Thanksgiving All Year Round


Yvonne ShieldsThanksgiving 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


First-Person Homeless: A Few Stories

Bread of LifeThere are three kinds of writing about the lives of people experiencing homelessness, and, naturally, the most authentic kind is a story told in the first person. When a street person tells the stories of other street people, that should count too, in the “first-person” category.

Ace Backwords writing about B. N. Duncan, for instance. Because these stories are often so similar, and because the lives of the storyteller and the subject intertwine, it’s the next best thing to an autobiography. And certainly a lot closer than anything attempted by a reporter.

Kirsten Anderberg is an outstanding chronicler, and we have mentioned other recorders of the homeless experience, like Mark Horvath, founder of We Are Visible and InvisiblePeople.tv. Horvath’s protracted escape from homelessness finally resulted in a “normal” life — but then he was homeless again, and then housed again.

In June, we reported the most recent development:

Mark Horvath will soon be technically homeless again, this time voluntarily. With another extensive InvisiblePeople.tv road trip coming up, it doesn’t make sense to keep an apartment. The furniture is going to newly-housed families, and the homeless advocate is hitting the road until November, and leaving things open-ended after that.

About one of his new acquaintances among the homeless, Horvath says,

This interview may be the most ‘interesting’ so far since I started InvisiblePeople.tv three years ago, and I am sure it’s at the top of the most colorful. I could have sit and listened to Brotha BlueStocking all day. In fact, this video does not even cover all the wonderful thoughts this man has to share. We have to work on getting people like Brotha BlueStocking their own cameras and laptops so they can tell their own stories, and we can all listen.

Now let’s enter the time machine and share with Mark Horvath the true story of his first night as a homeless person, way back in the mid 1990s. He wrote:

All of a sudden and without warning, I found myself homeless in Koreatown near downtown Los Angeles. I was sober, but I had no money, no place to go and no one I could call for help. I was officially homeless. This was all new to me. I had no homeless training. I had no clue how I was going to survive… I knew that the worst crimes in the city — muggings, beatings, shootings — happened at night to people living outdoors. I knew that when you sleep outside, you are vulnerable to just about everything. I was scared. Probably more scared then I have been or ever will be.

And then, there’s Michael Sullivan, the formerly homeless author of the novel Necessary Heartbreak, who vividly recalls the moment when he knew he had sunk low and his old life was truly gone:

My hair was grimy and my clothes smelled from having been worn for three straight weeks… It was holiday time and the train was packed, but it was my home at night during the winter of 1983-84. I was exhausted from walking so much, searching for a job. A seat opened up between two passengers and I sat down. A well-dressed woman gave me ‘the look.’

Ah, yes, the look that says, “You are something I should be scraping off my shoe.” For a self-aware person like Sullivan, the worst part of the experience was knowing it was the same look that, once upon a time, he had used on other people.

He says,

I was conditioned at a very young age to view all homeless people as worthless alcoholics and drug addicts. They were not human — they were thugs and murderers and a burden to society… During those bleak, frigid winter evenings and mornings, I realized that people who shared those subway rides probably thought of me in the same way.

Another author is Richard LeMieux, whose book is called Breakfast at Sally’s, and who was interviewed about it by someone from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. A formerly a successful businessman with three cars and three boats, he says,

On my 50th birthday, when I was traveling first class… the prospect that I would become homeless just eight years later would have caused me to double over with laughter… I considered myself a self-made man, successful by my own hard work and good judgment. I was confident and believed I had an answer for almost everything.

But when LeMieux first hit the streets, his answers came from the panhandlers and dumpster divers who gave him survival lessons. Suddenly, he was one of “them,” part of the ragged and faceless horde of wanderers, and, among “them,” he unexpectedly found sharing, protection, and respect. Even more so from the church workers.

He says,

When I lived on the streets I met many ‘angels’ who fed and clothed me and many others like me. I have known groups of women who have walked fearlessly down paths into the woods to bring food to homeless people in camps. Those women took dirty clothes out of the woods, washed them that night, and brought them back the next day with milk for homeless children, diapers for babies…

Like many others, LeMieux seems almost mystified at the disconnect between what’s happening at the bottom and what’s happening at the top. Face to face, one on one, he has met literally hundreds of people who were glad to help a down-and-out stranger. Yet the government bureaus and financial centers appear to be staffed by heartless robots intent on causing yet more destruction.

