The 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.
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.
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.
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.