Occupy Occupied — by People Experiencing Homelessness

Homeless SantaThe homeless community and the Occupy movement agree on many points:

— The yawning chasm of wealth disparity is not to be tolerated.
— People need jobs.
— Corporate greed is at fault. (Maybe not all corporations. Greedy ones, definitely.)
— Also guilty is the whole mess with the banks and the foreclosures.
— There needs to be a separation of money from politics, and vice versa.

Still, some cosmically absurd things have been going on. A bunch of protesters take over a private or public space, to bring attention to their oppressed status. They are supported by some and vilified by others, who are even willing to use force to make them leave. The protesters’ cause is just, and all right-thinking people ought to agree with them.

Then… a bunch of people experiencing homelessness comes into that occupied space, and their claim is a legitimate one, of even more oppressed status. They are supported by some, but others would prefer that they stay out. The homeless people’s cause is just, and, to their way of thinking, all good people ought to support it. What a situation!

What happens when Occupy gets occupied? Sometimes, the homeless are treated as intruders and hazardous nuisances. They are said to jeopardize the legitimacy of the Occupy movement. From that standpoint, it’s a public relations nightmare. But the news is not all bad.

From Boston, MA, John Zaremba reports that the city will not act to prevent Occupiers from spending the winter on Dewey Square, as long as rules for public safety are observed, including a ban on open fires and kerosene heaters. The reporter interviewed a logistics and supplies person from the Occupy Boston camp, Kristopher Eric Martin, who said of the homeless members:

These guys are experts at staying warm and staying dry. All these guys are used to living on the streets and sleeping with one eye open.

Among the helpful hints offered by the people experiencing homelessness: Extra protection from the cold can be obtained by stuffing hay or straw between layers of clothing. First off, where do urban street people get hay and straw? Good grief, what story will we see on TV on Christmas Eve? News of a homeless person arrested for taking the straw out of a church’s nativity scene to insulate their clothing?

Remember Otzi the Ice Man, the 5,300-year-old frozen corpse found in the Alps? He wore a cloak of woven grass, and his shoes were stuffed with grass and moss for warmth.

So, here we are in America in 2011, with some citizens teaching other citizens the survival skills of a Neolithic hunter. Now, that’s progress.

From Seattle, WA, Paula Wissel wrote about the ongoing struggle concerning Westlake Park, where protesters continued to stay despite being officially forbidden. The mayor has been ambivalent. He sympathizes with the protesters, but there are local residents and businesses to consider. Apparently, the movement has sparked some hope among the city’s urban indigent people. The reporter sought an opinion from a citizen named Delmar Bryant:

He says he’s lived on streets all over the Northwest. He believes Occupy Seattle is the start of something special.

The situation in Atlanta, GA, seems to be kind of strange. Early last month, Gwynedd Stuart titled a post, “Occupy Atlanta uniquely OK with homeless ‘interlopers.'”

Well first of all, Atlanta is not so unique in being okay, as we have seen. But here’s the unusual slant. Stuart speaks of:

… Occupy Atlanta’s acceptance of the homeless — which is probably best demonstrated by the decision to actually move into a homeless shelter…

Apparently, when demonstrators were ejected from Woodruff Park, about 100 of them moved into the top floors of the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter, where around 600 homeless people already lived. In other words, Occupy Atlanta occupied the homeless shelter.

The controversial shelter’s future was already precarious. Later in the month, Bob Cramer, who was chairman of Atlanta’s Task Force for the Homeless for 14 years, wrote:

With the loss of so much public housing, low-income Atlantans have few choices and little hope. With the possible loss of the Peachtree-Pine shelter, homeless people may once again need to use Woodruff Park as a refuge, perhaps standing shoulder to shoulder with Occupy Atlanta, perhaps to die once more on our streets.

