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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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When Homelessness Is Criminalized

homeless-man-on-a-benchFor Alternet.org, Ebony Slaughter-Johnson wrote:

In communities all over the country, police are strongly incentivized — by federal grant conditions and local budgetary constraints alike — to make arrests and issue fines as frequently as possible.

After such a truth-bomb of a first sentence, all the rest is just details — the kinds of details that pile up relentlessly, day after day, in some parts of the country, until an outlaw life looks better than nothing. But, too often, young people are implicated in crimes they never put an ounce of intention or awareness into. A person can wind up in prison for loaning their car to a friend.

The poor are systematically hit with fines and penalties that make their survival even more precarious. In 2013, in Ferguson, Missouri, the courts “released more arrest warrants than there were people.”

The notorious, enormously protested 2015 death of Sandra Bland in Prairie View, Texas, was found to be part of a similar scheme. States with no personal income tax, of which Texas is one, are particularly vulnerable to piracy in uniform.

It is all part of a system that, as Slaughter-Johnson says, “creates poverty with one hand while violently punishing it with the other.” She relates the appalling story of Alton Sterling, a homeless man killed by police in Baton Rouge, LA. People experiencing homelessness are hit hardest of all, especially in neighborhoods that are mostly African-American. The much-touted solution of mass incarceration has solved nothing.

Communities in crisis

Remember when Sarasota, Florida, arrested Darren Kersey for charging his cell phone in a public picnic shelter in a city park? This led to a night in jail, a charge of Utilities Theft, and a $500 bail bond. It costs about 25¢ per year to charge a cell phone, so that seems a bit extreme. The likelihood that a person experiencing homelessness could post bail, or pay any fine, was vanishingly small.

In 2015, there was a similar cell-phone case in Portland, Oregon, generally perceived as a liberal and left-leaning town. A man and a woman (who identified herself as “Jackie”), both experiencing homelessness, were accused of third-degree theft for charging their phones from “an outlet on a sidewalk planter box in Old Town.”

This is the type of outlet that powers the extravagant holiday light displays in cities across America, spending a chunk of taxpayers’ money for decorations for people to enjoy. Why a city would begrudge homeless people the fraction of a cent’s worth of electricity needed to charge a phone is a mystery indeed.

Reporter Emily Green mentioned the foolishness of wasting public resources on such a trifling “offense” especially when, as in this case, the time and energy of four uniformed officers are utilized. She also pointed out the serious consequences that could accrue:

Jackie has never been convicted of a crime. If this charge led to a conviction, it would mean the difference between checking “no” or “yes” to questions about criminal history on a job or housing application.

Jackie’s case was destined for Community Court, but when TechDirt.com followed up the story, reporting that the accused had lost the citation and consequently missed her court date. She turned herself in and was jailed.

The following month, Alternet.org reported that Jackie had refused a plea bargain because of the damage it could do to her future chances of housing and employment, and said that “eventually, the theft charge was dropped.”

Back in Florida

Let’s get back to the fate of Florida’s accused electricity thief, Darren Kersey. A sane judge threw the case out. The ACLU’s Michael Barfield told the press:

We have been monitoring the efforts to root the homeless out of the parks, and have several actions planned against the city. So much happens on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep up with it. Every day there’s something new.

Barfield is a former jailhouse lawyer who, because of his criminal record, is not permitted to become an attorney. The law allows him to practice as a paralegal, which he does enthusiastically, defending so many unpopular causes that surely a movie will be made about his life some day. In the whole country, he is one of the more flamboyant public figures involved with homeless issues. As a not-quite lawyer, he is in a position similar to that of many not-quite-reporters.

The great news-gatherers and news-dispensers of the past and present deserve infinite respect. Still, there has probably never been a time when citizen journalism flourished more ornately or more effectively. The general public may never hear of the contributions made to justice by their fellow Americans whose energy is directed according to Motivation 3.0, the formulation articulated by Daniel Pink as a combination of autonomy, purpose, and mastery.

Few people will ever know how much any story was enriched by amateur sleuthing and bureaucrat-bothering, contributed by ordinary folks who aspire to be the difference they want to see in the world.

Reactions?

