Posted on October 6, 2011 by Pat Hartman
In 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.
Posted on September 27, 2011 by Pat Hartman
“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.
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.”
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.
Posted on August 5, 2011 by Richard Troxell
As 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.
Posted on August 2, 2011 by Pat Hartman
“Corporate 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.
Posted on July 19, 2011 by Pat Hartman
As we recall from English class, if someone tells or writes a narrative using “I,” that story is being told in the first person. There is a quite a growing body of “first-person homeless” literature, and Kirsten Anderberg is one of its shining lights. Her first university degree was in political science. Last year, she became a Master of Arts in history and archiving.
This is from her bio:
She has published more articles in first person by a woman street performer than ever published prior in history. Her historical work regarding street performance and busking is filling a gap too long neglected.
These achievements are splendid, but consider the irony. If ever there was a writer with no need of diplomas to certify her mastery, Anderberg is that writer — brilliant, with street cred up the wazoo (a perfectly valid expression, meaning “in great abundance or plentiful supply,” and, in this case, it also means “equivalent to a Ph.D.”)
Most of her published work has stemmed from first-hand experience in the areas of natural health, political activism, civil rights, poverty, feminism, performing arts, homelessness, and institutional history. Her “Philanthropy in Child Protection Institutions,” subtitled “Community Volunteers Be Aware: Gifts Can Make Kids Targets in Institutions,” is outstandingly powerful and revelatory. We admire those who speak truth to power, but Anderberg does something even more rare and courageous: she speaks truth to the well-intentioned but clueless.
With a target in her sights, Anderberg is merciless and unrelenting. Her piece on the Section 8 voucher program for low-income housing assistance is absolutely scathing. It drips with scorn, and not in any fuzzy, generalized way. It is packed with specific examples of egregious failure spelled out in chapter and verse. She relates several nightmare scenarios — not imaginary ones — but horrible situations that have actually happened to people she knew and has worked with.
Apparently, in any given area, 90% of the rental units cost more than the Housing Authority has decided a Section 8 tenant can pay. Excesses and follies, Anderberg tells it like it is, explains it all for you, and ties it up in a ribbon with a bow. How many people do you know who would actually call 300 different Los Angeles apartment ads to determine that only three landlords would take Section 8 vouchers?
And then she explains the big Catch-22. Really, it’s amazing that anyone ever finds a place to rent. The waiting time to get into the program can be unbelievable, long enough so a single mother’s kids grow up and leave home before she can qualify, and then because there are no kids, she still can’t qualify.
It seems at every turn the government is trying to make sure only a small percentage of those who qualify for Section 8 can get it, and then those who finally do get it, cannot use it!… Many people give up every month in exhaustion, not using their Section 8, forfeiting it after waiting years for it, as they could not find any way to actually use it for rent anywhere.
Even the minor irritations are inimical to the quality of life. Like having the marked Housing Authority vehicle pull up to your door to make an inspection, letting all the neighbors know your loved ones are Section 8 riff-raff.
The Section 8 ‘inspections’ seem more to check on the participants’ behaviors and lifestyles than to actually inspect for housing code and standards violations.
Then there is the ridiculous rule against shared housing:
If two welfare moms with Section 8 wanted to team up and try to find an affordable house together, costing the state less in funds for rent, Section 8 will not pay for that: the two women must rent separate rental units, probably apartments instead, at higher prices, which actually pleases the landlords.
A comment to Anderberg’s (republished elsewhere) article noted that things were somewhat better on the East coast, and added,
Section 8 housing is actually to the advantage of the owner because that means he has to keep places open as section 8 housing and gets a check regardless of if someone is living in it… Any landlord who doesn’t have section 8 housing is an idiot. Most will instantly take it because if there is an empty house in your unit you can pimp the system… A lot of the funds for repairs on the units come from the section 8 money. They are instant money in the bank.
Getting back to Anderberg: She has more to say about landlords, too. And the government:
In all reality, the only reason the Section 8 program is funded and allowed to continue is that it is designed to benefit land owners, much more than the renters. Section 8 does not help renters become home owners. Section 8 will not allow Section 8 renters to pay their rent towards home ownership, as in a mortgage, they may only use Section 8 for temporary rentals, turning it in essence, into a benefits program for land owners…
There is a serious housing crisis and the chasm between the have and have-nots has never been more obvious. This band-aid program of Section 8 vouchers barely functions in reality… Section 8 vouchers are often not worth the paper they are written on… In essence, the government has made the Section 8 voucher program nearly impossible to use, while feigning the illusion of concern and remedy.
