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Minimum Wage Logic Accepted

hopeless

“Consider the source” is usually said skeptically, and, of course, we always do consider it, whether skeptical or not. Here, the source is pretty impressive. It is The Economist, which Steve O’Keefe, writing for House the Homeless, described as “the house organ of the economics profession, the gold standard of consensus among economists.” He discussed an article about the minimum wage in which The Economist said, in effect, “Hey, if you do this, it increases everyone’s wealth, not just those earning the minimum wage,” and said it to the finance ministers of every country in the world.

What’s going on here? O’Keefe says:

Minimum-wage laws actually don’t reduce employment. In fact, they increase the welfare of minimum-wage workers and their employers. The Economist notes, ‘Not only has [the minimum wage] pushed up pay for the bottom 5% of workers, but it also seems to have boosted earnings further up the income scale — and thus reduced wage inequality.’

Like the Magna Carta and common law and other refinements of civilization, this study came from Great Britain, which O’Keefe says:

[…] introduced a national minimum-wage law in 1999. The British government requires a minimum wage equal to about 46% of median earnings — compared with a less generous 40% in the United States. When Great Britain instituted the national minimum wage ‘worries about potential damage to employment were widespread,’ says The Economist (itself a major worrier), ‘yet today the consensus is that Britain’s minimum wage has done little or no harm.’

In Austin, TX, the minimum wage question has been the subject of controversy. That is where House the Homeless is centered, and co-founder Richard R. Troxell was asked by Commissioner Judge Sam Boscoe to give his point of view. In an email that was circulated to all the Austin City Council members, Richard wrote:

The Fed has determined that based on a sophisticated formula that includes a two-year time lag (so as not to be distorted by new housing startups), that in the Austin Fair Market Rent Area, one can reasonably expect to pay $681 for an efficiency apartment and $834 for a one-bedroom apartment.

Apparently, in Austin, tenants would have to be making more than $16 per hour to meet the rest of their living expenses while renting a one-bedroom apartment. That’s barely enough space for a couple, or a parent and a child. In which case the parent would have to be working full-time and bringing in $16 an hour. Who makes that much? Or if it’s two adults, they both have to be working full-time for at least $8 an hour. Minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Austin was debating whether, in light of its intense downtown renewal efforts, it should mandate a minimum hourly wage of $11.

By combining existing governmental guidelines, we establish something called the Living Wage, which means enough to allegedly live on. And even those figures are based on the idea that nobody should be spending more than 30% of their income on housing. Many people are forced to spend a much larger percentage.

As head of the campaign for a Universal Living Wage, Richard tells the world that greater income at the bottom of the economic ladder leads to greater spending at the bottom, and boosts the whole economy. Companies benefit from stabilizing the economic situation of their employees, because turnover is expensive. Then there is the matter of lower government spending, when the lowest echelon of workers rely less on government subsidies.

Richard was also recently quoted in a Fortune CNN article by Eleanor Bloxham, CEO of The Value Alliance and Corporate Governance Alliance. The subject was the need for increased transparency in corporate dealings, for instance:

One such disclosure would be whether the company pays a living wage to all its employees — and if not, what percentage of workers don’t receive it.

Bloxham’s article went on to quote Richard about the Universal Living Wage. But let’s get back to another interesting thing about The Economist‘s breathtaking discovery, which isn’t such new news after all. Here is a quotation from Richard’s book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line, which is available via Amazon, Nook, and Kindle:

Ben Bernanke, during his first month of serving as the newly appointed Federal Reserve Chairman, testified before the House Financial Services Committee. Congressman Bernie Sanders asked Mr. Bernanke if Congress should raise the Federal Minimum Wage…

Mr. Bernanke responded: ‘The concerns that some economists have raised about the minimum wage […] does it have any employment effects? That is, do higher wages lower employment of low-wage workers?’ […] Mr. Bernanke then definitively declared, ‘My response is that I think it doesn’t lower employment.’

Reactions?

Source: “Major Reversal: Economists Agree Minimum Wage Works!,” HousetheHomeless.org, 12/12/12
Source: “How to fix rampant CEO mistrust,” CNN.com, 03/14/13
Source: “The Argument in the Floor,” The Economist, 11/24/12
Image by Aidan Jones.

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KFC Says, Get a Job — LOL!

Kentucky Fried ChickenLast June, this Question & Answer appeared in the online forum ExpertLaw.com:

Question:

Is it legal for an employer to deny employment to an individual who they consider otherwise qualified, if it is discovered that the individual currently lives in a homeless shelter?

Short answer: yes. Neither federal anti-discrimination laws nor most state anti-discrimination laws preclude disparate treatment/employment discrimination against individuals residing in a homeless shelter. (ESteele, Senior Member)

A few weeks ago, in Tupelo, MS, after months of job-hunting, Eunice Jasica found work and seemed to be on track for the next phase of life — saving up to move out of the Salvation Army lodge. But when she reported for her first day on the job, fast-food franchise owner Chesley Ruff withdrew the offer of employment “due to lack of residence and transportation.”

