Monday, March 12, 2018

Those Who Have the Least Are the Most Generous

Years ago, a Moroccan friend of mine told me that when he was a car valet, the people with the ordinary cars tipped the most, while those with the luxury and exotic cars tipped the least. As a journalist and scientific data lover, I'm not a big fan of anecdotal evidence at all, but that doesn't mean I don't find it interesting at times. 

Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer-winning journalist who you may remember from a few years ago for publishing the Edward Snowden material, resides in Brazil. This recent tweet by Greenwald is an interesting anecdote that reminded me of my Moroccan friend's experience:

Greenwald, along with his partner, David Miranda, has established an animal shelter run by homeless people in Rio de Janiero. As many of you know from my writings about my cat, Scooter, pets and homeless people have bonds that run far deeper than those of ordinary pet owners. That's because your pet still loves you when society has turned its back on you, and prefers that you don't exist. From Greenwald's guest column in The Dodo:

"The compassion, empathy and self-sacrifice defining the relationship between those who are homeless and their pets is extraordinary. It is difficult to explain how affecting it is to watch a hungry, homeless person receive a desperately needed meal and, without a second thought, instantly divide it in half to share it with their hungry dog or cat. Leslie Irvine, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, has devoted much of her academic career to studying this unique relationship, and even named her book on the topic, 'My Dog Always Eats First.' "

Irvine's book is scholarly and tedious to read, but I'm glad I did slog through it. She traveled around the San Francisco Bay Area with a veterinarian on wheels who provided free vet services for the pets of homeless people. The book documents those experiences.

Finally, the true causes of homelessness are starting to dawn on the mainstream media. I was pleasantly surprised to find a quote of mine extracted from my Vox article in the national magazine The Week. The article very succinctly sums up the problem--and the lamentable solution: more affordable housing is needed now, but won't be built for years, if ever. Still, the article does wonders in changing the stereotypical narrative about homeless people to one that is accurate--and obvious--to anyone on the West Coast witnessing the problem right in front of them. Without living wages and affordable housing, homelessness will only increase. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Poverty is Policy-Based

Everyone knows the standard narrative about poor people in the U.S. is that they are lazy, uneducated, and either have a mental illness or substance abuse problems, so that's why they are in their desperate situation, and they probably deserve it.

It's a tired and untrue cliche, but it persists because it's the comfortable and convenient narrative that allows the bad public policy that is the true cause of poverty and homelessness to continue unexamined--and therefore, unabated.

The United Nations Commission on Human Rights isn't fooled by the American narrative. Take a look at this excellent report by professor Phillip Ralston. Here's some of what he found:

"10. I have been struck by the extent to which caricatured narratives about the purported innate differences between rich and poor have been sold to the electorate by some politicians and media, and have been allowed to define the debate.  The rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic, and the drivers of economic success.  The poor are wasters, losers, and scammers.  As a result, money spent on welfare is money down the drain.  To complete the picture we are also told that the poor who want to make it in America can easily do so: they really can achieve the American dream if only they work hard enough. 
11. The reality that I have seen, however, is very different.  It is a fact that many of the wealthiest citizens do not pay taxes at the rates that others do, hoard much of their wealth off-shore, and often make their profits purely from speculation rather than contributing to the overall wealth of the American community. Who then are the poor?  Racist stereotypes are usually not far beneath the surface.  The poor are overwhelmingly assumed to be people of color, whether African Americans or Hispanic ‘immigrants’.  The reality is that there are 8 million more poor Whites than there are Blacks.  Similarly, large numbers of welfare recipients are assumed to be living high on the hog.  Some politicians and political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching color TVs, while surfing on their smart phones, all paid for by welfare.  I wonder how many of these politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there. There are anecdotes aplenty, but evidence is nowhere to be seen.  In every society, there are those who abuse the system, as much in the upper income levels, as in the lower.  But the poor people I met from among the 40 million living in poverty were overwhelmingly either persons who had been born into poverty, or those who had been thrust there by circumstances largely beyond their control such as physical or mental disabilities, divorce, family breakdown, illness, old age, unlivable wages, or discrimination in the job market.
12. The face of poverty in America is not only Black, or Hispanic, but also White, Asian, and many other colors.  Nor is it confined to a particular age group.  Automation and robotization are already throwing many middle-aged workers out of jobs in which they once believed themselves to be secure.  In the economy of the twenty-first century, only a tiny percentage of the population is immune from the possibility that they could fall into poverty as a result of bad breaks beyond their own control.  The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion as the US since the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries."