He says,

We live in what we call the greatest country on earth, yet we choose to let men, women, and children live on the streets, in the woods, and in parking lots as if they were living in a Third World country.

It’s a puzzler, isn’t it? And until we get it figured out, here’s what we have for now:

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.


Source: “Chronicling Homelessness: Mark Horvath,” House the Homeless, 06/21/11
Source: “Brotha BlueStocking,” InvisiblePeople.tv/blog, 10/03/11
Source: “My First Night Homeless: A True Story,” The Huffington Post, 04/20/11
Source: “I was homeless; ‘the look’ judged me worthless,” CNN.com, 01/26/11
Source: “Take Five! Q & A with Richard LeMieux,” EndHomelessness.org, 01/29/09
Image by mahalie (Mahalie Stackpole), used under its Creative Commons license.


HPCR – News Flash! Homeless People Need Affordable Housing


The illustration on this page is a graphic that was shared around on Facebook without attribution. In the comments, folks quibbled over the figures. Then someone opined that the illustration is not meant to be a literal, scientific document, but more of a cartoon. Cartoons are known to be an effective method for swiftly and painlessly transmitting ideas into the brain. That’s how, for instance, MAD magazine so brilliantly created a generation of skeptics that has ripened into the game-changing idealists of the 60s.

Indeed, a bit of research determines that the source of “Homelessness by Income” is The Onion, the satirical humor magazine. Part of an ongoing series of parodies of USA TODAY‘s graphs and charts, it was published more than 10 years ago. And it’s still not funny.

This summer, The Huffington Post included a piece about the “right to rent” concept, which its author, Dean Baker, has been proposing for several years from the position he occupies as co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Baker writes,

Under this proposal, foreclosed homeowners would be allowed to remain in their house as renters paying the market rent, for a substantial period of time (e.g. five years) following a foreclosure.

Incidentally, this may or may not be a sign of lowered expectations, but in a 2009 interview about how to keep people in their homes, Baker said,

And the best way I can think of is, how about we just give people the right to stay in their house as renters, pay the market rent, for a substantial period of time, five to ten years, something like that.

At any rate, the more recent piece explains the tangle that the whole mortgage scene has become, and some of the ways in which people think it can be fixed, and how the working-class homeowner/taxpayer pretty much ends up paying no matter what.

Baker writes,

It is no great handout. People will lose ownership of their home. But it will provide them with housing security for a substantial period of time. And it does it in a way that requires no taxpayer money and no new bureaucracy.

“Right to rent” would not, of course, help all the at-risk homeowners. Without jobs, they can’t pay rent in the house they were trying to buy, or anywhere else. But, for those who can afford it, the benefit would be great.

This idea has been mentioned again just recently, by Henry Blodget, who interviewed Professor James Galbraith of the University of Texas. Blodgett writes,

Professor Galbraith advocates giving homeowners the right to rent properties they formerly owned, which would force the banks to take losses on the original mortgages and then become landlords. Given the political climate, Professor Galbraith does not think the government will launch any programs that will significantly improve the housing market.

Speaking of mortgages, check out this disgusting story: “Top Foreclosure Firm Threw Homeless-Themed Halloween Bash.”

Aside from a small minority of rugged individualists and mentally disabled people who are so out of it, they don’t know what they’re doing, the vast majority of homeless people did not choose that condition. Racial minorities did not choose to be born as members of racial minorities, and the same element of non-choice is there in other protected groups.

They are protected in the sense that when crimes are committed against them for simply being who they are, those crimes are counted as particularly heinous, and are known as hate crimes. The Homeless Protected Class Resolution wants the indigenous homeless population to be legally regarded as a protected group.

Most people who live on the streets, in tent cities and trackside camps, in shelters, in cars, and vans, would prefer to be living in buildings. Why don’t they? Because — duh! — they can’t afford to. In fact, here’s something to consider, in regard to the Homeless Protected Class Resolution. It might not even be needed, if we had the Universal Living Wage.

We’re talking about adequate pay for a standard work week, and adequate means that a person could afford to live on it. Starting with being able to afford a place to live in, which a look at the Universal Living Wage page will show to be less and less possible for more and more Americans.

