Memorial Day should be every day, because to forget the people and events of the past is to wallow in stupidity. In other words, ignoring makes us ignorant.
One thing that must not be ignored is the existence of an enormous number of homeless military veterans. Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless observed Memorial Day this year by sharing his knowledge via Fox News.
On the most mundane level, many practical difficulties are in the way of returning veterans. It’s easy to think, “The military gives them training, what’s the problem?”
The problem is, as Richard explains, that even if a veteran is lucky enough to have learned a skill that can be used in the larger world — medical technician, for instance — this in no way guarantees that the person will find a job. In one state, it may be as simple as passing a written test, to be granted the certification of a licensed practical nurse. In another state, the ruling body of LVNs might not recognize government service as either legitimate training or job experience.
But the majority of veterans don’t have what are called “transferable skills,” meaning that while they may have been the very best at what they did in the military, civilian life doesn’t need that particular skill, and is not willing to pay for it. The job market isn’t that great, anyway, for anybody (with the possible exception of those willing to relocate to Minot, ND.) A lot of people are stuck with minimum-wage jobs, and Richard’s Memorial Day talk includes an introduction to the Universal Living Wage (ULW).
It’s an idea worth exploring, and the place to do that is the ULW website which includes everything — what the U.S. Conference of Mayors said about the inability of a minimum-wage worker to afford basic housing anywhere in the country; why the ULW is good for business; and why it’s good for taxpayers:
Until our businesses pay ‘Living Wages’ — the minimum amount to afford basic food, clothing and shelter — we, the taxpayers, will continue to suffer as long as we are required to pay for excess food stamps, TANF, Welfare and Earned Income Credits.
There are commonalities between returning veterans and everybody else in the job market. Some vets have never seen combat in their entire military career, so they are on a more even footing with civilians, when competing for jobs. But combat veterans are a different story. Some tend to have missing limbs, or disabling head injuries. A lot of them have post-traumatic stress disorder, which is very real, and the ways in which it manifests can be quite troublesome to society as well as to individuals and families.
Of the people experiencing homelessness in America, more than a quarter are veterans, and many of them have serious problems, which means an extra layer of difficulty in the process of becoming employed, productive, housed citizens. Even in a best-case scenario, fitting back into ordinary life is a culture shock. As Richard says, “Vets go from the battlefield to the neighborhood overnight.” The abrupt transition is disorienting.
This is, in fact, one of the major points made by Karl Marlantes in his book, What It Is Like to Go To War, where the roles of myth, ritual, initiation, reverence, and psychology are extensively discussed. Anthony Swofford, another veteran/author, says:
Marlantes is the best American writer right now on war and the extreme costs to society of sending young men and women off to combat without much of a safety net for them when they land back home.
The website Make the Connection describes the problems with which it hopes to help veterans:
Some of the challenges that come with transitioning from the military can be difficult, stressful, or put a strain on your relationships. You might find it hard to enjoy the things you usually like doing. You may be having a tough time dealing with the death of friends that you served with. Chronic pain or other medical conditions may pose additional challenges.
People who come back from combat zones might not be able to sleep like they need to. They might feel edgy and tense, and have trouble concentrating, and find it difficult to control irritable and angry impulses. Depression can envelop a life for weeks or months. A person might have an exaggerated need for perfectionism, left over from the days when a small detail could make the difference between life and death.
Returning veterans need this kind of information, and need to know they are appreciated and not as isolated from society as they might feel. Civilians need this kind of information too, to get a better picture of the reasons for the homeless veteran situation, and find inspiration to do more about it. As Richard says:
Hug and kiss a returning Veteran, then give them a Living Wage Job.
Source: “How homelessness impacts returning veterans,” Fox News, 05/30/12
Source: “Anthony Swofford on America’s Best War Writer, Karl Marlantes,” The Daily Beast, 11/11/11
Source: “Transitioning from Service,” Make the Connection
Image by Tracy Vierra, used under its Creative Commons license.
Fox News featured Richard R. Troxell, founder of House the Homeless, this morning to discuss the deadly battle awaiting returning veterans: homelessness. Richard discussed the situation and the solution — implementing a Universal Living Wage. If you agree, please “like” us on Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed.