Say what? Then, a couple of days later, the manager backpedaled and said his refusal to honor the hire was really because Ms. Jasica had no experience in the difficult and demanding field of fast-food preparation. Plus, he doubted that the 59-year-old woman could lift the 40-pound boxes in which the food arrives. So never mind, no job after all.

Adding insult to injury, he implied that the job applicant had misunderstood and was delusional about having been hired in the first place. This shabby treatment is legal according to both the great state of Mississippi and the Kentucky Fried Chicken corporation. Reporter Emily Le Coz writes:

KFC operates more than 5,200 restaurants nationwide and follows all applicable employment laws, but its independent franchisees make their own hiring decisions, said KFC Corp. spokesman Rick Maynard.

Mississippi is an at-will employment state. That means the employer or employee can terminate the relationship at any time for any reason as long as it doesn’t violate anti-discrimination statutes based on factors like race, age, color, religion, sex, national origin or disability.

In Tupelo, Maj. Sue Dorman of the Salvation Army was shocked, possibly because this didn’t fit with Mr. Ruff’s customary behavior. He had previously hired a man who was not only homeless but a former convict, who had done very well in the business, and whose success story had been featured in a newspaper. The same manager had also hired other Salvation Army residents in the past. Dorman called Ruff, who told it is not company policy to hire people who don’t have stable housing or transportation, which made it sound more like a corporate-level matter.

And indeed, when The Huffington Post made inquiries, Ruff had nothing to say, but referred questions to the chicken vendor’s head of media relations, Rick Maynard, who emailed:

KFC Corporation believes in a culture of respect toward all people, and we abide by all applicable employment laws. The restaurant in Tupelo is operated by an independent franchisee who shares our beliefs, but is responsible for making hiring decisions for the restaurant he owns.

So this was starting to resemble what is colloquially called a runaround. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post story garnered well over 1,000 comments from all over the map, both geographically and philosophically. Typical is the response of “EarthMonkey07,” who wrote:

So now in order to even get a job, you can’t appear to need it in any way? You need to already be employed (since the statistics say they won’t hire you if you’re already unemployed), housed (since they won’t hire you without an address), with transportation (they won’t hire you if you don’t have a vehicle) AND have a bank account (because they won’t hire you if you can’t do direct deposit). This is getting crazy.

Exactly. And the craziness is not exclusive to the USA. A report from a prominent organization in Great Britain, St. Mungo’s, revealed that two out of three homeless job seekers had been rejected for employment because of their homeless condition. Half had found the lack of a mailing address to be an obstacle, and two out of three lacked the appropriate clothing, tools or equipment for the jobs they applied for. Universally, even those who are lucky (or adept at hiding their true circumstances) find that the low-paying jobs they land do not come near to providing enough for housing anyway.

The really imposing feature of the St. Mungo’s report was the contrast between 1986 figures, showing that 83% of the homeless people surveyed then had some kind of paid employment, and their 2005 numbers, which revealed only 5% of their homeless clients holding jobs.

Meanwhile, because of the publicity surrounding this debacle, Ms. Jasica received several other job offers and was “tentatively hired” by On Time Transportation to drive Medicare and Medicaid patients to their doctors’ appointments. While this promises a happy ending for her particular story, many other homeless people throughout the country are not so fortunate.

Not surprisingly, House the Homeless has been involved in this struggle for years. Its Homeless Employment Survey of 2007 inspired the state of California to conduct a similar survey in 2009. Here is House the Homeless co-founder Richard R. Troxell’s candid response to Eunice Jasica’s plight:

Very sad. I for one am outraged! So while the Puritan Work Ethic remains intact for someone who has lost all of their worldly possessions, the compassion, empathy and love for one’s fellow human being has dissipated like water on the sidewalk. Shame on that franchise and shame on KFC for allowing this act of inhumanity to occur in their name. It’s only a matter of time before people will no longer accept this kind of treatment. Then what? There are 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness again this year.

In the Sacramento survey, 70% of the respondents identified the reason for their homeless condition as economic, 87% wanted to work and felt they were able to, and 42% identified their homelessness as the most significant barrier to working. Lack of transportation, as always, plays a big part in the employment equation. One of the recommendations resulting from this survey was:

Expand mail, email and voicemail services: We recommend universal coverage of a mailing address, email and voicemail services for homeless people to dramatically increase their chances for employment.

This excellent idea is, of course, one of the things that objectors are currently complaining about. They are against any plans that are put forward to provide cell phones to the homeless, because why should street people get fancy technology for free? And so it goes…

Reactions?

Source: “Q & A,” ExpertLaw.com, 06/06/12
Source: “Woman fired for being homeless,” ClarionLedger,com, 03/21/13
Source: “Eunice Jasica Claims KFC Franchise Reneged Job Offer…,The Huffington Post, 03/28/13
Source: “Hard Work for Homeless People,” samhsa.gov, 2005
Source: “Homeless Employment Report: Findings and Recommendations,” National Coalition for the Homeless, August 2009
Image by Joe Schlabotnik.

