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Richer Rich, Poorer Poor, and PSC

Pepper Spray CopHouse the Homeless looked at the Associated Press journalist Hope Yen’s report on the recent Pew survey about attitudes concerning class in the United States. It turned out to be so interesting, there’s more to say about it.

Increasing poverty and “stubbornly high unemployment” are mentioned, societal conditions that are no longer fresh news to anyone. We have seen months of Occupy movement activities, including in many places the welcoming into the ranks of people experiencing homelessness.

The media have been full of photos of peaceful demonstrators being struck, stunned, sprayed, and otherwise brutalized. The impression such pictures give is that the members of America’s police forces are desperate to keep their jobs. The police seem to be so panicked by the thought of unemployment, they are willing to drop the charade of protecting the people, to become the tools of an elite class that does not even have their best interests in mind. Afraid of losing their security, of becoming broke and powerless, they are overtaken by a primal urge to attack the thing they fear becoming.

Oddly, what really struck a public nerve was not an instance of out-of-control violence, but the iconic photo of protesters sitting peacefully on the ground, being pepper-sprayed by a UC Davis cop. His perfectly casual attitude of “business as usual” is far more insulting and frightening than a display of temper. Going about his job with all the composure of a gardener watering flowers, Pepper Spray Cop (PSC) became an Internet meme.

Hundreds of adaptations were generated by creative people with graphics software, and Tumblr has a great collection. The PSC on this page has been separated from its original context and touched up, for the convenience of anyone inspired to do some PSC art.

Hope Yen quoted one of the survey analysts from the Pew Research Center, Richard Morin, who sees “a growing public awareness of underlying shifts in the distribution of wealth in American society.” In 2005, the top 10% of the population held 49% of the wealth. By 2009, the top 10% held 56% of the wealth. Meanwhile, almost half the people in America are in a condition of poverty, and no matter how generous and caring they might be, a great many Americans are simply not in a position to help those who are in the worst condition of all, the actually homeless and out on the streets or packed in shelters.

Yet, incredibly, Reason magazine’s Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, seems to think everything is okay because “income mobility is actually alive and well in the United States of America.” She interviewed a University of Chicago economist named Steven Kaplan, whose main point seems to be that, whoever the top 1% were in 1990, they were not the same individuals as the top 1% in 2000, and so on. Things get churned around, and there is plenty of “income mobility.”

In other words, some people get rich but don’t stay that way, and some people who were not wealthy become wealthy. It’s as if, because different people take turns in the poverty sector, that somehow makes everything okay.

Yen quotes Scott Winship, from the Brookings Institute, who talks about other measures of economic distribution. He says:

These accounts generally conflate disappointing growth in men’s earnings with growth in household income, which has been impressive. Growth in women’s earnings has also been impressive…

We’ve got scholars claiming that the average household has a higher income than at some point back in history. Big whoop! Even if the average family income is higher, it’s achieved at the cost of both parents working. Two adults have to work, if they can find work, to maintain a household economic standard that, in the past, could have been attained with only one adult working. This is not progress.

Yen asks the rhetorical question: “So why are people still sleeping outside in protest?” A better question is, why are so many people still sleeping outside because they don’t have anyplace else to sleep? If things are so economically rosy, why are thousands of Americans still homeless? Maybe because we don’t yet have the Universal Living Wage, which promises to end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.

But what about economic charts and graphs? Glad you asked. Here are some magnificent ones, gathered by various sources and presented by Business Insider. The charts have such titles as:

The gap between the top 1% and everyone else hasn’t been this bad since the Roaring Twenties.

Half of America has 2.5% of the wealth.

The last two decades were great… if you were a CEO or owner. Not if you were anyone else.

Despite the myth of social mobility, poor Americans have a SLIM CHANCE of rising to the upper middle class

In introducing the charts, Gus Lubin says,

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Cliché, sure, but it’s also more true than at any time since the Gilded Age… The poor are getting poorer, wages are falling behind inflation, and social mobility is at an all-time low.

Reactions?

Source: “Conflict between rich, poor strongest in 24 years,” Statesman.com, 01/11/12
Source: “For Richer and for Poorer,” Reason.com, 02/12
Source: “15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Wealth And Inequality In America,” Business Insider, 04/09/10
Image by DonkeyHotey, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Perceptions and Poverty

exploredAssociated Press reporter Hope Yen recently wrote about a telephone survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in December of 2011. More than 2,000 adults were questioned about class tensions, which researchers conclude are at their most intense in 25 years.

The article says:

About 3 in 10 Americans polled said there are ‘very strong’ conflicts between the rich and poor…. That is double the share who believed so in July 2009 and the largest proportion reporting that view in the 24 years the question has been asked in surveys.

