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Meanest Streets, Part 2

In Dubious BattleLast time, following up an a 2005 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless, we looked at the #5 (Las Vegas, Nevada) and #4 (Atlanta, Georgia) cities most inimical to people experiencing homelessness at the time of the report, and also at more recent developments in those places.

Other sets of mean streets were found down south. As an example, the report said:

#3 Little Rock, Arkansas [THEN]
Two homeless men reported that officers of the Little Rock Police Department, in separate incidents, had kicked them out of the Little Rock Bus Station, even after showing the police their tickets. In other instances, homeless persons have been told that they could not wait at the bus station ‘because you are homeless.’

In 2008, in an effort to stifle panhandling, the city slapped some paint on what used to be traffic-ticket pay boxes and changed them into homeless collection boxes. The idea was that townspeople could make donations and feel confident that their financial help would go for food and not substances of abuse.

Two years later, TV newsperson Ebone’ Mone’t revealed that most people had no idea what the orange boxes were for. As of July 2010, only about $1,000 had been collected to feed the homeless.

By December of that year, with increased publicity efforts, the amount reached $3,000, which was distributed among five agencies, and the city got busy promoting new ordinances against aggressive panhandling, among other things.

More recently, Change.org columnist Josie Raymond wrote a piece called “Little Rock Wants to Ban Anything Remotely Homeless.” She writes,

Another day, another criminalization measure… I just don’t get aggressive panhandling ordinances, like the ones considered by Salt Lake City and St. Petersburg. If people are harassing or threatening others, arrest them on that charge whether they’re panhandling or not. Creating a new charge sounds a lot like an excuse to ban panhandling entirely and to let police officers arbitrarily decide who’s obeying the law and who’s not.

The city also hoped to forbid liquor stores to sell single servings of beer and to charge a $25 permit fee to any group that wanted to feed the homeless. Get this: such a permit could only be issued to any group twice a year, at most. Raymond went on to say,

Even in times of stretched resources, if officials want to solve the situation rather than put a Band-Aid on it, the discussion should revolve around who’s drinking and why, and why homeless people are congregating and what they need in order to stop doing that. I’m guessing the usual: jobs, affordable housing, substance abuse treatment, medical care, etc. Not more chances to go to jail.

Last December, the Little Rock police department partnered with the Target retail chain to create a holiday event called Shop with a Cop. Journalist Faith Abubey reported on the $100 gift cards distributed to 30 of the city’s neediest children, all of whom lived in a shelter.

Earlier this month, discussion was underway about a proposed day center for the homeless. Three locations were proposed, all downtown, which of course is not agreeable to everyone, especially the merchants. Kelly Connelly reported on it for KUAR News, interviewing Homeless Services Coordinator Jimmy Pritchett:

Pritchett says the day center will provide a ‘one-stop shop’ of services. It will offer access to dental and mental facilities as well as things as simple as an address and contact number for job applications. A temporary day center currently operates at River City Ministries in North Little Rock.

Meanwhile, in the inner city, the Little Rock Compassion Center has been carrying on its good work for years. Last year, 142,000 meals were served. The facility, a member of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, sleeps 200 men and 40 women every night.

Digressing back to Part 1 of “Meanest Streets,” Rodger Jacobs evoked the spirit of novelist John Steinbeck, whom he called “perhaps the greatest literary defender of America’s downtrodden.” By coincidence, I had just been reading Steinbeck’s In Dubious Battle, published in 1936. Though that book appeared 75 years ago, many of the scenes could take place in a homeless encampment right now.

In the early part of the 20th century, the Americans who joined the Communist Party were the idealists. They wanted their lives to mean something, and wanted to make a positive difference, and to benefit others, not just themselves. They cared about fairness and social justice. For people with that mindset, the political scene was not offering any alternatives. Throughout a long spell of American history, if you gave a damn about humankind, the Party was the only game in town.

Back in the day, Steinbeck’s book attracted attention because it pointed out the reasons why Americans at the bottom of the economic barrel were motivated to join up with the communists. So, in a way, it’s kind of too bad that nobody is worried about communism anymore.

Reactions?

