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The National Day of Action, and Some Myths

homeless-man-on-cornerApril 1 is the National Day of Action for Housing. It is a Saturday, and what a person might very usefully do if at all possible, is travel to the nation’s capitol for a rally and overnight vigil at the National Mall.

Supporters are encouraged to bring tents, signs, families, and friends. The Day of Action is meant to create temporary tent cities, to call attention to the housing crisis, the healthcare situation, the ever-increasing criminalization of poverty and homelessness, and the racial inequality inherent in all of these.

But if a trip to Washington, D.C., is out of the question, do not despair. Many other cities are also observing the event. If one is not near you, consider becoming a local organizer. Now would be a great time to start planning what is called a sister action event for next year, and the National Coalition for the Homeless will help.

Their nine-page pamphlet (PDF) titled “National Day of Action for Housing Media Toolkit” includes Talking Points and Tips; Frequently Asked Questions; Social Media; Press Release; and Contact Information. When framed in terms of goals, the Day of Action objectives include:

Preserving and creating housing funding on local, state and national levels for low to moderate income households in particular… Foreclosures and limited housing assistance contribute to the increase in homelessness among the low-income families in particular.

Stopping ordinances and practices that criminalize the unhoused, promote racial discrimination, and prevent equal treatment of immigrants and the LGBTQ community… These ordinances include criminal penalties that may prevent those in need from receiving housing and social services. The penalties are doled out for violation of such life-sustaining activities as eating, sitting, sleeping in public places, camping, and asking for money.

Promoting access to emergency housing, employment, food assistance, and healthcare for all Americans in need… Poor health is big contributing factor to homelessness, as both a cause and the result. Exposure to elements, violence, stress, addition, mental health conditions, and other serious conditions that require regular treatment are contribute to the problem.

Homelessness Myths

This is a good time to look at the collection of homelessness myths collated by journalist German Lopez for Vox.com.

An Urban Institute survey found that more than 40% of homeless people they questioned were likely to have done some paying work in the month previous to the survey. Homeless adults in families are regarded in some ways as being in a class by themselves, because of the responsibility for others beside themselves. A Housing and Urban Development study found that 17% of homeless adults in families actually had paying jobs at the time of the survey, and that over half of the people questioned had worked during the previous year.

This leads naturally to the existence of another myth, the belief among allegedly sane Americans that having a job means that a person can afford a place to live. Name a state, any state, and the unfortunate truth is that a person with a full-time minimum-wage job can’t afford to rent an apartment. House the Homeless offers plenty of material addressing this problem.

Some housed people think that homelessness is always forever, but in actuality, only one in six people experiencing homelessness are classified as “chronic.” Sometimes this is related to mental illness, and the number of people who turn up with previously undiagnosed and untreated traumatic brain injury is shocking.

One of the big myths is that homelessness exists only in the interiors of large urban environments, which is simply not true. In fact, slightly less than half of America’s homeless people are in big cities. However, the big-city numbers are growing disproportionately. People think that alleviating homelessness is a federal budget-breaker, but compared to a lot of other, less urgent problems, government spending on homelessness is paltry.

Lopez’s last paragraph is the best, and addresses Myth #11, that fighting homelessness is expensive. Not when compared to the alternatives:

Studies show that simply housing people can reduce the number of homeless at a lower cost to society than leaving them without homes. The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness found housing costs $10,000 per person per year, while leaving them homeless costs law enforcement, jails, hospitals, and other community services $31,000 per person per year.

Reactions?

Source: “National Day of Action for Housing Media Toolkit,” NationalHomeless.org, 2017
Source: “11 myths about homelessness in America,” Vox.com, 09/23/15
Photo credit: Doug Waldron via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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Brain Injury Awareness Day Is March 22

TBI-dr-gordon-workbook-cover

In Washington, D.C., Brain Injury Awareness Day will be observed by a series of events organized by the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, and specifically by its co-chairs, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.).

Earlier this year, House the Homeless sent an open letter to the administration in the nation’s capitol, presenting its 5-Year Plan for veterans as the top item on the agenda. It contained a shorter version of the information presented by Richard R. Troxell’s “Traumatic Brain Injury — A Protocol to Help Disabled Homeless Veterans within a Secure, Nurturing Community” and of the arguments set forth in that document. It tells the story of the 2016 survey carried out by HtH, and of what the organization’s consciousness of TBI has developed into.

How does the problem originate?

In theory, there should be no reason for military veterans to be jobless or homeless. These are people who were competent enough at life to be inducted into the armed services in the first place, and who were trained for one of the many types of jobs needed in the service, and who fulfilled the obligation they signed up for. In theory, veterans are the last people who should be wandering the countryside or the urban streets without anywhere to live.

