Penalizing the Helpers

mini-housesAmong all the tactics used to make war on people experiencing homelessness, one of the most insidious is penalizing their allies. A while back, we published a post titled “Helping the Homeless: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished” and, more recently, one called “People Who Feed People.” Let’s look at what else has been going on in that area.

The title, “Canadian Cop Posing As Homeless Person Fines Guy For Giving Him Change,” pretty much says it all. In Regina, Saskatchewan, an undercover officer dressed as a homeless person with a cardboard sign lured a driver to give a contribution. To reach the window, the driver had to undo his seat belt. A second officer arrived on the scene, and ticketed him for not having his seat belt fastened, which resulted in a $175 fine.

Journalist Jake Kivanç describes how the police masquerade as panhandlers to entrap kind citizens, which is both exploitative and pathetic:

This is all part of an effort by Regina police and other municipalities to capture drivers committing traffic violations — which range from distracted driving to not wearing your seatbelt.

In the USA, a very large problem becomes clearer every day. There is no shortage of ideas about how to make self-contained small living quarters for people who presently live outside. Engineers, grad students, and even bright children have figured out how to make shelters out of everything from hempcrete to shipping containers. Every now and then an American breaks into the news by building noteworthy “tiny houses.”

We have not only the technology, but the materials, the volunteer labor, and the humanitarian incentive to build these things. After volunteers show the way, why can’t employable tiny-house inhabitants be employed to build more tiny houses? The answer appears to be, because no one wants these structures, anywhere. America is just one big Backyard with everybody saying “Not In Mine.”

For example, in St. Cloud, Minnesota, St. John’s Episcopal Church has on its property a tiny house, described as “a 132-square-foot shelter on wheels with electricity, water and heat.” The inhabitant was chosen by the St. Cloud Homeless Men’s Coalition, to live there in return for doing janitorial work.

Reporter Susan Du interviewed the church’s attorney, Robert Feigh, and learned that although there are no zoning ordinances about tiny houses, the city’s inspectors have tried every trick in the book to end this arrangement. St. John’s filed a federal lawsuit against St. Cloud, citing the Bill of Rights, the Religious Land Use Act and the Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

With the lawyerly ability to get both sides, Feigh said:

They see it as a vague potential problem if there were tiny houses all over the city, that that wouldn’t be good, and it probably wouldn’t be… The government cannot interfere with churches rendering to the poor on their own property. That’s what it amounts to.

In Dover, Delaware, another church is in the same kind of trouble, and being fined $100 a day, because a three-generation family lives in an RV out back. The woman in the middle generation is blind, pregnant, afflicted with an auto-immune condition, and only 21. Alexis Simms’ mother helps to care for her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

Pastor Aaron Appling of Victory Church said:

We want to stand up for her. Because there is nobody else to stand up for her.

The county is upset because the church property holds three camper trucks, but the church doesn’t have special approval to house a commercial recreational campground in an agricultural residential district, which would cost about $100,000 to achieve.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. The uncredited reporter describes the intrigue:

Earlier this year, the parish, in conjunction with the nonprofit Port Hope Delaware, began formulating plans for a Tiny Home Project in Dover. The village would consist of 15 tiny homes on four acres of land on the western half of Victory’s property…

The project ran into zoning issues with the county, as the land could be zoned for four residential homes, but the village would be considered high-density housing.

Neighbors were not impressed by the promise of background checks on applicants, or the fact that tenants would each pay $200 to $300 per month to live in the tiny houses. Reportedly, every residence in the vicinity had a “NO TINY HOUSES” sign in its yard. Neighbors talk about losing equity in their properties, but why not just stay there at the homestead, as they always planned to? The amount of profit that might be realized from a sale is a moot issue.

At a recent City Council meeting, Pastor Appling was accompanied by around 100 people experiencing homelessness and their advocates. Alexis Simms has been unable to find housing for her family through the channels provided by city and county. Speaking at a memorial vigil for three homeless men, she said:

It’s not just me that’s homeless. There’s thousands of us and we want help. We’re not contagious. We’re human people and we’re here.


Source: “Canadian Cop Posing As Homeless Person Fines Guy For Giving Him Change,” Vice.com, 06/10/16
Source: “St. Cloud wants to evict “gentle” homeless man from church’s tiny house,” CityPages.com, 08/30/16
Source: “Church faces daily $100 fine for housing homeless on its lot, battles with neighbors,” RT.com, 10/11/16
Photo credit (from top): Tammy Strobel via Visualhunt/CC BYJon Callas via Visualhunt/CC BYTammy Strobel via Visualhunt/CC BY


The Starfish Conundrum

starfish-on-sandThere are many versions of the starfish story. Here is one.

A man walking along a shore covered with washed-up, dying starfish notices a boy throwing them back into the ocean, one by one. The man says to the boy that there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish, and that he’ll never make a difference. As the boy throws a starfish back into the ocean, he says, “I just made a difference to that one.”

Almost three years ago several Denver-area news sources related how Joe Manzaneres, on his way to work as a real estate broker, drove past Chris Razec. A certified welder and forklift operator, Razec had fallen on hard times and was experiencing homelessness and displaying the typical cardboard sign.