Source: “A Dream Denied: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities,” nationalhomeless.org, 2005
Source: “Little Rock’s Change for the Better tackles panhandling,” todaysthv.com, 07/18/10
Source: “Little Rock Wants to Ban Anything Remotely Homeless,” Change.org, 09/03/10
Source: “Little Rock police help homeless children shop for holidays,” todaysthv.com, 12/12/10
Source: “Little Rock Proposes Three Possible Sites For Homeless Day Center,” KUAR.org, 06/15/11
Source: “Welcome to the Little Rock Compassion Center,” lrcompassioncenter.org
Image of In Dubious Battle book cover, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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Homeless Women Especially Vulnerable to Violence

Vancouver November 2005The concept of a hate crime has to do with civil rights, identity politics, and quite a few other sociological factors. The idea is that although it is wrong to hurt or kill a person, it is especially wrong to hurt or kill a person just because of their skin color, sexual or religious orientation, or other defining characteristic, depending on the jurisdiction. When people are at risk of being hurt or killed for the hate motive alone, they can be legally deemed a Protected Class, meaning that if the assailant is caught and tried, the penalty ought to be extra tough.

Why do we need the Protected Homeless Class Resolution? Briefly, because some people just simply have no alternative to living in public places. Their ordinary actions are criminalized by the authorities. Uniformed enforcers show up, and are seen to harass or brutalize the homeless. This example encourages every cowardly hater in the area to conclude that it’s okay to prey upon the homeless. Some of these bozos even talk themselves into believing they are doing the world a favor by eliminating the homeless as if they were vermin. On city streets or in rural homeless encampments, women are more vulnerable than men. Their numbers are fewer, and nature has not equipped them for effective self-defense. Objectified and depersonalized, they make attractive victims.

Last week, a homeless woman who occupied the hallway of a Milwaukee apartment building was beaten to death with a brick. From El Paso, Texas, Daniel Borunda reported on the issuing of an arrest warrant for a murder. In March, the body of Venus Sloan Driscoll was found in a desert lot. Driscoll had lived in a tent, and the fact that she apparently was killed by another person experiencing homelessness does not lessen the horror of this crime. In a properly functioning society, both killer and victim would have been somewhere else, doing something else with their lives.

Mid-April, in New Orleans, Chantell Christopher’s body was found under a highway exit ramp. She was beaten to death, and the crawlspace where her body was found was actually also where she lived. Jarvis DeBerry, editorial writer and columnist for The Times-Picayune, tells us that a grieving crowd attended a memorial service for Christopher in the garden of a church last Thursday afternoon. She was mentally ill, and somewhere, two children survive her. To find out more about homelessness as background for his story, DeBerry interviewed clients of a program called Ciara Community Services and Permanent Housing. One of his informants was, like Christopher and so many other people experiencing homelessness, mentally ill. But he was sufficiently in touch with reality to understand that, even if he contacted family members, they too were probably just hanging on in this terrible economy.

It’s like that for a lot of street people, even if they have others who care. The friends and family members are struggling themselves and can’t really do much, except shoulder the added burden of feeling bad about being unable to help. And some, whether rightly or wrongly, have too much pride to reveal that they are homeless, or to ask for help. Apparently, Christopher had not let her family know the depth of her troubles. The writer says,

Put Chantell’s, Cyril’s and William’s stories together, and you’re struck by their determination to make it without anybody’s help — even though help is necessary for anybody trying to overcome the challenges of mental illness.

From Austin, Texas, Chris Sadeghi relayed the news of a homeless woman found in a storage unit, after spending two days there with head injuries and a broken leg. The space was rented by a man who probably used it as living quarters, and he felt entitled to punish his victim for behavior that didn’t please him. Reportedly, he bashed her head against a concrete surface nearly 20 times. Sadeghi sought out Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless, who explained the unfortunate tendency of people to look for such unorthodox living arrangements:

We are talking about the need to have safe decent affordable housing and it is not available at the wage people are being paid. So people are looking for alternatives and sometimes they are not the best alternatives.

These are exactly the kinds of situations that Richard’s Protected Homeless Class Resolution (PHCR) was created to prevent. It contains these words:

THERFORE, BE IT RESOLVED: That persons without a fixed, permanent, individual place of residence, and those that are earning 100% of Federal Poverty Guidelines or less, are sufficient in number characteristics, and vulnerability to compromise a distinct class of people, and as a result, shall hence forth constitute a Protected Class with all rights and protections under such a designation. Herein after, this Protected Class, will be referred to as the Indigent Homeless Population.

