George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, published another book 80 years ago called The Road to Wigan Pier, about the terrible conditions in England just after the Great Depression. What does it remind you of?
In the industrial areas the mere difficulty of getting hold of a house is one of the worst aggravations of poverty. It means that people will put up with anything — any hole and corner slum, any misery of bugs and rotting floors and cracking walls, any extortion of skinflint landlords and blackmailing agents — simply to get a roof over their heads.
Most of the people I talked to had given up the idea of ever getting a decent habitation again. They were all out of work, and a job and a house seemed to them about equally remote and impossible. Some hardly seemed to care; others realized quite clearly in what misery they were living.
It reminds us of the situation in parts of America today, where more and more economically stressed people are competing for fewer and fewer affordable rentals. Remember our posts about Airbnb as it manifests in Los Angeles and San Francisco?
More happened. The short-term rental broker sued the city of San Francisco and here’s the crazy part: Airbnb had participated in writing the law it sued about, one that “capped short-term rentals at 90 days in addition to requiring renters to register.” Doesn’t sound so unreasonable, does it?
Airbnb soon reversed its stance, and claimed that the law violates not only the First Amendment free speech right, it also violates the federal Communications Decency Act. Gizmodo’s Angela Chen explains exactly how, along with other complicated circumstances, and also why the mayors of 10 big cities met to figure out what to do about Airbnb.
Airbnb is also accused in other contexts as being exclusively white-privileged. Proponents call it homesharing, to make it sound all warm and fuzzy, because who would want to come out against homesharing?
But these domiciles are not being freely shared with newly-evicted families, no, they are being rented at unbelievably elevated prices to people who already have at least one home. Property owners can make so much more money renting to a never-ending series of vacationers than to, for instance, a nice family looking for stable situation to raise a couple of kids in.
Not inspiring of optimism
Meanwhile, who wouldn’t want to know about a rental ripoff even more disgusting than Airbnb? Rentberry, described as “a cross between Craigslist and eBay, wants to expand from 10 to 1,000 U.S. cities. Basically, from the highest bidders’ pool, landlords can choose the prospective tenant who makes the best impression.
Supposedly, it will even lower rents in some parts of the country. This prediction is partly based on an outlandish-sounding claim that there is an oversupply of apartments in America:
[…] if it takes off and becomes the new standard for renting apartments… landlords will have the control.
[…] the ease of having background checks already complete and the possibility of higher rents than expected could prove enticing.
And Rentberry isn’t the only one to see the potential in this business model. Competitors like Biddwell are also coming up, ensuring that this idea won’t live or die with just one startup.
The following notes were taken by your correspondent who went undercover to a seminar for Colorado landlords, presented by a nationally acclaimed consultant. This was around 20 years ago — in the good old days:
He gave them advice on what he called a powerful control tool. “Do not give yearly leases. By keeping the tenants on a month-to month lease, you can get rid of them in ten days instead of thirty.”
Discussing three-day eviction, he exclaimed, “This is fabulous stuff, fabulous. For crying out loud, use it!”
Simple Charts Are the Best Charts
… Such as this one from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Much of their raw data, incidentally, comes from the decennial census, and here are some facts about that:
The census is one of the most impressive attempts any country makes to count its own people, a crucial building block for the world’s largest economy…
The census affects every corner of America, determining where hundreds of billions of federal dollars flow annually, where businesses open new stores and which states gain — or lose — seats in the House of Representatives in 2020 reapportionment.
The bad news, as delivered by Danny Vinik, is that the nation’s ability to carry out its next national census appears to be threatened. How this can particularly affect the expenditure of $500 billion dollars in such areas as housing, based on the American Community Survey, is explained in chilling detail by ScienceMag.org.
More posts concerning rent and other closely related topics:
- Living on the Shifting Sands of Affordability
- Minimum Wage and the Rental Market
- Economic Homelessness, Rent, and Deadened Memories
- The Fight for $15!
- Does Tyrone Poole Have the Rental Housing Answer?