The real estate broker returned with a different sign and paid Razec $25 a day to show it to the public instead. It read, “No need for your cash! I’m sponsored by Joe Manzaneres!” and gave the businessman’s contact information.

Subsequently, Manzaneres also helped out with clothes, haircut, cell phone, and resume creation. Unfortunately, we don’t know more about either the individual fate of Chris Razec or what happened with Joe Manzaneres’s idea of asking the mayor’s office and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to begin some type of one-on-one sponsorship program.

Also in Denver, Purple Door Coffee is an espresso shop that employs “teens and young adults who have been homeless and want to leave homelessness behind.” The interesting thing about their website is the page containing profiles of and interviews with the employees. It really radiates conviction that people’s lives are indeed changing.

From Dothan, Alabama, journalist Matt Elofson described a plan that might help a few people in a state that many consider, social policy-wise, to be very backward. He wrote:

Ken Tuck, the president of Love in Action International Ministries, said they’re planning to open the former Dakota Coffee Works cafe and make it a self-sustaining business by helping train homeless people to run the business…

Tuck grew up in the restaurant business… He said the coffee shop will serve breakfast and lunch. He also said the coffee shop will have a meeting room, and will include a stage for live entertainment and worship nights.

The goal is to provide job training and actual paying work for people experiencing homelessness. Ken and Martha Tuck plan to also teach such life skills as budget planning and how to handle a job interview. Meanwhile, they are holding yard sales, trying to raise at least $250,000 in startup funding.

If a business like this can find its footing, who knows how many people it might help? But it is never easy. A similar project began in 2014 in Fort Collins, Colorado, when RedTail Coffee joined with the city and a local not-for-profit organization to open a coffee shop inside the South Transit Center, a large and fancy new bus transportation hub.

The intention was to only hire people experiencing homelessness. Toward the end of 2015 one of the proprietors, Cailte Kelley, wrote:

We struggled but eventually we figured it out. The people we needed appeared, the opportunities appeared, and with no money, no experience, we put the pieces together…

We’re a small shop, run by my incredible sister-in-law Kelly, with 3 employees with a fourth about to be hired. Two of our employees have found permanent housing and are well on their way to piecing their lives back together.

The food and drink selections were varied and the prices reasonable, but somehow RedTail Coffee didn’t catch on. The transit hub lies well back from the main road, close to nothing but a recreational bike trail, and populated by folks waiting as long as an hour for their transfer buses. It seems like they would be a captive clientele.

But people who ride city buses often can’t spare even a couple of dollars for snacks. Bike trail users are trying to work off calories, not ingest them. And in that location, the little shop certainly was not a “destination.” Only a few months later, it closed without fanfare.

So these efforts have either helped a handful of people, or tried to, or hope to very soon. Sometimes that’s all a person can do, and there is nothing wrong with a small project. But some critics will try to float the idea that unpopular change should exclusively be made by individuals who care about that particular issue, and that those changes are not the responsibility of the country as a whole to endorse, support, or finance. This last paragraph by a writer named Rich Tafel reminds us that, magnanimous as they are, individual efforts are not enough, and need to be backed up by public programs and laws:

Real world problems usually result from a broken ecosystem, and solutions most often require some kind of change to the rules…

Starfish throwing, like charity, isn’t a bad thing, but it is not a solution. When we confuse charity and justice, we perpetuate injustice. True world change requires more of its leaders. We must have the courage to work within our complex systems to change the rules.


Source: “Denver real estate broker hires homeless to help them and his business,” WTKR.com, 01/03/14
Source: “Purple Door Blog,” PurpleDoorCoffee.com, August 2016
Source: “Homeless employees to operate ministry’s downtown Dothan coffee shop,”
DothanEagle.com, 09/03/16
Source: “The Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Done,” Opportunities-fc.com, 11/12/15
Source: “Social Entrepreneurs Must Stop Throwing Starfish,” Ssir.org, 03/20/12
Photo credit: Matt J Newman via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA


School-Age Kids Experiencing Homelessness

kids-getting-off-school-busLast week, House the Homeless noted that, across America, some 3% of public school students are experiencing homelessness. Sometimes it seems like we mainly hear about happenings in New York and California, because they are the big states representing the East Coast and the West Coast, so they appear important. Today, we look at some news stories, all published within the past year, from states that don’t get as much attention.

This very recent one says it all in the headline: “There are 29,537 homeless kids in Arizona public schools.” Just for reference, the smallest-size football stadiums that Wikipedia bothers to list are 30,000-seaters, so these kids would just about fill one of those. Journalist Michael Hughes characterizes these children as…

[…] young outcasts who, through no fault of their own, have entered a world of motels, doubled-up quarters with relatives, a life on the streets or emergency shelter.

Also, before the recession, there were fewer than 20,000. The greedy and irresponsible financial tricksters who caused that meltdown have a lot to answer for, and the consequences of their misdeeds will linger for generations to come. Safe, affordable housing is the very bedrock necessary for an educated and conscious population.

While the Arizona homeless student total only increased by 50% since the recession, another state has seen a 100% increase. “Number enrolled in Arkansas schools doubles in 10 years,” the headline says. That may sound like an impressive rate of increase over a decade, but in the city of Lexington, Kentucky, it took only three years for the homeless student population to double.