As a general matter, approximately half the total homeless population in the United States is made up of people who are able to work but who lack jobs and affordable housing. The other half is made up of people who can’t work because of disability. Of that number, a great many are veterans. The disabilities that afflict them are chiefly due to TBI. Shockingly, the traumatic brain injuries they suffered go mainly unrecognized and undiagnosed.

The mystery of veteran homelessness is easier to understand when TBI, or traumatic brain injury, is taken into account. By now, most of the world understands the implications of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and, in many places, violently shaking a baby in a way that can cause brain damage is recognized as an aggressive act deserving of criminal consequences. What people tend to forget is that adults are also vulnerable to the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that can result from such injury to a human being of whatever age.

What can be done?

For a detailed yet understandable explanation of the whole subject, an excellent resource is an illustrated guide written by Dr. Mark Gordon, the pioneer of the field. Here we learn that traumatic brain injury is usually not diagnosed at the time it occurs; sometimes diagnosed years later when it has ripened into CTE, and often never recognized at all. The progressive degenerative condition is responsible for many physical and mental health problems that are misdiagnosed or blamed on a lack of personal responsibility.

Often, untreated TBI contributes to the astonishing statistics that tally suicides committed by veterans. In 2009 the Pentagon announced that according to their own estimate, as many as 360,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were walking around with traumatic brain injuries.

TBI-dr-gordon-slide

Troxell’s Open Letter says of Dr. Gordon:

Now he has crafted a medical protocol using human hormones to positively affect TBI. When asked, he has framed program success in this manner, “Out of 98 affected Veterans, we have had between 50 and 100% reduction of the symptoms displayed.” This is both astonishing and medically dramatic when looking at the range of symptoms involved. Realize that reduction of just one of these symptoms has life changing results.

The Millennium TBI Project, Warrior Angels Foundation, House the Homeless, Inc., HTH, are now collaborating with Alan Graham at Community First! Village, a 51 acre facility in Austin, Texas, where a 10 member homeless Veteran model project will assess and treat their brain injuries.

The complete story of these organizations’ effort is contained in “Traumatic Brain Injury,” mentioned at the beginning of this post. Four powerful and determined groups have banded together to break through the national brain fog that seems to surround this issue, and to make life-changing and life-saving differences for people affected by TBI, especially if they are veterans, and especially if they are homeless.

Please take advantage of the consolidation of so much important information, and consider donating to the continuation of these crucial efforts. A good place to do that is through Warrior Angels, a non-profit organization founded and run by combat veterans for the sole purpose of treating TBI.

Reactions?

Source: “Traumatic Brain Injury: A Clinical Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment,” TBIMedLegal.com, 2013
Image courtesy Dr. Gordon.

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Learning From the 2017 Police Survey

lego-policemanConcurrent with the annual Thermal Underwear Drive party for people who are experiencing homelessness, House the Homeless (HtH) has established a splendid tradition — the annual survey. The guests are offered the opportunity to share their thoughts on a particular topic. Past subjects have included work, sleep; Traumatic Brain Injury, and other medical issues.

Most often, unhoused Americans struggle with at least one major life problem. For instance, even someone who was in pretty good shape when they hit the streets will probably not stay healthy for long. Sleep deprivation is difficult to take seriously until one has personally suffered from it for several nights in a row. Among homeless people, the “age acceleration” effect is real.

The answers contributed by the survey participants are wonderfully helpful for discovering the most effective ways of assisting people to get their lives back on track. The information is collated and commented upon, and sent to people and institutions both in Austin and around the USA. In the best-case scenario, facts from the HtH Surveys will help guide policymakers.

Written by HtH President Richard R. Troxell, the introduction to the report on the 2017 Police Survey says:

Each of the ten questions in the survey include comments that are intended to enhance the readers’ understanding of the implications of each question.

This survey documents the increasing criminalization of homelessness. It seems that relations with “the system” are a top-priority topic, because it was previously addressed only two years ago. This proximity in time allows for some alarming comparisons. For instance, over those 24 months, the number of women experiencing homelessness in Austin has increased by 28%.

One question is particularly significant in light of Austin’s No Sit/No Lie ordinance, which HtH helped design with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in mind. It reads like this:

5) Has a Police Officer ever given you a ticket for sitting or lying down even though you told them you were disabled or too sick to move?

Also crucial is a new question that had not appeared on the 2015 survey:

5a) Have your Class C misdemeanor tickets (No Sit/No Lie, No Camping, etc.) ever been barriers to getting a job or housing?

Twenty-eight percent of the people experiencing homelessness in Austin said that yes, Class C misdemeanor tickets had interfered with their ability to obtain work or housing. Let that sink in for a minute. Even government programs that are meant to help the homeless may balk at people with “criminal” records, which is cruelly ironic when the government itself creates the relevant offenses by criminalizing such acts as sitting a sidewalk. It is almost as if “the system” intentionally sets out to manufacture reasons to refuse help to destitute citizens.