Eugene, OR, is on the cusp of major change, with an upcoming vote on whether to allow continuing life to a large encampment of people experiencing homelessness. Edward Russo reports:

The council is to vote on whether to let Occupy Eugene continue its camp of mainly homeless people in Washington-Jefferson Park… The protest group wants to remain in the park and work with city officials to find a place to build a permanent camp for the homeless.

The settlement is said to consist of between 150 and 200 people, some protesters and the rest representing a very small fraction of the city’s estimated 4,000 homeless people. The occupiers want to help collect donated materials and build kitchens, showers, and necessities. But opinions differ of the advisability of this. City Councilor Chris Pryor, who works for United Way, told the reporter:

I am part of the human services world that doesn’t think living in a tent is a step to solving homelessness. The long-term solution is to get people into jobs and housing.

On the other hand, St. Vincent de Paul Director Terry McDonald told Russo:

Occupy Eugene has engaged homeless youth. The group’s gatherings and workshops in the campsite are giving the youths something to do other than simply try to survive on the streets… bringing them from a more feral society to one that is more civil…

House the Homeless has communicated with dozens of Occupy groups throughout the nation, encouraging them to get behind the Universal Living Wage. Richard R. Troxell says:

According to the last several U.S. Conference of Mayors reports, no one working at a full-time minimum wage job can afford to get into and keep a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, this will result in 3.5 million homeless minimum-wage workers this year alone.

The situation is summed up by a comment from “Kiddo”:

Homeless Americans most directly represent the impact of our exploited brokedown financial system. Their very living situation IS part of the protest. That they lack regular shelter and means, and are (unfortunately) available to protest via occupation is to all our benefit…. We all have a place in this movement.


Source: “Occupiers turn to homeless for tips,” Boston Herald, 10/19/11
Source: “Homeless find home at Occupy Seattle, so is it still a protest?,” KPLU.com, 10/10/11
Source: “Occupy Atlanta uniquely OK with homeless ‘interlopers,’” clatl.com, 11/01/11
Source: “25 years of poverty vs. power,” ajc.com, 11/25/11
Source: “Homeless find ally in Occupy,” RegisterGuard.com, 12/11/11
Image by Kalinago English (Karenne Sylvester), used under its Creative Commons license.


Occupy Homelessness

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

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

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

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

Ehrenreich goes on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Minimum Wage and the Rental Market

Have PhD

Big cities usually have apartment shortages. This is nothing new. But, nowadays, the prospective tenants come from a different demographic. Many of them are former (attempted) home buyers who couldn’t hold on. Some are people who, in a better economy, would be perfectly capable of buying a home, if they found work in the field they were trained for instead of washing cars or collecting unemployment. (And some have listened to Rich Dad, Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki, who says, “Your home is not an asset.”)

Ben Markus of Colorado Public Radio discusses recent events in Denver, and starts by talking about his visit with a couple renting a two-bedroom apartment for more than $900 per month. Before getting into that, here is some background. The page called “Living Wage Calculation for Denver County, Colorado,” explains that:

The living wage shown is the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year).

They figure a typical two-adult household spends $692 a month on housing. But, in order to do that, each one of them has to be making at least $8.64 per hour. The minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This means that a pair of minimum-wage workers would be hard-pressed to afford a $692 apartment, which probably has only one bedroom anyway, and certainly would not be able to afford the two-bedroom that goes for $900.

A family with two adults and two children needs $27.00 per hour coming in. But even if both adults are working, if they’re working for a minimum wage, there is less than $15 per hour coming in. That’s a pretty big discrepancy.

A fiscally prudent person doesn’t budget more than a quarter of their income for housing — that’s what they used to teach in home economics classes. Then somebody sneakily raised the bar. Now we are told, it’s wise not to spend more than one-third of the income on housing. And we’re supposed to feel just as prudent. (But one-third is more than one-fourth.)