“Minimum wage is not equal to minimum rents,” Anderberg says, and, of course, that is what the Universal Living Wage is all about. All Americans who work 40 hours a week should be able to afford basic housing wherever they live. We can end economic homelessness for over a million people and prevent economic homelessness for all of 10.1 million minimum-wage workers. Learn more about the Universal Living Wage.
Source: “Kirsten Anderberg,” Amazon.com
Source: ““Section 8″: The Myths of Low Income Housing in the U.S.,” Mostly Water, 09/19/08
Image by Sir_Iwan (Pawel), used under its Creative Commons license.
Posted on June 9, 2011 by Pat Hartman
HomeAid is scheduled for November 11 and 12, during the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. It is a virtual happening, very Earth-friendly. (And besides, everybody is too broke to travel. If any spare change is lurking between the couch cushions, better to donate it to the cause than spend it on gas.) David Mathison, CEO and co-host of Be The Media, says:
This will be a truly green event. Since everything is online, there is no place to fly or drive, no trees to cut down for posters or tickets, and minimal waste: there’s almost no damage to the environment.
Parts of it will come, courtesy of YouTube live streaming video, from the Apollo Theater in New York and also from Nashville, Tennessee, and many other places. The event’s publicity literature says,
Celebrities, artists, and performers from across the country are contributing exclusive video content that will be streamed on the HomeAid.net website… Many artists plan to hold live ‘house parties’ right from their homes, streamed via webcam… Fans will have many ways to participate, from uploading their own videos to spreading the word on social media sites, and even downloading mobile applications for the iPhone or Android.
And house parties! The whole point here is to share the experience with friends. Participation guarantees a global audience for the performers and the video artists. Regular people can participate just as much by helping spread the word and encourage others to join in. And have a party! In terms of sheer unprecedented numbers, HomeAid will probably become known as the Woodstock of the Internet.
HomeAid is also a national nonprofit organization that has, over the last 20 years, helped 100,000 people get back on their feet. What they do is, build and maintain shelters where homeless families and individuals can regain their dignity and reconstruct their lives. Currently, there are 20 chapters in 14 states.
The most recent addition to the crew is Ken Kragen, who put together the immensely successful We Are the World, as well as Net Aid and Hands Across America. The CEO of HomeAid is Jeffrey Slavin, who is understandably jazzed about the prospect of this event, which is still in the planning stages, and still looking for sponsors and for suggestions on more ways to be even more spectacular. Slavin says,
Because the event takes place online, anyone can watch it from anywhere in the world, and anyone can donate to the cause.
Never has an event been so easy to get involved with, for either an organization or an individual. That’s why the graphic on this page is the first image from their Sponsor Deck, which is pretty much what you’d see if you were in a conference room for a presentation. If you would like a Sponsor Deck of your very own, please go to the Sponsor Page and fill out the form. After receiving the Sponsor Deck, you will be equipped with an immense amount of detail about every aspect of the project and exactly how to become involved.
Here are four more online ways to connect with HomeAid:
Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless has been (again) a guest on BlogTalkRadio, interviewed by Zane Safrit. He is the host of a long-running show on small-business success, business innovation, and the economy. Richard and Zane first met in February to discuss Richard’s new book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage. Zane was so surprised at finding common ground with someone advocating a major increase in the entry-level wages that he has invited Richard back to further discuss the economics of the living wage.
After a brief update on House the Homeless‘ campaign against Austin’s “No Sit/No Lie” ordinance, Richard and Zane talk about the working homeless in the United States: those who hold minimum-wage jobs but can’t afford minimum housing. What would happen if these millions of workers got a raise? A massive economic boom, as the least among us are able to buy the products generated by a consumer society.
For information on how to prevent homelessness before it even happens, please learn more about the Universal Living Wage, the plan that can end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers and prevent economic homelessness for all of 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.
Source: “HomeAid: A Virtual Event to Benefit America’s Homeless,” HomeAid.net, 01/11/11
Source: “Richard Troxell: Author Looking Up at the Bottomline, Part 2,” BlogTalkRadio.com, 05/04/11
Image from HomeAid, used under Fair Use: Reporting.