Source: “The Criminalization of Black Homelessness,” AlterNet.org, 12/06/16
Source: “Homeless man jailed after charging cell phone,” OrlandoSentinal.com, 11/13/12
Source: “Homeless phone-charging “thief” wanted security,” StreetRoots.org, 03/06/15
Source: “Portland Police Bravely Defend Public From Homeless Woman Looking To Charge Her Cell Phone,” TechDirt.com, 03/19/15
Source: “Jailed for Charging a Cell Phone? 7 Cruelest Instances of Class Warfare in America,”
AlterNet.org, 04/08/15
Photo credit: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes (pedrosimoes7) via Visualhunt/ CC BY

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Interesting Housing Ideas

penn-ave-washington-dcThis week we turn from regretting the current housing situation to exploring a couple of intriguing ideas. For CityLab.com, Kriston Capps articulated one of America’s frequently-asked questions:

There’s vacant property everywhere, and there are homeless people everywhere. So why the hell don’t we use that property to house the homeless?

The answer may lie in the somewhat obscure Title V, part of 1987’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the same legislation that demanded education for children experiencing homelessness. Title V says that property no longer wanted by the federal government can and should be given to states, cities and nonprofits, for housing and relevant needed services.

The long and winding road that must be traveled to do this is described by Capps in exquisite detail which is briefly encapsulated here. Although Title V is “a shockingly sensible way to tap into a vast amount of property sitting unused in American cities,” the process sounds excruciating, so challenging, in fact, that in 2003, almost 1,000 orphan federal properties deemed as homeless shelter-suitable were on the roster — yet only 17 applications were made.

How it starts

The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gathers information on properties that Uncle Sam is done with. Their availability is made known to interested parties, and homeless-related causes are at an advantage. Before the government can sell or otherwise convey a property, it has to be offered first to an organization dedicated to alleviating homelessness.

Although HUD does the publicity, application must be made via the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Capps wrote:

To receive final approval from HHS, an applicant would need to demonstrate not just expertise but also a financing plan to convert the building or property. (Title V commits no funds to homeless services.) That could be difficult for an applicant to demonstrate on a tight turn-around of just 90 days… Agencies frequently fail to comply with Title V, and there have been consistent congressional efforts to bypass it.

Still, despite difficulties, it is being done. In Los Angeles, the Salvation Army used Title V to create the Bell Shelter. San Francisco is working on a similar plan to build two structures with an overall 250 housing units. In Washington, D.C., the process is underway to turn a former federal warehouse into a combination of permanent supportive housing for seniors and transitional services facility.

Capps wrote:

Title V has created some 500 emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities, nonprofit offices, and other spaces using about 900 acres of federal land across 30 states and D.C.

Last December, recognizing the shortcomings of the original legislation, Congress passed some more laws to fix it. Available properties are now listed online, and the application process is easier. Permanent supportive housing is now allowed. If a local government, faith-based organization or housing nonprofit wants to turn an old federal building into a shelter, apparently zoning laws and the objections of neighborhood associations can be ignored.

Can they work together?

Truth-Out.org recently published a piece by Christa Hillstrom that focuses on how locally owned businesses thrive when organized as co-operatives. Could these two concepts meld together? Could a housing co-op meet the requirements to get a big, formerly federal building? Word on the street is that the headquarters of the FBI (pictured) might soon be available. As Capps reminds us, any organization that can turn it into a homeless shelter gets first dibs.

Reactions?

Source: “The Unsung Government Program That Gives Federal Property to the Homeless,” CityLab.com, April 2017
Photo credit: kmf164 via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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A Few Things About Rent

min-wage-state-mapGeorge Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, published another book 80 years ago called The Road to Wigan Pier, about the terrible conditions in England just after the Great Depression. What does it remind you of?

In the industrial areas the mere difficulty of getting hold of a house is one of the worst aggravations of poverty. It means that people will put up with anything — any hole and corner slum, any misery of bugs and rotting floors and cracking walls, any extortion of skinflint landlords and blackmailing agents — simply to get a roof over their heads.

Most of the people I talked to had given up the idea of ever getting a decent habitation again. They were all out of work, and a job and a house seemed to them about equally remote and impossible. Some hardly seemed to care; others realized quite clearly in what misery they were living.

It reminds us of the situation in parts of America today, where more and more economically stressed people are competing for fewer and fewer affordable rentals. Remember our posts about Airbnb as it manifests in Los Angeles and San Francisco?

More happened. The short-term rental broker sued the city of San Francisco and here’s the crazy part: Airbnb had participated in writing the law it sued about, one that “capped short-term rentals at 90 days in addition to requiring renters to register.” Doesn’t sound so unreasonable, does it?

Airbnb soon reversed its stance, and claimed that the law violates not only the First Amendment free speech right, it also violates the federal Communications Decency Act. Gizmodo’s Angela Chen explains exactly how, along with other complicated circumstances, and also why the mayors of 10 big cities met to figure out what to do about Airbnb.