Getting back to Markus, he next speaks with David Zucker, a land developer who is putting up a building different from the building originally planned for the spot, near Denver’s downtown. Markus says:

This project was originally planned as condos. But when the housing market collapsed, Zucker went back to the drawing board. Eventually, his financers looked at all the renters entering the market, and they liked his new idea of retooling the project from 60 condos to more than 200 apartments… Now, more than a dozen apartment buildings are going up in the Denver metro area, and dozens more are planned.

Then, he quotes economist Patrick Newport, who says:

We’re going to see more renting, less homeownership. And the recovery that we see in the housing market is going to be one that’s characterized more by more apartment construction, and less by single-family construction.

Markus also quotes investment broker Greg Benjamin, who says that financing is available for these projects now because demand exceeds supply, “allowing landlords to charge higher rents.” Well, of course, builders are getting into this apartment trend because they anticipate charging high rents. What they don’t seem to take into account is that there may not be many tenants who can pay high rents. But they don’t seem interested in creating low-rent housing.

Still, it’s possible that many existing renters will upgrade their lifestyles, leaving behind, and available, the older, less desirable apartments. Such units might even be affordable to the working poor. At any rate, although the increased number of apartments is good news, it’s only half the equation, the half that comes from the top. We also need the other half of the equation, the one that comes from the bottom. What we need is the Universal Living Wage (ULW), to put well-deserved adequate pay into the hands of people who want to rent those properties.

About the effect of a minimum wage hike, blogger Kasey Steinbrinck says:

Studies show that people at the lower end of earning tend to put the money right back into the economy. They get their car fixed, pay for needed home repairs, buy new clothes and spend money at many local businesses.

And spend it on apartment rent, if they get half a chance. A lot of people would like to move out of their vans, or off their mother’s couches, and find places of their own.

Steinbrinck also says this about minimum-wage workers:

When adjusted for inflation, the real value of their compensation actually fell by 5% since the federal minimum wage was last raised in 2009 to $7.25 an hour. If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation over the past 40 years it would be almost $10.40 an hour… The Economic Policy Institute estimates that that raising the minimum wage to $9.50 would result in more than $60 billion in consumer spending. Now that’s a pretty nice economic stimulus!

But, of course, we have all traveled and know that the cost of living (the cost of housing) is not the same in Cleveland, Ohio, as it is in Santa Cruz, California, or in Washington, D.C., etc. In fact, we are a nation of 1,000 economies, each with its own cost of living. That is what the Universal Living Wage will address. It will ensure that a person working 40 hours in a week will be able to afford the basics: food, clothing, shelter (utilities included), wherever that work is done throughout the United States.

And the other wonderful aspect of the ULW is that it will stimulate the housing construction industry all across America and create jobs as we put the difference between the Federal Minimum Wage and the Universal Living Wage into the pockets of millions of working poor who all need the same thing: truly affordable housing. Finally, this will happen over a 10-year period in order to accommodate the business community. In this fashion, we can end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers. Wow!


Source: “Demand For Denver Apartments Outstrips Supply,” NPR.org, 11/29/11
Source: “Living Wage Calculation for Denver County, Colorado,” Living Wage Calculator
Source: “Boosting Minimum Wage to Boost the Economy,” The Check Advantage Blog, 07/25/11
Image of “Have PhD” is used under Fair Use: Reporting.


Holidays, Homelessness, and a Living Wage

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sheptock is again quoted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


HPCR – There Must Be a Better Way

Clothespeg Tent

This might be the quotation of the year:

The City of New Orleans cleared out the camp to reduce homelessness in the city.

Is that what they think they’re doing? Amazing. Reduce homelessness by clearing out camps. Who knew the answer could be so simple?

Here’s more of the story, as reported by Tania Dall:

A homeless encampment underneath the Ponchartrain Expressway along Calliope Street is gone… On Friday morning, city workers showed up to clear bicycles, sleeping bags, and other items belonging to the homeless. The city says it will continue patrols to keep this area clear.