The thing is, this survey is about perceptions, otherwise known as opinions, concerning the economic divide. It used to be mainly Democrats, African-Americans, and youth who were conscious of an upsetting disparity between the rich and the poor. But now, this survey reveals, even white folks are seeing the huge chasm between the richest and the poorest, and not liking what they see. Why? Because a lot of formerly middle-class Americans see themselves sliding closer and closer to the abyss.

It’s the kind of issue that people get emotional about, and form opinions about, but can we really understand what they think, when the framework of questions is so rigid? Thanks to this study of attitudes, we now know that:

… about 46 percent of Americans hold a disapproving view that rich people are wealthy because they were fortunate enough to be born into money or have the right connections. But almost as many people — 43 percent — say wealthy people are rich ‘mainly because of their own hard work, ambition or education.’

Why are the pollsters asking respondents to choose one or the other? In the real world, both are true. The correct answer is, some people have money because it was given to them, or they were granted unfair opportunities to acquire wealth. And, even worse, some are rolling in dough because they threw their souls overboard to make room for greed. As Balzac and many others have said, “Behind every great fortune there is a great crime.”

The rest of the correct answer is, a lot of people have become wealthy because of their ambition, drive, work ethic, integrity, talent, ingenuity, and a whole lot of other desirable qualities. There is a quite a number of different ways for a person to reach the high-income brackets.

But the more disturbing question is, why is there so much concern about asking Americans their opinion about things, whether it’s the motherhood fitness quotient of Britney Spears, or the qualifications of their fellow citizens to have big bank accounts? What people think doesn’t really count for much. If the majority of people think that the Earth is balanced on the back of a giant turtle, that doesn’t make it so, and no progress is made toward solving the planet’s problems.

There is another difficulty. This kind of either/or thinking encourages Americans to polarize: x% believe that the homeless deserve all the help a society is capable of giving, and y% believe that people experiencing homelessness are lazy specimens who deserve their bad fortune and that they have brought it on themselves.

Well, guess what? In the real world, both are true, and many other things, too. Many of the people experiencing homelessness are disabled, either mentally or physically. There just isn’t any kind of work they can do — especially when unemployment is so high, with hordes of massively overqualified workers available for even the most menial jobs.

And many, of course, are children. Surely, nobody expects them to go out and get jobs. Their lives are difficult enough, just trying to keep up in school. That’s their job. Keep the kids in mind when learning about the Universal Living Wage, which has the potential to end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers. Including the ones with kids.

Reactions?

Source: “Conflict between rich, poor strongest in 24 years,” Statesman.com, 01/11/12
Image by eflon (Alex), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Looking Back at 2011

Providence HomelessAmongst the year’s news research, one of the more interesting comments from the public to be discovered came from “pdquick,” who worked in the streets for years as a paramedic, and later as a doctor in a program for people experiencing homelessness. This person was reacting to a video clip about San Francisco‘s sit-lie ordinance, and to unkind remarks by other commentators:

If people could overcome addictions with a snap of the fingers, they wouldn’t be addictions, they would just be bad habits… You have no idea the barriers to housing — internal and external — that people face. We have a whole set of policies in place, from draconian drug laws, to public housing policies that essentially make evictees permanently homeless, that stand in the way. Then we put people into buildings where drug dealers knock on the doors all night trying to get you to buy drugs. These are collections of people whose mental illnesses often don’t mesh with each other at all. Then when they ‘fail’ in housing, we send them back to the streets with less stability and less chance at housing than they had before.

The organization Faith Advocates for Jobs, in the winter issue of its newsletter, named Looking Up at the Bottom Line as a “Books of Note” recommendation. This is, of course, the book we see over on the right-hand side of the page, written by Richard R. Troxell, and it is the place to find out how the Universal Living Wage can help you, me, and everybody.

For The Libertarian Alliance (a think tank headquartered in Britain), Kevin Carson wrote a lengthy and well-considered piece on Looking Up at the Bottom Line.

In July, when Austin’s city government announced the sale of a dozen subsidized homes, KUT News reporter Nathan Bernier interviewed Richard. The good news is, the construction of these houses was part of an ongoing program which had already put 30 families into houses. The bad news is, despite the city’s administering nearly 2,000 low-income units, and managing the Section 8 voucher program which affects 5,000 units, both programs have waiting lists numbering in the hundreds of applicants. Richard says,

Most of our ‘affordable housing’ programs have nothing to do with homelessness… We’re talking about people who don’t have anything, and don’t qualify for anything.

Instead, he thinks better results could be obtained by creating a living-wage jobs program that would help homeless people work their way off the street. While roughly half of the people experiencing homelessness in Austin (and the nation) are so disabled they cannot work, the other half are capable of working and indeed want to work. Meanwhile, House the Homeless has been kept extremely busy dealing with the citywide restructuring of funding for all social services that caused the Salvation Army, the Children’s Shelter, and Legal Aid to lose city funding.

