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First-Person Homeless: A Few More Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canon says,

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

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

Reactions?

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

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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.

Reactions?

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.

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HPCR – News Flash! Homeless People Need Affordable Housing

http://www.endhomelessnessblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Homelessness-by-Income.jpg

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!

Reactions?

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.

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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.

Reactions?

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.

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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.

Reactions?

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.

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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.

Reactions?

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.

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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.

Reactions?

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

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A Family Experiencing Homelessness, and Two Questions

Rise of the Super Rich

Some Americans are comfortably situated and equipped to handle an unpleasant surprise. But many are on the brink of disaster. After an adverse incident, if a person or family can’t recover fast enough before the next crisis looms, the whole house of cards can collapse.

Many people think they know what homelessness is all about. But they don’t, which is why reporters like Eric Wahlgren are so valuable and why publications like DailyFinance must be thanked for devoting energy and space to profiles of people experiencing homelessness, reminding us that just about any life has the negative potential to go off the rails.

In a series called “The New Homeless,” a young fellow named Mike is interviewed. Having worked as a chef for years, Mike wanted a new career, and pursued it by returning to school to study software engineering. But his employer reduced his schedule drastically, and although Mike was able to hang in there long enough to get a bachelor’s degree, the domino effect had started.

No one would hire Mike as a Web developer because he had no experience in that field. In the lousy economy, restaurants were cutting back, not hiring. Mike and his wife and two children moved to California’s San Francisco Bay area, where tech jobs supposedly abounded, and Mike would certainly prosper.

The family stayed in a series of cheap lodgings while Mike hunted jobs. Then, his unemployment insurance ran out and they were really up the creek. As a last resort, they asked for and were promised a loan from a relative — which never arrived. Mike and his wife and their two kids were officially homeless.

How can this happen to a young man ambitious enough to improve himself through higher education, enterprising and courageous enough to transplant his family to a new place with better prospects, and able and willing to hold a steady job? Mike did everything right, all the steps we were taught would lead to security and success. What is wrong with an America where that formula no longer applies? So, that’s one question.

Mike’s longtime employer, before the move, was in the business of preparing food for private jet flights, and Wahlgren says,

In February, the catering company Mike worked for dramatically cut his hours. Thanks to the Great Recession, people just weren’t flying in private jets much anymore.

Okay, now the other question: What’s going on here? Somehow, it doesn’t add up, especially when you see an article like this one by staff reporter Annalyn Censky for CNN, that traces the different pathways taken by the fortunes of the very rich, and the rest of us, over the past few decades. Behold, the most in-your-face graphic ever, a chart that is cartoonlike in its obviousness, its zigzag lines diverging so emphatically to define the ever-widening gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

The piece is called, “How the middle class became the underclass.” Censky writes,

Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for at least a generation, while the wealthiest tier has surged ahead at lighting speed… the richest 1% of Americans — those making $380,000 or more — have seen their incomes grow 33% over the last 20 years, leaving average Americans in the dust.

Censky discusses the various reasons for the death of the middle class, like greatly weakened labor unions, deregulation of banks, jobs outsourced to other countries, tax cuts for the wealthiest, and hanky-panky in the stock market.

The chart that illustrates Censky’s article comes from economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, and is apparently the very thing that caused President Obama to decide that raising taxes on the super rich is the right thing to do. Apparently, that chart was a game-changer, but according to certain people, such as Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal, not in a good way. He wrote:

Messrs. Piketty and Saez have produced the most politically potent squiggle along an axis since Arthur Laffer drew his famous curve on a napkin in the mid-1970s. Laffer’s was an economic argument for lowering tax rates for everyone. Piketty-Saez is a moral argument for raising taxes on the rich… Whatever its merits, their ‘Top 1%’ chart has become a totemic obsession in progressive policy circles.

Dan Ariely of Duke University says that 20% of the American population controls 84% of our country’s wealth. A Mother Jones article by Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot makes an even more astonishing claim:

A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

Imagine that! The top .01% of Americans, a tiny minority, controls a mind-boggling amount of financial resources. The entire top 1% are doing pretty good, too — much better, by comparison, than the rest of us, who are scrounging around under the sofa cushions for lost pocket change. The top 1% of Americans controls about 40% of the nation’s wealth.