If you’ve read Looking Up at the Bottom Line, did you remember to “Like” it via every website that offers the opportunity? Did you know that the Universal Living Wage is on Facebook? Well, it is!


Source: “Homelessness by Income,” The Onion, 09/01/99
Source: “Right to Rent: Will the Obama Administration Finally Fix Housing?,” The Huffington Post, 06/27/11
Source: “Transcript: Thom talks to Dean Baker about “Right to Rent”,” ThomHartmann.com, 07/28/09
Source: “Yes, There Are Some Things Our Government Could Do To Help Housing, But It Won’t: Galbraith,” Yahoo! Finance, 10/24/11
Image of Homelessness by Income by The Onion,used under Fair Use: Reporting.


HPCR: Targeting the Homeless Is Un-American

Bates & Dodds Funeral ServicesThe increasing violence against people experiencing homelessness is a subject that previous posts have barely even begun to touch. The long list of incidents in “HPCR: Protect the Homeless From What?” was only the tip of the iceberg. Of course, the USA is not the only place where this happens, but it’s the place we know most about, and wish we didn’t.

Earlier this year, bizarre news came from Cleveland, OH, where Frank Dienes was charged with aggravated murder, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. What he allegedly did was shoot a homeless man in the head and bury the body in a shallow backyard grave. Actually, the victim, Joseph Kopp, was not technically homeless, since he had been staying there for more than a year. Why Kopp’s landlord went from benefactor to murderer is a murky question.

Journalist John Caniglia reported,

The Dieneses’ took in tenants, often people who had few other places to go, neighbors said. They said they believed the Dieneses wanted Kopp to move out, but they were unsure why.

Fifty-eight-year-old Kopp got around on a bicycle. Though mentally ill and resistant of treatment for it, he seems to have been known around the neighborhood as kind, friendly, and gregarious. He once saved up $400 working at odd jobs and donated it to a soup kitchen. Eight hundred people stopped by the funeral home to pay their respects, and 350 went to the service.

Apparently, Dienes tried to establish that he too was mentally ill, having hallucinations and so forth, but the judge didn’t buy it. The plot thickened when police began to look at Dienes again for the 1989 murder of a 10-year-old girl, Amy Mihajlevic, that he had been questioned about in the past.

Journalist Paul Kiska wrote,

Several neighbors say Joe Kopp… told them for years in the 1990s that Dienes killed Mihajlevic… Dienes and Kopp were neighbors 21 years ago in Seven Hills. ‘There was a relationship that went back quite some time and to what extent that relationship was and exactly what it was is something that I do think will be an issue at trial,’ [defense lawyer] Friedman said.

Supposedly, Kopp had even gone to the local police, to report something about Dienes and the dead girl, but they were not inclined to listen to a mentally ill homeless person. At any rate, Dienes is facing a jury trial next month, and no doubt the story will become even more complicated.

Most stories aren’t that complicated. Usually, it’s more like, a group of swaggering young men get drunk and go out looking for a homeless person to assault. Leaving aside for a moment all other considerations of morality and civilization, hate crimes are particularly stupid because they have no utility. Theft is at least understandable — the criminal gets money, or something to sell for money. There’s no profit in kicking the stuffing out of a homeless person.

Maybe that argument would work to stop these predators. They seem to think of themselves as great American patriots. But doing something without a profit motive is very un-American. So, cut it out, violent attackers.

And what about the rest of us, who don’t spend our evenings trolling for victims? We’re tuned in to the other ways in which persecuting the homeless is un-American. American is the Emma Lazarus poem attached to the Statue of Liberty, which explicitly mentions the words “poor” and “homeless”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Everybody who ever arrived in this country started out homeless. Even the king’s favorites, who were given land, had to build shelter. Everybody’s ancestors included people experiencing homelessness, and some of our family trees have homeless people in them right now. And they’re having a rough time of it. Which is why the Homeless Protected Class Resolution proposes to recognize the indigent homeless population as deserving the rights and protections that go with that protected-class designation.


Source: “Seven Hills businessman charged with killing homeless man,” Blog.Cleveland.com/04/18/11
Source: “Family, community mourn Joe Kopp, slain homeless man,” Blog.Cleveland.com, 04/23/11
Source: “Attorneys for Frank Dienes say he’ll be cleared in Mihaljevic case again,” NewsNet5.com, 05/12/11
Image by striatic (hobvias sudoneighm), used under its Creative Commons license.