Airbnb is also accused in other contexts as being exclusively white-privileged. Proponents call it homesharing, to make it sound all warm and fuzzy, because who would want to come out against homesharing?

But these domiciles are not being freely shared with newly-evicted families, no, they are being rented at unbelievably elevated prices to people who already have at least one home. Property owners can make so much more money renting to a never-ending series of vacationers than to, for instance, a nice family looking for stable situation to raise a couple of kids in.

Not inspiring of optimism

Meanwhile, who wouldn’t want to know about a rental ripoff even more disgusting than Airbnb? Rentberry, described as “a cross between Craigslist and eBay, wants to expand from 10 to 1,000 U.S. cities. Basically, from the highest bidders’ pool, landlords can choose the prospective tenant who makes the best impression.

Supposedly, it will even lower rents in some parts of the country. This prediction is partly based on an outlandish-sounding claim that there is an oversupply of apartments in America:

[…] if it takes off and becomes the new standard for renting apartments… landlords will have the control.

[…] the ease of having background checks already complete and the possibility of higher rents than expected could prove enticing.

And Rentberry isn’t the only one to see the potential in this business model. Competitors like Biddwell are also coming up, ensuring that this idea won’t live or die with just one startup.

The following notes were taken by your correspondent who went undercover to a seminar for Colorado landlords, presented by a nationally acclaimed consultant. This was around 20 years ago — in the good old days:

He gave them advice on what he called a powerful control tool. “Do not give yearly leases. By keeping the tenants on a month-to month lease, you can get rid of them in ten days instead of thirty.”

Discussing three-day eviction, he exclaimed, “This is fabulous stuff, fabulous. For crying out loud, use it!”

renters-income-chart

Simple Charts Are the Best Charts

… Such as this one from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Much of their raw data, incidentally, comes from the decennial census, and here are some facts about that:

The census is one of the most impressive attempts any country makes to count its own people, a crucial building block for the world’s largest economy…

The census affects every corner of America, determining where hundreds of billions of federal dollars flow annually, where businesses open new stores and which states gain — or lose — seats in the House of Representatives in 2020 reapportionment.

The bad news, as delivered by Danny Vinik, is that the nation’s ability to carry out its next national census appears to be threatened. How this can particularly affect the expenditure of $500 billion dollars in such areas as housing, based on the American Community Survey, is explained in chilling detail by ScienceMag.org.

More posts concerning rent and other closely related topics:

  1. Living on the Shifting Sands of Affordability
  2. Minimum Wage and the Rental Market
  3. Economic Homelessness, Rent, and Deadened Memories
  4. The Fight for $15!
  5. Does Tyrone Poole Have the Rental Housing Answer?
  6. Ending and Preventing Economic Homelessness
  7. The Universal Living Wage
  8. Economic Homelessness in New York: One Man’s Story

Reactions?

Source: “The Road to Wigan Pier,” George Orwell
Source: “Airbnb Sues San Francisco Over Law It Helped Draft,” Gizmodo.com, 06/28/16
Source: “Bidding Website Rentberry May Be the Startup of Your Nightmares,” Gizmodo.com, 04/02/17
Source: “Trump’s Threat to the 2020 Census,” Politico.com, 04/09/17
Source: “Scientists fear pending attack on federal statistics collection,” ScienceMag.org, 01/03/17
Image sources: Fair use (top), CBPP

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A Tale of Two Parks

sacramento-ca-state-house-buildingThe statehouse in Sacramento, California (pictured), is surrounded by a 40-acre park, one of the luckiest parks in the world because, for over two decades, caring for it was the obsession of a chronically homeless man named Randall Koroush.

Journalist Cynthia Hubert wrote:

He picked up fallen camellia blossoms, oak tree branches and palm fronds. He raked leaves from the steps and sidewalk. He polished iron gates and swept dirt from bathroom floors. No one paid Koroush for his work.

He would arrive first thing in the morning and spend 10 or 12 hours making sure the park stayed free of litter. He always wore a clean white t-shirt tucked into jeans, and never accepted any offer of food or drink. His habitual lunch was a cup of instant ramen noodles.

The park administration allowed him to store his belongings in an old greenhouse, but he slept under a bridge or behind a church. With people, he would respond politely, but not chat. Sometimes he talked to himself or to a person who wasn’t present, but then, don’t we all?

Mike Nielson, a General Services supervisor who knew Koroush for most of his time at the park, said, “He wanted to do right by this place. He wanted it to look good.” A police officer described him as having “dignity and purpose.” Although visitors sometimes reported him as a suspicious person, all the law enforcers who patrol the park on bicycles and horses looked out for him. They knew that Koroush was the son of a California Highway Patrol retiree and brother of a current CHP employee. The family acknowledges how kindly their son was treated.

