Posted on July 14, 2011 by Pat Hartman
Last week in Austin, Texas, a man punched a woman, breaking three of her facial bones and injuring and swelling her eye. He didn’t know her. He asked her for money, and she didn’t give him any. The Fox Network reported that Michael Adams previously served a two-year term for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and is homeless.
Newsperson Lauren Petrowski, who interviewed the woman, says,
She doesn’t place blame on the man, but hopes he can get the help he needs.
The victim, who is scheduled for surgery, seems very mellow in both her thoughts and their expression. Some shoppers will respond to an aggressive panhandler in a way that could, in the mind of an unstable person, be seen as a provocation, and as a rationale for violence. But it’s unlikely in this case.
From her brief appearance in the news clip, it would be difficult to imagine this woman saying or doing anything rude. And, of course, even if a woman did reply rudely in that situation, the man would not be justified in punching her. She was walking on a downtown street, talking on a cell phone, and probably did not do a single thing that even the most paranoid mind could interpret as “asking for it.” It would be hard to picture a less blame-able victim.
After the blow that knocked her to the ground, she says,
The guy was just standing by a tree, staring at me. He didn’t run…
Apparently, he didn’t try to rob her, either, or do much of anything, except stick around and wait to be arrested. Is any of this what a sane person does? Are these the actions of a person who is not mentally ill?
Word on the street is, after being released from prison in October, Adams was relatively stable for a while, before his behavior began to deteriorate. So it could be a medication issue, though this is not known. At any rate, violent behavior got him barred from the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, the shelter of last resort. As one local said, “If ARCH won’t take you, nobody will.”
But whether or not this particular homeless man has ever been officially diagnosed, he obviously should not be at large. No question about that. If he’s just plain violent, he needs to be locked up, like any other violent man, whether homeless or housed. If he’s mentally ill, he needs to be confined someplace more therapeutic than prison, and treated.
While it’s true that many of the mentally ill are substance abusers, we need to remember that addiction is also a disease. Movie star junkies get all kinds of sympathy and support as they “courageously battle” their habits. When homeless people become addicts, they’re supposed to have been able to prevent it from happening, and magically cure themselves.
And many, many Americans have been irrevocably damaged through absolutely no fault of their own. How many thousands of lost souls wander the streets, whose lives were blighted by fetal alcohol syndrome or shaken baby syndrome? Their heads will never be right. How many homeless veterans suffer from either organic brain damage or PTSD, or both?
David Evans of Austin Travis County Integral Care says that the frequency of violence among the mentally ill is no higher than among the average population. But violence engendered by mental illness can’t help but be more noticeable, because so many of the mentally ill are roaming around in the open, rather than being cared for. Austin American-Statesman columnist Andrea Ball reminds us,
Advocates say to remember that most homeless people aren’t violent. The jails are full of people who never lived on the streets.
Of the people experiencing both homelessness and mental illness, a very small percentage are violent and predatory. A much, much greater percentage are confused, beleaguered by their symptoms, and unable to manage their medication if they even have it. A great many of the mentally ill homeless are elderly, sick, weak, vulnerable, and practically helpless.
And when you think about the small percentage of homeless who are violent, whether through mental illness or sheer meanness, think about this. Homeless women and children have to deal with these dangerous individuals on a daily basis, through no fault of their own, and certainly not because they wish to keep this kind of company. Non-violent men don’t particularly enjoy hanging around with these guys, either. They don’t like it any more than you or I would. The difference is, we have doors that we can close.
Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless is calling for the creation of 1,000 permanent supportive housing units for the mentally ill. He says the 350 that have been funded, after a decade of hard work by activists, can’t be built because of Austin’s NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) attitude.
The Fox TV news, by the way, quoted Richard:
The problem is, there is not an adequate response to people with mental health issues in the state, and more needs to be done for them.
One thing is certain. Criminalizing homelessness will not eradicate violence.