Posted on June 7, 2011 by Pat Hartman
People have some strange mental pictures of “the homeless.” Want to see a homeless person? Take a look in the mirror. Tomorrow, you could be the homeless person.
Very few of us are guaranteed immunity from the disasters of life. For example, that financier, the alleged rapist of the vulnerable minority-group women. Bet he didn’t think he’d ever see the inside of a jail cell. Life is full of surprises. Just about any of us could be a soup kitchen client within 30 days. And as for “the homeless” in general, and our attitude toward them, nobody is qualified to judge unless they have been tested by the same situation.
Of course, there are homeless people who are violent, dishonest, and just plain not very nice. Why? Because every group has its share of violent, dishonest, and just plain not very nice people. Realizing this is a hallmark of maturity and a sign of being in touch with reality.
There are homeless people who are alcoholics or some other kind of addicts. It’s just amazing how a movie star who is “bravely battling addiction” receives support and encouragement and sympathy. But there’s a certain point of view that says, “What excuse have they got for being an addict?” If a rich, talented, and photogenic person is also messed up enough to fall into addiction, how in hell is a person who has lost everything supposed to stay straight? Bottom line, street addicts are equally as deserving of compassion and help as movie stars.
Speaking of movies, the American psyche is afflicted by a strange example of cognitive dissonance. In a movie, the character we love most is the drifter, the loner, the guy who’s always a stranger, just passing through town. In fiction, we love a hero who spits in the face of authority. But when it comes to street people, who may lack such conventional attachments as addresses and jobs, and who constantly live on the edge of the law — all of a sudden, the American public is not so enamored of those maverick traits. Don’t know what it means, but it sure is interesting.
So, we were looking at some examples of harassment and persecution that people experiencing homelessness may also experience as a side effect. It’s not only the shambling wrecks with bottles in paper bags who are having a hard time. A very large segment of the homeless population is made up of single mothers and their children.
Here’s a charming story from our nation’s capitol, entitled “D.C. Social Worker Offers Brutal Choice To Homeless Mother.” Jason Cherkis explains how Washington now has a strict new residency requirement for people who need shelter. When you stop and think about is, that’s kind of surreal. The whole point about being homeless is that you don’t have a residence. Anyway, the brutal choice was,
… the District’s Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) told a homeless mother that she either had to leave town or have her kids put in foster care… [The attorney] recalls the social worker explaining: ‘Because she is not being placed in a shelter, therefore she is unable to provide a safe place for her children to stay. If she does not agree to accept the arrangement that has been made for her [the bus out of town], we will be forced to take her children away from her.’
How insane can it get? When kids are taken away and put into foster care, somebody has to be paid for taking care of them. As long as the sum is going to be paid out anyway, wouldn’t it make sense to just pay that mother the same amount to take care of her own kids?
Apparently, there are two major injustices going on here. First, this woman is accused of being a neglectful mother because of not providing a home for her kids. Well, duh! Of course her kids don’t have a home. That’s why she spends every waking hour in the offices of the bureaucracy, begging for a place in a family shelter. Second, they refused her because of not being a D.C. resident, when all along she had as much documentation as anyone needs, proving her as much a D.C. resident as anybody is required to be.
In case you missed it, and if your disgust-with-the-system quota for the day hasn’t been filled yet, read about the mother in Connecticut who ran afoul of the law by enrolling her son in the “wrong” school. We also recommend finding out about the Universal Living Wage that can end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.
Source: “D.C. Social Worker Offers Brutal Choice To Homeless Mother,” Washington City Paper, 02/19/11
Image by ElizalO, used under its Creative Commons license.
Posted on May 24, 2011 by Pat Hartman
Last time, we outlined some of the issues surrounding the revitalization project planned for the Waller Creek corridor in downtown Austin, Texas. The first stage, the tunnel that will divert floodwaters, has begun. Businesses logically fear ruination by water damage, so once the threat of flooding is removed, this will encourage the growth of new businesses and, of course, increase the downtown property values and thus the tax base.
You’d think it would be possible to get even that far without objections, but you’d be mistaken. Even though the property owners in the immediate area, comprising Tax Increment Financing Reinvestment Zone No. 17, will be paying for a lot of the upfront costs, the city will be responsible for all the upkeep of the tunnel after 20 years (and, in this context, 20 years tends to slide by quickly). The city and county are paying now, but here’s an interesting footnote, courtesy of Wells Dunbar of The Austin Chronicle:
But the council also agreed to help fund the project via a small ‘drainage’ increase on Austin Water utility bills, an approximate 40-cent increase expected to ultimately collect more than $50 million.