And even when it issues housing vouchers, the government can’t force landlords to accept tenants with “criminal” records. What is the point of proscribing acts which unhoused people can not help but commit? In what universe does it make sense to exacerbate the problems of people who are already so thoroughly disadvantaged?

To Question 5c, almost an equal number survey participants (27%) answered N/A, or “not applicable.” These are people who are too disabled to work or even to seek housing; people who have given up; people who have not gotten close enough to applying for either work or housing for the question to even matter.

The seventh question brings to light a barbarous practice that is not supposed to happen at all:

7) Have you ever had your ID taken by police and not returned?

Twenty-nine percent of the respondents, or 74 individuals, answered yes to this — a total slightly better than the 33% two years ago.

Nevertheless, Richard says:

[…] this is still completely unacceptable as replacing photo ID is very costly in terms of both time and money. Remember, these people are homeless. They are indigent. All social services in Austin require photo identification, so to be left without photo ID only acts as an additional barrier to escaping homelessness.

Here is another disturbing question, and the replies are even more disturbing:

8) Have you ever had your things taken by police without giving you a receipt and the name of a contact person to get your things back?

Thirty-six percent of the people said yes, which is well over one-third. Imagine that. People who already have next to nothing are vulnerable to having even that small bit confiscated by law enforcement officers, and there is no recourse. As Richard puts it, they “are having all of their medications, prescriptions, and important papers taken and never returned.”

He is also quite clear about a thing that apparently happens a lot. A person is ticketed and told to show up in court on a certain date, and then when they show up, they are told that their ticket “is not in the system yet.” So they have to return, maybe more than once. Thirty-seven percent of the people said it had happened to them. Richard’s reaction is:

Any action that causes people experiencing homelessness to make multiple trips to the court system to prevent a ticket from “going to warrant” that leads to their arrest is detrimental to their existence and simply an additional barrier to their escaping homelessness.

Reactions?

Source: “2017 Police Survey,” HouseTheHomeless.org, 2017
Photo credit: orangeaurochs via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Not Every Job Is an Opportunity

out-on-the-street-evictionIn Washington, D.C., a person experiencing homelessness can climb into a van and drink some cheap alcohol he thinks is free, but which later turns out to be deducted from his pay. His pay for what? For helping as many as two dozen other men evict a family. This overstaffing is for the sake of speed.

Elizabeth Flock explains:

[…] because in D.C. evictions are overseen by the U.S. Marshals Service, which has other jobs to do — that crew must be large enough to quickly carry out the eviction.

Imagine being a kid in the only home you know, the house your parents rent. All of a sudden, 25 strange men show up, plus a number of Marshals (possibly with guns drawn). The invaders are all over the place, taking your stuff out to dump on the sidewalk, and pushing you out along with it.

The situation is lousy for the workers, too. They get into that van without knowing how long their work day will be, but with a fair certainty that nobody will be serving any food or water. It’s a “bring your own gloves” gig. Flock says the trucks are not equipped with dollies or other normal moving amenities, and if a worker gets hurt, that’s just tough luck.

Bruised or intact, there is no guarantee that the men will be returned to the starting point. They may be left stranded miles away from their home base. The promised pay might be as little as $7 for the entire day, and there’s a good chance the company will stiff them. In return for no background check or request for credentials, that’s the kind of job you get.

However, throwing people out does offer plenty of opportunity to steal from distressed ex-tenants, along with the chance to mistreat a vulnerable population, and most people quite frankly don’t need that kind of temptation laid in their path.

How it goes in our nation’s capitol

The concept of fair labor practices isn’t even a blip on these companies’ radar. The bosses allegedly engage in price-fixing. The going rate for this type of day labor used to be almost three times as much. Now the supply of destitute workers is much greater than the demand for their rudimentary services, and the workers are badly in need of cash, perhaps to feed habits.

A large law firm supported a class-action suit, but the eviction companies don’t take it seriously and the court does nothing to compel them. The Office of Labor Law and Enforcement says it has never received a complaint. And the Marshals? It’s not their job to get involved in somebody else’s wage dispute.

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research is a think tank described as both conservative and non-partisan, and it too has a point of view. Journalist Kevin Corinth captured this expressive quotation from a worker:

We have seen babies crying, grandmas… You do some kind of drugs, so then you don’t care, so you leave them on the curb over there crying, and go on to next one.

Instead of choosing someone professional who says, “I can’t do it,” they choose people who don’t have any feelings anymore, and have given up on life. Because they will get on this truck for $7.

The writer empathizes with landlords, who can’t keep housing on the market if nobody pays them. He also empathizes with the eviction crews, who after all are dealing with some pretty unpleasant feelings. They are homeless people, making other dispossessed and displaced people homeless. In such a role, who could help calling to mind their own parents, partners, or children?