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Counting the Homeless in Austin

Jeff BridgesTo satisfy the federal requirement for the information that is needed to fairly distribute available funding, the people experiencing homelessness are counted every year. House the Homeless blog has taken an extended look at the “how” of the annual point-in-time count, which could be described as “different strokes for different folks.”

In a way, it’s good that communities can use different techniques, because if somebody discovers how to do it right, they can share that information. Just imagine, if one city could figure out how to correct the numerous flaws, and create a process that is humane, safe, dignified, and productive of justifiable results. If a community could demonstrate a good common-sense approach, their procedure would no doubt be gratefully adopted all across America.

In Texas, during the stipulated time period this January, 300 Austinites under the auspices of ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition) fanned out to enumerate the unhoused. At the beginning of February, a newspaper report stated that the number of homeless people in Travis County had decreased by 39% since 2008.

For the Austin American-Statesman, Andrea Ball learned that in the field of homelessness alleviation, despite favorable statistics, workers “on the ground” are sometimes unable to discern much improvement. Many advocates, like Alan Graham of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, question the usefulness of the annual count, saying it’s a faulty measure. He pointed out that conditions on the appointed count day may vary wildly from one year to the next. Success is influenced not only by the meteorological weather but by the law enforcement climate, which may at any particular time “crack down” in ways that drive the chronic homeless further into hiding.

In the original reportage there was some confusion about daily and weekly figures relating to shelter admissions in Austin. Apparently, the total of homeless people, inside and outside, amounted to less than the number of people who use the inside shelter in a single day. Much depends on these numbers, we are reminded by Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless.

Richard was invited to share his thoughts with radio station KLBJ-FM, and in preparation wrote out his thoughts, some of which are rather caustic:

Excellent news! The number of people experiencing homelessness has been dramatically reduced in Austin by 39% since 2008! Or so you think if you believe the front page headlines in The Austin American Statesman. It is not until you read the 3rd page of the story that you learn that the 2012 count of the homeless (2,121) in the woods, streets, and shelters was less than the actual daily number of people served in the shelters alone (between 2,650 and 2,750 on a daily basis).

Richard also asks how much sense it makes to count people at dusk or in the dark of night. He also finds the 24-hour concept to be flawed, and fears that trying to get it done all in one day is counterproductive. He writes:

Why don’t we count them over a two week period? Because the federal government is afraid of a possible multiple survey responses by homeless folks. The same people might fill out the questionnaire more than once, and skew the numbers. For starters, this assumes that anybody is willing to do it more than once. Do we really think that homeless folks will rush to complete multiple forms? They probably don’t even like doing it once. And the result is, the numbers are skewed even more.

We could best count the folks experiencing homelessness by asking Willie Nelson to throw a bash. We’d get the city of Austin to cordon off a part of Zilker park, suspend the No Camping Ordinance and the No Sit/No Lie Ordinance, and hold a three-day love fest called ‘Everybody Counts.’ We could count and survey the homeless to our hearts’ content. We’d get the highest head count ever, and bring more federal dollars to Austin than ever before.

This homeless count process that has been used since 2000 has always been flawed, dangerous, and foolish. But now the flaw is glaring and staring us all in the face, on the front page of our paper, and on the Internet, and if you think HUD is going to accept these results then you have another think coming. On the other hand, if HUD does accept these results then we’re all in bigger trouble than I think.

With the federal government setting the minimum wage at $7.25 per hour, rendering more and more people homeless every day, do we really think we are decreasing the tsunami which is homelessness at the rate of 39% since 2008? How in the name of common sense is that possible?

The homeless community nationwide remembers advocate, activist, and hunger striker Mitch Snyder with great respect. In the face of controversy about the numbers he had cited, Snyder once remarked that the homeless can best be counted once they have been brought inside.

What could hasten that day? Please proceed to the Universal Living Wage

Reactions?

Source: “Travis County Homelessness,” Statesman.com, 02/04/13

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Counting the Homeless, Continued

Homeless Shelter, White River JunctionFunding for low-income housing projects is decided in part by the federally mandated annual count of people experiencing homelessness. Looking around at how it is done in different parts of the country, it’s easy to see that not everyone agrees about the way things should be, or even about the way things are.

Only last month, from San Francisco, the director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project voiced discontent, calling the census “hit-or-miss” and its result “an unreal number.” Paul Boden presents a case that the head count is ineffectual in showing an accurate picture of what actually goes on with programs designed to alleviate homelessness.

The accuracy is certainly questionable. An example he gives ends with the suggestion, “You figure it out,” and when a person stops to do that, an amazing conundrum emerges.

In 2011, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said that America contained 636,017 homeless people. (This is the same HUD, by the say, that since 1996 has sold or demolished 210,000 housing units.)

Yet, in the same year, the Department of Education reported the number of homeless school children as 1,065,794. In other words, the number of homeless school kids is much larger than the total number of homeless people — a logical impossibility. And the million-plus figure doesn’t even begin to count those kids’ parents.