That news prompted Brian Rodgers, co-founder of ChangeAustin.org, to ask the reporter a rhetorical question:
Why should all utility customers be required to subsidize Waller Creek landowners with $55 million from a regressive new drainage rate hike?
The opinion is shared by others, such as an online commentator called “Beano,” who writes,
This is about private gain from public investment. The property owners along this creek bought knowing they were in a flood zone. If they want something nicer and less flood prone, the rest of Austin should not be asked to pay for it.
Another citizen, known as “Big Texan,” adds,
It would be nice if the City Council would put limits on any commitments associated with this ‘project’. The idea of another unfunded and open-ended obligation is reckless.
But what’s done is done. The TIF zone is set up, ground has been broken for the tunnel, and the whole project is underway. Once the tunnel is finished, then the real work begins — the renovation of the above-ground area within the zone: Waller Creek and its surroundings.
The trouble is, from a certain perspective, this whole project looks like one big plot to rid Austin of its people experiencing homelessness — and not by housing them, but by shoving them out of the landscape. Ejecting the homeless is always a hoped-for side benefit when any city undertakes major public works or, for instance, prepares to host the Olympics or a political convention.
Civic leaders and politicians are usually too PR-savvy to come right out and say it, but locals who offer their opinions to the editorial pages and online comment threads can be quite unapologetically frank about the importance of street-people removal on their list of priorities.
Controversy has swirled around the massive and many-faceted Waller Creek master plan since it was conceived, making Austin an ideal case study for what happens when settled, monied interests clash with the needs of the ever-increasing number of the urban homeless. Many different populations will be affected in many different ways.
This is reflected by the composition of the Waller Creek Citizen Advisory Committee. And it is not the only one with an interest in the project. For instance, let’s take the homeless, and ask a question that, one hopes, has been asked by at least somebody on the Citizen Advisory Committee. With a big honkin’ civic project like this going on, what efforts are being made to hire the homeless?
As another Austin Chronicle reporter, Marc Savlov, pointed out, the majority of Austin’s homeless are people who are “struggling to regain a functioning, solid foothold into society-at-large.” Many of them are the working homeless, whom Richard R. Troxell calls the “economic homeless.” Yes, many homeless people do work, and more would work if they could get jobs, and many who are already working would welcome the chance to get better jobs. Savlov says,
For sleeping arrangements, a few pitch their tents as far south as Stassney Lane or West Gate Boulevard, coming into the Downtown area to work at steady employment ranging from roofing companies to construction to maintenance gigs. But none of their day jobs straight-pay enough of a living wage to secure and maintain what you and I would call a home: four walls, a roof, first and last months’ deposit, plus real-world essentials such as utilities and a phone.
Although some of the downtown businesses make some kind of effort to alleviate the symptoms of homelessness, not a lot is being done to solve the underlying problems. The journalist quoted Richard, and we can’t do better here than to quote him again:
Livable incomes breaks down into two factions, those who can work and those who can’t work. For those who can work, we’re promoting the Universal Living Wage, which goes to fix the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour, which is currently insufficient to get by on. Our goal is to take it from a federal minimum wage to a universal living wage. Even the U.S. Conference of Mayors, year after year, when asked what the single greatest contributor to homelessness is, says it’s the fact that you can work a full-time, minimum-wage job and not be able to afford basic food, clothing, shelter.
It seems like this should be fairly self-evident, but apparently it’s not quite clear to many solid citizens who have the good fortune to be employed and housed. If people have jobs, they buy stuff. They are magically transformed into customers.
Why can’t merchants and housed citizens learn to see homeless people as potential customers? After all, America did something that would not have been imaginable in the 1960s. We managed the mind-bending feat of learning how to see the Red Chinese as potential customers. (Unfortunately, the noble experiment of normalizing relations with China turned out somewhat differently than envisioned. We buy a bunch of crap from them.) But the point is, compared to that great leap of imagination, picturing homeless Americans as people who might actually go into stores and spend money ought to be easy.