About 112 people are said to have lived in the encampment. The city says that 85 were moved to temporary housing, 20 taken to shelters, and 10 “placed on buses to be reunited with family or friends out of town.” That already adds up to 115, and the reporter also says that some of the displaced people went to join Occupy NOLA. So, who knows?

The nonprofit organization UNITY of New Orleans told the reporter,

… 60 percent of the people living in the old encampment suffered from mental illness, 25 percent of those had some sort of developmental disability…

Elsewhere, Bruce Eggler adds detail:

The area under the expressway has been closed and no one will be allowed to sleep or camp there… The Department of Sanitation will remove any mattresses, chairs or other items found there and pressure-wash the area…

According to the mayor’s office,

The city coordinated the relocations and respite housing in partnership with the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, Volunteers of America, Travelers Aid, Metropolitan Health Services District, Grace Outreach and UNITY of Greater New Orleans.

But, getting back to Tania Dall’s piece, she said,

… the move came as a shock to some nearby shelters that claim they weren’t given advance notice.

So, what kind of coordination is that? Again, who knows?

Actually, the activities in New Orleans sounds relatively benign in comparison to some of the other cities described by House the Homeless in previous posts. A person could get tired of hearing about “sweeps” and “cleanups.” Seems like there are so many of them these days. As a group deemed undesirable, people experiencing homelessness today are pretty much like Gypsies have been throughout the centuries. Society definitely doesn’t want them in its backyard. They need be cleared out and cleaned up.

On the other hand, either group provides handy scapegoats. In the old days, if a child went missing, the Gypsies were assumed to have kidnapped him or her. Now, if there’s a beer can on the lawn, it must be the homeless people. In reality, whoever dropped that litter might have been a college student, or your spouse.

Either group provides convenient targets for the free-floating aggression of the settled populace. Any time a few local yokels get drunk and go out looking for somebody to beat down, who is out there in the open air, unprotected by locks, or even walls? Gypsies and homeless people.

And the townsfolk get to be all self-righteous, and feel superior to the people who own nothing. And they use the law to take away the very few possessions that remain. News articles blather on about how city personnel or volunteers come out to clean up all the trash after the homeless people have been ejected from the camp they called home.

Sure, it’s a mess, but there’s a dark humor in all this. Where do you take out the garbage, when you live in the junkyard? When you yourself are considered trash, where do you take out the trash?

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Just to have a good sleeping bag can make the difference between survival and despair. Imagine losing your sleeping bag because you went to find something to eat, and when you came back, the place where you had lived was bulldozed into oblivion.

And, really, would it be such an outlandish idea to get rid of the trash and leave the people in place? Couldn’t a city just put some portable toilets and a dumpster near a homeless settlement, and maintain them?

Better yet, what if we had a society where nobody is desperate enough to camp out in the woods? Is there an answer to this? Well, for now, the Homeless Protected Class Resolution could possibly put a stop to some of the worst excesses performed upon people experiencing homelessness.

And, for the future — the one where we don’t have any homeless people — we propose the Universal Living Wage. The exciting new development is that House the Homeless is encouraging the Occupy movement to turn its energy in this direction. (Please see “Living Wage Campaign: The Answer to Occupy Wall Street“) and don’t forget to sign the petition!


Source: “City of New Orleans closes homeless encampment,” WWLTV.com, 10/28/11
Source: “New Orleans ousts about 115 homeless people from underneath Pontchartrain Expressway,” NOLA.com, 10/28/11
Image (partial) by gruntzooki (Corey Doctorow), used under its Creative Commons license.


Why the Homeless Protected Class Resolution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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.


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.


The Economic-Violence Connection

So many children“This screams for Living Wages,” was the reaction of Richard R. Troxell on learning about a study about child abuse, conducted by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and three other children’s hospitals, and we will return to that remark presently. The study in question had this objective:

To evaluate the rate of abusive head trauma (AHT) in 3 regions of the United States before and during an economic recession and assess whether there is a relationship between the rate of AHT and county-level unemployment rates.