Escape from history

Not many people knew that, back in the day, Koroush had never been very good at holding a job. He had been a hard drug addict, though at the time of his death at age 56 he hadn’t used in more than 10 years. As a child, Koroush wanted to be a forest ranger. His “poor choices” ruled that out, but dedicating himself to a park was the next best thing. That is his mother’s theory, and it is as good as any other.

Hubert wrote, “Koroush had four siblings and parents who loved him and tried and failed on many occasions to get him inside.” He did laundry and had the occasional meal with his folks, but getting back to the park was his number one priority.

The reporter goes on to say:

According to police and relatives, he walked into Sutter General Hospital on Feb. 1, toting his belongings, struggling to breathe and with cuts and bruises on his face. He died at UC Davis Medical Center a few days later.

There were pre-existing medical problems, but the patient had also had apparently been assaulted. However, with no reliable evidence, the police did not institute a homicide investigation. Although his death was a great loss to Sacramento, Randall Koroush was a rare and special case. In the entire country there are probably very few cities, capitol or otherwise, where a person in his situation would be treated with such leniency.

Los Angeles

The other park story is also from California. “Skid Row” is a term that can send shivers down the spine. In Los Angeles, Skid Row means 10,000 people in tenements and welfare hotels and tents, in about a 50 square block area that is constantly squeezed by encroaching development. This evolving community has little in common with the Downtown and Historic Cultural neighborhood councils that claim it. Activists are trying to break away and form a discrete Skid Row neighborhood council.

A few years back, there were state-level budget cuts, and the area’s only two public parks almost lost their funding. The city took over to provide enough support to pay for the upkeep of San Julian and Gladys. Members of the public also contribute their time and energy, and one of the most noticeable has been A.J. Martin.

For LAWeekly.com, Mindy Farabee told his story, which she casts as an example of “the redemptive power of just showing up for your community everyday.” The journalist wrote:

His gig at the park allows him “to give, to help, to be a part of something,” he explains. “It’s helping me stay solid, it’s helping me stay firm, it’s helping me personally stay secure instead of lost in a lot of misery and a lot of torture and a lot of pain.”

In an unofficial capacity, Martin takes care of Gladys Park. He makes sure the restrooms are in order, and issues brooms to other helpers, who may be marginally functional at best, yet do a conscientious job of sweeping and tidying.

The manager of an adjacent hotel says, “Things run smoothly with him around.” This is no small feat, because a lot goes on there. Health fairs for the local street people and free clinics for their pets set up in the park. A New Orleans-style jazz band makes events festive. There are sports teams for kids and, as might be expected, it is where faith-based groups bring food.
Gladys Park hosts annual two-day art festival organized by the Los Angeles Poverty Department, the collective whose slogan is “Walk the Talk.”

An important function

The journalist follows Martin through an evening as he closes the park to get ready for a meeting of the solidly established local branch of AA. Farabee says:

At 7 p.m., A.J. opens the gates again and the Drifters and their fellow travelers file in, like a walking Bukowski poem… Some come from as far as Malibu, Orange County and Whittier to remind themselves where they came from or where they could end up.

It is AA policy to serve freely, but this group passes the hat to provide Martin with a small stipend. When the meeting ends at 8:30 p.m., he locks up the park again, this time from the outside, and sleeps on a nearby sidewalk.

As of the most recent news mention, less than a year ago, he was still a fixture. Also, last summer, new water fountains were installed outside the gates of both Skid Row parks.

Reactions?

Source: “He cared for a huge park for free while sleeping under a bridge. His death is a mystery,” NewsObserver.com, 02/19/17
Source: “The Homeless Man Who Runs a Park,” LAWeekly.com, 08/14/14
Source: “Skid Row Gets New, Much-Needed Drinking Fountains,” Curbed.com, 06/29/16
Photo credit: Mark Goebel (Sangre-La.com) via Visualhunt/CC BY

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Spring Happenings

Nat Day of Action Group cheer

The National Day of Action for Housing took place this year on April 1, and was covered for Austin’s American Statesman by Elizabeth Findell on the front page of the Metro section. (The picture on this page is by Sue Watlov Phillips, in Washington DC.)

In Austin, a group of awareness-raisers carried signs and serenaded shoppers and diners along South Congress Avenue, bowing after their chants concerning affordable housing. They shook some hands, and passed out flyers explaining how 25 cities, including Washington, D.C., joined in holding rallies and teach-ins on the day.