So, Austin, what are you doing about hiring the homeless for this ambitious, multi-staged, multi-million-dollar project? And then, there’s this. Check out the contractor’s name on the Conceptual Profile of the tunnel: Kellogg Brown & Root. Yes, KBR of Iraq war, military-contractor fame. Considering the outrageous pile of money the company has made from that adventure, how about a little reciprocation, on this tunnel project?
I challenge the contractors involved in the Waller Creek Project to use Veterans, Homeless Veterans and Formerly Homeless Veterans to make up 51% of the employed people involved in the construction of this project.
Viet Nam Veteran- Marines
Source: “Private conservancy outlines plan to rescue, revive Waller Creek,” The Statesman, 04/27/11
Source: “Money Flows to Waller Creek,” The Austin Chronicle, 02/25/11
Source: “DAA Proposes New Anti-Solicitation Ordinance,” The Austin Chronicle, 10/09/09
Image of Conceptual Tunnel Profile, used under Fair Use: Reporting.
Posted on May 12, 2011 by Pat Hartman
In Houston, Texas, a pair of documentarians roamed the streets to connect with people experiencing homelessness.
They had one specific purpose in mind: to learn what possessions people hold onto when everything else has to be jettisoned. The writer is John Nova Lomax, the photographer is Daniel Kramer, and their first discovery was old news:
It practically goes without saying, but the homeless are everywhere downtown — they throng San Jacinto Street pretty much from southern Midtown all the way to Buffalo Bayou and beyond, they are all around the vicinity of the downtown library, and many of them line the bayou’s banks at Allen’s Landing, and many others make their homes near the courthouse complex.
It comes as no surprise that photos are the most cherished of portable items, because they are certainly among the most portable of cherished items. One man kept a photo of his daughter in her official high school graduation robe, and he’s proud to relate that she went on to college. Another kept an Army beret to memorialize his veteran father. One depended on his laptop computer.
A very practical fellow named his bedroll as his favorite possession, and his second was a small pocketknife. He told the documentary team, “I ain’t had to cut nobody yet or nothin’ like that…” At the other end of the spectrum, some street people find comfort in a rosary or a New Testament. One person’s treasured item had been a Bible, but it went missing. Another had owned a John 3:16 medal, but it was gone. (The verse is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”)
One man said his prized possession was his own heart, because it held his love of Jesus. Of course, the interviewees talked about other matters too, such as how they ended up on the streets. When a trained electrician with 18 years experience can’t find work, something is seriously awry with society. By the way, if it’s ever been in your mind to give one small, quick, no-strings-attached present to a homeless person, Lomax has a suggestion. Apparently, a cheap transistor radio with headphones and a lanyard for suspending it around a person’s neck can be bought for about $6. It’s a small thing, but the kind of gift that really does keep on giving.
Small things are really all you can have if you’re homeless. What does a person even do with a jacket on a warm day? Wear it or carry it. Because you’re going to need it at night. But what about high summer, when it’s hot as Hades all night long? You sure don’t want to keep a jacket with you all the time. What about when winter comes? A jacket will sure come in handy then. But what the hell are you supposed to do with it in the meantime?
Maybe you’re lucky enough to own a suitcase or duffel bag or even a nice big camping-style backpack. It’s a place to keep stuff, but then you need a place to keep it. Or lug it around everywhere — to the soup kitchen, to the free clinic. To the job counseling office, and if you’re lucky enough to get some kind of interview, then where do you leave your stuff? Carrying a duffel around says “homeless” to the world, it’s a much a sign of pariah status as the bells that lepers used to wear.
When a city has a No Camping ordinance — what city does not these days? — the law very likely forbids not only fire-making, cooking, setting up a tent, and sleeping, but “storing personal belongings.” That’s right, thou shalt not leave thy stuff anywhere.
At Change.org, SlumJack Homeless discusses his method of dealing with possessions, which is a bicycle with an attached trailer. It’s better than a shopping cart, but still precludes a lot of activities. The problem of material goods is one of the reasons why he prefers the streets to the shelters, because there is no provision for the safety of belongings.
Now, it’s easy to understand why a shelter doesn’t want all these various conglomerations of stuff on the premises. For one thing, bedbugs are a continuing and terrible problem. The more items that are allowed through the door, the more likelihood of infestation, which of course can only be bad for any shelter residents who aren’t yet carrying bedbugs around. SlumJack Homeless says,
This forces people to a ridiculous minimum of belongings… one of the factors that actually contributes to perpetuating a person’s homeless predicament. Also, you DON’T want other people at shelters to see what you DO own and have. There are many thieves that will then know what you’re carrying around with you, many of whom you WILL run across later… at night, alone, etc.