John Joel Roberts, of PovertyInsights.org, cited Richard’s book in The Huffington Post article, relating its message to his own locale of Los Angeles:

… [T]he average rent for a one-bedroom apartment, as of May 2011, is $1,315 per month. Many housing experts believe that in order for a person to be able to pay for housed-living (such as food, utilities, transportation and clothing), a person should not pay more than one-third of his monthly income toward rent. That means in Los Angeles, the homeless man standing near the freeway needs to earn $22.76 per hour to afford the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment… Minimum wage in Los Angeles, however, is only $8 per hour. A person earning this rate could barely pay his rent, and would have nothing for food, utilities or anything else. In other words, he would be sitting in an empty apartment, darkened because of no electricity, and hungry because of not enough income to buy food.

If it makes sense to you that a person working 40 hours a week should be able to afford a roof over his or her head other than a bridge, then the Universal Living Wage makes sense too. Every member of Congress and every state Governor have been sent a copy of Looking Up at the Bottom Line. So has the President. Why not write or email them? Tell them that Troxell’s idea will stabilize small businesses, stimulate the housing industry and the economy generally, end economic homelessness for over one million minimum-wage workers, and prevent it for all 10.1 minimum-wage workers, including our returning veterans.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless React to Sit/Lie,” MissionLocal.org, 11/11/10
Source: “Richard R. Troxell. Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage,” The Libertarian Alliance: Blog, 04/27/11
Source: “City Selling 12 Subsidized Homes For $110,000 Each,” KUT News, 07/05/11
Source: “Unlivable Wages Mean Unlivable Conditions,” The Huffington Post, 06/09/11
Image by jdn (Jack Newton), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Occupy Homelessness

Invisible HomelessBarbara Ehrenreich published a very significant book called Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. More recently, she pointed out the similarities between the Occupy political protesters and people experiencing homelessness, who both engage in urban camping:

Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarps, and relieve themselves without committing a crime.

Whoever defined the three basic needs of humans as food, clothing, and shelter, could have been more accurate. For starters, clothing and shelter are both subsets of the same class, coverings to protect the body from the elements. Clothing and shelter have more similarities than differences. There are places where people get along pretty much without clothing, and even places where they can survive without shelter. There are situations where either clothing or shelter will do. So, neither of them can be called an absolute necessity at all times and places.

But nobody survives without going to the bathroom (or the vacant lot or alleyway, if necessary.) It would be much more in alignment with reality to define the three basic needs as food, body covering, and elimination.

Ehrenreich goes on to say:

As the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, many ordinary and biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets — not just urinating but sitting, lying down and sleeping.

This is what Richard R. Troxell says when inviting members of the various Occupy groups nationwide to consider the Homeless Protected Class Resolution and the Universal Living Wage as issues to coalesce around. Excerpts follow:

We certainly know the pain of homelessness here in Austin. As hard as we are working to end homelessness by getting people mental health care and safe, decent, affordable housing, there are still thousands of folks right here in the Austin area that are sleeping in their cars and living on our streets and in our woods.

While they are experiencing the trauma of losing their homes and being separated from their loved ones, they are getting ticketed, abused, their cars and belongings stolen and arrested… We fixed the No Sit No Lie ordinance… We can fix this as well.

Ehrenreich, in fact, specifically mentions Austin as exemplary, before summing up:

In Portland, Austin and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we all could be headed — the 99%, or at least the 70%, of us, every debt-laden college grad, out-of-work schoolteacher and impoverished senior — unless this revolution succeeds.

There is, in some quarters, debate over whether the homeless qualify as bona fide Occupy protesters. The answer seems obvious: they are certainly not members of the elite, all-possessing 1%. An anonymous commentator asks readers to think deeply about the difference between the homeless and the Occupy protesters, reasoning that what’s good for one is good for the other:

I have entrepreneurial spirit and I’ve decided to start a homeless camp along the river in Harrisburg… I’m going to buy some $99 tents, then charge the homeless, say, ten bucks a night… When the police show up to displace the homeless, I as their spokesperson, will insist that this is merely a protest. And we have the right to occupy as long as we want, just like our bothers and sisters down the street… I do not understand how any city can roust homeless folks when the occupy crew get to do whatever they want. And heaven forbid we should trample on their rights.

This person meant to be sarcastic, but you know what? Heaven forbid we, as a society, should trample on the rights of either the protesters or the people experiencing homelessness.

Reactions?