—– TRANSCRIPT —–
FOX NEWS: How do so many veterans end up homeless?
Richard Troxell: There are 850,000 homeless veterans. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars have produced 240,000 homeless vets. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, 28% of the homeless are vets. That means that more than one-fourth (1/4) of people experiencing homelessness are veterans.
Vets go from the battlefield to the neighborhood overnight. But they come with serious issues of depression and what we call PTSD and Shell Shock. They are traumatized, and they face serious employment challenges.
FOX NEWS: What are the employment challenges for returning vets?
Richard Troxell: Some have transferable skills — electronic techs, corpsmen, and supply men, but they are not readily transferable. These jobs require civilian training, job certification, and time.
However, the vast majority of these veterans were soldiers in the field. They were grunts — foot soldiers. They have no transferable skills.
Their only options are minimum-wage jobs. What they need are Living Wage Jobs.
FOX NEWS: What is the ULW?
Richard Troxell: Well, according to the last several U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Reports, a 40-hour-a-week minimum-wage worker cannot get into and keep basic housing anywhere in the country. The current Federal Minimum Wage is $7.25 per hour, or about $14,000 per year.
We have learned that we are a nation of 1,000 economies about the size of counties, and that it doesn’t cost the same to live in Washington, D.C., as it does to live in Hoboken, NJ, or Dallas, TX. So to simply raise the Federal Minimum Wage to, say, $10.00 an hour would not end homelessness for anyone in our big cities, and it would destroy small businesses throughout rural America.
So, taking all that into account, we’ve devised a single national formula based on existing government guidelines that ensures that a person working 40 hours a week will be able to minimally afford the basics: food, clothing, and shelter. (Whenever that work is done throughout the U.S.)
FOX NEWS: Why is the ULW good for Veterans?
Richard Troxell: I recently read where 6,460 soldiers have died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. I’ve read that that number is matched by the combined suicides of those wars. Shocking!
The veterans are coming back to jobs that won’t even allow them to pay their bills. They feel disgusted and unappreciated. They fought for their country and now, even with a full-time job, they can’t afford to put a roof over their heads, let alone start a family.
And the situation is no different for 10.5 million other minimum-wage workers. Shouldn’t that elder-care worker or the cafeteria worker serving our child in the cafeteria deserve to make ends meet? The ULW will do that.
FOX NEWS: How is the ULW good for business?
Richard Troxell: According to the SBA website:
- 64% of all small businesses fail by the end of their fourth year
- 90% fail by the end of the fifth year
In looking at a number of the business plans, we find that while manufacturing, development, advertising, storage, and transportation are all given their due, the minimum-wage employee is not. At $7.25 per hour, they are destabilized and therefore destabilize the entire business process.
Also, Henry Ford (the car guy) learned this when he found that even with his creation of the Assembly Line, he was losing well-trained workers to other businesses that paid more. It was not until he decided to pay a Living Wage was he able to gain “market share.”
Retraining costs: Even McDonald’s is recognizing the significance of retraining costs. McDonald’s changed out its cash registers and made them “picture registers” instead of numerical registers when it realized how much that could save on retraining costs. Having stabilized workers will result in the same benefit.
FOX NEWS: How could the ULV boost the economy?
Richard Troxell: By putting the difference between the Federal Minimum Wage and the Universal Living Wage into the pockets of the veterans and the other 10.5 million minimum-wage workers, the housing market, and construction industry, both locally and nationally, will be dramatically benefited.
Also, historically, 98% of all income increases to the Federal Minimum Wage have been spent right back into the economy. Again, this will significantly bolster the economy as it is 90% consumer-based.
FOX NEWS: How does the ULW benefit taxpayers?
Richard Troxell: It is obvious that businesses benefit from the labor of the worker. However, until our businesses pay “Living Wages” — the minimum amount to afford basic food, clothing, and shelter — we, the taxpayers, will continue to suffer as long as we are required to pay for excess food stamps, TANF, welfare, and earned income credits.
Finally, paying Living Wages is the Christian and moral thing to do. Conservatively, this will end economic homelessness for over one million minimum-wage workers, including our veterans. And it will prevent economic homelessness for all 10.5 million minimum-wage workers.
