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Ziggy The Bagman
April 20, 2007 10:21 PM   Subscribe

Ziggy the Bagman (real name Zbygnew Marian Willzek) is a 46 year old man who has long lived on the streets of Brisbane, gaining notoriety for the large collection of bags he carries with him at all times (unless they're being seized by the authorities). He's resisted all attempts to get him a home, preferring to sleep rough due to (as this interview with Ziggy relates) a desire to practice self-control of body and mind mixed with religious reasons. This is in spite of several attacks on him, every one of which he says he remembers very clearly. Although many have written of him, and created MySpace pages in his honor (though one wonder how honored Ziggy would actually be if he knew about it), he remains arguably the most well known face of Australia's growing homelessness crisis (PDF file).

It is probably quite difficult for many to imagine what it would actually be like to be homeless, although for your edification here is an excellent site detailing a day in the life of six other homeless people in six cities around the world from Australia's public broadcaster, the ABC. I'm sure Ziggy would have appeared in the movie too, but no doubt the $10 fee he would have asked for would have been too steep for the ABC.
posted by Effigy2000 (38 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Effigy2000 posted "here is an excellent site detailing a day in the life of six other homeless people in six cities around the world from Australia's public broadcaster, the ABC."

While it may be an excellent site, after looking through the Tokyo section, I'm going to have to take it with a grain of salt.

Highly ordered and extremely intolerant of its small, but growing army of homeless.

Extremely intolerant? How so? Now, intolerant of permanent villages, I'll grant, and that's a shame. But the homeless themselves? Not something I've seen. Perhaps they're referring to the brutal attacks by teenagers that they mention later. But these are pretty much exclusively attacks by teenagers. Saying Japan is intolerant of the homeless because teenagers are is like saying that Americans hate Oprah Winfrey because teenagers hate Oprah Winfrey.

In Japan the homeless are reviled. They're considered lazy, dirty and dangerous.

I'll grant that they're considered lazy. Not enough folks here know the amount of mental illness involved. They're considered dirty because: they are dirty. Sorry. And dangerous? That's a new one to me.

Just a few paces away, Shibuya's busy streets are bustling with shoppers and lunchtime office workers. Many rush past the park's tight-knit, homeless community on their way to and from work.
Neither acknowledges each other's presence.


Now the author is just writing copy because it sounds good. Sure, shoppers and lunchtime office workers pass homeless, and don't acknowledge eachother. But shoppers don't acknowledge lunchtime office workers, either. Clerks on the ways to their jobs don't acknowledge shoppers. People who live in Shibuya don't acknowledge clerks. Folks walking to love hotels don't acknowledge people who live in Shibuya. It's a big city, not a small town of 10,000. Nobody acknowledges other folks unless: 1) It's their job (they're working in a store), 2) They know the person they're acknowledging, or 3) They're hitting on the person they're acknowledging.
posted by Bugbread at 11:03 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


(Sorry, I realize that's a big tangent, and not really related to the brunt of your post. I didn't mean it as an attack on your post, just annoyance at a specific part of one of your several links.)
posted by Bugbread at 11:06 PM on April 20, 2007


While most cities have enacted more laws (loitering, no camping, etc.) to get rid of the problem, Portland, Oregon went the other way and allows city 'camping' in a park named Dignity Village. Excellent post. Thanks.
posted by sluglicker at 11:18 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Actually, here's a question I'm authentically curious about:

People who dislike the homeless often say that they should get jobs as manual laborers/garbage men/whathaveyou. This is countered by saying that the homeless often have mental illnesses, so they're incapable of working. However, it's also pointed out that when the economy takes a nosedive, the number of homeless increases. Why is that so? Presumably, a person who is incapable of working would be equally incapable whether the economy is good or bad.
posted by Bugbread at 11:32 PM on April 20, 2007


Just remember that homeless are often mentally ill. Thus it isn't usually a problem with housing per say but with the mental health industry/system in that region.
posted by bhouston at 11:40 PM on April 20, 2007


Probably the majority of people who are homeless are mentally ill and thus can't work no matter what the economy is like. But a much smaller proportion lose their jobs through lay-offs, can't pay their mortgage or rent, and end up on the street. And then the tough part is getting back on their feet and into a job because they have no phone, no mailing address, appearance is bad, etc. Unless one has been homeless themselves, or knows someone who has through mental illness or otherwise, it's easy to say it's their own fault. I'm sure sometimes it is. The problem is how do we tell the difference?
posted by sluglicker at 11:45 PM on April 20, 2007


But a much smaller proportion lose their jobs through lay-offs, can't pay their mortgage or rent, and end up on the street...The problem is how do we tell the difference?