Source: “Woman Punched by Homeless Man Downtown,” Fox 7, 07/07/11
Source: “Empathy for the homeless not always easy,” Austin American-Statesman, 07/08/11
Image by rutlo (Matthew Rutledge), used under its Creative Commons license.
Posted on June 30, 2011 by Pat Hartman
In 2005, the National Coalition for the Homeless listed the 20 American cities where people experiencing homelessness seemed to be most unwelcome. We are looking at the top five, then and now. Las Vegas, Nevada, and Atlanta, Georgia, have already been considered, and so has Little Rock, Arkansas.
Back in 2005, this was named the second-worst urban area in which to experience homelessness:
#2 Lawrence, Kansas [THEN]
After a group of downtown Lawrence business leaders urged the city to cut social services and pass ordinances to target homeless persons, the city passed three ‘civility’ ordinances, including an aggressive panhandling law, a law prohibiting trespass on rooftops, and a law limiting sleeping or sitting on city sidewalks.
In 2006, Jesse Zerger Nathan reported that activists were working to create a Housing Needs Conference, encompassing people in danger of becoming homeless, and people trying to buy houses, as well as landlords, developers, service providers, and bureaucrats, for reasons which Nathan clarifies:
If, as these activists suggest, a city can tackle affordable housing it will, in turn, be addressing a range of issues from homelessness to neighborhood and community development.
The conference, held in June of that year, was written up by Ron Knox, who has noted that the attendees asked three questions of themselves and each other:
What are the greatest unmet housing needs, and how can city leaders meet them?
What housing problems should be solved first?
How can the city provide the best possible support to existing programs?
Lawrence’s Housing Needs Task Force had been formed in 2004 in reaction to a report originating from Kansas University. Forty percent of renters in the city were found to be spending over 35% of their total income for housing. This is called a “housing cost hardship,” and we have talked about it before:
Just a little while ago, the experts were telling us not to spend more than 30% of our income on rent. Now it’s more. As responsible citizens today, we are supposed to feel as wise and mature about paying 35% as we felt a few years ago when the experts advised us to put a lid on at 30%.
Flash forward to July of 2010, less than a year ago. At a meeting of the Coalition for Homeless Concerns, one of the people who expressed his thoughts was Richard Price, a resident at Lawrence Community Shelter. The shelter was always full, he said, and there was literally nowhere else to go. And people turned away from the shelter were issued tickets for “camping.” Brad Cook, the coalition’s co-chair, added that homeless people can’t pay the fines, and ended up in jail, costing the city’s taxpayers a lot of money.
A lot of interesting things have happened since then in Lawrence. Earlier this year, plans were afoot to move the Lawrence Community Shelter to an industrial park. Not a neighborhood, not a block on which there were several schools and day-care centers. Not a downtown area full of nervous boutique owners. A vacant warehouse in an industrial park, which is said to be near the jail. But even that location would not satisfy.
Chad Lawhorn reported,
The business park’s board of trustees have argued the covenants allow only business, industrial and governmental uses to locate in the park. They contend, among other issues, that the shelter is prohibited because it is a residential use… The shelter’s special use permit that allows it to operate downtown is set to expire this spring.
In March, the City Commission voted to let the shelter stay one more year. And then, something amazing happened. Despite the shelter’s tenuous hold on existence, members of the Mustard Seed Church stepped up to refurbish it anyway, inside and out, and if you hit the link you’ll see a splendid set of before-and-after pictures. There is also a full account of the project from church member Tatyana, who says,
The results were not just about new paint, refinished floors, cleaner windows or brighter surroundings… Shelter staff described the atmosphere among the residents the next day as ‘calmer and more peaceful.’
And which American metropolis was, in 2005, deemed to be the #1 meanest city?
#1 Sarasota, Florida [THEN]
After two successive Sarasota anti-lodging laws were overturned as unconstitutional by state courts, Sarasota passed a third law banning lodging outdoors. This latest version appears to be explicitly aimed at homeless persons. One of the elements necessary for arrest under the law is that the person ‘has no other place to live.’