It concluded:

The rate of AHT increased significantly in 3 distinct geographic regions during the 19 months of an economic recession compared with the 47 months before the recession. This finding is consistent with our understanding of the effect of stress on violence.

The entire report is available as a PDF download from Pediatrics magazine, and is explained in great detail by a press release sent out by the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. The study looked at rates of head trauma that were unmistakably of abusive origin, both before and after the recession, whose beginning it dates to December 2007, and found that…

The number of cases of abusive head trauma (shaken baby syndrome) rose from six per month before Dec. 1, 2007, to 9.3 per month after that date… Dr. Berger said that the impetus for the study was that in 2008, more patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC died from abusive head trauma than from non-inflicted brain injury.

The person cited above and quoted below is Rachel Berger, Medical Doctor and Master of Public Health, child abuse specialist and researcher at Children’s Hospital’s Child Advocacy Center. As lead author of the study, which was also covered by the Associated Press and CBS News, among other major media, Dr. Berger said,

Our results show that there has been a rise in abusive head trauma, that it coincided with the economic recession, and that it’s not a phenomenon isolated to our region but happening on a much more widespread level… To think that more children died from abusive head trauma than from any other type of brain injury that year is really remarkable and highly concerning.

Texas is one of the more influential states, for many reasons. People keep an eye on what happens in Austin, just like they pay attention to what happens in New York or San Francisco. Notions that start in Texas tend to spread. It’s such an interesting place, it has produced Molly Ivins, the incomparable writer on political matters, whose support of Texans experiencing homelessness is memorialized in Looking Up at the Bottom Line.

The great state of Texas produced Jim Adler, who founded a personal injury law firm and who has been a child advocate throughout his entire career. Among other activities on behalf of children, he has been a member of the Joint City/County Commission on Children for Houston and Harris County. Like many other professionals, he follows the news in the field of child health, and was moved to write about the study and its conclusion…

… that the recession has a punishing human cost: an increase in child abuse… The victims are usually the babies of low-income parents on hard times… What a shame that it is aimed at defenseless infants in the first months of life, a horror that this study reveals.

The statistic Adler cites says that 46 million Americans live in poverty. He suggests a “hidden epidemic of child abuse” that our awareness hasn’t caught up with yet, caused by the economic recession. He suggests that if families are not struggling so hard, the children are safer.

Adler hazards a guess that brain trauma is probably not the only type of child abuse that has increased, nor the only age group it has increased in. He says,

Until now, much of what we’ve seen on TV and the Internet or read in news magazines and newspapers has focused on the dollar costs of the recession, both in terms of personal budgets and government budgets. But in the background, little tears have been falling unheeded by reporters until now.

Richard R. Troxell has made a similar point about the connection between poverty and violence, and the apparent public obliviousness to that connection, saying,

The worse the economic situation is in the family, the greater likelihood of abuse. The further folks move away from poverty, the less likelihood of violence. I first researched this common sense issue years ago to find only one study on the topic.

Which brings us back to that other thing Richard said: “This screams for Living Wages.” In other words, the evidence about increasing child abuse is as good as an argument gets for ending homelessness. If anyone doubts the relationship between economics and family violence, they suffer from a delusion that Richard calls “Myth #26.”

Because of this myth, and at least 25 others, people are prevented from seeing the truth about the necessity for the Universal Living Wage. Please visit the Myths page and prepare to be astonished.

The Illustration (From Mother Goose):

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;
And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.


Source: “Abusive Head Trauma During a Time of Increased Unemployment: A Multicenter Analysis,” Pediatrics, 09/19/11
Source: “Incidence of Child Abuse Skyrocketed During Recent Recession, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC-led Study Finds,” chp.edu, 05/01/10
Source: “Recession increasing child abuse,” blog.chron.com, 09/22/11
Image by crimfants (Paul), used under its Creative Commons license


Shifting Gears: A Statement by Richard R. Troxell

Shifting gearsAs you may know, it was never about the book. That’s right, I have written a book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line. It is about homelessness and the Universal Living Wage, which will end economic homelessness for millions of people. I view the stories and the struggles in the book as the icing on the cake. It is a way to get people to eat the cake — the concept/formula of the Universal Living Wage. The goal remains the same: a pragmatic solution that will end homelessness in our lifetime.