Source: “Tomgram: Barbara Ehrenreich, Homeless in America,” TomDispatch.com, 10/23/11
Source: “Treating the Homeless the Same As Protesters,” whptv.com, 1/18/11
Image of Invisible Homeless used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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Business, the Government, and Homelessness

Burning Man 2007 Semi TrucksThe relationship between homelessness and business is multi-faceted. Traditionally, the union and the factory owner in a company town had a certain kind of relationship, and the relationship between an apprentice and his boss, the craftsman, was something else.

In the past, employment often guaranteed a place to live, even if it meant sleeping on a floor. Today, when business and society cause homelessness, one of the results is even more underpayment. Any employer who can offer living quarters can get away with paying peanuts because the fear of homelessness is so pervasive.

Then, when the government gets into it, there is a whole new set of relationships, causes, and effects. Things are complicated because small businesses are different from big businesses. Today, giant corporations can influence the amount of homelessness in any city or state. Then, there are contract workers, independent professionals, and other kinds of workers.

The relationship between homelessness, business, and government shows up in different ways, both obvious and subtle. Obviously, underpaid or unemployed workers are at greater risk for losing their places to live. Some are the “economic homeless,” working full-time or even more, and still unable to afford housing.

The situation in the Antelope Valley is very interesting because it’s a microcosm that displays so many of the things that are wrong nationwide. Wrong how? Wrong in promoting homelessness. Across America, everybody is running around scratching for limited dollars to try and alleviate the ugly consequences of homelessness. This section of California is like a laboratory demonstration of the rapacious and coercive tactics that create homelessness.

Mars Melnicoff blew the lid off the situation in the LA Weekly with a piece called “L.A. County’s Private Property War,” with coverage so comprehensive, there is a major aspect of it we didn’t even mention yet. The thing is, an awful lot of truckers live in the area, independent operators who own their vehicles. Consulting DMV figures, Melnicoff estimates that in this small area, over a thousand people are directly supported by the 266 Class A drivers among its residents.

She interviewed Joe Rajkovacz of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and learned that 96% of the trucking industry is made up of small business owners, with 20 or fewer trucks. One-truck owners account for about half of all the registered motor carriers in the country.

The journalist quotes Rajkovacz:

A person owning one truck is not going to own a terminal … They live in the high desert… There’s a reason they live in rural, downtrodden areas — because that’s all they can afford.

Exactly. And they are mightily angered by the ignorance of the Nuisance Abatement enforcers, who don’t have clue about the trucking industry or the slightest understanding of why the huge, expensive vehicles need to be closely protected from vandalism and theft. Because of ridiculous codes, truckers are forbidden from parking in many places on the land they own out in the middle of nowhere. LA County labels their spare parts, tools, machinery, and construction materials as trash, junk, and debris, and uses that as an excuse to kick them off their own land.

Representatives of the government show up with guns and treat taxpayers like criminals, with no respect for their needs as small business owners or even for their rights as Americans. And every dollar the truckers lose in defending themselves against these incursions is a dollar they can’t spend on something else, so the domino effect rolls on to hit other local businesses.

Seems like the bureaucrats would think twice before messing around with truckers who, in this commercial nation, are responsible for bringing all the products from where they are made or grown to where they are sold. But no. A local resident told Melnicoff that the county government is “almost immune to common sense,” which is readily believable when some of their actions are pondered.

A typical story is of a trucker who has spent his off-season with his sister for years, parking his rig on her land in the midst of the desert nothingness. Which is fine with the sister, but not at all okay with the Nuisance Abatement Teams. The harassment and legal actions appear likely to continue until all the truckers, who are the backbone of everything America holds dear, are forced to abandon their properties and go elsewhere — or maybe nowhere permanent, winding up as just more drifters experiencing homelessness.

Reactions?

Source: “L.A. County’s Private Property War,” LA Weekly, 06/23/11
Image by Jesse Wagstaff, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Animals Exploited to Force People From Homes

A GoatIn “Creating Homelessness in the Antelope Valley,” we talked about how the residents of that part of Southern California are being systematically pushed out of their homes for some as-yet-unknown purpose. It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a conspiracy that has pretty much been successfully accomplished already.

Mars Melnicoff of the LA Weekly did wonderful reporting on the domestic terrorism practiced by Los Angeles County’s Nuisance Abatement Teams. (For a brief introduction, see Reason TV‘s 10-minute video, “Battle for the Desert: Citizens Fight for their Right to Live on Their Land.”) The object is to make these people homeless, and typical language for these complaints says the property is substandard, and a public nuisance. Property itself can be convicted of being injurious to health or offensive to the senses. The big sin is when it “obstructs the free use of neighboring property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property.”

A local couple had an old rowboat, destined to become a decorative planter. But the county came around saying a neighbor had registered a complaint about unsightly “debris.” The catch is, the Castanedas have no neighbors. Apparently, the government is wasting resources doing flyovers or beaming pictures from orbiting satellites, or some outrageous thing, to find a reason to make people tear down their homes.