Boden seems to imply that the homeless count is not a meaningful activity but an empty pro forma ritual. Actually, it’s more than an implication. He says:

The headcount doesn’t show us anything… Point-in-time counts are a minimum number, always. They undercount hidden homeless populations because homeless persons are doubling up with the housed or cannot be identified by sight as homeless. Families and youth most often are among the undercounted. On cold winter nights, churches often open their doors, and anyone forced to sleep outside will try to escape the raw elements. Children sleeping in vans hardly will be visible.

An uncredited editorial from the Deseret News talks about how numbers somehow showed that Utah’s population of “chronically homeless” has been reduced by 70% in seven years. Yet, somehow, on any given night, there are more homeless people than ever before. This presents a vision of agencies struggling heroically against an overwhelming trend.

According to the author, the count, which is carried out by volunteers:

[…] doesn’t take into account the ‘at-risk’ population that lives just on the verge of homelessness, which some experts suggest also has grown. Furthermore, the surveys have shown an increase in the number of entire families thrust into at least temporary homelessness…

In North Carolina, the Herald Sun asked Minnie Forte-Brown of the Homeless Services Advisory Committee for her take on the census, which was:

One night, the nation counts. No way does that say we’ve counted everybody.

The reporter goes on to say:

It rained the night of the count, which may have driven some to dry shelter. Even in good weather, though, at best this is a representative sample. It can’t take into account the homeless who — for one reason or another – go out of their way to remain unseen, squatting in abandoned buildings, living in cars or camping in the woods.

Pat LaMarche reported for The Huffington Post that the state of Texas has around 95,000 school-age kids. The distribution is very uneven, with one out of 10 American kids in that demographic residing in Texas, and House the Homeless will be taking a closer look at the beautiful city of Austin next week. Meanwhile, critics on the national scale are unhappy with the status quo for many reasons.

Joel John Roberts of Poverty Insights articulates some of them:

If you look at the last few decades, this country has dramatically ignored real solutions to ending homelessness… Political leaders grandstand in front of television cameras, ‘Homelessness should not be tolerated in this country!’ But when the lights turn off, political business continues as usual. Homeless agencies practically beg for resources to help the lines of people wanting help. But the number of homeless persons in this wealthy country continue to be obscene.

Roberts encourages readers to learn about the “100,000 Homes” campaign, which almost 70 American cities have signed on to, and which reports a success number of 38,575 people housed by its efforts.

House the Homeless co-founder Richard R. Troxell knows far too well about the inaccuracy of the homeless count and declares that the current policies of the federal government are the greatest single fabricator of homelessness in this nation. To that end, he is in the process of collaborating on writing the nation’s first White Paper on the subject. It’s entitled “Homelessness Prevention” (at its core). Stay tuned.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless head counts help no one,” SFGate.com, 02/05/13
Source: “In our opinion: Counting the homeless,” Deseret News, 02/08/13
Source: “Rhetoric won’t solve homeless dilemma,” The Herald-Sun, 02/24/13
Source: “About 1 in 10 Homeless Kids Live in Texas,” The Huffington Post, 02/19/13
Source: “We Cannot Count on Homeless Counts to end Homelessness,” PovertyInsights.org, 02/07/11
Image by John Jewell.

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Cell, Sweet Cell — Part 2

9:43 AMBefore we get started, let’s just mention that Richard R. Troxell, co-founder of House the Homeless, has once again been quoted in the national media, this time CNN.

Last time, we finished up with a mention of a guy in New Jersey who wanted to go to jail so badly he publicly consumed alcohol in front of police officers. But rather than time in a penal institution, they just gave him a ticket. It’s a pathetic story and an illustrative one, but with not much damage done to society in general.

And then you get people whose desperation causes serious consequences to others. Last month, in York City, PA, a man who had only been able to afford one night in a motel set a fire just before check-out time. He surrendered to the authorities, as he had intended to do all along, because he had nowhere else to go, and jail looked pretty good right about then.

The fire turned out to be more than he had bargained for. (The possibility of a defective alarm system is under investigation.) An employee suffered burns, fortunately minor, and the fire did $750,000 worth of damage to the place. Plus, it made several more people homeless.

This isn’t only happening in the U.S. In September, word came from Ireland of a man who was mugged and severely beaten, and who then became an assailant himself, attacking paramedics who tried to come to his aid. Then, Oliver Cleary punched a police officer, and that got him arrested for sure, which turned out to be okay with him.

Deborah McAleese reported for the Belfast Telegraph:

District Judge Bagnall said she would consider suspending a prison term. But standing in the dock Cleary shook his head and the judge asked his lawyer: ‘Is a short custodial sentence more helpful in the longer term?’

After speaking to Cleary, the lawyer said: ‘Bizarrely, he would prefer a short custodial sentence because he has nowhere to go to.’

Ms Bagnall agreed to sentence Cleary to one month behind bars for disorderly behaviour.

And it isn’t only jail that people are trying to get into. Last May, in a small Kentucky town, a 27-year-old woman made a desperate bid for accommodation in a domestic violence shelter. Scott Sutton reported:

[Ashely] Basham claimed she was walking in the parking lot of a Murfreesboro Walmart last Saturday when her ex-girlfriend stabbed her multiple times with a knife. Police investigated and saw injuries to the woman’s stomach, shoulders and legs. The injuries were so severe that she had to get staples in her leg.

