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The Future of Diabetes and Homelessness

turmeric

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

The possibilities

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

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

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

Alex Pietrowski explains:

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

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

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

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

Sandeep Godiyal writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions?

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

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Background on Diabetes and Homelessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The grim reality

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

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

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

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

Reactions?

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

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The 5th of July

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other parties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions?

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

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Homeless Tropes and Archetypes

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

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

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

A basic absence of justice

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

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

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

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

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

Flynn and Kramer describe how she turned things around:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions?

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

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“Face of Homelessness” Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russell Bartholow’s biography

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

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

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

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

Flynn and Kramer wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions?

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

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The War Against Ourselves

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

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

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

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

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

The thought experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions?

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

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Mental Illness and Homelessness

homeless-person-sleepingRemember State Representative Tom Brower of Hawaii, who got headlines by destroying a bunch of shopping carts? In a followup story, Brower expressed only one regret: that some people had interpreted his berserker sledge-hammer rampage as an “attack on the homeless.” 

Apparently still puzzled about why anyone would think that, a couple of years later he was filming residents of a homeless camp without their permission, and some teenage boys asked him to delete the pictures he had taken, and he refused, and they roughed him up.

A short time later Brower told the press he was not angry, and would continue to stay “in touch with the community” in the same way. Two weeks after that, he decided to press charges against at least one of the youths. Apparently, voters are content with all this, as Brower was reelected again just three months ago.

Speaking of mental instability…

In a Nation of Change opinion piece, Prof. Carol Caton, whose expertise is in the sociomedical sciences, addressed the issue of Americans with severe mental illness. She proposed that the government would be foolish to defund what has proven to be “a cost-effective intervention that provides a solution to homelessness.”

What is this intervention? According to Caton:

Supportive housing, funded and coordinated by several different federal agencies and nonprofits, provides homeless people who have severe mental illness with housing coupled with treatment and support services.

Unlike the temporary respite provided by crisis shelters, it provides access to permanent housing, mental health treatment and support from mental health professionals to guide the adjustment from homelessness to stable residence in the community.

There is no increase in net public cost compared to street and shelter living… Cutting funds to house the homeless would cost us more money than it would save.

Those last two sentences are important. When something needs to be done about a harmful situation, humane reasons are very often insufficient. Several federal agencies provide funding to aid those who are both mentally ill and experiencing homelessness, and the taxpaying public needs to be reassured that the bottom line will not suffer. Fortunately, dedicated people and organizations keep close track of the numbers, and can verify the savings to the public wallet.

Supportive housing means less use of homeless shelters, psychiatric hospitals, or community hospital emergency rooms; less expenditure for legal aid and other costly public services; and certainly less criminal incarceration. The movement took hold in the early 1980s, and the journey has never been easy. Over a nine-year period ending in 2016, it helped reduce the particular category of homelessness known as “chronic” by 35%.

Still, there is a great shortage of supportive housing units, not nearly enough to fill the need, and the threat of losing the existing facilities is appalling. Significant funding comes from the departments of Housing and Urban Development, and Health and Human Services — or did, anyway, up until the next round of budget cuts. Four states pitch in some dollars, and so does the occasional county or city government. There are even charitable donations and a modicum of support from private foundations. Still, the prognosis is not good.

What next?

An estimated one-third of homeless people suffer from mental illness, “often compounded by multiple health problems and substance abuse.” At the mention of substance abuse, a segment of the public has the knee-jerk reaction of “Let them go, it’s no loss.” But moral judgments are not productive. The only difference between a rich alcoholic and a poor alcoholic is that one of them can afford rehab in Malibu.

Leaving aside the question of bad lifestyle choices, there actually are people who are too disabled to work for reasons they had nothing to do with causing. A person with shaken baby syndrome never had a chance. A veteran is very likely to suffer from traumatic brain injury. Do we want soldiers thinking they made a bad lifestyle choice?

Reactions?

Source: “Hawaii politician opens up about assault near homeless encampment: ‘I have no ill will to anyone’,” NYDailyNews.com, 07/03/15
Source: “How funding to house mentally ill, homeless is a financial gain, not drain,” NationOfChange.org, 05/10/17
Photo credit: J.RISTANIEMI via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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Possessions Inspire Strong Emotions

carts-stacked-in-supermarketIn May of 2015, there were two remarkably similar incidents, one in Fort Collins, Colorado, at the nonprofit Sister Mary Alice Murphy Center for Hope. On the premises was a storage pod filled with the belongings of 58 people experiencing homelessness. Also operating from the Center was an organization called Serve 6.8, whose director one day gave the staff the afternoon off, and had the contents of the storage pod taken to the landfill.