Folks who repair machinery are made to get rid of inoperable cars and parts. It’s insane. People live in rough, inaccessible areas so they can do things like auto repair. That’s what the outback is for. It’s for people who like to “use it up, wear it out, make it do,” as the old saying goes; people who are into things like recycling. There is almost no way to maintain an attractive-looking storage area for objects meant to be recycled. The bins and containers made for the purpose are almost as ugly. But who cares, when the nearest neighbor is half a mile away? The county cares, very much.

One guy’s violation was having two seagoing containers on his property. It’s a very practical storage option, it’s recycling, it’s green… and it’s forbidden. A building at the end of a five-mile private road had to be moved because it wasn’t sufficiently “set back.” The officials make people do ridiculous, difficult, ruinously expensive things to comply, and then demand more and more, and end up throwing them out anyway.

We spoke before of how the authorities forced Kim Fahey and his extended family to leave Phonehenge West and destroy the home they built. Here is Fahey’s description (from a Facebook message) of how the predators descend:

The last time the County came out, just before they bulldozed the place, here’s who they arrived with… The D.A. and five armed bodyguards. Four sheriff N.A.T. Team guys with automatic weapons, three Fire Chiefs, Animal Control, Health and Safety, Regional Planning, Building and Safety… Nineteen in total. I say to them at my front gate, ‘You guys can’t come on my property without my attorney here!’ They walked right past me….

Fahey faces as much as five years in prison and was supposed to be sentenced in November, but the sentencing was put off again until February 10, 2012. Apparently, the reason for the delayed sentencing is that, once sentenced, he can file an appeal to put further demolition orders on hold. Meanwhile, the court can force demolition of other structures to continue. The main building on his property has already been destroyed, and there is a dispute with the demolition contractor who didn’t clean up as agreed, which adds more penalties.

California F.A.C.E.OFF. runs a lively blog full of spirit, whose description is,

A Grassroots Citizens’ Movement Dedicated to Restoring Property Rights by Exposing and Eliminating Abusive, Aggressive, Illegal and UnConstitutional Code Enforcement Practices…

Those practices are, of course, the very ones responsible for creating homelessness. California F.A.C.E.OFF. quotes one of the stories Fahey told about a neighbor on a recent radio show:

One morning a few months ago, he gets a knock at his door. He finds he’s being visited by a… ‘Nuisance Abatement Team’. The old man is informed by seven ‘officers’, each with bullet proof vests, fully-auto assault rifles and real attitudes, that he has to remove all offending trucks and equipment, or go to jail. The old man is then told he has to vacate the premises until he has complied with all of their requests. The old man, now homeless and scared to death, starts sleeping in one of his old trucks with his pets. It hits below thirty degrees. He makes a small fire to stay warm. His truck catches on fire and he burns to death with his pets.

There is even more to that particular ugly tale but you’ll have to go to the website to read it. House the Homeless also elicited more information about the perverse way in which the authorities use the residents’ animals as pawns in their quest to seize property.

A message from Fahey says,

It is so insidious what these County goons are doing, it’s almost beyond comprehension. In our situation, we placed all our animals at friends and family members, long ago, to thwart the N.A.T. Team goons.

Others? Not so lucky. A favorite tactic is to come out with twenty ‘Intimidators’ to run a family off. The first thing they do is have their animal control reps take possession of horses, dogs, goats, etc. ‘For health reasons’! They can say whatever they want.

Next, they red tag the ‘Unsafe home’, putting the people in the street. By the time you get into court, you’re already dead. Most trade their homes to get their animals back. End of story…

Naturally, we can’t leave the subject of homeless pets without recommending the 2012 House the Homeless Pet Calendar, which is a free download, with only the mildest, most subtle suggestion for a donation. And if you can’t donate, may you and your pets enjoy it anyway throughout the upcoming new year.

Reactions?

Source: “L.A. County’s Private Property War,” LA Weekly, 06/23/11
Source: “The Unsolicited Opinion on Code Enforcement!,” californiafaceoffmovement.blogspot.com, 06/29/11
Image by Kevin Lawver, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Thanksgiving All Year Round

Yvonne Shields, community chef at Broadway Community

Thanksgiving greetings to all the volunteers and donors who provide holiday dinners for people experiencing homelessness. We also honor those who attend to the nutritional needs of the homeless throughout the year through a variety of programs.

Not long ago, Fox News carried an article written by Rabbi Abraham Cooper about activist Jay Goldinger:

For the last 805 Sundays, he and a small cadre of volunteers have stood on the frontline of Los Angeles’ forgotten jobless and homeless population and delivered change we can truly believe in. Goldinger’s initiative called ‘Food on Foot’ does not merely give out food and clothing to the down and out but has helped turn many of them into productive taxpayers.