But, Corinth writes:

The true problem is that eviction companies are dehumanizing the homeless men they hire by exploiting their addictions. Rather than being encouraged to serve with professionalism and empathy, they are encouraged to numb their humanity with alcohol.

He even empathizes with the evictees, who are not even given so much as a flyer with shelter addresses or a hotline number. The writer suggests hiring fewer workers for better pay, but, realistically, that idea has a snowball’s chance in hell.

He goes on to say:

Another solution could be to prevent evictions from happening in the first place. Recent research has shown that offering families who are at risk of homelessness modest one-time payment leads to sharp reductions in entries into homeless shelters (and presumably reduces evictions as well).

Whatever the solution, evictions are inevitable. Dehumanizing people in the process is not.

Reactions?

Source: “Eviction Companies Pay the Homeless Illegally Low Wages to Put People on the Street,” WashingtonCityPaper.com, 02/23/17
Source: “Exploiting homeless people is not okay,” Aei.org, 02/28/17
Photo credit: 70023venus2009 via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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Entering the World of Protected Work

iowa-city-downtown

Downtown Iowa City

In Iowa City, Iowa, Shelter House helps hundreds of people every year, not only with a place to stay, but with job training and placement. Participants in case management have opportunities to work toward job readiness and employability.

The on-premise computer lab offers workshops in basic computer skills, as well as guidance in applying for housing and food assistance. The job and housing databases are packed with information, and help is available to create a resume.

There are two internal employment services. Fresh Starts is the professional janitorial service, whose workers are employed by area businesses. In the Culinary Starts paid internship program, people learn kitchen and culinary vocabulary, recipe manipulation, menu production, how to use kitchen equipment, and much more.

The website says:

Successful participants will become Servsafe certified and equipped to work in a variety of food service and restaurant settings. The proceeds from our contracted and catered meals go directly towards the food production program and Shelter House’s mission of helping people move beyond homelessness.

In the nation’s capitol, the Transitional Housing Programs for Men who are Homeless are administered by the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless. Six houses of different sizes are home to between 12 and 100 men in various stages of readiness to enter the working world. Some concentrate more on basic supportive services and life skills to prepare for self-sufficiency.

One is the Emery Work Bed Program, described as…

[…] specifically tailored to the needs of homeless men who are employed or in job training… The primary objective is to assist men in sustaining employment and moving into permanent housing. Program participants must be willing to accept case management services, meet with case management staff weekly and develop and follow an Individualized Service Plan.

Eastway Behavioral Healthcare is a private nonprofit mental health agency in Montgomery County, Ohio. In an unprecedented partnership with the county’s homeless service providers and their federal HUD funding, Hope Housing was created.

Eastway’s Laura Ferrell says:

You can’t find a job, you can’t become a productive member of society, you can’t make sure you get all of your medications and keep all of your doctor’s appointments if you don’t know which doorway you might be able to sleep in tonight.

Director Kathy Lind told journalist Thomas Gnau that most of the clients have “a lot of barriers, like mental health or substance abuse, criminal records.” Nevertheless, the time between referral and placement has been as short as 45 minutes. When the residents are ready to go out on their own, the Eastway staff reports, remarkably, “no shortage of landlords who have been willing to work with the program.”

The compassion and conviction are rooted in a hard-headed awareness that helping people get on their feet is a bargain compared to the expenses they could potentially rack up in the form of ER visits, hospitalizations, jail rent, or even such contingencies as winning a lawsuit against the city for one of the injuries that people experiencing homelessness often suffer at the hands of law enforcement.

Hope Housing operates under the “Housing First” model, and, in three years, 48 people have gotten their lives on track and found permanent housing, so it must be doing something right.

Reactions?

Source: “Job Training,” ShelterHouseIowa.org, undated
Source: “Transitional Housing Programs for Men who are Homeless,” DCCFH.org, undated
Source: “Program helps get homeless off streets, into jobs,” MyDaytonDailyNews,com,12/26/16
Photo credit: Alan Light via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Homeless by the Numbers

capitol-building-lit-at-nightThe 2016 national homeless count was about 550,000, and indicated that one out of five people experiencing homelessness resides in either New York or Los Angeles. California contains 28% of all the homeless people in America.

Five states account for half the homeless, and they are California, New York, Florida, Texas, and Washington. The statistics get confusing, because some cities are lumped in along with their entire counties, like Seattle/King County and Los Angeles City/County.

In quoting the 2016 count of King County’s homeless people (10,677), Ashley Archibald says the number “deceives in its apparent precision.” There is no intentional deception, and the challenge is the same pretty much everywhere.