Hug and kiss a returning veteran, then give them a Living Wage Job.
The excellence of Austin has been remarked upon, again and again, by House the Homeless, and here is another example of why. Not long ago, a writer named Nona Willis Aronowitz enjoyed a meal at the Black Star Co-op, noticed the lack of a tip jar at the bar, and chased down the story behind its absence. It seems this place doesn’t believe in tips, as Aronowitz learned from interviewing co-founder Jeff Young, who is also the establishment’s brewer.
The reporter summed up:
Black Star Co-op, the first cooperatively owned microbrewery-restaurant in the country, offers their ‘worker’s assembly’ a wage of at least $16 a hour. The co-op provides health insurance and bonuses, too. After a yearlong apprenticeship, every worker also has the duties of a manager — they can hire and fire, get access to the books, and make financial decisions.
An employee with bills to pay should not be at the mercy of customers’ whims, with an uncertain, fluctuating income. That’s why the servers here just say no to tips. There isn’t a lavish amount to go around, and nobody’s getting rich. On the other hand, everybody makes a decent amount, as they should, because everyone who works here is responsible for a certain amount of managerial duties. That’s why they call it a co-op.
In Richard R. Troxell’s book Looking Up at the Bottom Line, there is a chapter on the history and the pros and cons of tipping. Sometimes it is very useful to examine customs and traditions that are part of the everyday landscape, and to dissect what they really mean. Richard sums up the perspective of the folks at the Universal Living Wage with these thoughts:
While tipping today is generally intended to show gratitude, some of us believe that tipping should be done away with as it leads to unpredictable budgeting practices which destabilizes our most vulnerable workers and shifts financial responsibility from the employers who benefit from the work, to the restaurant patron.
The Black Star’s own website offers plenty more information about their innovative methods, like the fact that anybody can join, not just the people who work there. “By becoming a member-owner of Black Star Co-op, you’ll have a vote in co-op affairs and you’ll have benefits at the brewpub,” the page says. By doing just that simple thing, a person can support local farms and producers, a democratic workplace, great quality and service, worker self-management, community action, and a wage that workers can actually live on. What’s not to like?
Education is an important item on Black Star’s agenda, and the International Co-operative Alliance is a big influence, with its set of beautiful, yet achievable ideals:
A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise. Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.
The momentum began in 2006 when several people gathered to explore the possibilities of Steven Yarak’s vision, which in turn had been inspired by neighborhood pubs in Belgium. Young was there right from the start. In fact, through one of those strange coincidences in which the universe abounds, he had arrived in Austin only a few days earlier, and the gleam in his eye was the notion of starting a microbrewery. The group made plans, organized a fundraiser, bought equipment — and a marvelous idea became reality.
Here is a list of the co-op’s principles, explained in more detail on its site, which is as worthy of a visit as the establishment itself:
Voluntary and Open Membership
Democratic Member Control
Member Economic Participation
Autonomy and Independence
Education, Training and Information
Co-operation among Co-operatives
Concern for Community
Admittedly, the microbrewery subsidizes the restaurant and makes its unique operational method possible. All this shows is, where there’s a will, there’s a way. If people want to create an alternative business model, it’s doable.
The Black Star Co-op hopes to be a role model for other businesses not only in Austin but across the country. Just like the Universal Living Wage, another Austin-born idea that could change the American economic landscape. Everything about the ULW is laid out in great detail via its own website, which connects the dots between widespread homelessness and the inadequacy of the federal minimum wage. Here’s a brief excerpt:
The proposal, through a ten year plan, is to fix the Federal Minimum Wage by indexing it to the local cost of housing throughout the United States. The ULW would end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum wage workers and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum wage workers. By using existing government guidelines: 1) work 40 hours in a week, 2) spend no more than 30% of one’s income on housing, and 3) using the HUD section 8 rental calculations, we ensure that anyone working 40 hours in a week will be able to afford basic rental housing, food, clothing, utilities, and access to health care.