A study by the Lexington Fair Housing Council determined, to no one’s surprise, that “elementary schools with the highest percentage of homeless students were ranked much lower in overall academic performance.” The Fayette County Schools Superintendent expressed disappointment that the Council’s report didn’t offer more answers, saying:

Speaking not as a superintendent, but as an individual who experienced housing insecurity and food insecurity as a child, I implore the council to look at the root causes of homelessness in our community and develop bold recommendations to create a safety net for our families and children.

However, the director of the Homeless Prevention and Intervention Office told the press that although he and the others in the homeless provider community had tried to meet with Superintendent Manny Caulk, “that meeting has not yet happened.” No doubt this same scenario of unscheduleable meetings is being played out all over the country in large cities and small towns.

Kentucky as a whole, incidentally, could fill another of those 30,000-seat football arenas with homeless students. But the state of Washington has them beat, with 35,000 enrolled in public schools, and as for how many others are wandering around, unbeknownst to authorities, that is anybody’s guess.

We have all heard of the McKinney-Vento Act and how much it is supposed to help. But…

Public schools in Kent get no money from McKinney-Vento because the available funds are distributed through a competitive grant process… That means the district spends “thousands and thousands” out of pocket for staff and transportation required by the act.

Just 24 of 295 school districts in Washington received McKinney-Vento money for a three-year period starting in 2013.

In Boston, Massachusetts, during this school year nearly 4,000 students are without homes. With the city’s average apartment rent at $2,300, this is not an astonishing outcome. Nor is it likely to change any time soon, unless serious action is taken.

Obviously, there are quite a few more states we didn’t even get to today. An important aspect to remember is, these tallies don’t even include “unaccompanied youth” who should be enrolled in school, but aren’t. They are mostly, as the old expression has it, “in the wind.” They are easily ignored now, but during the decades of adulthood that lie before them, far too many of those kids will give us reason to regret not looking out for them or taking better care of them.


Source: “There are 29537 homeless kids in Arizona public schools,” AZCentral.com, 09/04/16
Source: “Homeless kids fly under radar; number enrolled in Arkansas schools doubles in 10 years,” ArkansasOnline.com, 09/26/16
Source: “Student homelessness in Lexington nearly doubles over three years,” Kentucky.com,08/07/16
Source: “With 35,000 homeless youth in public schools, state lawmakers seek money to help,” SeattleTimes.com, 02/15/16
Source: “Nearly 4,000 students are homeless as start of school approaches,” WCVB.com, 08/15/16
Photo credit: K.W. Barrett via Visualhunt/CC BY


For Children and Youth, a Couch Is Not a Home

leith-walk-elementary-schoolThe number of public school students experiencing homelessness has doubled since the recession, over a number that was already too large. Now, an estimated 3% of public school kids are homeless, which is of course an average. Depending on the city and state, it varies wildly.

These words are from Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown:

The impact is profound on public schools, which struggle to try to address the needs of homeless children. Teachers often find themselves working not only to help children learn but also to clothe them, keep them clean and counsel them through problems — including stress and trauma — that interfere with classroom progress.

Transportation is another issue that teachers find themselves dealing with. School districts have different rules about who has to be taken where, and when and how. The parents of homeless children may not have a car, and anyway they are expected to be either working or looking for work. Kids need school supplies. They need a table somewhere to do their homework on. Mostly, they need stability and peace of mind.

The Homeless Children and Youth Act was introduced in January of 2015. Its point was to expand the official Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness on behalf of an estimated million kids and their families, whose lives would be affected. The website of California Senator Dianne Feinstein describes the proposed legislation in detail.

Access to federal housing programs is complicated by confusion among governmental entities over what constitutes homelessness. Sen. Feinstein gives two examples of the results, applicable to her own state and another:

In California, 259,656 children experienced homelessness last year, while HUD counted only 25,094 households that included at least one child as homeless. Due to the narrow HUD definition, only one in 10 homeless children in California is eligible for federal housing programs.

In Ohio, 23,748 children experienced homelessness last year, while HUD counted only 4,714 households that includes at least one child as homeless. Due to the narrow HUD definition, only one in five homeless children in Ohio is eligible for federal housing programs.

One in five is a best-case scenario? That’s crazy. And it doesn’t even mean the family will find housing — only that it is eligible to apply. The National Network for Youth website is a trove of information about the Homeless Children and Youth Act, and their page includes simple instructions for writing to the appropriate members of congress.

One interesting bullet point states that the HCYA…

Prohibits HUD from overriding local communities. Local service providers are the best equipped to evaluate which homeless populations have the greatest unmet needs.

Basically, one aim of the bill is to encourage the federal government to trust local agencies and take their word for it that someone is homeless. Briefly, some of the other sections concern data collection, reporting requirements, and transparency; and simplification of documentation needed to prove eligibility for housing programs.

That documentation requirement is frightening. Imagine a woman going back to the violent husband she escaped from at great risk. “Excuse me, would you mind writing a letter stating that we left because you brutalized me and two of our three children?” Good luck with that.

To learn exactly and in detail why the current rules are problematic, this page explains it fully. We learn from the U.S. Congress website that, despite the fact that 400 organizations are on board with support of the bill, the last action taken was its referral to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in January of last year.