Further investigation revealed that it didn’t happen that way, and the wounds were self-inflicted. Basham was arrested for filing a false report, but there doesn’t seem to be any further news on whether she went to jail, the hospital, or the shelter.

Crazy as it seems, things are set up in such a way that imprisonment is the best answer some people are able to find to the overwhelming challenges of life. One such person is commemorated in a song called “Joe,” written by Mike Laureanno of Providence, RI. One verse goes like this:

Every now and then a day in jail is warm
Three hots and a cot
A misdemeanor works like a charm
The sergeant knows his name
Slips him some change

One last thought — a recent House the Homeless survey learned that:

[…] 47% of the survey respondents, have been given a ticket with a court date only to show up on that date and be told to return sometime in the future either because the accusing officer did not show up and/or because the ticket had not yet been processed in the system.

HTH has been told this is a regularly occurring event with multiple returns per ticket. Note that if at any time, the person experiencing homelessness fails to report on the assigned/reassigned date, the ticket ‘goes to warrant’ and the individual becomes subject to arrest and jail time. A class ‘C’ misdemeanor (e.g., no camping ticket) is a criminal offense and serves to be one a more barrier to housing, employment, and escaping homelessness.

So, the lesson here is, when living outside gets too miserable and jail seems like the better alternative, a person does not even need to be violent or larcenous. All they have to be is unable to keep up with a Kafka-esque runaround.

Reactions?

Source: “Police: Homeless man said he torched York City motel so he could go to jail,” YorkDispatch.com, 02/04/13
Source: “Homeless man begs to be jailed,” BelfastTelegraph,co.uk, 09/15/12
Source: “Police: Homeless woman stabs self for free room,” WLOX.com, 05/17/12
Source: “2013 HtH Civil Rights Survey Summary,” HouseTheHomeless.org, 02/27/13
Image by ibm4381 (John Benson).

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Perspective: Living Wages

living wage

On March 3, 2013, the Austin American-Statesman banner masthead read, “’Living Wage’ Proviso Targeted.”  (See the article, “Dallas legislator aims to stop wage requirements in incentive deals.”)

Apparently, the Dallas legislature does not want Texas municipalities, Austin-led, to require companies to pay “living wages.” The federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour, but Austin, like the federal government, has now plucked an imaginary number out of the air and dubbed it a “living wage” at only $11.00/hour. For the moment, let’s put aside the issue as to whether or not a municipality should be able to exercise its power position of employer to extract better wages for its employees.

To be clear, $11/hour is not a living wage.

A living wage is an amount that ensures that a person working 40 hours in a week will be able to afford basic: food, clothing, shelter (including utilities), and public transportation. In Austin, it is $13.10/hour. This is calculated by using a 40-hour-a-week job, spending no more than 30% of one’s income on housing ( a national banking standard), and HUD’s Section 8, Fair Market Rent Formula. It is also calculated based on the cost of an efficiency apartment in Austin, which is $681 on average.

To pay a lower wage can result in economic homelessness. At this pay scale, 3.5 million people will again face homelessness in our nation this year.

Image by Ari Moore.

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Cell, Sweet Cell — Part 1

homeless -- POWIn a neglected film called Fast-Walking, James Woods portrays a prison guard whose relationship with a prisoner called Wasco is complex. This Wasco guy delivers one of the finest soliloquies in cinema, a rant about how much he loves it inside those walls. The prison is his world, where he is the uncrowned king.

Fortunately, most people don’t feel that way, and besides, each prison can only have one king. In jail, there is little opportunity for career advancement, and a very good chance of being assaulted or catching tuberculosis.

For these reasons and many others, humans don’t really enjoy being inmates. Why, then, is there a trend of people intentionally trying to get locked up?

Last July, in Missouri, a 25-year-old woman bashed in the rear window of a police patrol car and did it some further damage, then went into the station to confess. She told them she was homeless and wanted to go to jail. The police obligingly arrested her and placed her on 24-hour hold. There doesn’t seem to be any news of what happened after that.

In the same month, in Florida, a 19-year-old man called the police to report a robbery, and a fleeing suspect, armed with a knife, whose description matched his own. When he was apprehended, the youth told the police he had just wanted to be arrested. Didn’t he realize he could have been shot on sight? Apparently, it’s possible for a person to be so desperate, such a detail doesn’t matter. Fortunately, he was only arrested, charged with making false statements to the police, and held with bail set at $1,000. Which, in this case, might as well be $1 million, because the person had no intention of paying, because he wanted to be in jail.

Also last summer, in Washington state, an 18-year-old broke into a house and subsequently told the authorities he had wanted to be arrested because he had nowhere to go. Two months later, however, he ran away from a work crew, but had no luck finding food or transportation, and was re-apprehended a couple of days later. The episode added substantially to his sentence, which may have been exactly what he was aiming for — but of course, with no more outdoor work details. How out-of-options does a person have to be for any of this to seem, even remotely, like a good idea?