The PHRC would protect the indigent homeless from being treated as second-class citizens or non-citizens. It would protect them from laws against sleeping in public, and add extra to the penalties imposed on predators who take advantage of people who have no choice but to sleep in public. Hopefully, it would go some way toward decreasing the number of hate crimes. The PHRC has been adopted by the National Coalition for the Homeless, but not by any city, state or the federal government… yet.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless woman beaten to death in Milwaukee,” The Examiner, 04/24/11
Source: “Suspect sought in slaying of homeless woman,” El Paso Times, 04/16/11
Source: “At memorial for New Orleans murder victim, a heavenly hope takes on new meaning,” The Times-Picayune, 05/01/11
Source: “Woman beaten, locked in storage unit,” KXAN.com, 04/29/11
Image by quinet (Thomas Quine), used under its Creative Commons license.

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The Crime of Breathing While Homeless

No PanhandlingIn 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.

Reactions?

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.

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Lose – Lose – Lose – Lose: Tanya McDowell’s Homeless Plight

Lonely BoyHow important is it to end homelessness in America? Please see the information from House the Homeless on how the Universal Living Wage can save millions of Americans like Tanya McDowell and her young son.

John Nickerson reports on the situation in Norwalk, Connecticut, where McDowell faces a huge bill for reparations, and a 20-year jail term. The charges are grand larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny. The thing that was stolen, allegedly, was education for McDowell’s son, who was enrolled in the “wrong” elementary school for less than six months. They actually say that the attendance of A.J. Paches for that period of time amounted to more than $15,000 worth of educational services, which is astonishing. There are still colleges you can get into for less. The reporter tells us,

McDowell said she divides her time between an apartment on Priscilla Circle in Bridgeport, where she is not allowed to stay when the lease holder is away, the Norwalk Emergency Shelter and her minivan.

The address McDowell used to enroll her boy in Norwalk belonged to a friend in a public housing complex, who was subsequently evicted as punishment for her part in the alleged deception. (See our helpful article, “How to Become Homeless,” for more tips.) Emotions run high and hot on both sides of this controversy, and citizens have added many comments to the online coverage. If only people would become as excited about ending homelessness, as they are about a little boy going to school.

Part of the tragedy is that A.J. really loved going to school, and any parent knows how rare and precious that is. The Connecticut Parents Union has started a bottle-and-can drive to raise money to help McDowell pay the fine. The reporter talked to the group’s founder, Gwen Samuel, who said:

You would figure that a school district such as Norwalk would put the child first. Saying we had the child this long with no fixed address and you would think they would do anything to ensure that this baby is safe and stable. Instead they arrest the baby’s mother, knowing she has no fixed address. The system has failed this child because of what they did to his mother.

An even stronger reaction comes from Dr. Boyce Watkins, a Syracuse University professor who founded the Your Black World Coalition, and who sees not only homeless-bashing but racism in the Connecticut story. Dr. Watkins is still angry over a similar case in Ohio. Dr. Watkins characterizes McDowell’s crisis as sad and sickening, and says,

Simple logic implies that whatever resources were saved from him not being enrolled in his home district (whatever that might be) could be applied to the secondary district. So putting parents in jail for sending their kids to schools outside their district is simply a legalized way of fencing out those that the community deems to be undesirable… Beating up on a homeless woman who is doing all she can to get her child into school is a shameful microcosm of the kind of greed and selfishness our country has chosen to embrace. There was once a time when slaves were arrested for trying to learn how to read, and now poor mothers are being arrested for trying to send their children to the school of their choice.

Apparently, this is the first case of this kind in Connecticut that has actually been turned over to the police. (And let’s hope it’s the last.) The strange coincidence that McDowell and her son happen to be homeless, inspires some people to say “selective enforcement.” A homeless woman and child are easy victims.

But for the state to win is a Pyrrhic victory. It’s doubtful whether a woman with no address or job will pony up that $15,000. Say the going price for soda cans is 30 cents per pound. That seems to be about 37,000 pounds of redeemed metal. Or 300,000 cans at 5 cents each. Plus, how much will it cost the state to keep Ms. McDowell in jail for 20 years? Plus, a family is broken up. Plus, a kid who loved school will probably form a different opinion about that subject. Sounds like lose-lose-lose-lose, all the way around.

Reactions?

Source: “Homeless woman’s arrest for sending son to Norwalk school stirs debate,” Stamford Advocate, 04/21/11
Source: “Another Mom Jailed for Sending Child to Wrong School District,” DrBoyceWatkins.com, 04/19/11
Image by Nisha A, used under its Creative Commons license.

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2011 Tax Day Action: An Appeal from Richard R. Troxell

You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and sets his life on it; else he will cry to God against you and you will incur guilt.

Deuteronomy 24:14-15

Tax Day Protest for the Universal Living Wage

Greetings!