In April of 2015 the U.S. Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing & Urban Development Subcommittee held a hearing on HUD’s Efforts to Prevent & End Youth Homelessness, at which singer Cyndi Lauper related how she was a homeless teen who found a doorway back into society through a youth hostel that helped her earn a high school diploma.

She also said:

We can end youth homelessness in America, but we have to get to the root of the problem. Our country must invest in preventing kids from becoming homeless in the first place, and this is an area of focus that has largely been ignored. That means helping families. It means fixing our broken child welfare system, our flawed juvenile justice system, and our schools. Each one of those places can be a doorway to homelessness or to a better future.

The “Kids 4 Kids Sake” video

House the Homeless urges everyone to watch the video “Kids 4 Kids Sake” and share it with the candidates who are running for president! In fact, please do what you can to bring it to the attention of all candidates for everything, anywhere. Tweet it, share on via social media, contact the candidates directly, and ask your friends to do the same.


Source: “Number of US homeless students has doubled since before the recession,” WashingtonPost.com, 09/14/15
Source: “Homeless Children and Youth Act: A Couch is Not a Home,” NN4yYouth.org, undated
Source: “Bill Introduced to Expand Housing Programs to 1 Million Children, Families,” Senate.gov, 01/27/15
Source: “Current Law and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Regulations Deny Homeless Children and Youth the Help They Need Now,” HelpHomelessKidsNow.org, 02/03/15
Source: “Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2015,” Congress.gov, 01/27/15
Source: “Written Testimony of Cyndi Lauper,” Senate.gov, 04/29/15
Photo credit: Maryland GovPics via Visualhunt/CC BY


Stay Current With Veterans, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Kids

us-marinesHouse the Homeless announces the release of a very important document, titled “Traumatic Brain Injury — A Protocol to Help Disabled Homeless Veterans within a Secure, Nurturing Community.” This publication is a joint effort born of the collaboration between House the Homeless, Millennium Health Centers, the Warrior Angels Foundation, and Community First! Village.

After a series of e-mails and lengthy conference calls, initiated by House the Homeless, Inc., we have formed a team that shares the philosophy that, quite possibly, a significant percentage of people experiencing homelessness got there due to a Traumatic Brain Injury. Up until now, these individuals may never have previously been asked to connect a past head injury (or a series of them) to the symptoms of anger, alcoholism, Parkinson’s Disease, Bi-Polar disorder, bad decision making, and other manifestations of TBI.

“Traumatic Brain Injury – a Protocol” descriptive pages about all four organizations, along with the 2016 Traumatic Brain Injury Survey conducted by House the Homeless, and a short history of how the Homeless Veterans in Action project came together to…

[…] create a first of a kind,ongoing program for ten homeless veterans to specifically treat their Traumatic Brain Injury thus combining the two populations of both veterans and people experiencing homelessness.

Here is a short excerpt from Dr. Mark Gordon’s segment of the paper:

Common to all degrees of head trauma (and body trauma) is the unforeseen development of hormone deficiencies…

Studies have shown that the use of conventional medications (antidepressants, anti-anxiety, anti-seizure, and antipsychotic) do not improve upon the underlying cause creating the symptoms associated with Traumatic Brain Injury (Post-Concussion Syndrome) because they do nothing to increase the missing hormones. Psychotherapy does nothing to increase deficient hormones; it only encourages you to accept a poor quality of life and to move on.

Another useful publication is the article “Survey Links Brain Injury to Medical Causes of Homelessness To be Addressed with Hormone Therapy — Follow Up.”

To get up to speed on this problem and need for this planned intervention, we also recommend:


For NationalReview.com, Julie Gunlock described that changes that have been taking place in public schools, which she sees as an intensification of the “already pronounced trend of shifting child-care responsibilities from family, friends, and, most of all, parents to schools and government-sponsored programs.” She regrets that some children spend 10 to 12 hours a day at school, because schools have by necessity become child-welfare centers, with programs both before and after classes, and free or reduced-price meals.

Based on an instinctive and often justifiable distrust of the government, Gunlock wonders why parents are okay with this. But more than likely, they are not. It’s just that everybody is working all the time, trying to make enough to either keep a roof over themselves or get a roof. Friends and family members are tapped out. A lot of people just can’t take on any more responsibility.

Here is a significant quotation from New America’s Annie Lieberman:

High-quality early childhood education programs can cushion the negative effects of homelessness, providing children with stability, a safe environment, and helping them develop the skills needed to succeed in school and in life.

House the Homeless urges everyone to watch the video “Kids 4 Kids Sake” and share it with the candidates who are running for president! In fact, please do what you can to bring it to the attention of all candidates for everything, anywhere. Tweet it, share on via social media, contact the candidates directly, and ask your friends to do the same.


Source: “Schools: The New Social-Welfare Centers,” NationalReview.com, 10/09/14
Source: “Reaching the Most Vulnerable Children: A Look at Child Homelessness,” NewAmerica.org, 10/10/14
Image by U.S. Department of Agriculture US — Marine Corps


Long-Lasting Effects on the Youngest Victims of Homelessness

kid-in-the-classroomAt the end of 2013, it was estimated that around eight million children had been adversely affected by the mortgage foreclosure epidemic that was such a prominent feature of the 2008-09 depression. By now, three years later, we trust that at least some of them are settled in housed circumstances that, if not permanent, are at least temporarily stable.