In Santa Monica, CA, a 63-year-old man broke into a restaurant, was stopped for questioning nearby, and happily explained to the police what he had done and how. They charged him with burglary, and took him to jail, and a judge named $20,000 as his bail.

On the other coast, in Florida, a homeless man who relieves his condition with periodic spells in jail has perfected a technique. Apparently, he always contacts someone in the same condominium complex, and asks them to call the police. Stephanie Wang writes:

He’s done it about 30 times since 2009, jail records show, as often as twice a month and a couple of times with an added burglary charge. Sometimes, he racks up multiple counts of trespassing in one trip… Early Sunday — not four full days out of Pinellas County jail from his last arrest — Treasure Island police say Santiago remained faithful to his routine. He didn’t seem to be drunk, on drugs or crazy, an affidavit noted. Around 5:30 a.m., 58-year-old Santiago went back to jail.

In December, a person experiencing homelessness in New Jersey conspicuously flaunted an alcoholic drink in front of the police, in hopes of being taken to jail. The officers disappointed him by only throwing away the drink, and writing him a ticket.

(To be continued…)

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless woman shatters patrol car window, happy to be arrested,” ConnectTriStates.com, 07/16/12
Source: “Homeless man made false report to get arrested, police say,” Gainesville.com, 07/30/12
Source: “Homeless Man Changes Mind About Okanogan Jail,” The Wenatchee World, 08/30/12
Source: “Homeless Man, 63, Breaks Into Santa Monica Bistro Then Confesses To Police,” Santa Monica Mirror, 10/01/12
Source: “Police: Homeless man’s path to jail starts at Treasure Island condos,” Tampa Bay Times, 10/07/12
Image by GuerrillaGirls.

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Counting and Sentencing the Homeless

Someone's SpaceLast time, House the Homeless looked at some of the erratic ways in which people experiencing homelessness are counted during the annual attempt to define the extent of this social disaster. A question that might come to mind is, “Who says erratic is bad?” On the contrary, it’s good that communities have latitude to conduct the homeless census in whatever way is compatible with the bioregion, etc.

Who knows? Some municipality might come up with a better idea, one that could be adapted by others to the benefit of all. But ever since the federally mandated program started in 2005, there has been dissent, directed at either the whole concept in general, or some aspect of it.

In 2011, word came from Fremont, Ohio, that:

Despite recent data released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showing homelessness is on the decline in the region, one local shelter director said the problem is just as prevalent as ever.

The story quoted the executive director of Fremont’s Liberty Center, Margaret Weisz, who may have spoken for many of her colleagues when she said:

Those numbers are misleading. In reality, homelessness is actually up. We have seen about a 30 percent increase over the last two years.

In Illinois, Susan Frick Carlman listed some of the things wrong with how the DuPage County census was made:

[…] driven in part by programming cuts at local domestic violence shelters, the county saw a 24 percent increase in families turning up at emergency and interim shelter sites during the latest fiscal year.
Also absent from the formal homeless equation are people who resort to friends and relatives when they lose their own homes — a practice advocates call ‘couch surfing.’

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, there were 1,486 people who used emergency shelters and other interim housing. Last year the number was 1,512.

That’s a difference of what, 26 individuals? In a year? The 1,486 remaining homeless people, divided by 26 per year… Extrapolate it out — that’s 57 years to get the rest of them under a roof. Some people have an unusual definition of progress, for sure.

The journalist also mentioned that:

Among other things, the yearly report found that workers must earn more than twice the minimum hourly wage of $8.25 to afford the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the county.

More than twice the minimum hourly wage, did you catch that? Meaning, even if Mama and Papa are both working full-time, it’s not enough.

Ken Korczak is a freelance journalist who covers environmental, energy, poverty, and political issues. Last year, he pointed out that North Dakota had the supposedly best economy in the entire United States, with a “stunningly low” unemployment rate of 3%. Then he asked, if the economy is so vibrant and the unemployment number so tiny, why are the homeless shelters in Grand Forks and Fargo turning away hundreds of applicants every night?

As a possible answer, Korczak recommends a program led by Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party’s 2012 Presidential nominee, and Cheri Honkala, The Green New Deal, whose literature states its goals as ending unemployment and debt in America. Their point of view is based on a belief that the system is rigged by the two dominant political parties, which might as well be one party, since they are both totally controlled by corporations. They also believe that corporations will not voluntarily pay appropriate wages, and are all too eager to reduce employees and export jobs.

The program could be financed, Stein says, by:

[…] shifting from an economy in which the majority — the majority — of our discretionary budget is spent on war and the occupation of other countries, to an economy that provides the secure, just, peaceful future we all deserve.

They believe this could be done by returning military spending to the level of a decade ago, and by “getting rid of an array of other corporate welfare schemes — such as billions in subsidies to oil and coal companies, banks and others,” says Korczak.

There is more to say about the methods of counting people experiencing homelessness. The counting is useful and necessary, if there is to be a fair appropriation of funds. But aside from sheer numbers, there are other questions it is very useful to ask.

House the Homeless recently released the conclusions of its 2013 Civil Rights Survey. As co-founder Richard R. Troxell says:

We strive to hear what people have to say about their situation and involve them in creating and pursing viable options.