Rather than looking at folks on the street as “The Homeless,” I prefer to think of them as human beings. They are people who can either work or not work. To those who cannot work, I offer my sympathy, my help, and my tax dollars. To those who can work, we can offer opportunity: a Universal Living Wage that will ensure that anyone working 40 hours in a week can afford the basics in life, such as food, clothing, and shelter (utilities included). But they are not in need of my tax dollars.

Did you hear that?

The Universal Living Wage offers tax-dollar savings, stable jobs, stable work force, a way to stimulate the economy (97% of minimum-wage hikes get re-spent right back into the economy), and a way to stimulate the housing construction industry. Wow! This is an idea whose time has come. But first, we must reshape our thinking.

Business is a FULL, equal partner in this concern. Those who operate businesses and profit from our labor must be convinced to act as full community partners. Our cry is, “A Fair Wage for a Fair Days Work.” Anyone working 40 hours in a week should be able to afford a roof over their head — other than a bridge. Who benefits from the work of the laborer, if not business? It is up to us to begin to stress all these benefits to business.

We must show them that using people like tissue paper and replacing them on a whim only results in exorbitant retraining costs. We must show them that, according to the Small Business Administration website, with 64% of all new small businesses failing by the fourth year, they must stabilize all parts of their business, including the wage of the worker.

Thus far, our campaign has focused on the “fallout” of this phenomenon that we call homelessness. Our efforts have been to assist those who fall into this condition. I believe we must continue to reach out and take care of folks, but now we must also emphasize the concept of ENDING HOMELESSNESS! It’s good for business, it’s good for the worker and, with 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness, it’s critical for our society.

The alternative is a nation of cast-off, disenfranchised workers who are growing angrier by the day. No doubt we’ll face more draconian laws that arrest people for things such as feeding the homeless people in our parks. Cruel laws like that have given life to vigilantes, such as “Anonymous,” who vow to crash official websites and disrupt communication systems in response to perceived injustices.

The cry in Congress is for jobs, tax savings, and social/economic responsibility. The Universal Living Wage offers all these things. To this end, I am taking our campaign to the next level.

Just last week, we completed our mailing of the book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line, to each member of the House of Representatives (435). We sent a copy of the book to each United States Senator (100). We sent a copy of the book to all 50 Governors and, of course, we finished with a book going to the President of the United States.

We were able to send an advance email to each official. This turned out to be prudent. We have now begun to receive official letters of appreciation for the book from members of the House, Senate, and from state governors. I have chosen a select few of these for posting on our website, HouseTheHomeless.org.

One of the first letters we’ve received came from Minnesota Republican Congressperson and presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann. She says she wants to end homelessness and that we should contact her for anything that we need. I’ve been ridiculed for posting her letter. I’ve been told that “she doesn’t care about the homeless.” But I say that she does care. She has provided foster care for at least 23 children. They were all girls, many with eating disorders, and she cared for them until they could care for themselves.

Everybody cares about what we’re offering. They just may not realize it. It’s like when I approached people in the Green movement, only to find out they were all unassociated groups and couldn’t see how homelessness was their issue. I found perhaps their strongest leader, Nathalie Paravicini in Houston, and I showed her a picture of Austin’s Waller Creek. I made her guess what what was in the picture: a creek, an abutment, a sleeping bag, a blanket, a thousand Styrofoam cups. I explained that lots of my fellow veterans were now living in the woods along America’s creeks and estuaries without trash pick-up or toilets.