But it is the nature of an economic catastrophe to have far-reaching consequences. Sometimes the dominoes fall slowly, and it is totally possible that a percentage of families who were hard-hit by the recession managed to hold on for a few years, and then lost their grip, step by painful step. It is in fact quite likely that the disaster is just now catching up.

According to Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, an increase in admissions due to suspected or actual abuse was linked to the increase in delinquent mortgages. That is an example of one of the more extreme effects of the stress caused by societal upheaval. Each family has its own unique history and set of priorities, and no doubt many separations and divorces happened that otherwise would not have.

When a home is lost through inability to pay either mortgage or rent, devastation comes in a thousand different forms. Couples who were already at risk of breaking up figure, why not take advantage of this to go ahead and divorce?

Sometimes separations are involuntary. The wife’s parents might be willing to give house room to their daughter and a grandchild or two, but certainly don’t want to put up with that son-in-law they never liked anyway. Or the father might leave, trying to find work in another state, or at least hoping that the mother and kids will be more eligible for social services if he’s not around.

Greg Kaufmann wrote this for BillMoyers.com:

A single mother must apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which in Wisconsin is $653 per month no matter the size of the family. She then must meet a work requirement, arrange for child care, buy furniture and pay for utilities, among other challenges. If her child is sick and she stays home from work, she is sanctioned by the TANF program. She might lose her $653 assistance, consequently fall behind on rent and begin her slide towards homelessness again.

In any case, being a homeless parent is hard, and the kids don’t have it easy either. By mid-2014, school districts tallied up twice as many students experiencing homelessness, as compared with pre-recession America. For The Huffington Post, Ann Brenoff identified several of the difficulties they face.

Health and hygiene are major problems. There is little opportunity to soak in a bubble bath and play with rubber duckies. In some places, people are lucky enough to have access to free clinics, along with the likelihood of catching some new contagion in the waiting room.

Nutrition is iffy even for housed kids whose parents bring home paychecks. Parents don’t have time to carefully shop for organic ingredients and cook meals from scratch, and kids resist such conscientious attempts anyway, preferring to scrounge junk food any way they can.

On the subject of eating, Brenoff mentions an awkward fact that housed people probably never think about. When the annual food donation drive comes around, they generously donate canned goods without wondering what pot the family living in a car will empty that can into and what stove they will cook it over.

When a family is homeless, kids may subsist on public-school free lunches and little else. The writer hopes they will at least be issued a lunch card that looks the same as their classmates, and goes on to say:

If their family doesn’t have a post office box, it’s hard to mail home their report card. They don’t want everyone to know if the PTA paid for them to go on the class field trip. School projects that involve a trip to the crafts store for supplies pose a special burden on their families who can’t afford it. Participating in sports sounds great, but soccer cleats and baseball uniforms aren’t exactly in the budget. A lost textbook is a problem for a regular kid; a lost textbook is a catastrophe for a homeless kid.

Mail, incidentally, can be problematic. The US Post Office still has General Delivery, but it may be limited to only one facility in an area. A person needs a picture ID to apply, and to pick up mail, and needs to re-apply every month. There are no free PO boxes for individuals. To rent a PO box or a box at a commercial mail receiving agency requires two forms of ID, one with a picture and another with a physical address, so it may be doable if a person is prepared to lie and can do so successfully, and if a box is even available. Rent is paid 3 or 6 months in advance. Some people receive mail at a shelter or drop-in center, but there is no guarantee that any agency will offer this service.

On the academic side, homeless kids have a notoriously hard time keeping up. On the social side, forming friendships can be difficult or even impossible. But those challenges are subjects for another day.

House the Homeless urges everyone to watch the video “Kids 4 Kids Sake” and share it with the candidates who are running for president! In fact, please do what you can to bring it to the attention of all candidates for everything, anywhere. Share via social media, contact the candidates directly, and ask your friends to do the same.


Source: “America’s Homeless Kids Crisis,” TheAtlanticCities.com, 11/01/13
Source: “America is Ignoring Homeless Families,” BillMoyers.com, 04/21/13
Source: “7 Things About Homeless Kids You Probably Didn’t Know,” Huffingtonpost.com, 05/25/14
Source: “508 Recipient Services,” USPS.com, 07/11/16
Photo credit: www.audio-luci-store.it via Visualhunt/CC BY


Policies About Children Need to Change

student-with-ipadMany economic incentives exist that could inspire voters to greater efforts toward ending homelessness, if only they realized and understood the potential. Writing for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota, Stephanie Dickrell analyzed some of advantages that our society could gain by taking a different approach to the plague of homelessness.

The main concern is with children, because growing up in chaos has a number of long-term effects on the body, mind and spirit. The bill comes due later, in terms of social service programs. The safety nets that America has put in place for disabled people and unemployable people and vulnerable people like children have never been more needed. Law enforcement costs don’t have to be so high, but they will continue to grow as long as police are occupied with the never-ending task of chasing street people from one vacant lot to the next.