Source: “At One Austin Restaurant, a Living Wage Doesn’t Depend on Tips,” Good, 04/24/12
Source: “Black Star Co-op,” BlackStar
Source: “Co-operate,” BlackStar
Image by Mike Miley (H. Michael Miley), used under its Creative Commons license.
Everyone likes celebrity news, especially when it’s good, and House the Homeless has previously taken note of wonderful generosity from stars like Bruce Springsteen. We also mentioned Eminem’s patronage and mentorship of a homeless rapper called Yelawolf. The musician and activist known as Reverend Billy Wirtz supports the organization Picture the Homeless, whose motto is “Don’t talk about us, talk with us.”
Last May, it was announced that Lady Gaga would donate $1 million to homeless youth. Cyndi Lauper began the True Colors Fund in 2008, and the result is a shelter with 30 studio apartments specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are experiencing homelessness. Some of them anyway, for as the singer is quoted as saying:
In New York City, a very disproportionate number (up to 40 percent) of homeless youth identify as L.G.B.T. Even more disturbing are reports that these young people often face discrimination and at times physical assault in some of the very places they have to for help. This is shocking and inexcusable!
Back in 2006, Jon Bon Jovi started up the JBJ Soul Foundation, which feeds people and puts families into houses, and does a whole bunch of other stuff in several cities. Now the foundation has teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies to create Project REACH.
It stands for “Real-time Electronic Access for Caregivers and the Homeless,” and it’s a contest with a financial reward for whoever in the “developer community” can figure out how to make a national platform that can be accessed by the Internet and smartphones. The assignment is to supply complete and current information on shelters, housing services, crisis hotlines, legal assistance, VA services, health clinics, food kitchens, and any other resources, anywhere, anytime.
House the Homeless has often mentioned Austin in relation to its music scene, which has a long and impressive history, and the South by Southwest festival, and a whole lot more going for it. Among other things, the Austin Music Commission was supposedly represented on the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee, but then whatever work that group did was apparently set aside to await the results of an international design competition. The ongoing project will greatly affect what is locally called the Red River music scene, and it will also have a huge impact on the area’s people experiencing homelessness.
Like many other cities, Austin has heard objections to the presence of homeless people downtown because of the trash problem, which in the public mind is inevitably associated with vagrants. But… If Austin is anything like other college towns, a big part of the trash on the streets is contributed by students with an overweening sense of entitlement and not much genuine connection to the city they temporarily inhabit.
Where there are bars and clubs, there is litter, vomit, and urine on the sidewalks and in the neighbors’ azalea bushes. What pulls customers to those clubs is the music. So the blame for urban squalor can’t be solely assigned to the homeless.
In many citizens’ minds, both show business and the homeless are responsible for urban crime. Live music = night life = booze = drunk-rolling = fights = prostitution = stolen cars = hard drugs = police sirens = litter = homeless people. In a downtown area, especially on weekends, they’re all mixed up together. And musicians write songs about the homeless, like “Only a Hobo,” “Tramp and the Young Girl,” and hundreds more. Often, musicians are the homeless, especially in old age — if they make it that far.
Sure, at a certain stage, with the world at your feet, being technically homelessness might be the best career move. If you plan to tour for 10 months, why pay rent for an apartment? The road can also make someone unwittingly callous. A 21-year-old guitarist who sleeps in a band’s tour bus might not understand how the rolling-stone life is not so much fun for a 45-year-old woman veteran with diabetes and PTSD. In many significant ways, musicians are just like everybody else — sometimes uninformed or thoughtless.
The music scene has always been an environment where thinking was a little more enlightened than in the general population. When musicians meet, age, race, creed, economic status, and all those other tiresome barriers are totally irrelevant. Sure, the music subculture has always had its problems, but discrimination generally hasn’t been one of them. That’s how much power the music universe holds, and one of the ways to use power responsibly is by looking after the interests of society’s least fortunate. An outstanding example of this is New Orleans, where in the wake of multiple disasters, the musicians took care of each other and a whole lot of civilians, too.
In Los Angeles, a band called Avenue 52 has a music video project called “Homeless,” whose profits will partly go to local helping organizations. In Berkeley, Ace Backwords, who is himself a homeless musician, organized and produced several compilations showcasing the work of numerous street musicians.