The richest 1% are also the private-jet-owning demographic, and they’re not hurting. That stuff about how nobody can afford private jets any more doesn’t make sense. Something else must be going on, something they aren’t telling us about. The people who run everything treat the 99% like mushrooms: They keep us in the dark and feed us manure. What are they keeping us in the dark about, now?

We are not begrudging the rich, no one is calling for tar and feathers for the people of Wall Street. We are not even calling for equity but we are calling for a little bit of fairness: living wages. As a moral question, it is only right. “Pay me what my labor is worth… at least enough, so as a laborer I can afford basic food clothing and shelter.” From a business perspective, it only makes sense. With 64% of all small businesses failing in the first four years, it would be a great business practice to stabilize your workforce.  Support the Universal Living Wage. We are the change.

Reactions?

Source: “The New Homeless: Aspiring Web Developer Ends Up on San Francisco’s Streets,” DailyFinance, 12/28/09
Source: “How the middle class became the underclass,” CNN Money, 02/16/11
Source: “The Obama Rosetta Stone,” The Wall Street Journal, 03/12/09
Source: “How Rich are the Super Rich?,” Mother Jones, 02/11
Image of Rise of the Super Rich is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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Media, Homeless Reality, and the Universal Living Wage

Rogerbstillz VideoIn 1.05-minute video “Homeless Guy gets Paid with Square,” an entrepreneurial fellow holds a sign that says, “Too lazy to work, too dum to hustel.” That’s possible. It might not go over in Lawrence, KS, but in a place like Santa Monica, CA, where both the panhandlers and the public are more laid-back, people will pay to be entertained, even by self-deprecating irony in a street person’s pitch.

The really unusual thing is, this guy’s cardboard sign is decorated with decals representing the major credit card companies. Reviewing the video, Courtney Boyd Myers says,

Homeless guy Mark aka ‘Madwhite’ is raking in a lot more dough now that he accepts Square, Visa, MasterCard or DiscoverCard transactions. In fact, he’s making 4 times what he normally makes… Once he has your information, he’ll email you to let you know what corners he’ll be frequenting next… Watch Mark discuss his mobile payment transactions below in this nearly unbelievable video…

Okay, the reason why it’s “nearly unbelievable” is because it shouldn’t be believed. It’s a fake, a satire perhaps, or just a thought experiment. But who could be blamed for being taken in, even for a minute? Why not? The world gets stranger every day. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the real from The Onion or the political theater of the Yes Men.

At Rogerbstillz’s Blog, the maker of the video writes about the first time somebody used an iPhone to let him pay by credit card, and how it inspired his imagination, for better or worse:

Now I’m sure we have all been approached by a homeless person asking for change and we tell them ‘I don’t have any change/cash on me’ well what if they replied I accept credit cards lol What would your reply be?

The maker of the video hopes this will “go viral.” It’s obviously a plug for a mobile phone application that can accept credit card payments, and there’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself. The software is real, and is said to be a convenience for sellers at farmers’ markets and many others.

Humor can sometimes be a redeeming virtue in media whose underlying assumptions we don’t really care for, but the video clip isn’t exactly funny. As a comment from “rictandag” points out,

it demeans homeless people and underappreciates greatly how mobile payments already are being used in the ‘developing world’ for social good.

Speaking of the demand for such a service, “rictandag” says,

For developing nations where access to other media has been limited, mobile is the great enabler… mobile is and will be their only access to the Internet and all the services that folk in the developed world now take for granted such as online banking, money transfer, email, up-to-date weather and news, commodity prices, commerce, government services.

These things are also true of the inner city homeless colonies and peripheral encampments in America. Another thing can be said too — no matter how helpful this technology may be to the homeless in our own country or to others throughout the world, it’s still dealing with the results of poverty and homelessness.