The method is described as a tough-love approach. The author relates how Goldinger will give a new participant a mirror and say,

Take a good in the mirror. You are looking at the enemy; the only person holding you back from a bright future.

There’s nothing wrong with telling people that. It’s what plenty of sages have told us, from Gautama Buddha to Sigmund Freud to Werner Erhard. Of course, technically, it’s only true some of the time. There are other things that can hold a person back.

Richard R. Troxell enumerates some of those things:

However, it perpetuates the stereotype that people experiencing homelessness are drug addicts. Let’s just suppose that if it were true, it does not change the fact that after they go about looking into that mirror and ‘turning their lives around,’ they will be returned to a world that pays them ‘slave wages’ that are so little, it prevents their escape from poverty.

And what if we consider for just a moment that it may well have been those ‘slave wages’ that caused them to lose hope, and cause them to turn to drug use, and possibly drug sales as their only escape for their situation? And what is the criminal charge for the Federal Government that created the ‘slave wage’ standard that drove them to using drugs and selling drugs in the first place?

And what about the employer who surrendered his ethical standard to a non-living, non-feeling, non-thinking, non-human institution? What criminal charge is there for the employer who is a real-life human being who hides behind this ‘thing’ and takes a worker’s wage for less an amount that affords him a roof over his head… other than a bridge?

Where is the righteous indignation? How can we expect to change the way the world looks at this if we don’t promote it like a steady drum beat?

At any rate, the purpose of the “Food on Foot” program is to motivate the participants to take responsibility for their actions. Actually, that’s an excellent principle for all of us to follow, and many would approve the fact that the program has never taken any funding derived from taxes.

Cooper goes on to say,

Backsliding is never rewarded. And there is another key component. Jay demands of everyone — random acts of kindness — like sharing some food, guiding a blind person across the street, helping an elderly person with their shopping… These simple acts challenge people clinging to the lowest rung of society to validate their self-worth and to realize that victimhood isn’t a coat that protects you from the elements but a straitjacket that locks you in to a cycle of misery.

Obviously, this is not a program for everyone. But for those who apply and are accepted, the success rate is said to be 89%. If that impressive claim is accurate, it’s a program that needs to be replicated.

In Seattle, Washington, they have FareStart, a nonprofit organization that has been training at-risk kids to work in the food industry, not as counter help but as actual chefs. Thanks to FareStart and the network it inspired, Catalyst Kitchens, a lot of homeless lives have turned around since 1992.

Associated Press reporter Gene Johnson lists the three goals pursued by these entities:

… feeding hungry people, providing housing and other support to those on the margins of society, and giving people the skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty.

Johnson interviewed some of the participants who are trying out new ways of interacting with society, like being on time, and being sober on the job, or at any point during the day. Some have been through anger management therapy and other self-improvement programs, and it appears that the overwhelming majority of students flourish and go on to brighter futures.

He also interviewed a staff chef, Sam Clinton, who was once a successful and well-compensated professional, until he became a homeless addict. And this quotation from Clinton is one of the most profound things ever said:

If you want to be sober, you need to be with people who want to be sober.

Reactions?

Source: “Could LA’s Jay Goldinger Hold the Key to Defeating Homelessness?,” Fox News, 08/20/11
Source: “Seattle program teaches homeless to feed hungry,” The Washington Times, 09/04/11
Image by Vadim Lavrusik, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Holidays, Homelessness, and a Living Wage

Mitch Snyder 1943-1990Eric Sheptock once revealed a thing that some people experiencing homelessness have found. On a special day, there can be too much bounty. In certain cities, it would be theoretically possible for a person to have several Thanksgiving dinners at different venues, and the donating organizations would still have food left over.

Earlier this month, journalist Jordan Schatz interviewed Sheptock and elicited what are, in his view, the five leading causes of homelessness:

… a lack of affordable housing, a lack of a living wage, domestic violence, medical bankruptcy and mental illness.

Sheptock is one of 1,350 residents of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which is a stone’s throw away from the Department of Labor. The reporter quotes him as saying,

In spite of how close they are, the Department of Labor has never walked across the road to enter the shelter and ask the people in there how they can help them get any work. One of the biggest causes of homelessness is the lack of employment and the lack of a living wage. You’d think [the Department of Labor] would walk across the road and say, how can we help you to get employed?

Schatz must be thanked for reminding us of the history of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which was created by Vietnam veterans as a tangible statement of their renunciation of violence as a solution to anything. Back in the early 1980s, hundreds of people were informally living in the building.