As it turned out, some of the belongings had apparently been permanently abandoned by their owners. But 22 people had signed storage agreements that should have still been in force, and their losses included medical documents, family photos, and other irreplaceable items. The local newspaper was unable to shed much light on what happened and why. “Internal miscommunication” was the cited cause.

Journalist Sarah Jane Kyle reported that “Serve 6.8 and Murphy Center staff are drafting a written procedure for handling homeless persons’ property.” It was a classic case of closing the barn door after the horse had already bolted. Apparently, no one said why such a procedure did not already exist or why, if it did, it was not followed.

Meanwhile, in another state

A week later in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, four men who had been staying at the Water Street Mission were very upset because their belongings, along with the property of “dozens of other people,” were allegedly thrown into a dumpster. They announced their intention of going through the dumpster to get their stuff back, but were threatened with arrest. Among the items were a winter coat given to one of the men by his mother, boots needed for a construction job, prescription antibiotics, and a winter jacket.

But the story has another side. Colleen Elmer, the Mission’s vice president of programs, told a reporter that the four men had been asked to leave the Mission because of (unspecified) misbehavior, and furthermore their bags had not been placed in a dumpster but were still on the premises. The men were given the opportunity to return the following day to recover their belongings, which two of the four actually did.

The actual events may never have been truly sorted out, but the news story stimulated a batch of lively online comments. A particularly interesting one, signed Dan Pate, said:

I lived and worked there for almost a year and they do (or did in the past) just toss belongings of residence of the shelter with or with out warning not caring who it belong to or what is in the bags. I’ve been ordered to throw away peoples belonging into the dumpster and many of those times i wasnt allowed to mention it to any 1 and to call for a intern if people went into the dumpsters and the police have come to deal with them diving into them its messed up…

… And another state

Hawaii’s media once carried a photograph of a man attacking, with a sledgehammer, the possessions of people experiencing homelessness. Journalist Scott Keyes identified this rash individual as five-term State Representative Tom Brower and added:

Noting that he’s “disgusted” with homeless people, Brower told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser about his own personal brand of “justice”: “If I see shopping carts that I can’t identify, I will destroy them so they can’t be pushed on the streets.”

The paragraph contains a red flag or two. Those shopping carts are not actually the property of homeless people, but of the grocery stores from which they were borrowed. Such carts generally are clearly branded, and the claim that none could be identified is ludicrous.

To recap: An elected official did not arrange for the return of these items to their rightful owners, the supermarket chains. Instead, he destroyed (by his own count) approximately 30 carts. Whether or not the wreckage was left lying around on the streets was not reported.

Reactions?

Source: “Fort Collins nonprofit dumps homeless people’s property,” Coloradoan.com, 05/06/15
Source: “Homeless men said Water Street tossed their belongings; Mission denies claim,” LancasterOnline.com, 05/15/15
Source: “State Rep. Uses Sledgehammer To Destroy Homeless People’s Possessions,” ThinkProgress.org, 11/19/13
Photo credit: Polycart via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Fourth Amendment Still in Effect

homeless-camp-near-highwayDifficult as it often is to believe, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has not yet been annulled and is still in effect. It goes like this:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…

Some professionals make entires careers out of debating such questions as whether this only applies to people who have houses. In the street (or as we now say, on the ground, as if America were a vast battlefield), people experiencing homelessness may technically be protected by the law, but have few de facto rights. The term “property” itself is more often used with reference to real estate, and who does or does not have a right to be present within borders of that territory.

Much less often does anyone contemplate the meaning of “property” when it applies to the personal belongings of people who only have what they can carry. Yet authorities relish the chance to confiscate and destroy these possessions. 

Some cities have a policy that seized possessions must be stored for a certain amount of time, but it rarely happens. Often, the stolen items are very difficult or impossible to replace.

Enterprising reporters find the individual tales of victimization, and each one describes things that just shouldn’t be happening in America. For Mother Jones, Laura Smith collected such stories from around the country.

Regrettable examples

A Los Angeles woman whose tent and blanket were seized contracted pneumonia, was hospitalized, and sued the city. In Denver, police were told not to take bedding and camping gear during the cold months, but when April 1 rolled around, it was open season again. Seattle has been the scene of much contention because when “sweeps” are planned people are not given proper notice and their personal property is not respected.

In San Francisco, the storage rules are ignored and the California Department of Transportation has been sued for stealing tents, bedding, stoves, and other items. It is even tough to survive in Honolulu. Smith writes:

In a survey of homeless residents by the Department of Urban Planning at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, nearly 60 percent reported losing personal identification, 40 percent lost tents, and 21 percent lost medicine in sweeps.

Any housed citizen who has ever lost a wallet or purse, or experienced a burglary or fire, knows what a hassle it is to replace documents. For a person experiencing homelessness, without a phone, address, or checking account, the loss of ID is catastrophic.