HPCR – Protect the Homeless From What?

Police Brutality

Some people feel vulnerable just walking from their car to their house. Imagine the paranoia quotient of being outside practically 24/7. Days are spent looking for work, medical care, or a meal. Or aimlessly filling in time, trying to find a corner where it’s possible to simply exist for a while. Nights are spent, with any luck at all, crowded in with a bunch of strangers who have TB and bedbugs. Sometimes, the nights are spent in parks, alleys, and other dangerous public places. Sometimes, when people have no other choice than sleeping rough, they never wake up.

This little catalog of horrors will quickly exemplify some of the incidents that have become all too frequent and familiar (sources available upon request):

* Cincinnati, OH, April 2010
Four men armed with baseball bats go to a homeless encampment, pick a victim at random, and assault him. (One of these creeps also recently shot the girlfriend of one of the other assailants.)
* Indianapolis, IN, April 2011
A schizophrenic, sleeping homeless man is beaten to death in an alley by a gang of youths, who leave and then return with more friends, to show off the dead body.
* Jersey City, NJ, May 2011
A resident stabs a homeless man nine times, killing him.
* New Bethlehem, PA, May 2011
Two male youths beat an elderly homeless man with iron pipes; a female accomplice drives the car.
* Columbus, OH, May, 2011
Two youths beat a homeless man and his dog.
* Charlotte, NC, June, 2011
A homeless man is assaulted by three teenagers.
*Boston, MA, July 2011
A 23-year-old stabs a 64-year-old homeless man, badly enough to put him in the hospital.
*Anchorage, AK, September 2011
Four youths, three of them technically minors, swoop down on mountain bikes to rob and seriously beat a homeless man.
* Sanford, FL, October 2011
A police lieutenant’s son assaults a homeless man for no reason. (This dude was also previously in trouble for beating up his girlfriend and for shooting somebody.)

Probably the most notorious instance of violence against the homeless, the one everybody has heard of, happened in Fullerton, CA, on July 5, when mentally disabled Kelly Thomas was pulverized by six police officers. After several days, the victim’s family gave up hope and had the life support turned off. Soon a videotape of the confrontation showed up on YouTube, causing outrage.

OC Weekly reporter Nick Schou remarked,

The onlookers discuss how the cops apparently have tased Thomas five times while he was already down on the ground. Disturbingly, you can hear someone, presumably Thomas, sobbing ‘Dad, dad, dad…’ over and over.

Fortunately, the victim’s father Ron Thomas is a former member of law enforcement himself, who personally put a lot of effort into cultivating the public indignation that will hopefully end the barbarous practices of the police department.

The following month’s City Council meeting overflowed with citizens anxious to have their say, reported Marisa Gerber. Many of them gave their own examples of police callousness and even brutality. Fullerton’s City Council decided to hire an independent investigator to look into Kelly Thomas’s death and the comportment of the police in general. It was suggested that some city officials should do the honorable thing and resign their offices. The city manager, with unbelievably inappropriate timing, asked for a raise.

Finally, in September, Officer Manuel Ramos was charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Corporal Jay Cicinelli was charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force. Gerber filed another story with the explicit title, “Where Things Stand A Day After The D.A. Charged Two Fullerton Policemen In The Beating Death of Kelly Thomas.” She wrote,

Three members of the Fullerton city council… Mayor Richard Jones, Mayor Pro Tem Don Bankhead and Councilman Pat McKinley … are being recalled largely because of how they handled the aftermath of Kelly Thomas’ beating …

Not surprisingly, Mayor Pro Tem Bankhead is a 31-year veteran of the Fullerton police force, and Councilman McKinley was the city’s chief of police for 16 years. McKinley had, in fact, hired the two officers charged in the death of Kelly Thomas.

Ron Thomas and his backers, known as “Kelly’s Army,” then turned their efforts to making sure blame will be shared by the other four officers involved in his son’s death, which is also being investigated by the FBI.

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) keeps track of hate crimes by state. In 2009, the Coalition counted 74 non-lethal attacks and 43 lethal attacks against people experiencing homelessness in the United States. These are not violent altercations between homeless people, but aggression committed by housed people against people experiencing homelessness.