Surprisingly, because this is, after all, Florida, there appears to be some progress. A substantial piece by Carrie Wells in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune spoke of a “transformative shift.” Being singled out as the most heartless place on the map probably started the change in consciousness and conscience for the people of Sarasota. But things didn’t really start to happen until January of this year, when The Economist magazine published a rather unflattering article that gave Sarasota a “black eye.”
Almost immediately, 200 people showed up for the first workshop about a 10-year plan, and further workshops were spoken of, in many areas of civic life that have an impact on homelessness. Even so, the negative attention was not powerful enough to motivate the housed citizens to repeal repressive laws.
The thousands of people living in the woods, on friends’ couches and on the streets have long taken issue with policies that made it illegal to be homeless, implemented five years ago. Those policies will likely still remain, with the 10-year plan instead focusing on securing funding for housing assistance and homelessness prevention programs.
There are an estimated 7,500 people experiencing homelessness in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and fewer than 900 emergency shelter beds, so it’s obvious how much needs to be done. But no matter how well-intentioned the citizens might be, nothing can be done without money, and money is what nobody has these days.
Source: “A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities,” NationalHomeless.org, 2005
Source: “National Coalition Pegs Lawrence KS as 2nd Meanest City Toward Homeless,” BeyondChron.org, 06/01/06
Source: “Conference seeks housing solutions,” LJWorld.com, 06/18/06
Source: “Costly Camping for Lawrence Homeless,” Change of Hearts KS, 07/14/10
Source: “Judge rules against Lawrence homeless shelter; move away from downtown up in the air,” LJWorld.com, 02/14/11
Source: “Lawrence Community Shelter Update,” MustardSeedChurch.com, 05/12/11
Source: “New goal: A roof over everyone’s head by 2021,” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 02/14/11
Image by Mr D Logan (Miles Smith), used under its Creative Commons license.
Posted on March 22, 2011 by Pat Hartman
Here, in no particular order, are a few contributing factors to becoming homeless.
1. The earthquake/tsunami combination is a guaranteed creator of homelessness on a massive scale. Live in a place like Japan, Haiti, or California, and sooner or later, you or someone you love will be displaced by natural disaster. Same goes for hurricanes, just about anywhere. Floods are also a traditional and almost totally reliable way to be rendered homeless.
Richard R. Troxell says in Looking Up at the Bottom Line:
Many factors led to the full-blown homelessness in which we now see our nation embroiled. For the last several years, the number of people experiencing homelessness on an annual basis in our country has risen to three and a half million people. At times, the numbers have swollen beyond that due to disasters like hurricanes Rita and Katrina.
2. Fire is a popular way to become homeless. Quantitatively, fire may not account for the largest number of people experiencing homelessness for the first time, but it sure does make headlines. Nowadays, after every fire, there is not only a death toll and an injured toll, but a homeless toll. This is a perfect example of what we mean by awareness. These numbers help to remind us that there are other kinds of damage besides being dead or wounded. Also, there are other losses more important than the destruction of buildings.
3. Mortgage foreclosure used to be a relatively rare and extremely awe-inspiring phenomenon, but now it’s like the common cold. It leads to a wider range of possible outcomes. Some former homeowners manage to get into a cheaper house, or a rental, or they move in with relatives. Others wind up in family shelters, or live in vehicles. And, of course, there is always the street.
Buying a house is the biggest purchase and most serious financial commitment that most people will ever make. It takes a truly analytical mind to appreciate the deep absurdity of some of the stuff that has been going on. Robert Scheer, for instance, described how the process that controls the fate of millions of homeowners is run by robots. Astonishingly, even some of the voracious banks in charge of the disastrous housing market had to admit that it was time to curb the insanity and call a temporary moratorium on foreclosures. Scheer asked,
How do you foreclose on a home when you can’t figure out who owns it because the original mortgage is part of a derivatives package that has been sliced and diced so many ways that its legal ownership is often unrecognizable?… To engage in the recklessness of turning people’s homes — their castles and nest eggs — into playthings of Wall Street market hustlers, or securitization of the assets, as it was termed, homeownership record-keeping had to be mangled beyond recognition.