Mark your calendars and contact your Board of Directors! Friday, April 15th, is our 11th annual Universal Living Wage Tax Day Event! From 7:30-9:00 am and 4:30-6:00 pm, we will go to our nation’s post offices and call for a Universal Living Wage. Once again, 3.5 million minimum-wage workers are expected to experience homelessness this year. Using existing government guidelines, we have devised a single national formula that ensures that anyone working 40 hours a week will be able to afford basic food, clothing, shelter (utilities included), and have access to health care.

We have found that American businesses have grown to rely on government subsidies to pick up that portion of the basic wage that they have failed to provide. Workers have been forced in ever increasing numbers to depend on food stamps, general assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Congress intended these to be emergency, stop-gap measures. Instead, many businesses use government support to save on basic payroll. A national shift is occurring from the businesses’ responsibility of paying a “fair wage for a fair day’s work” to creating an ever increasing burden on the taxpayer.

We know that if businesses paid their employees a fair living wage, we could dramatically reduce the burden to taxpayers.

We will provide you a 4-foot by 10-foot banner, free, that says:

Reduce Your Taxes!
… with a
www.UniversalLivingWage.org

People will be drawn to the ULW website, which will display your contact information. We encourage you to use this opportunity to tout your own local living wage campaign. We can provide the banner, push cards (clearly explaining the formula), and a flyer explaining the issue.

Save us work, please email us your desire to participate. Some of you do not have email, so, for you, this will be our only opportunity to communicate. Call us at (512) 796-4366 or toll free at (888) 484-8591 if you wish to be a lead organization and receive a banner or just join in at a post office action lead by another organization.

Select the post office in your city where the media shows up every year to report on the last-minute tax return filers. Then call or email us with that address at rrtroxell@aol.com. Be sure to put “Tax Day” in the subject line.

Don’t delay, act now, April 15th is almost here!

Go to www.UniversalLivingWage.org to see photos of our past Tax Day and “Bridge the Economic Gap Day” held on September 6th. We are creating a national ground swell of support which will carry us to the “tipping point” when we will fix the Federal Minimum Wage and create a Universal Living Wage!

In Unity There Is Strength,
Richard R. Troxell

P.S. Hunger Action Network NY won our digital camera for best action. Is it your turn?

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Richard R. Troxell Speaks in Nation’s Capitol

Event posterYesterday, Richard R. Troxell spoke about Looking Up at the Bottom Line at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in the heart of Washington, D.C. As we know, and now the attendees of this event know, his message is that the Universal Living Wage can change America by ending homelessness for over a million minimum-wage workers, and prevent 10 million minimum-wage workers from falling into economic homelessness.

Economic homelessness is the lamentable condition people find themselves in when they are employed, maybe even working more than one job, and still can’t afford basic rent and utilities. Richard was invited by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, whose interest in both the national economy and the housing crisis are longstanding.

Last month, for instance, Anthony Stasi wrote about the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program. Stasi has been a policy associate with the National Alliance to End Homelessness and senior policy analyst for the Department of Homeless Services in New York City.

VASH, Stasi informs us, is the only permanent housing program focusing solely on military veterans. He points out the shameful fact that while veterans make up only 1% of the general population, they account for 10% of the homeless. He is concerned, as we all should be, about the large number of servicemen and women who have yet to return from foreign lands to this increasingly sick economy. Here is a sample of what Stasi is thinking:

Cities with high inventories of foreclosed property are desperate to find owners for these homes. Just this week, the Mayor of Detroit began offering police officers a similar incentive. What makes offering foreclosures to veterans even more sensible is that of the 20 cities with the highest foreclosure rates, most of them are in California, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona. These are all locations where many veterans already live after serving out their contracts.

Richard’s visit was also sponsored by the university’s National Catholic School of Social Service, whose very comprehensive program achieves a harmonious blend of scholarship, social justice, and service. CUA is the national university of the Catholic Church, founded way back in 1889, and currently teaching students at every level, from 97 different countries. It is right next to Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in the United States, and a short Metrorail ride from the Library of Congress and numerous other cultural monuments.

From the Sublime to the Publicity-Conscious

As always, Hollywood has been doing its bit for the cause. Not long ago, we noted Janet Jackson’s revelation that she and her late brother, on at least one occasion, bought food from a restaurant in Los Angeles and drove around giving it away. Michael was the driver and his sister took care of the distribution.