Well, here in the civilized, we (still) have this thing called "welfare", which aims to make sure you can keep a roof over your head, somehow,even if you do lose your job. Radical, I know, but there you go!
posted by Jimbob at 12:14 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


bugbread writes "Why is that so?"

If it's not a rhetorical question then I'd venture to suggest that an increase in homelessness during an economic slump is purely due to...economics. Jobs dry up. People get laid off. No wage = no ability to meet the costs of daily living, leading to evictions and lack of means to find alternative accommodation. I imagine there is probably a mathematical model for this: with every 1% contraction of a country's GDP there is a probable increase in homelessness of x%. I'd also imagine that at any one time there is a significant proportion of the population (say, single digit %) who are very close to being homeless and obviously these are the first to move to the ranks of the homeless when and if the economic downturn occurs.

(nice post by the way. Thanks.)
posted by peacay at 12:14 AM on April 21, 2007


I hope you polished that boot before you put it in Jimbob.
posted by peacay at 12:16 AM on April 21, 2007


peacay: disparaging the boot is a bootable offence.
posted by Pinback at 12:32 AM on April 21, 2007


(something ate the rest of my post)

When I used to work around Toowong I'd sometimes walk past Ziggy, snuggled away in his little recess in the wall outside the church there. Said g'day a few times, and stopped and chatted to him once or twice.

Strange ideas, prone to rant a bit, and a little all over the place in general, but nowhere near as strange as some of the people I worked with...
posted by Pinback at 12:38 AM on April 21, 2007


Why is that so? Presumably, a person who is incapable of working would be equally incapable whether the economy is good or bad.

Well, true but many may be on the edge, receiving support and assistance from say family and friends - "capable" folks. When the economy is "bad" the capable folks are not as easily able to assist the incapable folks.

I'm not arguing thats the case but its an obvious solution to the supposed paradox you posed.
posted by vacapinta at 12:52 AM on April 21, 2007


Also to follow on from what bugbread said - as far as intolerance goes, perhaps Osaka would have been a better example than Tokyo to use. There are a few parks there which are regularly cleared of homeless people. In Tokyo there used to be a community in Shinjuku station itself - a whole mini-city of cardboard houses - and that was cleared mainly because of a fire.

Homeless people are frequently interviewed on TV here. Most have rather nifty set ups - and they often work. But the type of work they do is often construction and they get paid daily - and the rental market here is very tough - even for a cheap place you need to have guarantors and usually a full time job. It can be very difficult if you have no family support and are working outside of a regular company. It is much less the case outside of Tokyo now - but in Tokyo if you want to rent a place you are looking at paying 5-6 months of rent upfront - 2 months deposit, 2 months key money (a "thankyou for finding me acceptable to live in your place" present), one month to the agent, and finally the first month of your actual rent. That is a big chuck of money and difficult for many people to find (if they even manage to be approved by the landlord).

So what there really needs to be is some cheaper rental properties available to people who find themselves in trouble, but gives them a chance to get back on their feet here.

Also there is no real welfare here, and it's only been in the last couple of years that a food bank, who also run a kind of soup kitchen every Saturday in Ueno Park, has been running to try and help both the homeless and low income people (Second Harvest Japan in case you are interested.) There are some other new organizations popping up to try and help - but you are talking about thousands of people with pretty much no support trying to survive.

As for the issue of those with mental illness - better not get started on that angle....
posted by gomichild at 1:05 AM on April 21, 2007


Considering the expected rise in food prices we may shortly be seeing a lot more Ziggies around Australia. Luckily, My hygiene is questionable at best so It won't be a dramatic change.
posted by oxford blue at 1:27 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


vacapinta writes "Well, true but many may be on the edge, receiving support and assistance from say family and friends - 'capable' folks. When the economy is 'bad' the capable folks are not as easily able to assist the incapable folks."

Ah, I hadn't thought of that. That makes a lot of sense, especially in Japan. Thanks.

gomichild writes "So what there really needs to be is some cheaper rental properties available to people who find themselves in trouble, but gives them a chance to get back on their feet here."