More importantly, even counts of housed people produce fuzzy numbers. Archibald breaks it down for Real Change News:

Humans are pesky creatures, constantly moving, losing census forms or simply not bothering to fill them out at all. Statisticians rely on projections rather than hard counts to calculate the number and location of people. In the end it’s an extremely well-informed, highly mathematical guess.

Because the count is so important to federal funding, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority has stepped up its efforts to locate people so they can be added to the tally. Nationwide, about 20 counties conduct a separate youth count, which applies to people under 25 years of age.

The great Northwest

Here is one description of Seattle/King County’s new system:

The Count Us In method will utilize different data collection methods for the full range of homelessness count activities. The count will include a street count of people living unsheltered, those living in sheltered or transitional housing, a qualitative survey of people experiencing homelessness and specialized approaches to count people living in vehicles…

The numbers to be released will be the findings on homeless youth, vehicle residents, chronic homelessness and other specialized populations.

For Seattle Weekly, Joe Bernstein describes the current year’s activities from a perspective that housed people don’t hear very often:

Early Friday morning, volunteers and paid staff across King County will try to count the street homeless like me.

He describes the complicated yet conscientious history of doing these counts in Seattle and environs, leading up to why and how the new approach of working with the nonprofit Applied Survey Research was adopted for this year:

ASR brags that HUD considers its method a “best practice,” and it has two features Seattle hasn’t seen before: covering whole counties […] and doing so with teams of two volunteers and a currently or recently homeless “guide,” paid for his or her time.

Bernstein goes on to explain why certain results will occur, like difficulty in comparing new information with past data, because, unlike before, the new method divides up reporting areas by census tract. An overall numerical increase is also likely, and not only because a larger area is being covered. The homeless “guides” presumably have insider knowledge about where people tuck themselves away out of sight.

As a person experiencing homelessness himself, Bernstein offers the following insights:

Street counts normally happen at night because many homeless people sleep then, and fewer housed people are around to confuse things. Still, counters are at huge disadvantages. Volunteers across the country often don’t try to count people in cars or tents accurately, don’t enter squats or shacks, don’t wake anyone up, may not even ask those awake “Are you homeless?”, and can hardly guess how many people are couch-surfing.

Perhaps the best way to think about the counts is as a floor, a minimum. Shelter counts are pretty reliable, and street counts reliably underestimate. (This is why the feds want January counts — they want the highest sheltered percentage they can get.)

This year’s number will probably be bigger, maybe much bigger, but there’s a silver lining: It’ll probably be less of an underestimate of the real, even scarier, number.

Hot Springs, Arkansas, receives less attention than a lot of other places. The United Way-recruited volunteers are not allowed to work at night. The only two categories are sheltered and unsheltered. Occupying a vehicle, or squatting in a house with no running water, counts as unsheltered.

In the past year, the unsheltered total has more than doubled, and the overall total rose by 40%. In Hot Springs, the very large majority of people experiencing homelessness are single males.

Sue Legal of Ouachita Children’s Center told a reporter that this year’s higher count doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in the actual number of homeless people, but does reflect the benefits of pleasant weather and a bigger volunteer team. Even so, she believes that many people living in concealed rural camps were not counted.

Shoutout to Washington/District of Columbia, which is in fifth place. The capitol of the United States of America, the most powerful and morally superior nation on earth, has a homeless population of at least 8,350, smaller than only four other American cities.

Reactions?

Source: “The U.S. Cities With The Largest Homeless Populations [Infographic],” Forbes.com, 11/25/16
Source: “Counting in the dark,” RealChangeNews.ort, 01/25/17
Source: “Counting America’s hidden homeless,” AlJazeera.com, 01/31/17
Source: “New homeless counting system starting this year,” MapleValleyReporter.com, 02/03/17
Source: “Homeless count shows increase of unsheltered,” Hotsr.com, 02/10/17
Photo credit: Tony Brooks (yeahbouyee) via Visualhunt/CC BY

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How Clean Does a New Broom Sweep?

homeless-vs-wall-costNobody wants to flush dollars down the toilet. Here is a sentence from “An Open Letter to the Trump Administration”; written by House the Homeless:

Attack Taxpayer Waste: Address the shortcomings of the Supplemental Security Income Stipend, SSI that will result in recipients being able to afford basic rental housing with the disability stipend they already receive.

But in the legislative environs of Washington, D.C., there are many who believe that Social Security, housing assistance, and disability stipends are the taxpayer waste. Similarly, House the Homeless would like to see the minimum wage raised, preferably in the form of the carefully designed Universal Living Wage.

However, a lot of politicians want to see no minimum wage, period.

According to the organizations that keep track of these matters, basic housing has become even less affordable in recent years. All kinds of crazy talk is going around, about messing with Social Security and other safety-net programs. There will be tax cuts, but not for those who need them. Veterans will have to struggle to get their due.