NCH also sums up the decade:

Over the past eleven years (1999-2009), advocates and shelter workers around the country have received news reports of men, women and even children being harassed, kicked, set on fire, beaten to death, and decapitated. From 1999 through 2009, in forty-seven states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, there have been one thousand seventy-four acts of violence committed by housed individuals, resulting in two hundred ninety-one deaths of homeless people and seven hundred eighty-three victims of non-lethal violence.

Who knows how many unreported attacks and undiscovered murders there might be? And how can all this be ended? Please discover the Homeless Protected Class Resolution and learn how to help.


Source: “Kelly Thomas’ Officer-Involved Death Was Videotaped; Councilman Calls For Release to Public,” OC Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog, 07/25/11
Source: “Fullerton Hires Independent Probe Into Kelly Thomas Beating, Dozens Speak At City Council Meeting,” OC Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog, 08/17/11
Source: “Where Things Stand A Day After The D.A. Charged Two Fullerton Policemen In The Beating Death of Kelly Thomas,” OC Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog, 09/22/11
Image by quinn.anya (Quinn Dombrowski), used under its Creative Commons license.


HPCR – Why Is Housing So Impossible?

Jones-Glotfelty Shipping Container House, Flagstaff AZ

In our society, housing is a problem so impossible that people with multiple university degrees have spent entire careers concentrating on one little corner of the problem. And, apparently, haven’t gotten very far. Part of the problem is always the current structure and personnel of the government, whether local, state, or federal.

There are answers to the housing dilemma. And there are local, state, and federal laws. And there is a very small area of overlap, where some of the answers that have been found are congruent with what’s allowed by the law.

Year after year, brilliant young architecture students win awards for designing livable spaces that can be mass-produced, or made from recycled materials or repurposed buildings, or made cheaply from indigenous materials. Plenty of good solutions have been found that could increase both temporary and permanent housing. Where are they? Lost in a maze of zoning laws, code requirements, and other rules that exist all too often to prop up the privileged status of some group or profession, having nothing at all to do with real human needs.

Trailers have always been a cheap housing alternative. Now, in cities where mobile home parks were formerly tolerated, local real estate interests, neighborhood associations, and callous politicians band together to get rid of them. In many places, even house-like doublewide trailers that are anchored down and landscaped are shunned by neighbors.

There are all kinds of solutions. This six-minute video shows a 78-square-foot apartment created by a Manhattan architect who is very happy in it. Sure, there’s a shared bathroom, but many people get along fine sharing bathrooms, including college students and soldiers. A shared bathroom is better than no bathroom at all. An old factory could be retrofitted with hundreds of mini-apartments like this one.

Here is the kind of headline we see all too often lately: “Recession Takes Severe Toll on Low-Income Renters,” a story in which Tony Pugh traces the recent history of housing in America:

Very-low-income renters who don’t receive government housing assistance are considered to have ‘worst-case housing needs’ if they live in poor conditions or their rent consumes more than half their incomes. All family types, all racial and ethnic groups and all regions of the country saw an increase in these distressed renters…

In many areas, government programs are a joke, with waiting lists so long the children grow up before housing becomes available. Incredible amounts of money are spent providing the band-aid of temporary shelter. Emergency and short-term shelter is necessary, of course, but somehow nothing gets done toward providing any lasting alleviation of homelessness. For example,

Massachusetts spends tens of millions of dollars for this yet the long-term result is hundreds of families are still without permanent homes.

The problems of housing are endless, and the whole mortgage mess is almost beyond human comprehension. One of the interesting tales in Looking Up at the Bottom Line, by the way, is of Richard R. Troxell’s days as “self-appointed Mortgage Foreclosure Preventionist.” His activist organization actually convinced a sheriff to initiate a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures in the county. (Apparently this set a good precedent, as the same thing also happened more recently in Chicago.) This is the kind of law enforcement we need more of.

For Richard, his knowledge and experience led to a job, and to his moving west, of which he says,

The town of Austin, Texas had already had a boom in the mid 1980s involving questionable savings and loan lending practices, which had ended in a debacle. The banks had been left holding thousands of foreclosed upon houses and empty buildings across the southwest in its wake. Homelessness had already come to Austin.