Speaking of working at a minimum-wage job… According to the last several U.S. Conference of Mayors reports, you can work a full 40-hour minimum-wage job and still be unable to afford basic housing. This is true throughout the entire U.S. Imagine working full time and still not being able to put a roof over your head… other than a bridge.
4. Domestic discord. This can occur between couples, between generations in a family, or between friends. In any shared household, somebody is always vulnerable to being kicked out. It might be you! Or… sometimes there is an intolerable situation, and a person has to leave home. If you are one of them, you will probably run up against critics who just don’t get it. They think the best thing for you would be to get back under the parental or spousal roof. It’s hard for them to imagine that sleeping in a shelter or in an alley could be a step up from what you had before.
Posted on March 17, 2011 by Pat Hartman
It’s hard to say anything negative about shelters when municipal and state budgets everywhere are being cut. The last thing you want to do is give some bureaucrat the excuse to decide, “Shelters can be awful places, so let’s stop funding them.” And no one wants to denigrate the efforts of the people who found, fund, and administer non-government facilities. Thousands of volunteers have given untold hours to help keep these places of refuge open and stocked with food, blankets, and all the other needed materials.
Still, there are reasons why people experiencing homelessness would rather not sleep in a shelter. One of them being, it might not even be possible to get any sleep. BTW, in case you missed it, the House the Homeless 2011 Health Sleep Survey contains some eye-opening facts about what it’s like to attempt a night’s sleep as a person experiencing homelessness. Even an otherwise healthy person who is not in pain finds it a real challenge. Just imagine how little sleep is available for those with medical problems.
A while back, we reminisced about how cities prepare for the Olympics or a political convention by taking extreme measures to remove street people. In those circumstances, people very much resent being moved around like so much dirt being swept under a rug. Even if offered accommodation in a shelter, sometimes they don’t want to go there. And even in normal times, with no impending major civic event, many street people don’t want to be in a shelter even if space is available and they are eligible. “It may be better than freezing to death, but not by much,” is the feeling in some quarters.
When Australia was preparing for its turn as Olympic host, Mary Beadnell reported on how the first priority of a city council task force was to create a dossier on every person experiencing homelessness, as the initial step in finding a place to warehouse them. But many of the unhoused had no intention of cooperating. Beadnell wrote,
Among homeless people, hostels and boarding houses throughout the Sydney metropolitan area have the reputation of being more dangerous than the streets, because of the increasing frequency of violent assaults, theft and food poisoning that occur there.
In January, the Times of India reported that even though the city contains as many as 150,000 people experiencing homelessness, many would rather not stay in the shelters, which can only accommodate 12,000 anyway. So, why bother mentioning that some think the streets are better? Why is this news? Probably to emphasize the danger. This article says,
Even as Delhi shivers in the bone-chilling winter, the city’s homeless… prefer to sleep in the streets under the open skies rather than use the 150 night shelters, citing lack of safety and facilities.
So there it is again — safety. In many shelters, the inhabitants face danger not only from predatory or violent individuals, but from contagious diseases and insect pests. In Canada, the problems are the same. John Colebourn, reporting on the situation in Vancouver, British Columbia, interviewed a fellow named John Green, who told him that the problem for many is that they are not allowed to bring their possessions into the shelters, and of course anything you leave outside will be stolen. The loss of everything you own, even if it’s not much, is a steep price to pay for a night indoors.
Of course, in a way, this makes ultimate sense, because bundles of belongings can contain life forms that are not wanted inside the shelter. In fact, insect parasites are a major problem in shelters, and are another factor that makes people prefer to take their chances outside. Green himself told the reporter,
Right now I’d rather be homeless than be bitten alive by bed bugs.
Bed bugs have become a huge problem, not only in homeless shelters but in regular houses and apartments, too, and even in vehicles. The bugs like to travel from place to place in clothing, in baggage, and in furniture. They especially like to live in wooden bedframes, which kind of discourages the whole recycling concept. They also hitchhike around on pets and wild animals. One experienced online commentator says the bites hurt so bad, you want to cry.