- Ending and Preventing Economic Homelessness
- The Universal Living Wage
- Economic Homelessness in New York: One Man’s Story
Source: “The Road to Wigan Pier,” George Orwell
Source: “Airbnb Sues San Francisco Over Law It Helped Draft,” Gizmodo.com, 06/28/16
Source: “Bidding Website Rentberry May Be the Startup of Your Nightmares,” Gizmodo.com, 04/02/17
Source: “Trump’s Threat to the 2020 Census,” Politico.com, 04/09/17
Source: “Scientists fear pending attack on federal statistics collection,” ScienceMag.org, 01/03/17
Image sources: Fair use (top), CBPP
The statehouse in Sacramento, California (pictured), is surrounded by a 40-acre park, one of the luckiest parks in the world because, for over two decades, caring for it was the obsession of a chronically homeless man named Randall Koroush.
Journalist Cynthia Hubert wrote:
He picked up fallen camellia blossoms, oak tree branches and palm fronds. He raked leaves from the steps and sidewalk. He polished iron gates and swept dirt from bathroom floors. No one paid Koroush for his work.
He would arrive first thing in the morning and spend 10 or 12 hours making sure the park stayed free of litter. He always wore a clean white t-shirt tucked into jeans, and never accepted any offer of food or drink. His habitual lunch was a cup of instant ramen noodles.
The park administration allowed him to store his belongings in an old greenhouse, but he slept under a bridge or behind a church. With people, he would respond politely, but not chat. Sometimes he talked to himself or to a person who wasn’t present, but then, don’t we all?
Mike Nielson, a General Services supervisor who knew Koroush for most of his time at the park, said, “He wanted to do right by this place. He wanted it to look good.” A police officer described him as having “dignity and purpose.” Although visitors sometimes reported him as a suspicious person, all the law enforcers who patrol the park on bicycles and horses looked out for him. They knew that Koroush was the son of a California Highway Patrol retiree and brother of a current CHP employee. The family acknowledges how kindly their son was treated.
Escape from history
Not many people knew that, back in the day, Koroush had never been very good at holding a job. He had been a hard drug addict, though at the time of his death at age 56 he hadn’t used in more than 10 years. As a child, Koroush wanted to be a forest ranger. His “poor choices” ruled that out, but dedicating himself to a park was the next best thing. That is his mother’s theory, and it is as good as any other.
Hubert wrote, “Koroush had four siblings and parents who loved him and tried and failed on many occasions to get him inside.” He did laundry and had the occasional meal with his folks, but getting back to the park was his number one priority.
The reporter goes on to say:
According to police and relatives, he walked into Sutter General Hospital on Feb. 1, toting his belongings, struggling to breathe and with cuts and bruises on his face. He died at UC Davis Medical Center a few days later.
There were pre-existing medical problems, but the patient had also had apparently been assaulted. However, with no reliable evidence, the police did not institute a homicide investigation. Although his death was a great loss to Sacramento, Randall Koroush was a rare and special case. In the entire country there are probably very few cities, capitol or otherwise, where a person in his situation would be treated with such leniency.
The other park story is also from California. “Skid Row” is a term that can send shivers down the spine. In Los Angeles, Skid Row means 10,000 people in tenements and welfare hotels and tents, in about a 50 square block area that is constantly squeezed by encroaching development. This evolving community has little in common with the Downtown and Historic Cultural neighborhood councils that claim it. Activists are trying to break away and form a discrete Skid Row neighborhood council.
A few years back, there were state-level budget cuts, and the area’s only two public parks almost lost their funding. The city took over to provide enough support to pay for the upkeep of San Julian and Gladys. Members of the public also contribute their time and energy, and one of the most noticeable has been A.J. Martin.
For LAWeekly.com, Mindy Farabee told his story, which she casts as an example of “the redemptive power of just showing up for your community everyday.” The journalist wrote:
His gig at the park allows him “to give, to help, to be a part of something,” he explains. “It’s helping me stay solid, it’s helping me stay firm, it’s helping me personally stay secure instead of lost in a lot of misery and a lot of torture and a lot of pain.”
In an unofficial capacity, Martin takes care of Gladys Park. He makes sure the restrooms are in order, and issues brooms to other helpers, who may be marginally functional at best, yet do a conscientious job of sweeping and tidying.
The manager of an adjacent hotel says, “Things run smoothly with him around.” This is no small feat, because a lot goes on there. Health fairs for the local street people and free clinics for their pets set up in the park. A New Orleans-style jazz band makes events festive. There are sports teams for kids and, as might be expected, it is where faith-based groups bring food.