Also, for Celebrity Baby Scoop, Jenny Schafer reported on the doings of the world-famous singer’s extraordinarily attractive kids, as they shared resources with people experiencing homelessness:

Michael Jackson’s children — Prince, 14, Paris, 12, and Blanket, 9 — were photographed playing games and donating time and money ($10,000.00) to a homeless shelter in Los Angeles, Calif. on Wednesday (February 23).

In another part of Los Angeles, a musician calling himself Paz crashed Hilton’s birthday party and absconded with a birthday cake. An artifact of surpassing ugliness, the cake was worth $2,000 or possibly $3,200. Paz drove the cake down to Skid Row, cut it in 125 pieces, served it up to 125 homeless people, posted the photos on Facebook, and wrote very entertainingly about the whole episode, too.

This kind of news cannot be ignored, no matter how frivolous a person might think Paris Hilton is, because every effort to aid people experiencing homelessness deserves to be honored for its good intentions, and that includes even goofy publicity stunts like the cake caper which, believe it or not, probably went some way in raising awareness about homelessness. In under a week, Paz fielded nearly 150 requests for interviews, and claims to have tracked 12,560 news articles about the event, and 322 mentions on TV.

2011 Homeless

by Thom the World Poet (Thom Woodruff), dedicated to “Vagabond” Dustin Russell

you need to carry all you own
so you learn the art of stash-
perhaps a car that no longer works
can be your library /crash pad
perhaps couch surfing
trusting to the kindness of strangers
you are food for police
and anyone in authority
who forget we are all just one degree of separation
job cuts make homeless/dispossession is eternal
when you move, it will be walking-
a bicycle gets flat tires /a car breaks down
your two legs ,a bag, perhaps a shopping trolley
You learn by watching/earn by panhandling
perhaps you can drum or play guitar
(it needs new strings/you improvise)
Even if you seek work, you need an address
You hang out with the dispossessed-
in Green Belt or bush cover-away from eyes
where you can light a fire and stay calm
You know one hundred and sixty two of you
died on these streets this very year
You look for opportunities to work-
even the bad jobs are gone
There will be more of you when you are gone
you write this down. Settle down. Stay calm.
Whatever happens next is still unknown

Reactions?

Source: “Housing Our Heroes… And Helping Our Economy,” ipr.cua.edu, 02/09/11
Source: “National Catholic School of Social Service,” ncsss.cua.edu
Source: “The Jackson Siblings Donate To Homeless Shelter,” CelebrityBabyScoop.com, 02/26/11
Source: “Let Them Eat Cake,” Facebook.com, 02/22/11
Event poster courtesy of Catholic University of America; used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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A Certain Income Level

Earth EggImagine a world where 80% of the people are without such basic needs as water, sanitation, education, healthcare, food security, or the old-age pensions — a planet where four out of five people lack what the United Nations (U.N.) calls “adequate social protection.”

Well, there is no need to imagine it, because that’s the kind of world we already have. Juan Somovia, a U.N. official, recently pointed out something we are reminded of daily by the frightening headlines from everywhere. He calls it the “linkage between social justice and national stability,” a polite way of saying that if a nation’s people do not have food, jobs, housing, fair treatment at the hands of their government, and certain other basic amenities, the leadership will definitely need to watch its back.

Now, imagine a world where everybody makes a living wage and has access to basic services. Somovia is director-general of the ILO (International Labour Organization), which is part of the U.N., and he says it’s possible. The ILO has established the basic entitlements that ought to apply to every person on earth:

– basic income security for children;
— access to some social assistance for people of working age that prevents them from falling into absolute food poverty;
— a basic old-age pension for people over a certain age;
— and essential health services for all.

Susan Jones reported on these ideas and others proposed on February 20, the “World Day of Social Justice.” All of the 183 member nations of the ILO have arranged to send delegates to a convocation in June, where they will discuss long-term plans for a worldwide “social protection floor.” The ILO believes that a worldwide universal living wage could be accomplished by spending only 2% of the Global Domestic Product.

Since they are already so clear about what is wanted and needed, it would seem that the main problem will be to discover how to get the money from wherever it is now to the people who presently live below this “floor” level of a living standard. The U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also emphasized the necessity of social justice for all, saying,

No one should live below a certain income level, and everyone should have access to essential public services such as water and sanitation, health and education.

Specific to the United States, we have mentioned some of the things Richard talked about when he was interviewed by Wayne Hurlbert for Blog Talk Radio. This is Richard R. Troxell of House the Homeless, of course, talking about the ideas proposed in his book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line. It was a very wide-ranging discussion, and it’s worth touching on a few of the topics again.