What else will the new administration mean for the half-million Americans who are experiencing homelessness? According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 47,000 of them live in the entertainment capitol, which is where ABC’s Antony Funnell learned that:

The homeless of LA don’t fit an easy stereotype — they’re young, old, male, female, black, white, Asian and Hispanic. Some clearly have mental health issues.

Some work during the day and live on the streets at night. Some are shabbily attired, others well dressed.

Not all of them sleep on the streets. Some find accommodation in homeless shelters. But there are too many people for the services available and nowhere near enough beds for everyone.

Anyone who follows the news will have noticed stories originating from many cities, about plans to end homelessness; and a lot fewer stories announcing the end of homelessness in any actual place. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has a plan to eradicate homelessness.

Last year the city’s minimum wage went up to $15, and voters passed a $1.2 billion bond issue that will pay for the building of 1,000 apartment units per year over a 10-year period. So, that’s a bright spot. But nationally, the big picture does not look promising.

To lead HUD (Housing and Urban Development), the new president chose a multimillionaire doctor who is of course fully on board with the tax-cut concept, and who begrudges the expenditure of federal money on anything except armaments. He is known to be “philosophically opposed” to welfare programs of all kinds, and criticizes anti-discrimination rules as “social engineering,” so this does not bode well. The department employs around 8,300 people to keep the wheels turning and, hopefully, compensate for Ben Carson’s lack of field experience other than having lived in public housing as a child.

Health care and La Migra

On the medical front, the prognosis is quite grim, since the administration plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Substance abuse treatment programs are threatened. As we have seen, a large number of street people have histories of traumatic brain injury.

When less urgent levels of care are denied, hospital emergency rooms bear the brunt of the resulting acute illnesses. It goes without saying, that many unhoused people will suffer and die, and a great many currently housed people will experience homelessness for the first time after they go broke from medical bills.

As if all this were not ominous enough, Caroline Spivack reports that Brooklyn is coping with an increase in the number of people who would rather live on the streets of New York than be deported. They are afraid to go near any shelters, and with ICE agents haunting schools and churches to nab undocumented residents, this is a reasonable fear.

Admittedly, some individuals genuinely need to be taken into custody. New York is a sanctuary city and technically, there are well-defined criteria around whom to punish and eject from the country. Supposedly, “officials will not blow the whistle on non-violent undocumented immigrants who enter the shelter system.” In theory, an innocent person, even if undocumented, would have nothing to fear. But nobody is willing to take a chance, so the alleys and doorways overflow.

Reactions?

Source: “What will Donald Trump mean for America’s half a million homeless people?,” ABC.net, 02/08/17
Source: “Undocumented street homeless rises after Trump’s deportation order,” BrooklynPaper.com, 02/07/17
Image by Really American

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Does Tyrone Poole Have the Rental Housing Answer?

tyrone-poole-quote

There are always interesting ways to describe a dire situation, especially such a multi-faceted one as the nation’s affordable housing shortage. For example, in America today, more than 11 million households are giving more than half of their incomes for rent. It is an outrageous proportion, but they are among the lucky ones, to even have the opportunity of paying through the nose to keep their families sheltered.

The federal government can allocate funds and give vouchers to people experiencing homelessness, but it can’t make landlords accept those vouchers and rent them apartments. How could Washington alleviate that situation? Can the federal government educate and inspire landlords? This is an area where the “Act Locally” precept really matters.

People are out there trying to provide temporary shelter and permanent housing. A lot of the resistance manifests itself in zoning laws and other ordinances that are definitely a local concern. Activists need education and empowerment to challenge obstructive and regressive practices in their own cities.

February’s House the Homeless newsletter included an assessment of Ben Carson’s intentions as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and we send good wishes his way. Meanwhile, we look at what one individual has accomplished.

A housing hero

Due to a serious injury and devastating medical costs, young Tyrone Poole found himself homeless in Portland, Oregon. He faced a tight rental market, and every application he submitted required a fee of $30 or even $50. (In some places, crooked managers skim even more, or dishonest aggregators of classified ads sell lists of rentals that are weeks out of date.) The application fee is an ugly custom that should never have become established. People in search of housing are vulnerable, possibly new in town, and beset by many expenses. The cost of processing applications should be built into the landlord’s overall cost of doing business.

Poole saw the need for a service that would help people who don’t look like a very good bet as tenants. His goal was to connect them with property owners willing to rent to someone with an eviction history, or who carries the “felon” label, or to someone with nothing but a government rent voucher in their hand. An early attempt at collecting the necessary information and publishing it as a book did not work out because things changed too fast.

Poole started a different business, made it a success, sold it, and returned to the problem of matching needy people with available rental units and whatever assistance they might qualify for. By now, technology had advanced to where it was possible to create a website that could keep up with changes in real time.