Thursday, December 7, 2017

It's Going to Get a WHOLE Lot Worse Long Before it Gets Better

Just take a look at this Associated Press link that tracks homelessness stories:

This excerpt sums it up rather well:

"Homeless advocates and city officials say it’s outrageous that in the shadow of a booming tech economy - where young millionaires dine on $15 wood-grilled avocado and think nothing of paying $1,000 for an iPhone X - thousands of families can’t afford a home. Many of the homeless work regular jobs, in some cases serving the very people whose sky-high net worth is the reason housing has become unaffordable for so many."
"The booming economy, fueled by the tech sector, and decades of under-building have led to an historic shortage of affordable housing. It has upended the stereotypical view of people out on the streets as unemployed: They are retail clerks, plumbers, janitors - even teachers - who go to work, sleep where they can and buy gym memberships for a place to shower."

And yet it's often the very tech bros causing the problem who call homeless people lazy, and want them out of sight.

The photos at the link are every bit as heartbreaking as the stories. And it's going to get much worse when the government passes its tax bill this month, and destroys Social Security and Medicare through "entitlement reform" in 2018, which has been their plan all along. Unless people unite and go on strike nationwide for living wages, things are going to go back to Great Depression-era desperation.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017 Revisits Homelessness producer Carlos Waters has a video on YouTube about how city planners design spaces that deter people experiencing homeless from using public space.

Also, I have a small legal matter I could use some help with--it's a win-win situation if you choose to participate. Check out the details here.

Thank you for your support--it's deeply and tremendously appreciated!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Everyone's a Critic -- Responses to the Vox Article from March 2016

It never fails.

No matter *WHAT* a person's homelessness is due to, there is always a large subset of people who are absolutely certain that ending up in that situation is 110% your fault. Somewhere in life, you morally failed, or didn't do something you were supposed to do, so your homeless plight is all on you.

For that crowd, homelessness can never, ever, EVER can be caused by lack of affordable housing and lack of a living wage. To them, this recent story in the Associated Press is a profile in how many people over the last several years have increasingly "failed at life" through their "poor life choices," and became homeless. To them, it's never this:
“I’ve got economically zero unemployment in my city, and I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and just can’t afford housing,” said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien. “There’s nowhere for these folks to move to. Every time we open up a new place, it fills up.”
Take his word for it. The new term for these conditions is "working homeless."  And the picture is exceedingly bleak:  

I think people who blame the homeless for their plight do so because if they actually looked into it with any depth, they'd have to do something about it, and people don't like to be responsible for things that don't personally affect them. Look at what's happening with the sexual harassment victims lately--they are rarely believed, and almost always blamed.

My own critics usually fall into one of two categories: 1) Women who blame me for not getting married, and 2) Men who are over a year's salary in credit card or other debt, counseling me about an imaginary inability to handle finances properly. Then, there are the usual jerks who are convinced that people who don't even have boots can just pull themselves up by their (non-existent) bootstraps.

So here's my responses to some of these geniuses, who commented on my Vox article from last year:

In the article, I wrote: "My moderate savings was destroyed in my 30s by health care costs that insurance wouldn't cover."

So one critic who clearly didn't read the article said, "Sounds like she choose [sic] not to have health insurance at a time when it wasn't mandatory." 

Got that? I had insurance, and that insurer denied my claims, but the reader goes straight into their blame-the-victim bias.

Another critic wrote: "I think I have less sympathy for the writer of this article. I'm willing to bet she made some pretty piss poor choices to be in her situation at 50. Keep in mind she didn't go to college so she has no loans."

Well, I did go to college, but went pay-as-you-go, and had to leave school when my hours were cut at work so I couldn't afford both school and rent. With people like this, it's considered a "poor choice" to not go into debt because I didn't qualify for loans or credit cards. Institutions don't lend money to poor people--that's why rapacious payday lenders exist. And when poor people can get a loan, it's often at usury rates that will keep them trapped in debt and poverty forever.

Another critic opines: "I don't feel pity for homeless people...To me, all it takes is a little resourcefulness to dig yourself out of a bad spot. Why didn't she move to a better place? She wanted the immediate gratification that contract work affords. Why didn't she accept permanent work so she could prove her value?...Why didn't she get a second job? Ask a friend to let her crash on the couch? Offer to house sit? Pet sit? The possibilities seem endless in this world." 