Inside a building, bedbugs migrate from one area to another via the heating ducts. Once ensconced in their new home, they are very hard to detect, although specially trained dogs can alert to their presence. Once found, they are hard to get rid of. They have developed resistance to DDT.
In Africa, the bed bugs have adapted so well to the stuff, it makes them even livelier and more robust. Any chemical that can wipe out bed bugs is pretty bad for humans. The good news is, they can be quashed by biological control. The bad news is, their natural enemies are things like cockroaches, which you don’t want in the place either.
On the Change.org website, Homeless Nate contributed this to the discussion:
The Berkeley shelter had the most horrendous bedbug problem. I showed to them where the problem was and how they could fix it (by removing the wooden part of the beds). And they were like ‘What do you know? You’re homeless!’
But all this is small potatoes, compared to what goes on in China, where ruthless managers of private shelters have been selling people to factories for years. The mentally disabled start out at an agency with a comforting name like “Disabled Self-Reliance Group” and wind up as slave laborers. An uncredited article from a German news service reported,
State media have reported several other cases of forced labor since the government promised a crackdown after a scandal in 2007 involving the enslavement and maltreatment of more than 1,000 beggars and mentally disabled people at brick kilns in the northern province of Shanxi.
In one of the more interesting alternatives to public shelters, some volunteers open their own homes. In Bradford, West Yorkshire, England, there is a faith-based organization called Hope Housing where housed people sign up to let someone stay, usually only for a night, but sometimes for a week or a month. It was begun to help people over 26, supplementing the efforts of an already-existing volunteer organization, Nightstop, which was created for people under 26. These organizations also offer help in finding more permanent accommodations.
Source: “Sydney’s homeless to be removed for Olympics,” WSWS, 02/03/00
Source: “Delhi’s homeless prefer streets to night shelters,” Times of India, 01/11/11
Source: “Homeless struggle with decision to seek shelter or risk theft, bed bugs,” The Province, 01/05/11
Source: “Why I Choose Streets Over Shelter,” Change.org, 06/03/09
Source: “Shelter manager detained for selling homeless as forced labour,” Monsters and Critics, 12/14/10
Image by brownpau (Paulo Ordoveza), used under its Creative Commons license.
Posted on February 22, 2011 by Pat Hartman
Joseph Krauss is one of the journalists who have written about the Housing First concept as practiced in a particular place. In Washington, D.C., the nonprofit organization Open Arms Housing administers a building with 16 single-occupancy apartments, three of them wheelchair-accessible. Each efficiency apartment has a full kitchen and bathroom. On each floor there is also a community room with phones, TV, computer, and space for residents to gather.
Krauss interviewed a resident who remarked on a little-noticed aspect of the housing process, namely, how it can take many months simply to mentally adjust to the fact that one is no longer homeless. Moving from the street into a safe, secure environment is of course a huge positive step, but it is also a culture shock. It can be just as disorienting as the original change from housed to homeless was, and a person needs to become acclimated. The women of OAH are doing well, and some are even employed.
Open Arms Housing was established in 1997 to serve the most vulnerable women, who are least likely to benefit from other programs because of their serious problems. Apparently, it took 12 years to get to the point of being able to actually house people, which began in the fall of 2009. To monitor and assist the residents, there are staff members; live-in volunteers; and volunteers and interns who come and go. OAH is interested in developing methods that can be replicated anywhere. Its “Philosophy” section on the website states,
Our model rests on the premise that stable, safe housing is necessary to promote the physical and emotional well-being of all people. We operate under a Housing First approach which holds that all individuals are entitled to safe and decent housing and that access to this housing is not contingent upon participation in services. Those services can come later, but HOUSING IS FIRST.
Krauss also discusses says the 100,000 Homes Campaign, saying,
Under traditional federal housing programs, applicants had to spend years on waiting lists and were barred from housing by drug or other convictions, a process that offered little hope for the most vulnerable. The Housing First approach, by contrast, sees permanent housing and supporting services as prerequisites for curing the other ills that plague the homeless.
