Posted on December 1, 2011 by Pat Hartman
The 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.
Posted on November 29, 2011 by Pat Hartman
In “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.
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.
Posted on November 23, 2011 by Pat Hartman
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.
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.
Posted on November 21, 2011 by Pat Hartman
Eric 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.
If 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.
Posted on November 15, 2011 by Pat Hartman
As 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.
Posted on November 8, 2011 by Pat Hartman
The 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.
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.
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.
Posted on November 3, 2011 by Pat Hartman
There 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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted on November 1, 2011 by Pat Hartman
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.
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.
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.
Posted on October 27, 2011 by Pat Hartman
The 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.
Posted on October 25, 2011 by Pat Hartman
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.