Philosophical underpinnings

Speaking of Washington, many concerned people have noticed that among all the verbiage proceeding from the nation’s capital since the new administration moved in, the word “homelessness” has been notably absent. Yet this is a huge and horrible domestic issue. When coupled with other current trends, like defunding health care and de-staffing the VA and releasing police forces from their already scanty restraints, homelessness just might get worse before it gets better.

We tend to naively assume that the taxes we pay will take care of all this stuff. Yes, we are correct in believing that those funds ought to be used to alleviate societal problems like hunger, homelessness, sickness, ignorance, and so forth.

But… We have to face the fact that this is not happening to anywhere near the extent that it should. The dollars we put into the system are not being converted into help for the people in desperate need. The awful truth is that we are all called upon to make more contributions of money, time, attention, self-education, and compassion. It’s the only way we will make it through these times.

Back to Austin

The Statesman website offers a slide show of a dozen photos of the event. Attendees included The Challenger Street Newspaper journalist Jennifer Gesche in a mechanical wheelchair. Many of the participants were individuals suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and House the Homeless President Richard R. Troxell has been working with them to secure disability benefits, successfully in seven cases so far, with four more still in progress.

Richard says:

I explained to the guys that they were Ambassadors for all the other homeless folks who could not be with us today, and to smile. Before they knew it, they were smiling for real. People could feel our power and sincerity. Everyone had a good old time, with warm feeling all around. They felt appreciated and cared about. Some told me they ended the day with hope…

House the Homeless has many messages, including the suggestion that Austin needs a workers’ hotel, a single-room occupancy establishment with shared facilities to keep the rent really low. A higher minimum wage would help, as well as more reasonable rental options.

Predictably, in the Statesman‘s comment section, someone asked, “Why don’t the homeless get a job?” This person obviously skipped the paragraph that reports, “Troxell said about half of the nation’s homeless people spend at least part of each week working.”

As always, House the Homeless urges people to learn about and support the Universal Living Wage, the idea whose time has come; the concept to prevent homelessness at its core. Call up the page and see how employers actually save money by paying a living wage — how, in fact, a living wage is good for not only for workers, but also for business owners.

How easy it is for an employer to have a team of valuable assets rather than reluctant, resentful workers who feel exploited and unappreciated! “With a long-term crew of capable workers, training costs are reduced, and experienced employees make fewer dangerous and expensive mistakes. There is less unscheduled absenteeism, and appreciably less internal theft,” Richard says, and a great many other eminently sensible things besides.

We also recommend his white paper, “Livable Incomes: Real Solutions that Stimulate the Economy.” For in-depth information about all these topics and more, please see Richard’s book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line. It chronicles an amazing array of activism, explains why many things in America do not work quite as they should, and offers numerous excellent ideas for fixing those things.

Demonstrate on Tuesday, April 18

If employers paid a fair living wage, the taxpayers would not be called upon to share so much of the burden of need. For instance, if employers paid a fair living wage, at least some fraction of people who now need food stamps would not, and, of course, people who are now homeless would be able to get themselves under roofs. Not all of them — but at least some. And that would be a vast improvement over the situation as it now stands.

To get fired up, see Richard’s 2011 Tax Day appeal. Make some signs and banners and get on down to your local post office to make a show, and remember:

Livable Incomes are the Gateway to Affordable Housing. — Richard R. Troxell

Reactions?

Source: “‘Mighty homeless’ serenade South Austin diners in advocacy effort,” MyStatesman.com, 04/01/17
Image: National Day of Action Group Cheer by Sue Watlov Phillips

0

Odd Jobs

recycling-cans-in-bagsRecently, House the Homeless looked at the situation in Washington, D.C., where shady contractors pit people experiencing homelessness against evictees (i.e., the newly homeless), and it’s ugly.

In any city, there are bound to be a few jobs specially allotted to, or created by, those who are out of options. The viability of a career in recycling depends on local ordinances; access to a buyer; having a way to store and transport the merchandise; and other factors.

California’s recycling rules have been in effect for almost 30 years, and for many street people, their only income derives from bottles and cans. In San Francisco, a person might make between $15 and $35 per day, depending on good weather, good health, and good luck in not having their haul stolen by competitors. There used to be 30 redemption sites and now are only two, very close to each other geographically, so people in any other part of the city have a hard time.

Waste management expert Martin Medina estimates that about 1% of the earth’s urban dwellers (about 15 million people altogether) live by harvesting society’s castaway materials. In some places their activities are, of course, criminalized.