A team of like-minded people joined Poole, who told reporter Andrew Scot Bolsinger:

They believe that I have actually created a market-driven solution to address the homeless problem nationwide. This is something that is funded by consumers and companies, that will never need government grants or donations or assistance in any way once launched.

The dream was for NoAppFee.com to became a “one-stop shopping website, where a single fee connects them to a range of landlords who will accept them.” Landlords paid a fee to list their properties, and the creators tried to amass additional funding through crowdsourcing, but that effort didn’t work. Determined to carry on, Poole told the reporter:

If this project is successful, I will be able to give this rental platform to every single nonprofit organization in America that provides housing assistance. Families will be able to get the keys to a new home as fast as the same day they walked into the shelter or housing program. The extent of their homelessness could be as short as a few hours when it used to be months.

Only last month Laura Bliss, a writer for CityLab.com, caught up with Poole’s project, whose ambitions have expanded to serving renters at every income level. Bliss writes:

A lender at a local bank introduced Poole to Portland’s economic development agency, which was launching a funding contest for civic-minded start-ups by entrepreneurs of color. Poole, who is black, entered in 2014 and won, gaining serious financial backing, free office space, and a host of tech-industry connections.

He signed up eight small management companies to beta-test the new version of NoAppFee.com, which keeps the promise implied by its name by refunding to prospective tenants their initial $35 fee (which pays for a credit and background check) once their first month’s rent has been paid. By the time the first month had passed, the site had 1,700 registered users but had run out of rental units and had to refund a lot of sign-up fees.

In Portland, 14,000 affordable housing units are overseen by the Portland Housing Bureau (PHB). The turnover rate is only about 25% per year, so in any given year there may be 3,500 openings. Yet somewhere around 80,000 local households qualify for these affordable housing slots.

PHB looked for a way to streamline its operations. Policy manager Matthew Tschabold told the reporter:

Someone seeking housing would regularly have to contact 10 to 20 organizations on a weekly basis to find out about vacancies. It was a big burden for people who are already low-income and struggling to live and work in our community.

The Housing Bureau won a cash grant that enabled it to hire Poole’s company, and they are working together to build a .gov website around NoAppFee’s software. Hopefully, it will launch within the year, and, at the same time, the general market version is being retooled. There is much more to know about this innovative program, which can be found on its Facebook page.

Reactions?

Source: “Once Homeless Entrepreneur Now Pairs High Risk Renters With Landlords,” YourBlackWorld.net, 04/10/14
Source: “A Portland Start-Up Is Smashing Barriers to Affordable Housing,” CityLab.com, 01/27/17
Image by Oregon Entrepreneurs Network

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Individuals Making a Difference

homeless-sleeping-by-bookstoreLast week, House the Homeless considered the activities of Pastor Kelly Boyd of Eugene, Oregon, who brings together givers and people who need things. By running for city council, he combines the faith-based approach with the political approach.

In some states of the union, earnest people have a better chance to thrive among progressive-minded neighbors. In other locales, a different social climate produces different results.

There is a growing tendency to criminalize, or at least seriously impede, grassroots activism and individual efforts. It’s as if the government has a split personality, and wants to both ignore the root causes of homelessness, and at the same time own and control everything about homelessness.

The same mindset prompts humans to murder their domestic partners who want to leave. “If I can’t have you, nobody else can either.” The government seems to be saying, “I can’t or won’t do very much for you, but I’m going to make sure nobody else will, either.”

A great philosopher once said that what every person really wants is to make a difference. All over America, individuals are trying to do that in the area of homeless relief. At the same time, penalizing the helpers has become a thing.

One ongoing story happens in Madison, Wisconsin. Brenda Konkel, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center, used to let as many as six people sleep on the porch of the home she shares with Robert Bloch. The couple also fitted out the porch with a dozen locker-room-style storage units for their guests to use.

The city threatened to fine them $300 a day. Journalist Pat Schneider wrote of Konkel, who used to be a city council member:

She worked with members of Occupy Madison a couple of years ago as they tried without success to get city approval to erect a homeless encampment and was instrumental in the group’s success in getting zoning approval for a village of “tiny houses” now under construction on the city’s east side.

Robert Bloch told the reporter that there had only been one police visit to the porch-sleepers, when an ambulance had to be called for a medical emergency. He also said, “The system is not working.”

The homeowners were granted time extensions, but were warned again two months later to clear the porch. The absence of sleepers was not enough, the city wanted the lockers gone too. This was not the activist’s only battle over storage. Tony Galli wrote:

Konkel says the problem of finding places to store the valuables of people who are homeless was highlighted this week, when county facility staff members removed more two dozen large plastic bags of belongings from Madison city hall. Konkel and other advocates for the homeless returned the bags to city hall, and facility officials say they will allow them to remain stacked on the building’s porch, as long as they are not unattended.

