We started a then-and-now comparison of homelessness in three American cities, the ones written about by Scott Bransford in “Tarp Nation: Squatter Villages and Tent Cities in the Economic Crisis.” One of the towns was Fresno, California, with its illicit squatter districts called New Jack City and Taco Flats (or Little Tijuana). Attitude-wise, the city’s byword was “tough love,” with more tough than love.
Another metropolitan area spotlighted by this piece of classic sociological literature was Ontario, California, which has been covered. The third city was Portland, Oregon, and we will get back to that. But first, a Fresno update. What has been going on there in the past few years since Bransford did his research?
There was a rather notorious incident back in February of 2009, when two police officers were videotaped beating a 52-year-old homeless man in a vacant lot. Earlier this month, George Hostetter reported for The Fresno Bee on homeless housing that is scheduled to be built:
Citing the needs of a growing homeless population as well as the moral and legal duty to play fair, the City Council has signed off on a $1.5 million loan to help fund construction of a large housing project for people currently living on the streets. The $11.8 million project near the Poverello House is the first of its kind in Fresno.
The Renaissance project is to contain 70 housing units, and will actually be one of several such projects. Hostetter says,
The Housing Authority… recently opened the Renaissance at Trinity, a remodeled complex in southwest Fresno with 20 units for homeless people with serious mental illness. The Housing Authority also has plans for a project called Renaissance at Alta Monte on Blackstone Avenue just a few blocks north of downtown. The renovated site will have 29 units for people with mental health challenges. On-site services will be provided at no cost. But Housing Authority officials are counting on the Renaissance at Santa Clara to be a game-changer.
Wal-Mart has donated $100,000 to the housing initiative called “Fresno First Steps Home.” That is very generous, but the perspective changes when you remember that in 2010, the bloated behemoth made $16.4 billion. A hundred grand is chump change. Wal-Mart could build a house for each one of Fresno’s estimated 5,000 homeless people and never even notice those few coins slipping out of its pocket.
Wal-Mart is also known as the ultimate corporate welfare queen. Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First has said that Wal-Mart…
… uses taxpayer dollars to create jobs that tend to be poverty-wage, part-time and lacking in adequate healthcare benefits.
In other words, aside from shirking its duty to Uncle Sam’s wallet, Wal-Mart has not done its utmost toward decreasing its own workers’ risk of becoming homeless. An idealist might be forgiven for imagining a world in which Wal-Mart would take that money and pay it to their own workers. Sure, someone might object that if $100,000 were distributed among Wal-Mart’s umpteen thousand employees, nobody would get very much. A pittance, really.
Exactly! $100,000 spread out among umpteen thousand homeless people does not go very far, either. A paltry sum it is, especially coming from the #1 Fortune 500 company.
Source: “Caught On Tape: Fresno Police Officers Violent Arrest of a Homeless Man,” KSEE24.com, 02/12/09
Source: “Fresno OKs loan for homeless housing plan,” FresnoBee.com, 09/11/11
Image by myravery (Miriam Lueck Avery), used under its Creative Commons license.