For CommonDreams.org, Jack Chang wrote a respectful tribute to the trash pickers of the world:

Every day, they rescue hundreds of thousands of tons of material from streets and trash dumps that get reprocessed into all kinds of products. That not only cuts back on the resources used by industries but also lightens the load on dumps that are quickly reaching capacity.

“Urban Tactics; Nabbing the Elusive Nickel” by Saki Knafo is a still very relevant description of the world of “canners” in New York City a decade ago.

Hired feet

In 2012, for The Huffinton Post, Arthur Delaney described the activities of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters which hired the homeless in Washington, D.C., for $8.50 an hour, to carry picket signs and raise their voices in chants. Critics decried a “cynical use of homeless people to do this dirty work.” The union seemed out of patience with anyone who questioned this hiring practice. Its members were busy at their jobs, and besides, the method had already been deployed in seven other cities.

From one of them, only the previous year, Joel Gehrke had reported this story:

In Grand Rapids, Mich., the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters has started protesting companies that hire a local non-union carpentry firm, Ritsema Associates. Where does the union get its picketers? It hires them from a homeless shelter that is supported by Ritsema Associates.

So it gets very complicated and, as temp jobs go, picketing is in a whole different class from trash recovery. People experiencing homelessness also have been employed to count other people experiencing homelessness.

Some entrepreneurial individuals carve out highly idiosyncratic paths. Remember when Ted Williams, the “man with the golden voice,” was rediscovered and became for a short while an outsider celebrity? His former tent-mate offered Williams’s leftover cardboard signs for sale on eBay.

Reactions?

Source: “How Homeless Recyclers Make a Living Redeeming Recyclables,” PBS.org, 05/13/16
Source: “Scorned Trash Pickers Become Global Environmental Force,” CommonDreams.org, 03/25/08
Source: “Urban Tactics; Nabbing the Elusive Nickel,” NYTimes.com, 07/09/06
Source: “Paid To Protest, Some Homeless Almost Make A Living,” HuffingtonPost.com, 11/24/12
Source: “Union hires homeless picketers — and it gets better,” SFExaminer.com, 02/17/11
Source: “Homeless Count or Are Counted,” LATimes.com, 01/27/05
Image: Otterman56 (Ed)

0

The National Day of Action, and Some Myths

homeless-man-on-cornerApril 1 is the National Day of Action for Housing. It is a Saturday, and what a person might very usefully do if at all possible, is travel to the nation’s capitol for a rally and overnight vigil at the National Mall.

Supporters are encouraged to bring tents, signs, families, and friends. The Day of Action is meant to create temporary tent cities, to call attention to the housing crisis, the healthcare situation, the ever-increasing criminalization of poverty and homelessness, and the racial inequality inherent in all of these.

But if a trip to Washington, D.C., is out of the question, do not despair. Many other cities are also observing the event. If one is not near you, consider becoming a local organizer. Now would be a great time to start planning what is called a sister action event for next year, and the National Coalition for the Homeless will help.

Their nine-page pamphlet (PDF) titled “National Day of Action for Housing Media Toolkit” includes Talking Points and Tips; Frequently Asked Questions; Social Media; Press Release; and Contact Information. When framed in terms of goals, the Day of Action objectives include:

Preserving and creating housing funding on local, state and national levels for low to moderate income households in particular… Foreclosures and limited housing assistance contribute to the increase in homelessness among the low-income families in particular.

Stopping ordinances and practices that criminalize the unhoused, promote racial discrimination, and prevent equal treatment of immigrants and the LGBTQ community… These ordinances include criminal penalties that may prevent those in need from receiving housing and social services. The penalties are doled out for violation of such life-sustaining activities as eating, sitting, sleeping in public places, camping, and asking for money.

Promoting access to emergency housing, employment, food assistance, and healthcare for all Americans in need… Poor health is big contributing factor to homelessness, as both a cause and the result. Exposure to elements, violence, stress, addition, mental health conditions, and other serious conditions that require regular treatment are contribute to the problem.

Homelessness Myths

This is a good time to look at the collection of homelessness myths collated by journalist German Lopez for Vox.com.

An Urban Institute survey found that more than 40% of homeless people they questioned were likely to have done some paying work in the month previous to the survey. Homeless adults in families are regarded in some ways as being in a class by themselves, because of the responsibility for others beside themselves. A Housing and Urban Development study found that 17% of homeless adults in families actually had paying jobs at the time of the survey, and that over half of the people questioned had worked during the previous year.

This leads naturally to the existence of another myth, the belief among allegedly sane Americans that having a job means that a person can afford a place to live. Name a state, any state, and the unfortunate truth is that a person with a full-time minimum-wage job can’t afford to rent an apartment. House the Homeless offers plenty of material addressing this problem.