Gladys Park hosts annual two-day art festival organized by the Los Angeles Poverty Department, the collective whose slogan is “Walk the Talk.”
An important function
The journalist follows Martin through an evening as he closes the park to get ready for a meeting of the solidly established local branch of AA. Farabee says:
At 7 p.m., A.J. opens the gates again and the Drifters and their fellow travelers file in, like a walking Bukowski poem… Some come from as far as Malibu, Orange County and Whittier to remind themselves where they came from or where they could end up.
It is AA policy to serve freely, but this group passes the hat to provide Martin with a small stipend. When the meeting ends at 8:30 p.m., he locks up the park again, this time from the outside, and sleeps on a nearby sidewalk.
Source: “He cared for a huge park for free while sleeping under a bridge. His death is a mystery,” NewsObserver.com, 02/19/17
Source: “The Homeless Man Who Runs a Park,” LAWeekly.com, 08/14/14
Source: “Skid Row Gets New, Much-Needed Drinking Fountains,” Curbed.com, 06/29/16
Photo credit: Mark Goebel (Sangre-La.com) via Visualhunt/CC BY
The National Day of Action for Housing took place this year on April 1, and was covered for Austin’s American Statesman by Elizabeth Findell on the front page of the Metro section. (The picture on this page is by Sue Watlov Phillips, in Washington DC.)
In Austin, a group of awareness-raisers carried signs and serenaded shoppers and diners along South Congress Avenue, bowing after their chants concerning affordable housing. They shook some hands, and passed out flyers explaining how 25 cities, including Washington, D.C., joined in holding rallies and teach-ins on the day.
Speaking of Washington, many concerned people have noticed that among all the verbiage proceeding from the nation’s capital since the new administration moved in, the word “homelessness” has been notably absent. Yet this is a huge and horrible domestic issue. When coupled with other current trends, like defunding health care and de-staffing the VA and releasing police forces from their already scanty restraints, homelessness just might get worse before it gets better.
We tend to naively assume that the taxes we pay will take care of all this stuff. Yes, we are correct in believing that those funds ought to be used to alleviate societal problems like hunger, homelessness, sickness, ignorance, and so forth.
But… We have to face the fact that this is not happening to anywhere near the extent that it should. The dollars we put into the system are not being converted into help for the people in desperate need. The awful truth is that we are all called upon to make more contributions of money, time, attention, self-education, and compassion. It’s the only way we will make it through these times.
Back to Austin
The Statesman website offers a slide show of a dozen photos of the event. Attendees included The Challenger Street Newspaper journalist Jennifer Gesche in a mechanical wheelchair. Many of the participants were individuals suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and House the Homeless President Richard R. Troxell has been working with them to secure disability benefits, successfully in seven cases so far, with four more still in progress.
I explained to the guys that they were Ambassadors for all the other homeless folks who could not be with us today, and to smile. Before they knew it, they were smiling for real. People could feel our power and sincerity. Everyone had a good old time, with warm feeling all around. They felt appreciated and cared about. Some told me they ended the day with hope…
House the Homeless has many messages, including the suggestion that Austin needs a workers’ hotel, a single-room occupancy establishment with shared facilities to keep the rent really low. A higher minimum wage would help, as well as more reasonable rental options.
Predictably, in the Statesman‘s comment section, someone asked, “Why don’t the homeless get a job?” This person obviously skipped the paragraph that reports, “Troxell said about half of the nation’s homeless people spend at least part of each week working.”
As always, House the Homeless urges people to learn about and support the Universal Living Wage, the idea whose time has come; the concept to prevent homelessness at its core. Call up the page and see how employers actually save money by paying a living wage — how, in fact, a living wage is good for not only for workers, but also for business owners.
How easy it is for an employer to have a team of valuable assets rather than reluctant, resentful workers who feel exploited and unappreciated! “With a long-term crew of capable workers, training costs are reduced, and experienced employees make fewer dangerous and expensive mistakes. There is less unscheduled absenteeism, and appreciably less internal theft,” Richard says, and a great many other eminently sensible things besides.