Sheptock is again quoted:

The feds came to remove the homeless and a guy named Mitch Snyder organized the homeless and went on a hunger strike, and they got the building from the Reagan administration. Mitch Snyder and Ronald Reagan signed a restrictive covenant to keep that building a shelter from 1988 to 2018, and it’s actually one of the best shelters in the city.

So, getting back to Thanksgiving, could a person be blamed for taking part in every banquet that extends an invitation? There must be a strong temptation to absorb as much nutrition as possible. Unfortunately, the human body doesn’t function well on a feast-and-famine cycle. Over-nourishment on one day doesn’t really do much long-term good for the system.

If a homeless person owned a nice set of plastic containers, a refrigerator, and electricity to run the refrigerator, holidays would be great. If a person waited until everyone had been served, and then asked the staff of the shelter or church for some leftovers to take away, and had a place to store food, these seasonal gifts would stretch farther, and holiday sharing could get more bang for its buck. But, of course, no refrigerator is available.

Mitch Snyder 1943-1990If there is a little extra at some holiday meal-sharing events, let no one interpret that as a reason to give less. Even if abundance exists in some places on a few days per year, it might not be that way in your town. Almost everywhere, the current holiday season is bound to be more needful than the last.

Thanksgiving is a day fraught with emotional traps and traumas even for people lucky enough to be housed and/or employed. Imagine how it feels to be homeless on Thanksgiving. Imagine that you want to help, but your own finances are pretty well tapped out, and you may even feel in danger of becoming homeless yourself.

When facing the evidence of homelessness, the housed citizen’s psyche becomes a battleground of warring emotions, as expressed in a poem by Eric Lawson. Out of hopeless frustration, the poet asks,

I am just one man… How do I help others when I cannot even help myself?

Now, imagine that there is a way to help others, and possibly even do one’s own self some good, and it doesn’t even cost a cent. Please become acquainted with the Universal Living Wage and sign the petition.

Reactions?

Source: “Sheptock: Homeless because of no jobs; jobless because of no home,” DC Spotlight, 11/02/11
Source: “Peripheral Vignettes,” theericlawson.blogspot.com, 04/25/11
Image by dbking, used under its Creative Commons license.

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Homeless Veterans Awareness Attracts Heroism

Veterans Stand DownAs we know, it’s National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, and nobody could say that the plight of homeless veterans does not get media attention. Homeless vets are in the news all the time, and we can only hope that awareness is actually being raised.

When Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless was interviewed by Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Business Success Radio, one of the subjects turned out to be America’s veterans. (The entire show is available as a free, on-demand podcast download.)

Richard pointed out that we’re paying taxes so the Department of Veterans Affairs can take proper care of the nation’s vets, but for some reason there is still a lot of need. Part of the difference is made up by thousands of volunteers and businesses who make donations and do pro bono work.

There are large organized events called Veterans Stand Downs, where dozens of donor participants help hundreds of veterans at a time, gathered in a central spot. There are small, ongoing efforts and individual initiatives that warm the heart. For instance, some police departments organize donations of backpacks and basic supplies, including information on where to get various kinds of help, and each squad car carries a pack to give away if the officers encounter a homeless vet.

In San Francisco, a coalition made up of the apparel outfitter Chrome, Planet Sox, the VA, the St. Anthony Foundation, and Craig Newmark (of Craigslist fame) gives away massive amounts of shoes and socks to the homeless.

Last year, the homeless veterans of Texas lost a great benefactor on the retirement of Dr. Joel Feiner from the position of medical director of the Comprehensive Homeless Center. As reported by Kim Horner for The Dallas Morning News,

At the VA, Feiner served as medical director of a program with long-term treatment that included psychiatrists, psychologists, a dorm, transitional housing, job training and work programs.

Horner learned that the doctor worked with the civil rights movement in the 60′s, and had such unusual habits as inviting patients to call him at home.

Around 200 homeless vets have been in therapy with him, for such conditions as PSTD, severe depression, addiction, and bipolar disorder. He specialized in hopeless cases. The reporter interviewed a formerly homeless veteran, an actual cardboard-box-under-a-bridge kind of guy, who went on to become a GPA 4.0 student who aims to become a teacher, and then quoted Feiner:

We have some very quiet heroes and heroines here — the veterans themselves. Some have been clobbered by conditions they had, through no fault of their own. It’s their ability to keep on that I am in awe of.

Another person recognized as a hero, specifically a CNN Hero, is Roy Foster. Formerly a homeless addicted veteran himself, he co-founded (with another homeless vet) a nonprofit organization and opened Stand Down House, which has been helping ex-military people since 2000. Foster says,

I not only wanted to help homeless veterans, I wanted to help them before they became homeless, before they have to live through what I did. My charity in Palm Beach County, Florida, assists veterans, soldiers, and their families by providing supportive services, financial assistance, housing, mental health service referrals and more.