Hospitals lose a ton of money treating indigent patients. It costs a lot to send firefighting equipment and personnel to take care of relatively minor matters, meanwhile endangering the homes and businesses they are meant to protect. The taxpayers shell out fortunes to keep people in jail who really don’t need to be there. The body politic is hemorrhaging money from every pore, when by merely taking the same amount and allotting it differently, it could avoid enormous expenditures down the road.

Dickrell gives this example:

If Central Minnesota programs can make nine homeless youth self-sufficient by age 20, they save the equivalent of one year’s spending on services for 151 homeless youth.

That sounds like a reasonable tradeoff. The math was done by Steven Foldes, a University of Minnesota economist, with the aim of discovering the “excess lifetime cost,” or the amount that a homeless kid can cost society between birth and death. Dickrell says:

He looked at a wide range of expenses: lost earnings, lost tax payments, public expenditures and victim costs for crime, welfare costs, public costs for health care, education and job training and public support of housing…

The lifetime excess cost to society will be about $93 million.
However, homeless population estimates are considered by experts to be low. Foldes estimates the costs may be about four times greater.

In contrast, look at what happens when a mother wants her boy (who loves school) to have a good education so he won’t grow up to be a burden on society. Remember Tanya McDowell, who was charged in 2011 with grand larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny, for registering her son at the wrong school? She took a plea bargain, but under the conditions set forth in something called the Alford Doctrine, meaning that the accused does not admit guilt, but does admit that she or he does not have what it would take to win the case.

McDowell was sentenced to five years in prison, which ran concurrently with another five-year sentence for an unrelated crime. Although regretting her participation in the other matter, she told the judge that, for trying to get her son a better education, she had no regrets.

Dr. Yvonne M. Vissing is an expert in the area of homeless children and youth, who works with the National Coalition for the Homeless. She founded the Center for Child Studies at Salem State University and wrote Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: Homeless Children and Families in Small-Town America.

Dr. Vissing believes that policies and practices that marginalize, embarrass and stigmatize kids need to be changed. No children should be vulnerable to abuse, exploitation or neglect. The mindset dictating that some children are more worthy than others of care and help must be eliminated wherever it is found. Bureaucracies need to be called to account, and educational inequities must be cured. Parents must not be forced into positions where, at best, there might be two equally awful choices; where the question of the “best choice” isn’t even on the table.

House the Homeless urges everyone to watch the video “Kids 4 Kids Sake” and share it with the candidates who are running for president! In fact, please do what you can to bring it to the attention of all candidates for everything, anywhere. Share via social media, contact the candidates directly, and ask your friends to do the same.


Source: “Child homelessness can have long-term consequences,” SCTimes.com, 06/04/16
Source: “Homeless Mother Who Sent Six-Year-Old Son To Better School In The Wrong Town Sent To Prison For Five Years,” CounterCurrentNews.com, 09/04/16
Source: “Yvonne. M. Vissing,” SalemState.edu, undated
Source: “Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind: Homeless Children and Families in Small-Town America,” uky.edu, undated
Photo credit: Brad Flickinger via Visualhunt/CC BY


Homeless Kids of Grade-School Age

group-hug-kids During the 2012-13 school year, America’s homeless student total was estimated to be 1,258,182. In the same year, the amount of money available for the SNAP (“food stamps”) program was cut, and WIC (for mothers and small children) lost $354 million in funding. According to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, around 19.3 million families were eligible for government assistance, although only 4.6 million families were receiving any.

Children experiencing homelessness fall into three major categories — the infant and preschool group; the grade-school age kids; and older kids in middle school and high school, who have a different set of issues. In this post, we look at what has been going on recently with the grade-school crowd.

Home is a concept

Hundreds of thousands of children live in places that only marginally qualify as homes, and some not even as dwelling places. Kids are in motels and SRO hotels; campgrounds, trailer parks, chain store parking lots, rented storage cubicles, sheds, rooftops, tunnels, garages, trucks, and cars.

Many families “double up” with relatives or friends in situations that are uncomfortable for everyone. People open their hearts, but it is never easy to share one’s own limited space for any length of time, and these stopgap measures are sometimes offered grudgingly. Interpersonal friction is inevitable, especially around financial matters. People may feel exploited or abused.

Those who share most generously tend to not own the buildings they live in. Often, letting people stay violates the lease and puts the helpers at risk for eviction, which adds another layer of anxiety with the possibility that hosts and guests will all end up sleeping rough. Painful as it is to say, that may be a blessing in disguise, because apparently the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has required for several years that people literally have to be on the streets to qualify for assistance.

The restrictive HUD definition created what journalist Paul Boden calls a cruel and vicious cycle. Actually, it is more of a Catch-22 or double-bind (a situation in which neither choice is correct) which he sums up neatly:

Once families lose their homes, they scramble for any place to stay. If they sleep in a vehicle or remain on the streets (which is a criteria for being considered homeless), they risk being categorized as “unfit parents” and losing their children to public agencies. Hoping to avoid that, families will stay with other people, often in unstable and unhealthy situations which render them ineligible for homeless assistance.

The ills of society

It seems that parents can be charged with abuse and “child endangerment” if there is no roof over their kids’ heads, and what is that if not the criminalization of homelessness? Leaving that aside, consider the effects on the country as a whole, when so many children spend their formative years in chaotic situations. What happens when a whole population of kids enter kindergarten with their development already hindered by inadequate nutrition and toxic stress?