We also recommend his white paper, “Livable Incomes: Real Solutions that Stimulate the Economy.” For in-depth information about all these topics and more, please see Richard’s book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line. It chronicles an amazing array of activism, explains why many things in America do not work quite as they should, and offers numerous excellent ideas for fixing those things.
Demonstrate on Tuesday, April 18
If employers paid a fair living wage, the taxpayers would not be called upon to share so much of the burden of need. For instance, if employers paid a fair living wage, at least some fraction of people who now need food stamps would not, and, of course, people who are now homeless would be able to get themselves under roofs. Not all of them — but at least some. And that would be a vast improvement over the situation as it now stands.
To get fired up, see Richard’s 2011 Tax Day appeal. Make some signs and banners and get on down to your local post office to make a show, and remember:
Livable Incomes are the Gateway to Affordable Housing. — Richard R. Troxell
Source: “‘Mighty homeless’ serenade South Austin diners in advocacy effort,” MyStatesman.com, 04/01/17
Image: National Day of Action Group Cheer by Sue Watlov Phillips
Recently, House the Homeless looked at the situation in Washington, D.C., where shady contractors pit people experiencing homelessness against evictees (i.e., the newly homeless), and it’s ugly.
In any city, there are bound to be a few jobs specially allotted to, or created by, those who are out of options. The viability of a career in recycling depends on local ordinances; access to a buyer; having a way to store and transport the merchandise; and other factors.
California’s recycling rules have been in effect for almost 30 years, and for many street people, their only income derives from bottles and cans. In San Francisco, a person might make between $15 and $35 per day, depending on good weather, good health, and good luck in not having their haul stolen by competitors. There used to be 30 redemption sites and now are only two, very close to each other geographically, so people in any other part of the city have a hard time.
Waste management expert Martin Medina estimates that about 1% of the earth’s urban dwellers (about 15 million people altogether) live by harvesting society’s castaway materials. In some places their activities are, of course, criminalized.
For CommonDreams.org, Jack Chang wrote a respectful tribute to the trash pickers of the world:
Every day, they rescue hundreds of thousands of tons of material from streets and trash dumps that get reprocessed into all kinds of products. That not only cuts back on the resources used by industries but also lightens the load on dumps that are quickly reaching capacity.
“Urban Tactics; Nabbing the Elusive Nickel” by Saki Knafo is a still very relevant description of the world of “canners” in New York City a decade ago.
In 2012, for The Huffinton Post, Arthur Delaney described the activities of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters which hired the homeless in Washington, D.C., for $8.50 an hour, to carry picket signs and raise their voices in chants. Critics decried a “cynical use of homeless people to do this dirty work.” The union seemed out of patience with anyone who questioned this hiring practice. Its members were busy at their jobs, and besides, the method had already been deployed in seven other cities.
From one of them, only the previous year, Joel Gehrke had reported this story:
In Grand Rapids, Mich., the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters has started protesting companies that hire a local non-union carpentry firm, Ritsema Associates. Where does the union get its picketers? It hires them from a homeless shelter that is supported by Ritsema Associates.
So it gets very complicated and, as temp jobs go, picketing is in a whole different class from trash recovery. People experiencing homelessness also have been employed to count other people experiencing homelessness.
Some entrepreneurial individuals carve out highly idiosyncratic paths. Remember when Ted Williams, the “man with the golden voice,” was rediscovered and became for a short while an outsider celebrity? His former tent-mate offered Williams’s leftover cardboard signs for sale on eBay.
Source: “How Homeless Recyclers Make a Living Redeeming Recyclables,” PBS.org, 05/13/16
Source: “Scorned Trash Pickers Become Global Environmental Force,” CommonDreams.org, 03/25/08
Source: “Urban Tactics; Nabbing the Elusive Nickel,” NYTimes.com, 07/09/06
Source: “Paid To Protest, Some Homeless Almost Make A Living,” HuffingtonPost.com, 11/24/12
Source: “Union hires homeless picketers — and it gets better,” SFExaminer.com, 02/17/11
Source: “Homeless Count or Are Counted,” LATimes.com, 01/27/05
Image: Otterman56 (Ed)
April 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Source: “Traumatic Brain Injury: A Clinical Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment,” TBIMedLegal.com, 2013
Image courtesy Dr. Gordon.
Concurrent 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.
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.
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
The 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.
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