House the Homeless is interested in addressing the causes. The Universal Living Wage (UWL) intends to adjust the federal minimum wage and index it to the local cost of housing, throughout the nation. When properly adjusted, the ULW should ensure that anyone who works a 40-hour week can afford basic rental housing, and that means safe and decent as well as affordable, and includes utilities too. Of course, once the rent is paid, they should also be able to afford clothing and food. That’s what the Universal Living Wage is all about.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless Guy Makes More Money Using Square and Mobile Payments,” The Next Web, 09/30/11
Source: “Homeless Gets Paid With Square/Box,” Rogerbstillz’s Blog, 09/28/11
Screen capture of Rogerbstillz Video is used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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Three Cities – Conclusion

HomelessTwo years ago, the print publication High Country News published a significant story by Scott Bransford that spotlighted two California cities, Fresno and Ontario, and one Oregon city, Portland. This has been about the tent cities in each of those metropolitan areas, which Bransford described, and more recent events.

Bransford had more to say on the subject of housing:

Makeshift dwellings may not be the dream homes of yesteryear, but they are simple, affordable, and sustainable in their use of salvaged materials. With imaginative designers, they could help solve the present housing crisis, a faster alternative to the process of building shelters and low-income apartment complexes.

He mentioned Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon, as an example, describing it as…

… a community that can house up to 60 people. Founded in 2000 and now approved by the city, it’s considered a model by housing advocates worldwide.

One local resident described it as not a flophouse, but…

… a community place. You support the village by taking care of yourself as if you were on your own.

Bransford described the environment:

Beyond the check-in desk in the village’s security post, residents find a balance between the human needs for safety and personal freedom. Most are required to do at least 10 hours of community service a week—helping build or remodel homes, for example — but otherwise they set their own schedules.

This summer, about four months ago, Beth Slovic wrote for The Oregonian that Portland’s city council would extend the life of Dignity Village for one year. But the 10-year-old camp needs to clean up its act, according to officials.

The perceived problems were highlighted in a report, back in February of 2010, by a private consultant who investigated every aspect of the squatter village, including its “financial instability.” What was the first clue to the shaky economic basis of this community? It’s a settlement made of wooden huts that recently has replaced tents! Portland paid somebody for the momentous news that the place is financially unstable.

Here is a fascinating quotation, followed by some questions it raises:

Among other problems, [the investigation] found that the nonprofit camp’s method of electing residents to only one-year terms on a governing board slows fundraising and site improvements. The report, commissioned by the city, also noted the absence of programs to help residents move to permanent housing.

Number one: There is a subtle psychological nuance to consider. In a transitional housing camp, for anyone to seek office with a term of more than one year is to admit that they have accepted homelessness as a lifestyle, or, as some might say, become a professional homeless person. It seems as if the most mentally healthy position a tent city resident could take would be the determination to have a new address by this time next year.

Psychology aside, maybe the Dignity Village folks are onto something that the state’s political insiders don’t want to admit the truth of. Maybe no one should hold a position of power for more than a year. All the real work is done by underlings, anyway.

The present political system doesn’t seem to be working out very well. Maybe the answer is a term limit of one year across the board. Maybe everything would work much better, if no official could stick around long enough to develop a crony network and an entrenched system of corruption. Might be worth trying.

Number two: “… [T]he absence of programs to help residents move to permanent housing.” And this is whose fault? The residents’?

The Dignity Village neighborhood is charmingly described by Slovic as…

… the city-owned Sunderland Yard, next to a leaf composting facility between a state prison and Portland International Airport.

An unnamed male urban planner and designer posted some photos of Dignity Village less than two months ago at the website Tent City Urbanism. Currently, the website of Dignity Village itself is between hosts, and its page contains only an optimistic description of future plans.

Reactions?

Source: “Tarp Nation: Squatter Villages and Tent Cities in the Economic Crisis,” Utne Reader, 2009
Source: “Portland’s Dignity Village homeless camp set to get another year, at least, on city land,” OregonLive.com, 06/07/11
Source: “A View of Dignity Village,” Tent City Urbanism, 08/15/11
Image by born1945, used under its Creative Commons license.

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