A study collaborated on by researchers from four universities determined that poverty puts such stress on the brain that IQ scores drop by 13 points. Journalist Abbie Lieberman wrote:

The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that “Homeless children are eight times more likely to be asked to repeat a grade, three times as likely to be placed in special education classes, and twice as likely to score lower on standardized tests.”

Grade-school children who are experiencing homelessness might also have experienced violence, or at least witnessed it, in their neighborhood or living place. They are likely to need dentistry or other medical attention, and may have spent time in foster homes. According to a 2015 study, 25% of homeless kids need mental health services, which really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

If a family takes refuge with older and/or more solvent relatives, there is bound to be a certain amount of “I told you so” talk or some other form of verbal abuse. Kids see their mother and/or father being treated like a loser, and that can’t be helpful.

Also, it is to be hoped that the parent is extra vigilant, to make sure the kids don’t break or ruin something in the home that takes them in. Out of their own anxiety and defensiveness, they might become more strict. Even when everyone in the shared space is totally polite, children are sensitive enough to be emotionally damaged by the awareness that people would be happier not to have them around.

House the Homeless urges everyone to watch the video “Kids 4 Kids Sake” and share it with the candidates who are running for president! In fact, please do what you can to bring it to the attention of all candidates for everything, anywhere. Share via social media, contact the candidates directly, and ask your friends to do the same.


Source: “Enrollment of Homeless Students Hits New Record in US Schools,” EdWeek.org, 09/23/14
Source: “The feds are redefining homelessness to make it disappear,” StreetRoots.org, 08/12/14
Source: “Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function,” ScienceMag.org, 08/30/18
Source: “Reaching the Most Vulnerable Children: A Look at Child Homelessness,” NewAmerica.org, 10/10/14
Source: “Homeless Children’s Stress Is Taking Its Toll; 25% Need Mental Health Services,” MedicalDaily.com, 02/19/15
Photo credit: SFU — University Communications via Visualhunt/CC BY


Next Tuesday Is Bridge Day

That’s short for Bridge the Economic Gap Day, which is September 6, a week from today. Here are words from the President of House the Homeless, Richard R. Troxell:

During his tenure, President Obama said that income inequality is the single most important issue of our time. But the actions of the administration and Congress have created a failed federal minimum wage that still clings to the archaic and pedestrian concept that “one size fits all” in a nation of a thousand-plus economies. Who hasn’t traveled? Who hasn’t found that a meal in Washington, D.C., is at least twice as much as one in Scranton, Pennsylvania, or the rent in Austin, Texas, is almost three times that of Harlington, Texas?

The failure of Congress to reasonably and timely raise the minimum wage even at its one-size- fits-all rate has caused major, heavily populated cities to independently raise their own minimum wage out of desperation. But these $15.00 per hour increases still fall way short of living wages in these major cities, and would put small business out of business in our smaller cities. And, soon enough, time and inflation will again erode the wage.

The answer is simple. We need to index the federal minimum wage to the local cost of housing. In this fashion, if a person puts in their 40 hours of work, they will be able to afford a basic rental property… No matter what that rent escalates to, or where it’s located. This makes sense for business as it stabilizes their minimum-wage workforce. This makes sense for the local construction industry (nationwide) that will get to construct housing for the 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness. And it makes sense for the homeless minimum-wage worker who can finally attain housing.

For these reasons, the theme of the this year’s Bridge the Economic Gap Day (when we get on our nation’s bridges and fly our banners for Living Wages) is: INDEX IT! Index the wage to the local cost of housing so that as a worker, I’m drawn back in off the dole to a life of satisfaction and accomplishment… So that I can again earn a fair wage for a fair day’s pay. INDEX IT! Index it so that as a worker I can experience the true meaning of the word “opportunity.” Then, as an American with a dream, I can combine the two.

For much more information, see Katie McKaskey’s writeup from last year’s Bridge Day. Everything there is to know about the Universal Living Wage can be found in the pages of House the Homeless.

Richard’s book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line, explores the idea of economic homelessness and how we can drastically reduce the level of taxpayer dependence on such supports as food stamps, TANF, general assistance, earned income tax credits, etc. At the same time, the book points the way to stimulate the local housing industry all across America while shoring up new business startups and ending economic homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers.

An interesting resource is this collection of charts, like the one titled, “The last two decades were great… if you were a CEO or owner. Not if you were anyone else.” To spend some minutes musing over them is to experience a disturbing array of revelations and emotions.

Remember how Seattle made big news by raising its minimum wage? The Seattle Minimum Wage Study Team issued a report in July, and Jared Bernstein reviewed it for The Washington Post. It examines the impact of the first stage of Seattle’s wage hike, which went into effect in April of 2015.

This raise was from $9.50 to $11. The second stage will occur in 2017, when businesses with 500 or more employees are scheduled to raise the minimum to $15. Small businesses don’t have to catch up with that until 2021.

There are a lot of details to take into consideration, but the outcomes are said to “fit comfortably into a view well understood by minimum-wage advocates and increasingly accepted by economists: most increases have their intended effect of lifting the pay of low-wage workers with little in the way of job losses.”