In these hard economic times, we (as a nation) need to be strategic. We are smart enough not to operate on a sick patient with a chain saw as opposed to a scalpel. We should also realize that we are not a nation with just one economy. We are a nation of a thousand economies. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach with the federal minimum wage is not good for anybody. Currently, it’s enough to hurt some, for instance small rural businesses, and yet at the same time not enough to help others, such as workers in expensive cities like New York and San Francisco. In other words, it’s a lose-lose proposition.

Richard sees the Universal Living Wage as a clear, simple way to turn things around, and certainly as a large part of the solution to get economy moving. The idea has already been proven, and only needs to be extended. The military adjusts the pay scale for off-base housing according to the geographical locality. The US Government has also adopted a pay policy that considers geographic considerations when federal employees are transferred from region to region. The concept has been tried and found to be successful and valuable.

Everyone knows it doesn’t cost the same to live in Harlington, Texas, as it does to live in Boston, Massachusetts. This results in “economic homelessness,” where even an employed person can’t afford basic housing. We need a Federal Minimum Wage that is indexed to the local cost of housing (the number-one most expensive item in every American’s budget). By indexing it to the local cost of housing, we ensure that anyone working 40 hours a week will be able to afford basic food, clothing, and shelter (including utilities). Richard estimates that the Universal Living Wage could end economic homelessness for over a million people and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers.

By showing how easily a “social protection floor” could be established in the United States, we could once again lead the world by setting a good example.

Reactions?

Source: “‘No One Should Live Below A Certain Income Level,’ U.N. Secretary-General Says,”CNSNews.com, 02/21/11
Source: “Richard Troxell Looking Up at the Bottom Line,” BlogTalkRadio, 12/08/10
Image by AZRainman (Mark Rain), used under its Creative Commons license.

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The Homeless Ex-Offender, Part 2

Homeless encampment

Forensic psychologist Karen Franklin says that the majority of sex offenses are committed by men without criminal records, so no matter how stringently those with records are controlled, these crimes will continue. And most convicted sex offenders are never arrested for a second sex crime. A very small minority of ex-offenders, in the area of 15%, are the ones who need watching. With the rest, it’s a waste of time an energy, and actually causes more problems.

We talked about Jessica’s Law in California and similar measures in other states, requiring that ex-offenders not live within certain distances of schools, parks, and other places where children gather; and the unforeseen results that have led to even more problems, such as an increase in homelessness, and a less safe environment.

As Franklin puts it,

Time and time again, here’s the way the story goes:

1. An exceedingly rare but highly troublesome event occurs.
2. A knee-jerk scramble ensues to find the cause and affix blame.
3. Existing laws are impulsively altered.
4. Unintended consequences ensue, most of them harmful.

Another issue is that, in some places, even if their sentence is served, inmates cannot be let out without giving an address, which of course many do not have. Earlier this year in Wisconsin, an appeals court decided that homeless sex offenders who leave prison are not obligated to do this, acknowledging that the requirement to register an address just can’t be met by a released prisoner with nowhere to go, and no prospects.

The same question came up in Alabama, where Thornal Lee Adams was being punished, in violation of the Constitution, for being homeless. Adams won in court, and his attorney David Schoen is quoted as saying the decision was:

[…] stunning in its recognition of the unique hardships that poverty places on members of our society, and it speaks in the strongest terms possible against penalizing that status through the criminal law.

A couple of years back, a Florida judge made national news by ordering several homeless sex offenders to live beneath a highway bridge. Their registration address was the Julia Tuttle Causeway, and they were ordered to stay under there nightly from 10 PM to 6 AM. The futility can easily be seen. Has anyone proven that assaults on children never take place during daylight?

One of those five men, Kevin Morales, after serving his sentence, had recovered his life to the point of having a job, a car, and an apartment, which he was forced to leave because of the residency restriction laws. He petitioned the judge to go back to jail, where at least there were no rats, but was refused. (His current address is listed as “Transient.”)

In California and some other states, in addition to strict residency rules, ex-offenders have to wear Global Positioning System ankle bracelets for the rest of their lives. One might ask, if GPS monitors are required, aren’t the restrictions on residence pretty much redundant?

Why isn’t it enough to just settle for having the ankle bracelets tracked in real time? It would not matter if the nearest child was 20 feet away, as long as the permitted radius was 10 feet. If the authorities are going to make use of those devices anyway, why not trust the devices to do their job? And why not expand them to other areas? When Enron’s Andy Fastow gets out of prison, for instance, it might be useful to keep an eye on him.