Let's unpack that shitshow: 1) You can't move to a "better" place if you are poor. You need thousands of dollars for moving expenses and deposits and rent; you need to find a new job in the new location and live off meager savings until you do, and all of that costs money a homeless or working poor person doesn't have. 2) Contract work wasn't "immediate gratification" --it was all that was available. 3) I did have permanent work periodically, but left for better-paying opportunities that resulted in layoffs (e.g., dot com bubble, downsizing) or other dead ends. 4) I worked a full-time job, a part-time job, and went to trade school part-time. Then, 9-11 hit, and my area of the country went into a deep recession. 5) Most friends were struggling themselves, and their leases don't allow long-term guests or people not on the lease to stay with them. 6) People with money don't want to hire homeless people to house-sit, pet-sit, or do odd jobs for them--get real. 

And then there's age discrimination:
"Older workers are at a particular disadvantage," says Joseph Carbone, president and CEO of the Bridgeport, Conn., jobs development group The WorkPlace. “If you’re 50 or older, you face an almost impenetrable wall of discrimination,” he says. “Companies have a very narrow view of what they want. When you walk into an interview with a lot of gray hair, it’s usually over very quickly.”  -- Time Magazine
So to my critics, taking contract jobs that paid better, not going into debt, not doing drugs or alcohol, living in an area that wasn't expensive when I first moved there, and then not having enough money to leave when it did get pricey, on top of aging out of the workforce, are all my personal failings, and why I deserve to be homeless.

But it's not just people like me they blame. Homeless families are on the rise, and those rugged individualist critics are the first to ask, "Why did you have kids if you can't afford them?" Answer: No one had a crystal ball when the kids were born years ago to foresee that the bankers would destroy the economy, and the government would abet their crime by letting thousands lose their homes to foreclosure. 

This is now the brutal reality:
“Americans raised at the top and bottom of the income ladder are likely to remain there themselves as adults. Forty-three percent of those who start in the bottom are stuck there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle quintile. Only 4 percent of adults raised in the bottom make it all the way to the top, showing that the “rags-to-riches” story is more often found in Hollywood than in reality.”
 -- Forbes Magazine
Some people just need you to draw a picture. Here's the graph of the relationship of employee wages to after-tax corporate profits:


And finally, there's 34Justice's detailed account of how policymakers (such as Paul Ryan) use a structured playbook to justify dunking on the poor to serve the rich. Here's an excerpt:

3) Imply that poor people’s personal failings are what’s holding them back. You can’t pull off the enlightened nice-guy routine if you’re blaming poor people for their problems outright. So you need to do it subtly: say that what we really need is worker training and programs that encourage people to work (again, who’s going to be against that?). Never mind that there’s little actual evidence of a “skills gap” and that most people who can work already do. People are predisposed to believe that our success relative to those less fortunate is a result of our superior work ethic and talents (rather than a product of race, class, gender, and/or other forms of privilege and sheer dumb luck). The more you tap into that predisposition, the more people will oppose downward redistribution and support imposing burdensome requirements on the Have Nots instead.

And there you have it: blame the victim for their plight, so you don't have to actually do anything to address their legitimate grievances.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Fourth Time's a Charm -- Status Update & Vox article

Thanks for visiting! has published an article of mine that updates many things since I wrote the book back in Spring, 2013. 

For the ONPA award-winning article about me and the book from 2013, visit here: 


PS--I've gotten so many emails and messages of support from so many wonderful people--THANK YOU! It may take awhile, but I promise I will reply to every single person who wrote as soon as I can. I'm packing to get ready to move out, so my time (and internet connection) is limited. Thanks for your understanding. :)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Staggering Numbers About San Francisco's Homeless Population

71% of San Francisco's homeless population used to be housed residents in the city.


That's nothing short of unbelievable.

From the article in the last bullet point above:

The vast majority of the people who are homeless today used to be housed – in San Francisco. According to the city’s 2015 homeless count, 71 percent of the people on the streets were living in San Francisco when they lost their housing. That means seven out of ten homeless people used to be your neighbors – before the tech boom and the eviction epidemic. Those are, to a significant extent, people who are homeless not because they did anything wrong but because they aren’t rich enough to live in Ed Lee’s San Francisco.