In Denver, David Adebonojo, performing at the 16th Street pedestrian mall, attracted the attention of musician/producer Tyler Ward, who got his career going. In one way, as the son of the Ivy League-educated parents (a doctor and a minister), Adebonojo doesn’t match the homeless stereotype. In another way, he does, with his history of being an auto mechanic, a Deadhead, and an ex-con. After writing a quantity of music in prison, he was released to the streets, where he spent enough years to have half a dozen guitars stolen.
Let’s hope for perfect weather in Springfield, Missouri, on May 12, for the second attempt at raising $10,000 for homeless causes with a concert called “Stomp the Blues Out of the Homeless.” The promoter, Jim Payne, whose day job has something to do with escrow and land titles, tried to launch this idea last year, but the weather was impossibly foul and he ended up losing all the money he had put up to get the thing going. Better luck this time!
Homeless Media Bonus Link
The late comedian Greg Giraldo — “Underwear Goes Inside the Pants” — featuring many of Venice Beach, California’s homeless residents.
Source: “Cyndi Lauper Opens Homeless LGBT Youth Center In NYC,” The New Civil Rights Movement, 08/25/11
Source: “VA Launches “Project REACH” Contest,” VA.gov, 03/19/12
Source: “Los Angeles Based Pop Rock Band Avenue 52 Raises Homeless Awareness,” SFGate.com, 04/12/11
Source: “Denver musician David Adebonojo (Dred Scott) strikes a chord,” DenverPost.com, 08/03/11
Source: “Fresh start desired for blues festival,” News-Leader.com, 05/05/12
Image by bartlec (Chris Bartle), used under its Creative Commons license.
I was in the sixth grade, and my new social studies book was entitled, The World Was Wide. John Glenn had just orbited the earth, twice. I remember thinking about that title and how exciting and yet how sad that it was that the days of Magellan and Sir Edmund Hillary, and Perry and Scott were behind us. At the same time, I wanted to go to the places that they had touched and written about.
I’ve been lucky enough to have found Eric, my best friend, who also likes adventure hiking, camping, and exploring other cultures and countries. My exposure to other people and other cultures opened my eyes to all aspects of the human condition: the joys, acts of bravery, and human suffering. It has been my search to explore and understand this planet that has shaped my course in life and desire to end the condition of homelessness.
Eric and I met at a time when we both wore the clothes of younger men. Our first trip ever took us over land into Canada in a paintless, eight-cylinder Chevy Biscayne that spewed oil and blew smoke. We were at the Canadian border and were almost refused entry because the authorities suspected we were driving the car into their country only to abandon it there.
The truth was, we were doing everything possible, including using duct tape and making cardboard gaskets, to keep it running. Our destination was Algonquin Park, 42,000 pristine acres of Canadian Wilderness, where we took the Polar Bear Express as far north as the train would carry us, and then into Inuit (often referred to as Canadian Eskimos) country.
Another trip took us up the Amazon River and into the Peruvian Andes, where we climbed Mount Sulkantay. Eric has been to Africa three times and had malaria as many times. He fooled me into thinking he had contracted another malaria strain when actually it was soroche, or altitude sickness. This condition can drive a person violently mad and, if not treated, can immediately end in death.
In 1983, Eric and I ended upon a shared expedition of our own device when we left the unauthorized borders of the Shawa Province surrounding Addis Ababa and delved into the forbidden Simien Mountains of Ethiopia, with 1,000-meter sheer drops, in search of the Falashas. They have been referred to as the Black Jews and purported to be people of the Diaspora, when, according to the Bible, they were scattered to the corners of the Earth.
Obviously, we “rough-travel,” which means we travel any way we can, and for as cheap as possible. We have also, for various reasons, attached ourselves to more organized treks or parts of organized treks as part of our travels.
One such trip was our foray into China in 2007. We joined an Earth Watch Expedition, when we became part of an exploratory team that went deep into China and Mongolia, and into the Gobi Desert in search of water. In a time when the true value of water is only just now being realized for its worldwide implications, I hope you will be fascinated with our journey into the land of nomads, camels, and the highest sand dunes in the world. Click here to read it.