I believe I actually referenced the word “feces.” I asked how that could possibly be good for the environment? I suggested that they contact all the other “Greens” around America and form themselves into a single group, then endorse the Universal Living Wage. They discussed, both over the Internet and in person, for about two weeks. Today, they are called the Green Party. We have their endorsement.

We are poised to get our issue on the dinner-table agenda of America. Let’s go forward together. Use your voice.

Together, we are a great team.

Image by BinaryApe (Pete Birkinshaw), used under its Creative Commons license.


To Avoid Homelessness, Workers Need Better Pay

Abandoned-4Corporate America’s chokehold on wages” is a piece by Harold Meyerson that appeared in The Washington Post, Austin’s The Statesman, and many other newspapers. The author begins by engaging our interest in the question of why we, as American consumers, are still in a dismal economic situation. The answer is twofold: a lot of people are unemployed, and a lot of people with jobs are underpaid.

Writing in a conversational tone, Meyerson explores the implications of the words and ideas of J.P. Morgan Chase’s chief investment officer, Michael Cembalest. The journalist says of Cembalest,

He asserted in the July 11 edition of ‘Eye on the Market,’ the bank’s regular report to its private banking clients, that ‘US labor compensation is now at a 50-year low relative to both company sales and US GDP.’

There are three major reasons why corporate profits are flourishing: low wages, the offshoring of jobs, and innovation stemming from research and development. The biggest factor contributing to swollen profits, Meyerson says, is the low pay. In the 500 top companies that Standard & Poor keeps track of,

… profit margins (the share of a company’s revenue that goes to profits)… are at their highest levels since the mid-1960s…

Meyerson gives a very complete explanation, the gist of which is that, for workers, both wages and benefits have shrunk. He writes,

This decline in wages and benefits, Cembalest calculates, is responsible for about 75 percent of the increase in our major corporations’ profit margins.

As for the causes, there seem to be several. Although good pay is better than easy credit, something went wrong years ago, when it became easier for Americans to get ruinous amounts of credit than to get the adequate wages they needed and deserved. It’s like bringing up a child on cotton candy instead of vegetables. The long-term results can be gruesome.

Also, Meyerson blames the decline of the unions and talks about a hearing held by the National Labor Relations Board in July, during which testimony from 61 witnesses has revealed that…

… union elections have declined 80 percent since 1970… In the America of 2011, there are scarcely any union organizing campaigns. There are fewer union members: Just 7 percent of private-sector employees are unionized, down from 35 percent in the 1950s… The strike as a bargaining tool for workers is now the province of professional athletes, the last American employees who have enough clout even to contemplate taking a walk… Surely the fact that the great majority of American employers no longer have to sit down and hammer out collective bargaining contracts with their workers has contributed to the increase in profits at wages’ expense.

One thing that corporations often forget is that underpaid workers can’t afford to buy stuff. And who are underpaid workers not able to buy stuff from? The corporations. If almost everybody is broke, who is left to fill the role of consumer, customer, or client? In other words, stiffing the workers would seem to be a counterproductive policy, in the long run. Paying people fairly, even generously, is good for business.

Yet, most working people are underpaid. Some have supplemental means, or extraordinary management skills, or three jobs. They contrive to hang on by their fingernails to a viable lifestyle, and experience a relatively high degree of housing security.

Others are the working poor. Even with a full-time job, many workers are unable to afford housing even for themselves. And a family? Forget it. The working poor are tossed from one precarious situation to the next, sometimes living in a vehicle or a relative’s garage, often dependent on an aid program to make it at all, eternally teetering on the edge of disaster. The economic homeless are employed and ought to have every reasonable expectation of being able to afford a place to live, and yet, they can’t.

House the Homeless invites you to learn more about the Universal Living Wage. The benefit of the ULW is that it will end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all of 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.


Source: “Corporate America’s chokehold on wages,” WashingtonPost.com, 07/19/11
Image by Vimages (Pierre Vignau), used under its Creative Commons license.

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