Bernstein explains his discomfort with the way in which Seattle’s advance has been covered by the press, and many other matters too. The 120 comments appended to the piece add more layers of nuance.


Source: “15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Wealth And Inequality In America,” BusinessInsider.com, undated
Source: “So far, the Seattle minimum-wage increase is doing what it’s supposed to do,” WashingtonPost.com, 08/10/16
Image by House the Homeless


Miami’s Pit Stops — a Tale of One City

portable-bathrooms-miamiAlert readers of House the Homeless blog have noticed that toilets have been a theme. We haven’t even gotten into showers or laundry, because there is so much to say about the most basic of sanitary facilities.

Latrines, and the means to wash hands after using them, are the building blocks of civilization. Toilets are a basic necessity and people experiencing homelessness need them.

Aside from the human suffering and indignity, and the menace to public health posed by a lack of toilets, there is another serious issue. In a societal/cultural/political absurdity that is indistinguishable from actual insanity, people are acquiring criminal records for public elimination when there is literally no other choice. Let’s take a close look at how one American city is working on the problem.

The backstory

Last year, Miami, Florida, experienced a long period of civic unrest over toilets. Attempting to shame the Dade Homeless Trust into using some of its $55 million of public money for a public restroom project, Downtown Development Authority board member Jose Goyanes made a video titled “Homeless Urine & Feces in Miami May 2015.” The DDA also prepared an infographic — a map of the downtown area with little feces icons in appropriate places.

The unimpressed administrator wouldn’t even look at the presentation, and scolded Mr. Goyanes for assuming “that the Homeless Trust is responsible for anything and everything involving homeless individuals.” Ron Book, who has run the Trust since Hector was a pup, told reporters:

We are not going to be putting toilets or showers in downtown Miami… We’ve looked at this several times over the last 10 to 12 years and we are just not doing it.

These folks think I’m supposed to divert scarce resources and be on poop patrol and clean up after homeless folks. My priority is homes and getting people off the streets, not providing poop stations.

In Book’s world, a $55 million budget is “scarce resources.” Also amazing is that such a high-ranking official believes that people only do one thing in a restroom.

Book’s theory, which is no doubt eagerly adopted by officials in other cities, goes like this:

If I’m making it easier for them to be on the streets, then I’m making it more difficult for my outreach staff to coax chronic homeless people off of the streets.

Mainly, this view seems counterproductive. When the first thing a person has to do on arrival at a job interview is ask for directions to the restroom, what kind of a start is that? Maybe if people had some basic amenities to work with they wouldn’t need to depend on the Trust for additional help.

Meanwhile, because the lack of bathrooms might change some hardcore street people’s minds about turning themselves over for rehab or whatever, everybody else could just wear diapers. It came down to a big County Commission board meeting with merchants, local residents, representatives from the City, the Homeless Trust, and the DDA. Whether the meeting was attended by any people experiencing homelessness was not noted.

Mayor to the rescue

Apparently, the Commission could have compelled the Homeless Trust to pay, but that turned out not to be necessary, as Mayor Tomas Regalado dipped into a multi-million dollar discretionary fund and pulled out $500,000. The order was made for four portable toilets, described as “airplane bathrooms on wheels.” A truck brings them around to designated spots at 2 PM and takes them away at 9 PM. They are open for less than one-third of the day, which is better than nothing.

In mid-December, the mayor and the DDA were happy to report that after only two months, the pilot program had more than halved the number of human-feces complaints. By the six-month mark, the effort had reduced the piles of downtown feces by 57%. As a bonus, the program turns out to cost less than the budget anticipated, so funds will carry it through to October.

The success of the Pit Stops is attributed to having attendants on duty. Among other chores, the worker knocks on the door after five minutes of occupancy. One of these monitors told a reporter that the toilets are used not only by street people, but by police, bus drivers, and government workers.

A lot of elderly people live in Miami, and a lot of tourists visit the city. Surely they appreciate restrooms too. The DDA’s Ken Russell said:

What started off as an initiative for the homeless actually has sort of blossomed into a service for the full city, as well as a jobs program for the homeless.

So, a few jobs have been created, although the seven-hour daily shift inspires the question of whether anyone gets full-time benefits.

Last month, it was reported that Miami will invest in three permanent public toilets. Construction for the first one starts in October, with an opening date in December. The funding? The county, the city, and the DDA.


Source: “Video Of Feces Downtown Sparks New Fight Over Public Toilets For Homeless,” MiamiNewTimes, 05/13/15
Source: “Miami gets a taxpayer-funded homeless poop map,” WQAD.com, 05/16/15
Source: “Miami Installs Free Public Bathrooms For Homeless People,” HuffingtonPost.com, 12/29/15
Source: “Miami mayor offers to pay for roving downtown toilet program,” MiamiHerald.com, 06/18/15
Source: “Miami mayor: $500K porta potty program a success,” MiamiHerald.com, 12/11/15
Source: “Pilot Program Provides ‘Pit Stop’ For Miami’s Homeless,” CBSlocal.com, 07/18/16
Source: “Public Bathroom Project for the Homeless Will Become Permanent,” WLRN.org, 07/21/16
Photo credit: Phillip Pessar via Visualhunt/CC BY

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