In the Homeless Protected Class Resolution (HPCR), Richard takes note of the fact that the U.S. government has adopted the United Nations’ Habitat Agenda, whose aims include:

… protection against discrimination, legal security of tenure and equal access to land including women and the poor; effective protection from illegal forced evictions, taking human rights into consideration, bearing in mind that homeless people should not be penalized for their status…

Signatories to the Habitat Agenda agreed to adopt policies making housing more habitable, affordable, and accessible, even to those who are “unable to secure adequate housing through their own means.”

Here in America, there is a nationwide shortage of affordable housing, and it’s one of the major areas needing change. Massive change. The Homeless Protected Class Resolution can’t make anybody go out and fill the landscape with affordable housing for everyone. But it can go some way toward dealing with the consequences of the fact that everyone does not have affordable housing.

Learn more about the HPCR today, subscribe to the newsletter, and sign the petition.


Source: “Manhattan shoebox apartment: a 78-square-foot mini studio,” YouTube.com
Source: “Recession Takes Severe Toll on Low-Income Renters,” McClatchyDC.com, 02/01/11
Source: “Millions Spent On Motels For Mass. Homeless,” TheBostonChannel.com
Image by Glamour Schatz (Angel Schatz), used under its Creative Commons license.


Why the Homeless Protected Class Resolution?

HomelessAs a document that people were eager to sign, the American Declaration of Independence was pretty successful. One of the reasons might have been its massive list of the wrongs done to the colonists by England’s king. By the time you get to the end, you’re like, “Where do I sign up?”

In just the same way, the Homeless Protected Class Resolution (HPCR) provides an exhaustive list of the horrendous conditions faced by people experiencing homelessness in the USA.

Speaking of signing, HPCR author Richard R. Troxell points out that the United States itself has signed on to a United Nations document known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document says that every member of society has…

… a right to basic economic, social, and cultural entitlements, that every [nation] state should recognize, serve, and protect, of which food, clothing, medical care, and housing are definitive components of the right to a minimum standard of living and dignity…

“Universal” means everybody. If every member of society has a right to these things, where are they? How can they be made real? At the very least, we can refrain from persecuting people for being homeless, which is just as ugly as persecuting them for their color or religion, or sexual preference, or any other arbitrary and hateful reason.

A child or a disabled person is vulnerable compared to a healthy adult. Children and the disabled have extra consideration extended to them, in a sane society, and those who prey on them may reap extra penalties. A homeless person is vulnerable compared to a housed person, but just because someone is an easy target doesn’t mean they exist to be prey for aggressive criminals. We really must banish the dangerous belief that street people are fair game.

The idea here is that the homeless, as a class, need their civil rights to be legally protected in a special way because they make particular tempting targets. Nobody is looking to give the indigent homeless population jewels and furs, or the keys to Fort Knox. What we endorse is the right of people to live without being busted for Breathing While Homeless. That is not, we think, too much to ask. Or expect.

People who live nowhere are not easy to count, but, on any given night, here, in America, there are about 760,000 of them. One excellent reason to refrain from persecuting them is that, increasingly, “them” is “us.” The indigent homeless population are veterans and the mentally ill, and teenagers, and single mothers with their kids, and even entire nuclear families, complete with fathers — a sign of very severe economic conditions.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about homelessness in America today is the large number of people who are totally stunned by the turn their lives have taken. People who did everything right, worked hard, and led decent lives are finding themselves on the street and simply not believing it. It’s not smart for any of us to tolerate the persecution of a group that we ourselves might suddenly become a member of.

The HPCR contains another list, of things that the indigent homeless population, the class of people experiencing homelessness, needs to be protected from:

■ Laws against sleeping, sitting, and lying down in public
■ Laws that restrict them from being provided food
■ Acts or laws interfering with their right to travel
■ Wages that are so low that they are denied access to housing
■ Laws or practices that disregard their rights of ownership and protections for their personal belongings
■ Being made targets of hate crimes
■ Being characterized and treated as non-citizens

Please take this opportunity to become familiar with the entire Homeless Protected Class Resolution and sign up.


Source: “Homeless Protected Class Resolution,”House the Homeless
Image by runran, used under its Creative Commons license.

Pages ... 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18