Let’s just short-circuit this problem by bringing into reality the Universal Living Wage, which can end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum wage workers. Then people can keep their stuff in their own place, and close and lock the door. Sounds like a plan!
Source: “Prized Possessions — Homeless in Houston share their most important objects,” Houston Press, 01/20/11
Source: “Why I Choose Streets Over Shelter,” Change.org, 06/03/09
Image by Richard Masoner, used under its Creative Commons license.
Posted on April 28, 2011 by Pat Hartman
In the United States over the past three decades, we have seen the invention of many new crimes (Driving While Hispanic, Voting While Black, Flying While Muslim, etc.) that are not officially on the books. But they are all too real for the people caught up in them. One of the new crimes is, apparently, Breathing While Homeless.
Check out this Executive Summary from the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). Its full title is “A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities.” The numbers it utilized are a few years old, but if anyone imagines that things have improved since then, we have a nice bridge to sell them. (The bridge comes ready-equipped with a used tarpaulin, several sheets of prime cardboard, and… well, that’s all, actually.)
Depending on location, the statistics on people experiencing homelessness, and on available shelter space, may fluctuate. But the tendency to make homelessness a law enforcement problem continues to change for the worse. The authors of this report studied laws and practices in 224 cities and concluded,
This trend includes measures that target homeless persons by making it illegal to perform life-sustaining activities in public.
It mentions activities we have discussed on this blog, such as sitting, sleeping, camping, cooking, eating, or begging in public places. Of course, most cities figure out quickly that a two-pronged approach works best. Go after the people experiencing homelessness, AND go after the people who try to help, such as organizations that provide food. Here are some of the measures that have been taken by municipalities in the Orwellian name of “Quality of Life,” according to the NCH report:
* Legislation that makes it illegal to sleep, sit, or store personal belongings in public spaces in cities where people are forced to live in public spaces;
* Selective enforcement of more neutral laws, such as loitering or open container laws, against homeless persons;
* Sweeps of city areas where homeless persons are living to drive them out of the area, frequently resulting in the destruction of those persons’ personal property, including important personal documents and medication; and
* Laws that punish people for begging or panhandling to move poor or homeless persons out of a city or downtown area.
There are of course numerous civil rights issues. Laws against vagrancy and loitering have always been constitutionally shaky, especially when the exact same behavior is accepted if the miscreant has a home where the police can tell them to go. (At Venice Beach, California, there used to be a street guy with a great line. If some tourist or local resident offended him, he would yell like a scolding parent, “Go to your room!”)
When a homeless person’s belongings are searched, or seized and arbitrarily destroyed, that’s Fourth Amendment territory. Begging for spare change just might be protected under the First Amendment. Then you’ve got the Eight Amendment, the one concerning cruel and unusual punishment, which applies when a person is accused of the heinous crime of sleeping.
So, what is accomplished by anti-homeless laws? They move people away from the centers, usually located in the inner city, where services such as food and job counseling are available. They make getting to these places even more difficult for people who must depend on buses (if they are lucky) or their own power of walking, to get around. Restrictive ordinances award thousands of homeless people with criminal records, as if they needed any more strikes against them in their efforts to emerge from the bottom layer of society. And the price of incarceration — don’t get us started. Jail is two or three times as expensive as supportive housing.
And then, there’s the little matter of international law. Our nation has signed on to global human rights agreements, prescribing humane treatment of people experiencing homelessness, which is fine for other countries but which we ourselves apparently don’t feel compelled to honor.
The report also offers some rays of light in a section called “Constructive Alternatives to Criminalization,” which is full of good ideas that have been either tried or contemplated by various localities. It offers helpful recommendations for the benefit of city governments, business groups, and the legal system, in dealing with these issues. Answers are proposed for both the chronic homeless, and the working poor or “economic homeless,” those who are unable to afford basic housing even though they have jobs.
However, House the Homeless has one big idea that would pretty much cover everything, and take away the need for each city to figure it out for themselves. It’s called the Universal Living Wage, and it will end homelessness for over 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum wage workers. You can also find out all about it in Richard R. Troxell’s book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line.
Source: “A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities,” NationalHomeless.org
Image by quinn.anya (Quinn Dombrowski), used under its Creative Commons license.