Some housed people think that homelessness is always forever, but in actuality, only one in six people experiencing homelessness are classified as “chronic.” Sometimes this is related to mental illness, and the number of people who turn up with previously undiagnosed and untreated traumatic brain injury is shocking.

One of the big myths is that homelessness exists only in the interiors of large urban environments, which is simply not true. In fact, slightly less than half of America’s homeless people are in big cities. However, the big-city numbers are growing disproportionately. People think that alleviating homelessness is a federal budget-breaker, but compared to a lot of other, less urgent problems, government spending on homelessness is paltry.

Lopez’s last paragraph is the best, and addresses Myth #11, that fighting homelessness is expensive. Not when compared to the alternatives:

Studies show that simply housing people can reduce the number of homeless at a lower cost to society than leaving them without homes. The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness found housing costs $10,000 per person per year, while leaving them homeless costs law enforcement, jails, hospitals, and other community services $31,000 per person per year.

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Source: “National Day of Action for Housing Media Toolkit,” NationalHomeless.org, 2017
Source: “11 myths about homelessness in America,” Vox.com, 09/23/15
Photo credit: Doug Waldron via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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Brain Injury Awareness Day Is March 22

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In Washington, D.C., Brain Injury Awareness Day will be observed by a series of events organized by the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, and specifically by its co-chairs, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.).

Earlier this year, House the Homeless sent an open letter to the administration in the nation’s capitol, presenting its 5-Year Plan for veterans as the top item on the agenda. It contained a shorter version of the information presented by Richard R. Troxell’s “Traumatic Brain Injury — A Protocol to Help Disabled Homeless Veterans within a Secure, Nurturing Community” and of the arguments set forth in that document. It tells the story of the 2016 survey carried out by HtH, and of what the organization’s consciousness of TBI has developed into.

How does the problem originate?

In theory, there should be no reason for military veterans to be jobless or homeless. These are people who were competent enough at life to be inducted into the armed services in the first place, and who were trained for one of the many types of jobs needed in the service, and who fulfilled the obligation they signed up for. In theory, veterans are the last people who should be wandering the countryside or the urban streets without anywhere to live.

As a general matter, approximately half the total homeless population in the United States is made up of people who are able to work but who lack jobs and affordable housing. The other half is made up of people who can’t work because of disability. Of that number, a great many are veterans. The disabilities that afflict them are chiefly due to TBI. Shockingly, the traumatic brain injuries they suffered go mainly unrecognized and undiagnosed.

The mystery of veteran homelessness is easier to understand when TBI, or traumatic brain injury, is taken into account. By now, most of the world understands the implications of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and, in many places, violently shaking a baby in a way that can cause brain damage is recognized as an aggressive act deserving of criminal consequences. What people tend to forget is that adults are also vulnerable to the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) that can result from such injury to a human being of whatever age.

What can be done?

For a detailed yet understandable explanation of the whole subject, an excellent resource is an illustrated guide written by Dr. Mark Gordon, the pioneer of the field. Here we learn that traumatic brain injury is usually not diagnosed at the time it occurs; sometimes diagnosed years later when it has ripened into CTE, and often never recognized at all. The progressive degenerative condition is responsible for many physical and mental health problems that are misdiagnosed or blamed on a lack of personal responsibility.

Often, untreated TBI contributes to the astonishing statistics that tally suicides committed by veterans. In 2009 the Pentagon announced that according to their own estimate, as many as 360,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were walking around with traumatic brain injuries.

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Troxell’s Open Letter says of Dr. Gordon:

Now he has crafted a medical protocol using human hormones to positively affect TBI. When asked, he has framed program success in this manner, “Out of 98 affected Veterans, we have had between 50 and 100% reduction of the symptoms displayed.” This is both astonishing and medically dramatic when looking at the range of symptoms involved. Realize that reduction of just one of these symptoms has life changing results.

The Millennium TBI Project, Warrior Angels Foundation, House the Homeless, Inc., HTH, are now collaborating with Alan Graham at Community First! Village, a 51 acre facility in Austin, Texas, where a 10 member homeless Veteran model project will assess and treat their brain injuries.

The complete story of these organizations’ effort is contained in “Traumatic Brain Injury,” mentioned at the beginning of this post. Four powerful and determined groups have banded together to break through the national brain fog that seems to surround this issue, and to make life-changing and life-saving differences for people affected by TBI, especially if they are veterans, and especially if they are homeless.