As it turns out, the GPS units need to be recharged periodically. Someone living under a bridge, or even in a homeless shelter, can’t get access to electricity for the required recharging of the GPS unit. Functional GPS monitors would make the probability of being caught and proven guilty about 100%.

John Simerman reports that even George Runner, the senator who got Jessica’s Law passed, says that he’s never heard of a homeless parolee with a GPS monitor being a repeat offender. So, by his own logic, he ought to see that having these men stabilized in places where their anklets can be recharged is a good idea. You’d think he would see the advantage of finding them places to live. But, Senator Runner says,

I’m sure that’s a personal hassle for them, but that’s not my concern.

Well, it should be of concern. When any kind of menacing person is homeless, including sex offenders, they can’t be kept track of, or located for questioning if need be. This makes society less safe overall. There are many compelling reasons not to go all medieval over ex-offenders.

Reactions?

Source: “Sex offender fallout hitting unrelated laws,” In the News: 05/27/10
Source: “Court: Sex offender notification law can’t apply to homeless,” PrisonTalk, 11/07/10
Source: “Where Can You Live in Florida if You Are a Registered Sex Offender?,” JusticeFlorida.com, 08/22/08
Source: “Court challenges mount against sex offender law,” Mercury News.com, 12/21/10
Image by Editor B (Bart Everson), used under its Creative Commons license.

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Minimum Wage and the Universal Living Wage

Black square sunFull Disclosure: Richard R. Troxell is President of House the Homeless, in whose online presence you are at this very moment. Richard is the guy in the picture, holding up Homey Too, the official thermal underwear model of the Thermal Underwear Drive in Austin, Texas, which is in progress even as we speak. In my capacity as newsblogger, I feel moved to read with interest, then capsulize and remark upon, his essay, “Reasons for raising the minimum wage,” the same as any other piece of journalism. So here goes.

The Universal Living Wage idea has three basic tenets. One of them is,

Spend no more than 30% of one’s income on housing.

See? I knew this would be interesting, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. Troxell explains that the 30% figure was established by the banks, as the cutoff beyond which a person presumably could not afford to make mortgage payments. The assumption is, a person needs 70% of his or her income for other things, such as food, transportation, medicine, etc. And if the mortgage bill is more than 30%, this person will continue to spend the 70% on those other things anyway, and the bank will get the short end of the stick.

Also, 30% is the standard guideline used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, aka HUD. If a family is paying more than 30% of its income for housing, it needs help. So, the business community and the government agree that, theoretically, shelter should not eat up more than 30%, or approximately one-third of what a person or family has coming in.

This is the part that blows me away. When I was growing up and taking classes like Home Economics in school, we learned that the magic number was 25%. The received wisdom was that a person or family oughtn’t pay more than one-fourth of its income for housing. See, someone has sneakily raised the bar. In the old days, it was, “If you pay more than one dollar out of four, you are a bad household manager and a fiscal profligate.” Then, somehow, our expectations were re-engineered. Now, it’s, “If you pay more than one dollar out of three, you are a careless and irresponsible.”

We were once taught that one-fourth of what we had was the reasonable amount to spend for housing. We’ve been re-programmed to accept the idea that instead, now a larger proportion, one-third of what we have, is the reasonable amount to spend for housing.

And, of course, the whole thing is a crazy dream anyway. People are willing to pay half of their income just to get under a roof and avoid being homeless. They are willing to scrimp and do without other things to make their budget viable. But even if tenants are willing to get along without much else in order to be housed, landlords have their rules, too. They go by the same standards that the banks do. When you fill out a rental application, those numbers had better look good to them.

Another of the Universal Living Wage’s three prongs is the proposition that the minimum wage would vary by region, being indexed to the cost of housing locally. This would mean changing the way the federal government determines poverty guidelines. Rather than being based on food costs, it would be based on the cost of housing, which is less volatile. Troxell explains how the HUD voucher rental program currently works and how it determines Fair Market Rent.

The formula that would be used to determine the ULW is explained in great detail on the Universal Living Wage website. (Choose “ULW formula” from the menu on the left.) Also available there is the opportunity to endorse the ULW:

In just the first three years of our five year campaign, we have the following international, national, business, celebrity, enlightened markets, regional, religious and union endorsements for the Universal Living Wage Campaign. Would your group like to stand up and be counted on the subject of a Universal Living Wage? Sign our Resolution and send it to us! We’ll add you to our roster.