The strategy of “housing first” is to identify those who are at most risk of dying on the streets, namely, addicts, the mentally ill, and those with chronic physical ailments, and move them into permanent supportive housing. In any given community, there will be people who disagree, and the protests are generally based on moral grounds. The dissenting voices usually say something like, “Why should we first take care of addicts, alcoholics, and burn-out cases, when there is so much need among deserving young families, young adults, and others who actually have some potential?”
To save the chronic, apparently hopeless cases first is a counter-intuitive solution for anyone whose subconscious attitudes were formed from the battlefield model for medical triage. In a combat situation, the most seriously injured soldiers will probably die no matter what, so they are left to their fate. The person for whom immediate care can make a difference will get the attention, rather than the grievously wounded. Precious limited resources are used for the curably injured. (In fact, a clever assailant takes advantage of this by deliberately designing weapons that will injure rather than kill, to tie up as much of the enemy’s transportation and manpower resources as possible.)
But, fortunately for all of us, this battlefield model does not apply in the area of homelessness. The Housing First model, if it works out the way it should, ought to free up even more resources for those with a chance to be “saved,” as defined by the usable opportunity to become productive citizens. Life does not often present us with such a clear-cut instance of how doing the right thing can also be the economically efficient thing.
The reason for this is obvious, once the potential costs of emergency medical care and law enforcement are factored in. Arresting people who are experiencing homelessness is a no-win situation for society. They can’t pay fines, so they go to jail, to be housed, clothed, guarded and fed at a net loss to the public wallet. A comment on this article, from a citizen named Paul Seldon, notes,
The cost of leaving someone to survive on the street is enormous: $40,000 to $50,000 a year… The cost of moving them into supportive housing may be close to the same during the first year, but decreases every year after.
Another objection brought up by community members to the “housing first” model is the fear that it will be implemented in the wrong way, namely, by de-funding other programs, as Krauss says happened our nation’s capital:
When Washington’s then-mayor Adrian Fenty embraced the Housing First approach in 2008 he also closed a major shelter downtown that had provided 400 beds, pushing dozens of homeless people into an adjacent park.
In other words, it’s a big mistake to pull resources from emergency shelters, food programs, and other services, right away. It’s necessary to wait until the city’s budget begins to reflect the savings from housing the chronically homeless.
In an earlier post, we quoted an official who noted that although the chronically homeless constitute only one-fourth of the total, a disproportionate amount of public funds are spent on hospital emergency treatment, emergency shelters, and the dealings of this group with the legal system. Supportive housing, including treatment and counseling, has been found to result in a 40% saving.
We also looked at the At Home/Chez Soi program in Canada, where the savings are apparently much greater. The numbers mentioned there were $100,000 per year to keep a chronically homeless person on the street, versus $18,000 per year to provide supportive housing. One of the longest-running “housing first” initiatives in the U.S. is the Lamp Community in Los Angeles, where the motto is “No strings. No barriers. No intermediate steps.” The Lamp Community was founded by a former nun in 1985, and has been caring for the addicted and the mentally ill ever since.
By the way, House the Homeless was the first organization to call for Housing First, even to the point of putting it into our name when we formed in 1989.
Source: “New approach brings US homeless in from the cold,” NewsYahoo.com, 02/06/11
Source: “Our Services,” OpenArmsHousing.org
Source: “Our History and Mission,” OpenArmsHousing.org
Source: “The Model,” 100Khomes.org
Image by quinet (Thomas Quine), used under its Creative Commons license.
Posted on January 26, 2011 by Richard Troxell
Again this year, 3.5 million people will experience homelessness in America. In the land of milk and honey, this is unconscionable.
Let’s examine the word homelessness for a moment. Who are the homeless? Well, clearly they come from all walks of life: homeless veterans, single women, women with children, people with mental health disorders, people with substance abuse problems, and the list goes on.
