill Benzon (STC4blues) via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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“Face of Homelessness” Journalism

leopard-blanket-homeless-person-sleepingHere is an electrifying sentence from a long-form piece by John Flynn and Matt Kramer:

During overnight storms last month, two homeless people died on City Hall property, elevating Sacramento’s humanitarian debate to a national level.

Later, Courtney Collins, daughter of one of the deceased men, testified before the city council:

I was terrified to find out about the very legal confiscation of blankets, sleeping bags and other sources of warmth and shelter for those living on the streets by the police… I have been unraveling truths so ugly, it feels impossible to go up against such a monstrous system.

This current and ongoing crisis in the state capitol of California was seen by Flynn and Kramer as a fitting occasion to tell the story of another homeless man, an activist who once spoke to a crowd from the steps of the Capitol building. This genre of news story is known as “putting a human face on” a tragedy — in this case, homelessness. The face they chose was that of Russell Bartholow, who is also deceased, although not one of those who died during the storm.

His history, like many others, should be a wake-up call for people who don’t believe that homelessness could ever be their fate. It is no exaggeration to say that millions of Americans are one paycheck away from living on the streets.

Russell Bartholow’s biography

The writers go back to their subject’s childhood, when he was the last of 60 foster children sheltered by Gertrude Bartholow, who legally adopted him. His niece Jessica remembers him as “beyond normally brilliant” in math and science.

In high school, the Native American youth was kicked in the head in a racially motivated incident. As House the Homeless readers well know, an astonishingly high proportion of people experiencing homelessness suffer from traumatic brain injury.

Bartholow spent some years as a single man, then married and had a son, then returned to his childhood home to care for his adopted mother and her husband. “But in 2000,” the writers say, “he was arrested for a drug-related offense.” The particular crime is not specified, but in general, this fact is another proof of the counterproductive nature of the War on Some Drugs and All Adults.

It was only serious enough to put him in jail for a month — during which his parents died and relatives sold the home. Once released, living with his wife and son was apparently no longer an option, and Bartholow began his 15-year residence beneath a bridge.

Flynn and Kramer wrote:

Like thousands of others in Sacramento County, once he found himself on the streets, he entered an alternate reality where the government couldn’t hear him; where those supposed to help instead focused on erasing his existence; and where the only permanent home the county offered him was in jail. It’s a system that feeds on absurdity, in which homelessness can cost more than a Midtown loft and survival is a crime.

Soliciting, panhandling and sleeping are some of the activities forbidden to unhoused citizens of Sacramento. Bartholow was cited 190 times, sometimes twice in one day, for these offenses, with the police often acting like inundating him with legal problems was all a big game. Technically, he owed more than $100,000 in fines.

The taxpayers paid to host him for more than 100 days in jail. His biography continues:

Though a full 132 of Russell’s cases were either dismissed or had their fines waived, there were other costs. Being in jail caused Russell to miss appointments to obtain government assistance, as part of eight attempts over 13 years to get money for which he qualified due to the lingering effects of the brain injury, which he believed contributed to paranoia and drug addiction. To pay for living expenses and fines, Russell turned to panhandling or selling flowers — which only led to more arrests.

The speech Bartholow gave in February of 2015 promoted the adoption of a Right to Rest Act, The No Sit/No Lie Ordinance and the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the effort failed, and many activities associated with homelessness remained criminalized, partly because politicians have a habit of ignoring the most basic truths about what is going on out there.

Reactions?

Source: “Sacramento’s $100,000 homeless man,” NewsReview.com, 02/16/17
Photo credit: Mick Baker via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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The War Against Ourselves

austin-police-departmentNot long ago, Thomas Johnson of MimesisLaw.com published a piece called “How Does it Feel Winning the War Against the Homeless?” He sees an ongoing assault against the poor, waged by cops who increasingly act as private security forces for the wealthy elite class.

This is especially offensive because a myth, vigorously promoted in certain parts of the culture, portrays the police as victims. To them Johnson says:

When you spend your time kicking the homeless around and arresting people for trying to serve them some food, you’ve gone far off your mission of fighting crime. You’re no hero.

As House the Homeless has also done, Johnson mentions cities where folks have been arrested and/or fined for feeding people experiencing homelessness. He admits that members of the police force don’t make the laws — although evidence shows that, in a sense, they do.

Word on the street has it that police unions and prison guard unions wield far more lobbying power than they ought to, in areas that directly affect the creation and enforcement of laws (like mandatory minimum sentencing). In particular, they work hard to escalate the War on Some Drugs and Most Adults.

The thought experiment

The writer takes his readers on an imaginary journey reminiscent of two different Michael Douglas movies. In Falling Down, a tie-wearing professional abandons his car on the freeway and walks through Los Angeles, quickly devolving into a one-man death squad. In The Game, a man is drawn into a mysterious live-action role-playing game in which he believes he has lost everything, with equally homicidal results.

Those are fictitious characters, but Johnson asserts that any mayor, city councilperson, banker, real estate developer, or law enforcement officer (stripped of uniform and equipment) would be similarly unhinged. The writer posits:

You are on the street, with only the possessions on your back. You have nothing, you are nobody. Maybe it’s your own fault. Maybe you’re innocent. Either way, you are sleeping outdoors tonight.

It is all too easy to imagine. A newly homeless person soon learns that sleeping is easier said than done. At the same time, there is little else to do. Few commercial establishments are open at night, and those that are do not want scruffy penniless bums hanging around.

After four or five days, your odor is decidedly pungent. Nobody cares about your sad story, especially not the police, of whom who you quickly learn to steer clear.

Taking the final step into degradation, you stake out a panhandling spot. The ruffian who claims that patch of sidewalk pushes you into an alley and hurts you badly. Soon, you’re digging through dumpsters for food that may or may not give you a case of salmonella poisoning, and you still haven’t hit bottom yet.

It is easy to agree with Johnson that an upper-class American, if dropped into the bad part of town with empty pockets and no resources, would soon go feral. He gives a description and a warning:

Welcome to your new mental state: A hazy mix of terror, stress and sleeplessness that will guide you to desperate acts and many poor decisions.

Smugly thinking it could never happen to you is wrong. Fortunes change.

Realize that it could be you out there and declaring war on those less fortunate will not make them go away…

Inspired by such thought experiments, many complacent Americans are able to experience a shift in consciousness. Attitudes adjust and activism amplifies. They come to believe that “Conditions need to change, because if not, the bad thing could happen to me some day.”

It is a start. But we should demand from ourselves something better than that — something a bit more akin to, “Conditions need to change because, in millions of lives, the bad thing has already happened.”

Reactions?

Source: “How Does it Feel Winning the War Against the Homeless?,” MimesisLaw.com, 01/11/17
Image by Richard R. Troxell

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