Smith spoke with Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and learned that seizure and destruction of personal property happens all over the country. Smith writes:

Belongings are often seized under anti-camping laws or laws that prohibit sleeping in public — part of a larger trend of what Foscarinis calls “the criminalization of homelessness.” Earlier this year, her organization released a study tracking the phenomenon in 187 cities.

In Reno, Nevada, the local shelters were full, and Robert Wynters lived under a bridge. He carefully stashed his few extra clothes, hygiene supplies, personal papers, and bicycle to go out and look for work, and returned to find everything gone. This happened not once, but three times in a six-month period.

In each case, inquiries at the sheriff’s office the very next day were futile, because each time he was told that his property had been destroyed. In April of 2015, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff’s department.

In July, the Washoe County Board of Commissioners approved a $14,000 settlement for Wynters and his attorney, and resolved to adopt some better procedures for the removal and storage of personal property from campsites. Every now and then, somebody wins.

With the help of organizations or lawyers willing to do pro bono work, once in a while a plaintiff is heard and compensated. Of course in these cases, society loses, because the monetary awards are paid for by the taxpayers, who would probably much prefer that good practices had been in effect sooner.

Reactions?

Source: “Denver Isn’t the Only City Seizing Homeless People’s Gear,” MotherJones.com, 12/16/16
Source: “Reno accused of illegally seizing property of homeless,” NevadaAppeal.com, 04/17/15
Source: “Board of County Commissioners Washoe County, Nevada,” WashoeCounty.us, 07/28/15
Photo credit: Joe Green (Divine in the Daily) via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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A Sad Loss — Michael Stoops

Michael-Stoops-headshotThis month of May 2017 began with a much-grieved death on its very first day. Michael Stoops was a legendary figure in the world of anti-homelessness activism and a person of extraordinary commitment.

Megan Hustings, Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), wrote:

There will never be anyone like Michael, with his dedication to others, his tenacity, his quiet leadership and quirky humor. We all loved Michael as a mentor, a colleague, a brother and a friend.

A Quaker and a product of the fabled 1960s era, Stoops went to Portland, Oregon, to begin using his B.A. in social work to serve others. In the course of working with Vietnam veterans, he became known as a compelling speaker and an inspiring fundraiser. In 1986-87, he participated in a five-month winter campout protest with Mitch Snyder in Washington, D.C., credited with swaying sentiment toward the passing of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act.

When the National Coalition for the Homeless began, Stoops was one of the board of directors’ founding members. In 1988 he joined the NCH staff, and in 2004 became Acting Director.

He also sat on the board of Street Sense, a street newspaper in Washington, D.C., and was a founding member of the North American Street Newspaper Association. He was called upon to give expert testimony to state and local legislatures trying to alleviate homelessness.

Hustings describes his special talent for seeing the potential in others, and calls him “the rock of NCH,” and even a super hero. She goes on to say:

He made time for each and every student doing research, for every mother crying because she couldn’t find shelter for her family, for every filmmaker wanting to make a difference, for each traveler who happened upon our office looking for help, and for every advocate looking for a way to fight for change.

Stoops recognized the vital importance of inclusiveness and of grassroots recruitment, and his skills as an organizer had the spark of genius. He taught thousands of people how to be troublemakers in the best possible sense of the word.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) states:

Michael developed the “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote Campaign” that won state legislative changes nationwide to ensure that people without a residence could legally vote in elections. And he established NCH’s Speakers Bureau, which provides people experiencing homelessness a platform to share their stories and receive speaking fees while raising public awareness about homelessness.

In 1997, NCH recognized House the Homeless President Richard R. Troxell with an award. He joined the Board of Directors and has worked with Michael Stoops on the Civil Rights Committee since then.

We have mentioned Richard’s book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line, which includes (on page 85) the narrative of how Stoops took on the producers and peddlers of the disgustingly exploitative “Bum Fights” videos. When putting together the first Bridge Action in 2005, Richard looked to his friend for ideas, also described in the book. The NLIHC calls him a giant.

His final days, spent at Washington Adventist Hospital, were full of visits from friends who read to him and played music. In an email to concerned friends everywhere, Julieanne Turner wrote:

Michael’s entire life is about standing in solidarity with people who are poor, their voice, based on their needs. There is something so holy about this. Although, Michael conducted himself with humility, never took up too much personal space on this earth, his foot print is huge.

The Memorial for Michael Stoops will be held in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, May 25, at the Church of the Pilgrims, at noon. Anyone who wants to acknowledge the good done by this exceptional person is asked to donate to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Reactions?

Source: “Michael Stoops,” NationalHomeless.org, 05/01/17
Source: “In Memoriam: Michael Stoops,” NLIHC.org, 05/08/17
Image by National Coalition for the Homeless

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