Another Konkel effort is toward establishing a day center to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. A location has been proposed but, not surprisingly, someone challenged it in court.

A local blogger uses cruel labels and accuses Konkel of being anti-police.This is apparently because she contradicts the mayor’s claims that the city needs somewhere between 13 and 361 additional police officers. She used to sit on the Police Staffing committee, before the department banned anyone, including City Council members, from collaborating on those decisions. Brenda Konkel is still an activist, advocate, and writer about homelessness in Madison.

Reactions?

Source: “Brenda Konkel could be fined for allowing homeless to sleep on her porch,” Madison.com, 09/18/14
Source: “Advocate’s lockers for the homeless must go,” WKOW.com, 11/14/14
Source: “We need 13-361 New Police Officers?,” ForwardLookout.com, 01/05/17
Source: “Tonight! Evictions & Homelessnes,” ForwardLookout.com, 01/10/17
Photo credit: John Benson (ibm4381) via Visualhunt/ CC BY

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Back to the Grassroots in Eugene, Oregon

eugene-oregonOne school of thought believes that funneling all help, and all the helped, through official channels should be the only permissible route. In some places, that philosophy goes even further, to a conviction that anyone who says, “No, thank you” to a solution the government insists on, becomes totally undeserving of help from any source.

Some, like Kelly Boyd of Eugene, Oregon, want to see the giving spirit flourish at the most grassroots, person-to-person level. Soon after moving to town, he filled the bed of his pickup truck with clothes and blankets, and attached to the tailgate a sign that said, “Get One, Give One.”

It wasn’t long before the Ordinance Enforcement Office left a business card and a warning. Anthony Kustura reported:

The note said Boyd must stop putting things in the back of the truck because he is in violation of city code.

The City says Boyd is creating a “liveability impact” and that neighbors complained about finding trash in the street.

Four months later, Boyd was running (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) for a City Council seat. He told local TV station KMTR that aside from the “Get One, Give One” truck, other individual efforts were being squelched. His number-one issue is homelessness, of which he says city officials take an “archaic view.”

Boyd advocates a more organic approach, encouraging citizens to individually help each other. He is sensitive to the fact that many people experiencing homelessness do not want to call on official resources — for what they consider good and sufficient reasons — and their opinions about the matter ought to be respected.

Also, he wants the city to keep a more careful eye on things like cost overruns for public projects, but is not against taxing or spending:

Instead of having boutique taxes to take care of various needs, go ahead and build a groundswell of increased jobs, increased pay, so that there is a greater tax base in our area so that there is a constant resource and income for our city budget.

This facet of Boyd’s platform is interesting because it resonates with the success story of Oklahoma City, whose mayor convinced it to pass an across-the-board sales tax, and a strong case can be made that this move actually blossomed into citywide revitalization.  As always, things are relative and situational. For instance, while a groundswell of increased jobs might sound attractive, many cities have found to their regret that letting a prison or a pollution-producing industry move in can have its drawbacks.

And yet, there is always a tradeoff. The City of Eugene said that people in the neighborhood complained about the trash left behind after the freebie truck’s visits. This is speculation, but it seems as if a person who provides such a service would, could, and should tidy up the area, and especially, would be able to recruit a helper or two in this task.

Boyd and his wife do their volunteer work inspired by their “greater calling, that the needs of all should be met.” In other words, it is a faith-based effort, and people with church-going backgrounds are well accustomed to the idea of helping out with the setup and the cleanup at communal activities.

Making it official

Presumably, this type of logistical methodology is what a City Council with a Boyd-like mindset could approve. They could make ordinances saying, “Go ahead and have your event, and take video with your cell phone of the cleanup process, and of the pristine area when you’re done. Then, shoot some footage of the volunteer crew dropping off the trash at the City’s designated spot.”

Looked at from another angle, in most cities, neighborhoods have things like block parties and coordinated garage sales. Parades, mob shopping days, sports events, and a lot of other happenings tend to leave behind debris. In some college towns, entire neighborhoods successfully impersonate slums. Depending on who causes it, a certain amount of urban mess is accepted. Somehow, everyone lives to party another day.

Also, it seems like a certain amount of selective reinforcement goes on, regarding outdoor group activities, which is all part of the criminalization of homelessness. For the authorities to suppress and even outlaw grassroots activism is counterproductive on many levels.

Reactions?

Source: “City tells man to stop placing items in truck for homeless to take,” NBC16.com, 01/28/16
Source: “Meet the candidate: Kelly Boyd runs for Eugene City Council Ward 1,” NBC16.com, 04/02/16
Source: “A City Refurbished for Health,” Childhood Obesity News, 01/20/17
Photo credit: eddiecoyote via Visualhunt/ CC BY

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