We also recommend the “Facts and Myths” section of the site, which contains an exhaustive list of facts and information about why the myths are wrong. The ULW idea is based on the assumption that a person is putting in a 40-hour workweek, either at one job or perhaps a combination of two part-time jobs. The idea is simple: Anybody who works a 40-hour week ought to be able to afford basic rental housing. And if they can’t, something is wrong with the system.

Reactions?

Source: “Reasons for raising the minimum wage,” Helium.com
Source: “Endorsements,” UniversalLivingWage.org
Image by quapan, used under its Creative Commons license.

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First-Person Homeless

18 MonthsPeople often ask Lars Eighner whether he became homeless in order to have something to write about. After all, he wouldn’t be the first aspiring wordsmith to have launched himself into the world in search of material. But no. The author of Travels with Lizbeth says,

I cannot imagine deliberately exchanging a gentleman’s attire for rags, sleeping on a bench when I had a good bed of my own, or doing any of the other things the other authors are said to have done merely to get a book. Whenever I had the opportunity of improving my situation, I took it, and if I had found the chance to get off the streets, my book would not now exist.

The thing about writers is, they are unable to not write, and they will continue to write any time, anywhere. So, naturally, Eighner wrote letters to a friend, knowing he would hold onto them. This stratagem is commonly employed by impoverished artists in shaky circumstances. The friend, historical novelist Steven Saylor, thought there was a book in it.

Eighner recounts the long, excruciatingly difficult process of squeezing out a publishable manuscript on a $10 manual typewriter, in a building without heat, water, or electricity. He sometimes had trouble endorsing the project himself, because being homeless was simply his everyday life. If he could have done so, he would have swapped it for a different one, preferably with a better class of accommodations.

Picaresque memoirs inhabit a long and honorable tradition. Sometimes, a wanderer sets out to roam the world and endure hardships for a greater purpose. Sometimes, a person who was perfectly all right where he or she was is plucked up by the hand of fate and set down on a road. Either way, might as well get some good copy out of it.

We live in a time when the minimum wage won’t house an individual, let alone a family. No longer can a living wage be lived on. An awful lot of people are in dire straits, and the more their individual voices can be heard the better it is for everybody.

The book we often mention, Richard R. Troxell’s Looking Up at the Bottom Line, is not just a history of his own activities in the cause of social justice, and it’s not merely a history of social phenomena in Austin, Texas. (Where, incidentally, Eighner also lives.) Nor is it only an activist how-to manual. It is also the repository of the individual stories of many, many of the people experiencing homelessness.

We have mentioned the Ace Backwords’ classic Surviving on the Streets in relation to the Thermal Underwear Drive that is currently underway in Austin. (Yes, there is a connection.) Backwords has played the role of a recording angel on behalf of many stories other than his own. His profiles of the street people of Berkeley, California, are valuable documents in the story of our millennia-straddling era.

The very vocal, eloquent and noticeable personality of Eric Sheptock is penetrating the nation’s consciousness as he keeps his promise to “enlighten, empower, engage, enrage, entertain, and explain.” Here’s a man who is unlikely to shop online, is probably not many women’s idea of a dream date, and can’t help anybody find job. Yet, nearly 5,000 people have signed up to be his Facebook friends. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because he has something to say? The “homeless homeless advocate” in our nation’s capital could become a man to reckon with. In fact, he is already, as Nathan Rott demonstrates in his Washington Post profile of Sheptock.

Alexandra Jarrin is making news at this very moment by encouraging people across the country to write letters about what it’s like to run out of unemployment benefits and stare the specter of homelessness in the face, if they’re not already experiencing homelessness. She prints out their individual stories and delivers them to the office of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is one of the good guys.

Photo Note: Photographer Aaron M says,

This guy used to be an industrial painter (bridges, that sort of thing). He lost his job 18 months ago, and hasn’t found anything since. Once he went through his unemployment benefits and then his savings, his home was foreclosed and his vehicle repossessed. So now he panhandles in suburban Seattle.

Reactions?

Source: “About Travels with Lizbeth,” LarsEighner.com
Source: “DC’s ‘homeless homeless’ advocate,” The Washington Post, 12/13/10
Source: “Alexandra Jarrin, Homeless Unemployed Woman, Writes To Bernie Sanders for Help,” The Huffington Post, 12/12/10
Image by Seven_Null7 (Aaron M), used under its Creative Commons license.