Foster also belongs to the Palm Beach County Veterans Task Force and the Veterans Advisory Committee. He has lent a hand in burials of indigent veterans and created a local Veterans Court, whose aim is to keep his constituents out of the criminal justice system.

Reactions?

Source: “St. Anthony’s Honors Homeless and Low-income Veterans With New Shoes and Socks,” PR Newswire, 11/08/11
Source: “To homeless veterans, retiring Dallas VA psychiatrist is a hero,” DallasNews.com, 10/31/10
Source: “Once homeless vet’s mission to save his brothers-in-arms,” CNN.com, 11/11/10
Image by MD GovPics, used under its Creative Commons license.

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First-Person Homeless: A Few More Stories

homeless posterThe book we see over on the right-hand side of the page here, Looking Up at the Bottom Line, is really several books in one. It’s kind of an activist-how-to manual, as well as a history of the struggle for social justice as carried out (non-violently and always with a certain flair) in several different places where Richard R. Troxell has lived, particularly Austin, TX. It lays out the rationale behind the Universal Living Wage, and makes the case for why the ULW should be implemented.

It’s also the place where many individual stories can be found, starting with Richard’s own. Coming back from the Vietnam conflict, he tried college, and then got a bit unbalanced after his father’s death. Like so many other young people have done, he ranged around the country, living in a car, a truck, and even a cave. Out west, he worked as a trail restorer and a firefighter, then bounced back eastward to live as a squatter in a house in a derelict area.

As time went on, Richard settled for a while in a rental house with several other guys, and eventually got married and learned everything there was to know about striving for a home of his own. Not content with that, he set about an ambitious project for reviving an entire neighborhood, and branched out from there into many other public-spirited projects.

As well as his own story, Richard gives us portraits of his various mentors and role models along the way, especially the incomparable Max Weiner, founder of CEPA (the Consumer Education and Protective Association) and the Consumer Party. Then, there are little pocket biographies of a number of people experiencing homelessness in Austin, where Richard founded House the Homeless.

There’s Chris Byrt Lyne, who was a construction worker until he was assaulted and suffered a head injury, and Jaime Maldonado, who was already just barely hanging on when serious dental problems sent his life into a downward spiral, and Kenneth Wayne Staggs, whose work-related injury may prevent him from ever earning a living again, even if a job were available.

Ronald Keith Johnson was held back by dyslexia all his life, but worked as a house painter until an on-the-job injury disabled him. James Hawkins underwent open-heart surgery at age 46, but it was unsuccessful, and he was rendered unemployable. Veteran Eugene Golden, like so many other Americans, lost his home through foreclosure. In these pages is the story of Edward Forrest Dutcher, a casualty of the streets who died around this time last year.

Not to disrespect the men caught in the cycle of homelessness, but the stories of homeless women are particularly distressing, like that of Camee Vega, who escaped with her two daughters from an abusive husband and went on to work at the Homeless Resource Center. And as we’ve mentioned before, there’s the tragic story of Diane Malloy, whose needless death inspired the inauguration of Austin’s annual Homeless Memorial Service.

A few of the thousands of people experiencing homelessness have someone like Richard to tell their stories. There is help and encouragement — for instance, last year, graduates of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop started a writing class for such folks. Thanks to the Internet, many of the homeless are able to relate their own histories online and even publish the tales of their lives.

For The Huffington Post, Gabrielle Canon recounted the life of Carey Fuller, homeless mother of two, and author of the self-published Writings from the Driver’s Side. Canon says,

Fuller was cast into homelessness after the birth of her second child, when she could no longer afford rent as a single mother… Sensing she would soon be on the street, she used the last of her income — a $2,000 tax refund — to purchase the Winnebago… Each day she faced a reality of sleepless nights and life on the move. She worked the midnight shift, printing newspapers for $8 an hour while her two children slept inside their old RV in the parking lot outside.

The only thing unusual about this story is that it isn’t unusual at all. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, around 600,000 American families find themselves experiencing homelessness. And something needs to be done.

Canon says,

This is why Fuller continues to write, to spread her message to others who may be going through something similar, or who may not understand what homelessness in America is really like. She encourages other homeless parents to do the same.

One thing that could be done, that would help a lot, would be the adoption of the Universal Living Wage. The sad fact is, even a person working a full-time job, at minimum wage, can’t afford housing. This is economic homelessness. The benefit of the Universal Living Wage is that it will end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.

Reactions?

Source: “Looking Up at the Bottom Line,” Amazon.com
Source: “Carey Fuller Chronicles Her Experiences As A Homeless Parent,The Huffington Post, 03/10/11
Image by bryan thayer, used under its Creative Commons license.

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