These paragraphs contain some amazing stuff. People are turned down for housing. Reason given: because they are homeless. Without the proper 30-minute warning, they get ticketed for sitting or lying down in public. When they show up for a court date, the journey is wasted because they are told to return another day. (This runaround had happened to about half of the survey’s respondents!)

More than a third of them had been wrongfully deprived of belongings, by the police, and an even one-third had had their identity papers confiscated. It is very difficult for someone experiencing homelessness to obtain a useful ID. To have their ID cards, birth certificates, discharge papers, or whatever, taken away, could be the equivalent of a death sentence.

Reactions?

Source: “Liberty Center director: Recent numbers of homeless are misleading,” TheNews -Messenger.com, 03/14/11
Source: “DuPage homeless numbers defy pigeonholing,” The Naperville Sun, 02/22/11
Source: “Homeless numbers grow rapidly,” Examiner.com, 09/18/12
Source: “2013 HtH Civil Rights Survey Summary,” HouseTheHomeless.org, 02/27/13
Image by mikecogh (Michael Coghlan).

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2013 HtH Civil Rights Survey Summary

Survey

On January 1, 2013, House the Homeless (HTH) held its 13th annual Thermal Underwear Giveaway Party. While there are between 4,000 and 6,000 people experiencing homelessness in the Austin Metropolitan area, there are only 607 emergency shelter beds for every man, woman, and child.  This means that literally thousands of people will find themselves left out in the cold again this winter. 

One of our goals is to reduce the number of names read in November at the House the Homeless Annual Memorial Service (146 names of people who died in poverty were read this year). To that end, HTH outfits all takers with hats, gloves, socks, rain ponchos, scarves, and life-saving thermal underwear. Each year at this event, we invite participants to complete a survey that reflects upon their condition of homelessness.

This year, our focus is on the civil rights of people experiencing homelessness. Volunteers of HTH provided a 17-question survey. The survey team was led by Robbin Polter who interacts on a daily basis with people experiencing homelessness.

House the Homeless is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization made up of homeless and formerly homeless persons and those wishing to end homelessness as it exists today. Established in 1989, we believe that the best way to respond to homelessness is by involving those immediately suffering its condition. Rather than make assumptions about that condition, we strive to hear what people have to say about their situation and involve them in creating and pursing viable options. Below is an excerpt.

Thank you,

Richard R. Troxell

President

Survey Results:

A little over 630 people attended the event. Of those attendees, 208 completed the survey, or about one-third.

1. Completing the survey, 170 respondents were male and 47 were female. This would indicate that a greater percentage of women than men participated in completing the forms as past surveys place the female population at between 10-15% of the overall homeless population in Austin.

2. The average age of all respondents taking the survey is 45.

3. Responding were 33 veterans and 175 non-veterans (veterans comprised 18% of the total respondents.) A past HTH survey of 600+ people placed homeless veterans at 28% in Austin. Nationally, the percentage, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, is 33% of the overall homeless population.

4. 74 people, or 36%, said that they had been hurt or abused for being homeless. The nature of what constitutes “abuse” was not specified.

5. Specifically, 28, or 13%, said that they had been sexually assaulted while experiencing homelessness.

6. Only 8%, or 16 people, reported the sexual assault to the authorities.

7. Only half of those reporting the assaults, or 8, said that the actions of the authorities satisfied them.

8. Without asking the respondents’ gender, we learned that 25 people, or an overall 12% of the respondents, took a partner in order to avoid sexual harassment.

9. Without stating the specific nature of denial, 56 people, or 27% of respondents, reported having been turned down for housing due to their condition of being homeless. Circumstances are unknown.

10. Of the 208 total respondents, 95 people, or 46%, said a police officer had given them a ticket for sitting or lying down even though the individual had told the police officer they were disabled or too sick to move.

A previous HTH survey indicated that 48% of the people surveyed then were so disabled that they could not work. This shows consistency across the samplings.

Sadly, this question was posed more than one year after HTH had successfully worked with Austin City Council Members to bring the No Sit/ No Lie Ordinance in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This response suggests that enactment of the changes has yet to reach its fullest potential.

11. An overwhelming 64% of people reported having been told to “move on” by police without first having been given a reason or an opportunity to comment. This indicates that not all peace officers have fully embraced the tenets of the Americans with Disabilities Act and determined the underlying cause behind the individual sitting or lying down before responding to the situation.

12. Specifically, 18%, or 37 people, said that, as a disabled person, they were denied a 30-minute warning period before they were ticketed for sitting or lying down.

13. While solicited to come to the downtown area to apply for services, 51% (more than half ), reported that they had been turned away from either the ARCH or the downtown Salvation Army due to lack of room.

14. Having been turned away for shelter, and having explained this to the police, 66, or 32% of the survey respondents, still received a ticket for either sleeping or camping. This has been ruled unconstitutional in Miami, Florida, based on the “necessity” defense.

15. 68 people, or 33%, stated that they had their ID taken by a police officer and not returned. Loss of identification can be a costly and time-consuming replacement event. While this may or may not be an intentional act, the frequency of occurrence would seem to be cause for concern.