In January 2009, House the Homeless conducted a Health Survey of 501 people experiencing homelessness in Austin, Texas. Our survey showed that 48% of the people experiencing homelessness were so disabled that they could not work at a full-time job.
And in December 2007, another House the Homeless survey of 526 people experiencing homelessness showed that 37% of those surveyed were working at some point during the week, with 97% expressing a desire to work. In fact, we have come to understand that homelessness, for all its components, can be viewed in two major categories: those who can work and those who cannot work.
Reports from the last several U.S. Conferences of Mayors show that a person working full time, in a forty-hour-a-week, minimum-wage job, is unable to afford a basic, one-bedroom apartment, and remains homeless.
Who Are the Working Homeless?
They are the someone in our schools serving green beans and corn to our children in the cafeteria lines. They are the people in local dry cleaner operations pressing our suits and dresses. They are our janitorial staff cleaning our office buildings and urinals after we’ve gone to bed. They are the motel/hotel workers who change the sheets and clean up the trashed out rooms that we have left. They are the cashiers who cheerfully ask how they can help us.
They are our restaurant workers who work at below minimum wage ($2.13) and rely on us to (hopefully) boost their base pay with tips. They are poultry processors who work in our nation’s processing plants nationwide. They are farm workers who, even today, stoop behind the field machinery and continue to pick thorny cotton by hand.
They take our tickets in movie theaters, so we can see the next exciting 3-D movie. They are the healthcare aides in nursing homes who constantly turn over our loved ones to prevent bed sores. They do all the “dirty jobs” that you see on TV, and they flip our burgers at all the fast-food restaurants, and fold and refold the linen at every Wal-Mart.
And yet, the federal government continues to tell businesses nationwide that they only need to pay a minimum wage — not a living wage. A living wage would afford them basic food, clothing, and shelter. But as it is, nowhere in this country can receptionists, daycare aides, garage attendants, car washers, manicurists, grocery baggers, landscape workers, data entry workers, and elderly care aides afford the basics without a second job or relying on some outside support. That’s just wrong.
Who Should Pay?
Who should pay a wage sufficient to afford life’s most minimal necessities? Who profits from their labor if not business? Clearly it is businesses who benefit from their labor. So why are taxpayers footing the bill for food stamps when someone is working? Why do able-bodied individuals qualify for general assistance or the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is just another tax-sponsored program that would be unnecessary if businesses acted as responsible/ethical community partners?
If half these people who are homeless can work, why should you or I as taxpayers have to support them? I don’t want to. In fact, as a society, I’m not at all convinced that we could afford to support these millions of people indefinitely anyway. If a person is not disabled, then their homeless situation is really just an unmet economic need. This should be dealt with at the source: “A fair wage for a fair day’s work.”
When I was growing up, the saying was, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” I still believe in that postulate; however, that begs the question, if you work 40 hours in a week, shouldn’t you be able to afford the basics? If you work a full 40 hour week, shouldn’t you be able to afford a roof over your head (other than a bridge)?
I work in a homeless shelter. Every day I arrive to see hundreds and hundreds of people, half of whom are able-bodied. What they lack is opportunity.
There needs to be a spot on that shelter floor that I can point to and encourage people to get up off their chairs and go to that spot. It should be a spot that provides the big “O”: Opportunity. A spot where if they tuck their head down, lean into the wheel with their shoulder, apply themselves, they’ll know that, ultimately, they will be able to work themselves off the streets of America.
In other words, we simply need living-wage jobs. Then, as a compassionate taxpayer, I can get down to the work of helping people with disabilities. Perhaps in time, many of them will also be able to stand on that spot.
Tell President Obama that as he provides incentives for businesses to help in our economic recovery, he also needs to balance the equation by instituting the Universal Living Wage. Call the White House: 202-224-3121/1-800-459-1887, or email the President using the form at the White House website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/.
Richard R. Troxell
House the Homeless, Inc.
National Chairman, Universal Living Wage Campaign
Posted on January 25, 2011 by Pat Hartman