Please take advantage of the consolidation of so much important information, and consider donating to the continuation of these crucial efforts. A good place to do that is through Warrior Angels, a non-profit organization founded and run by combat veterans for the sole purpose of treating TBI.

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Source: “Traumatic Brain Injury: A Clinical Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment,” TBIMedLegal.com, 2013
Image courtesy Dr. Gordon.

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Learning From the 2017 Police Survey

lego-policemanConcurrent with the annual Thermal Underwear Drive party for people who are experiencing homelessness, House the Homeless (HtH) has established a splendid tradition — the annual survey. The guests are offered the opportunity to share their thoughts on a particular topic. Past subjects have included work, sleep; Traumatic Brain Injury, and other medical issues.

Most often, unhoused Americans struggle with at least one major life problem. For instance, even someone who was in pretty good shape when they hit the streets will probably not stay healthy for long. Sleep deprivation is difficult to take seriously until one has personally suffered from it for several nights in a row. Among homeless people, the “age acceleration” effect is real.

The answers contributed by the survey participants are wonderfully helpful for discovering the most effective ways of assisting people to get their lives back on track. The information is collated and commented upon, and sent to people and institutions both in Austin and around the USA. In the best-case scenario, facts from the HtH Surveys will help guide policymakers.

Written by HtH President Richard R. Troxell, the introduction to the report on the 2017 Police Survey says:

Each of the ten questions in the survey include comments that are intended to enhance the readers’ understanding of the implications of each question.

This survey documents the increasing criminalization of homelessness. It seems that relations with “the system” are a top-priority topic, because it was previously addressed only two years ago. This proximity in time allows for some alarming comparisons. For instance, over those 24 months, the number of women experiencing homelessness in Austin has increased by 28%.

One question is particularly significant in light of Austin’s No Sit/No Lie ordinance, which HtH helped design with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in mind. It reads like this:

5) Has a Police Officer ever given you a ticket for sitting or lying down even though you told them you were disabled or too sick to move?

Also crucial is a new question that had not appeared on the 2015 survey:

5a) Have your Class C misdemeanor tickets (No Sit/No Lie, No Camping, etc.) ever been barriers to getting a job or housing?

Twenty-eight percent of the people experiencing homelessness in Austin said that yes, Class C misdemeanor tickets had interfered with their ability to obtain work or housing. Let that sink in for a minute. Even government programs that are meant to help the homeless may balk at people with “criminal” records, which is cruelly ironic when the government itself creates the relevant offenses by criminalizing such acts as sitting a sidewalk. It is almost as if “the system” intentionally sets out to manufacture reasons to refuse help to destitute citizens.

And even when it issues housing vouchers, the government can’t force landlords to accept tenants with “criminal” records. What is the point of proscribing acts which unhoused people can not help but commit? In what universe does it make sense to exacerbate the problems of people who are already so thoroughly disadvantaged?

To Question 5c, almost an equal number survey participants (27%) answered N/A, or “not applicable.” These are people who are too disabled to work or even to seek housing; people who have given up; people who have not gotten close enough to applying for either work or housing for the question to even matter.

The seventh question brings to light a barbarous practice that is not supposed to happen at all:

7) Have you ever had your ID taken by police and not returned?

Twenty-nine percent of the respondents, or 74 individuals, answered yes to this — a total slightly better than the 33% two years ago.

Nevertheless, Richard says:

[…] this is still completely unacceptable as replacing photo ID is very costly in terms of both time and money. Remember, these people are homeless. They are indigent. All social services in Austin require photo identification, so to be left without photo ID only acts as an additional barrier to escaping homelessness.

Here is another disturbing question, and the replies are even more disturbing:

8) Have you ever had your things taken by police without giving you a receipt and the name of a contact person to get your things back?

Thirty-six percent of the people said yes, which is well over one-third. Imagine that. People who already have next to nothing are vulnerable to having even that small bit confiscated by law enforcement officers, and there is no recourse. As Richard puts it, they “are having all of their medications, prescriptions, and important papers taken and never returned.”

He is also quite clear about a thing that apparently happens a lot. A person is ticketed and told to show up in court on a certain date, and then when they show up, they are told that their ticket “is not in the system yet.” So they have to return, maybe more than once. Thirty-seven percent of the people said it had happened to them. Richard’s reaction is:

Any action that causes people experiencing homelessness to make multiple trips to the court system to prevent a ticket from “going to warrant” that leads to their arrest is detrimental to their existence and simply an additional barrier to their escaping homelessness.

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Source: “2017 Police Survey,” HouseTheHomeless.org, 2017
Photo credit: orangeaurochs via Visualhunt/CC BY

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