16. 77 people, or 37% of those surveyed, had their belongings taken or destroyed by police without being given a receipt or contact person to see about retrieving their belongs. Again, such action in the Miami-Dade, Florida, courts has resulted in settlements that favor the injured parties at considerable/needless cost to the municipality.

17. 98, or 47% of the survey respondents, have been given a ticket with a court date only to show up on that date and be told to return sometime in the future either because the accusing officer did not show up and/or because the ticket had not yet been processed in the system.

HTH has been told this is a regularly occurring event with multiple returns per ticket. Note that if at any time, the person experiencing homelessness fails to report on the assigned/reassigned date, the ticket “goes to warrant” and the individual becomes subject to arrest and jail time. A class “C” misdemeanor (e.g., no camping ticket) is a criminal offense and serves to be one a more barrier to housing, employment, and escaping homelessness.

Image by roboppy (Robyn Lee).

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Counting the Homeless, Sort Of

Confucius ChristmasBack in 2005, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) activated a plan that would attempt to get a handle on the number of Americans experiencing homelessness. Each community would be responsible for counting and reporting their totals. These “point-in-time” surveys would ultimately determine how much federal money would flow to the community to address the problem. There seems to be a fair amount of latitude in how they go about it.

The enumerators might be volunteers or paid. In some places, they go around on foot, but a lot of the counting is done “drive-by” style. The count is supposed to include people who sleep outside; in substandard housing (no toilet, or washing, or cooking facilities); in HUD’s transitional housing programs; and one-night-at-a-time shelters.

Confusingly, on alternate years there is supposed to be a “full count” that includes couch-surfers squeezed in with family members or friends, people scheduled for release from corrective custody or hospitals, and those in permanent supportive housing, although HUD no longer considers them technically homeless.

The first time Los Angeles County did a homeless census, they scheduled it over three days, and used both temporary employees (at $10 per hour) and volunteers, some driving their own vehicles. The 1,200 personnel went out in pairs, into a territory divided into 500 pieces.

Carla Rivera reported in the LA Times that the overall project also included “an in-depth survey of 3,300 homeless people and a telephone survey of households.” It would be interesting to know more about that. Did they just call a random sample and ask, “Is a homeless person sleeping on your couch?”

Since the weather forecast threatened rain, the expenses included a sum for “hundreds of parkas to hand out” — to the enumerators. (Surely the reporter meant ponchos, not parkas.) The bureaucracy also had to rent a bunch of vans.

At any rate, the whole enterprise cost $350,000 out of the funds available to combat homelessness. Could the actual homeless people have used that money? Most certainly, but they must look on it as in investment in their future.

Another thing about the forecast rain, Rivera says:

… [T]he threat of wet weather probably drove some homeless people into hiding places.

There were further difficulties. A lot of homeless people who wanted to apply for the paying jobs were turned away. Enumerators were told by a police officer that Burbank had no homeless people, and to go away.

In Santa Monica, one team was twice challenged by the police, and anyway, they only found about a dozen people experiencing homelessness. To anyone who has ever visited the area where Santa Monica intersects with the ocean, this is an astonishing claim. Also, there were rumors that the local law enforcers had rousted the people experiencing homelessness just a few days before the “point-in-time” census.

In the Antelope Valley, where the government has been quite active in creating homelessness, a whole census tract:

[…] was scrapped after canvassers found the mountainous road washed out… Early morning was chosen because it is easier to locate homeless encampments in the daylight in the rugged rural terrain… [O]ne large census tract in Pacoima was abandoned because teams didn’t have transportation.

More recently, Mary Flynn shared tales how the 2013 count was conducted, in different parts of California:

In Contra Costa, volunteers counted those visible from their vehicles, while more direct interaction with the homeless population is left to the teams of qualified outreach workers who venture to the known encampments of homeless people.

The 120 volunteers went around during the day, though the director contrasted this with the technique used at a previous posting in San Francisco, where the census was done in the middle of the night. The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness is eager to have more accurate numbers on “transitioning youth” between the ages of 14 and 24, but how accurate can the enumerators be about ages, when their observations are based on drive-by sightings?

Santa Clara county took to heart this emphasis on the young, and rather than in the early morning, sent its teams out in the afternoon, when more kids would be readily apparent. This county used homeless youth as enumerators, on the grounds that they would more readily recognize their compatriots. Apparently, young homeless people are not as easy to identify by sight, because they try to avoid the homeless “look.”

According to HUD regulations, the count has to be made during the last 10 days of January. California is one thing, but in most parts of the country, this is not the time of year when you want to be out on the roads trying to catch sight of people who have burrowed as far as possible into the crannies and crevices of the landscape to escape the cold. In midsummer, the picture would be much different, so this the wintertime census is an excellent way to keep the total minimized, on paper anyway. And California is not alone in its erratic methods — there is much more to be said on this subject.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless Count or Are Counted,” LA Times, 01/27/05
Source: “In annual homeless census, counting youth is a challenge,” HealthyCal.org, 02/21/13
Image by Wonderlane.

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