Well, there are "doya", which are...there's probably an English word, but I don't know it. Boarding rooms? Like a hotel, but it doesn't rent rooms, but only bunks in shared rooms. Those are used almost exclusively by day-laborers, but they're all clumped together where the scouts look, so, if you're homeless but not a day laborer, or for some reason don't want to live in that area, you're kinda screwed.
posted by Bugbread at 2:21 AM on April 21, 2007


He ran for mayor. Everyone in this town has seen him and he is an icon.
posted by rhizome23 at 3:27 AM on April 21, 2007


I want you all to think about that Wikipedia post. Especially the Wendy's part....
posted by rhizome23 at 3:29 AM on April 21, 2007


Re. the person who is incapable of working would be equally incapable whether the economy is good or bad question: eh, only sort of. If you're a fuck-up who has a hard time keeping a job, you're going to have a much, much harder time keeping one in a bad economy. If everybody's doing well and so blowing money in restaurants, a dishwasher who sometimes doesn't show up or shows up high could stay employed.

Another non-definitive but possible partial answer...
posted by kmennie at 3:55 AM on April 21, 2007


They moved Ziggy recently from the verge in front of St. Thomas'. His little kingdom is gone, and I have to wonder whether he has died.

I heard a rumour that he had finally gotten fed up with people hassling him and had relocated to Toowong cemetary, but I rarely if ever get there.

Anyone know anything?
posted by Jilder at 4:53 AM on April 21, 2007


See, clever girls read all the links before posting.

Still, I do wonder if he's died.
posted by Jilder at 4:58 AM on April 21, 2007


Half an acre of FPP real estate devoted to Australian homelessness. Wow.
posted by spitbull at 5:18 AM on April 21, 2007


I thought this was a post about Zbigniew Brzezinski and wondered why he deserved half an acre of FPP real estate, but then I read the links and it turns out that these homeless guys are much more deserving.
posted by Slap Factory at 5:28 AM on April 21, 2007


People who dislike the homeless often say that they should get jobs as manual laborers/garbage men/whathaveyou. This is countered by saying that the homeless often have mental illnesses, so they're incapable of working. However, it's also pointed out that when the economy takes a nosedive, the number of homeless increases. Why is that so? Presumably, a person who is incapable of working would be equally incapable whether the economy is good or bad.

The day center for homeless men where I work attempts to connect the guys to day labor through the kind of staffing agencies that will take them. They get showers and a new set of clothes before we send them off to work. Sometimes the work lasts a day, a couple days, a week. It's not the binary proposition most people suppose; that the homeless are either completely indigent, incompetent and unemployable or are lazy and choose to not work. There's a million shades in between; some guys go through periods of competence and employability, maybe because of a period of sobriety, maybe because they started taking some meds that are working for them. But trying to build a foundation in life from a shelter or a park bench is very difficult. Without housing it's very tough to make a start, to break away from the community of other homeless people that you have to rely on for word of mouth information when you live on the streets.

This part:

However, it's also pointed out that when the economy takes a nosedive, the number of homeless increases. Why is that so?

Is better addressed by taking a look at some of the literature. A great summary for the curious layperson about the past 20 years of homelessness research is Beside the Golden Door. The crux of answering your question lies in looking at the trendlines of poverty versus available low income housing. When one rises, and the other falls, there's an intersection point where people start to fall out of housing and the numbers rise. However, when the trend is reversed, there remain those who are so vulnerable that they are difficult to rehouse, so they stay homeless in bullish economies.

I've reviewed the rules for self-linking one more time and am going to post this first:

Including a link to your own site in a comment is okay provided that it has some relevance to the topic being discussed.

I'm not including a link to my own site, but a short piece I wrote for the Philly City Paper that profiles a chronically homeless man I spent a number of hours talking to while doing street outreach over the course of six months. He is pretty representative of a certain segment of the street population here and it might help you get a better idea of what's going on behind some of those eyes you see looking back at you out on the streets:

Al's Story.
posted by The Straightener at 6:17 AM on April 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


Seems to me that if you want to present homelessness as a societal problem deserving attention and additional effort, it would be better to pick a face for the crisis than a man who has resisted the most extraordinary efforts to fix his homelessness.

If the face of a crisis is a man who refuses any attempt at solution, it tends to suggest that he's the norm. If he's the norm, and the average homeless person wants to be, isn't doing much damage to the world around them, nor to themselves, then why the heck should I care?
posted by obfusciatrist at 6:37 AM on April 21, 2007


Years ago, I worked in a homeless shelter something like the Pine Street Inn, a bit smaller in scale. The original intent was for street alcoholics. At first, we had about 25 beds and were pretty single purpose. But every time the economy took a dip down or social welfare programs tightened, the next tier of people who were living a marginal existence would fall through the cracks and wind up at our door. The first wave after the alcoholics was a huge number of people with mental health problems who just couldn't function well enough to hold a job or any kind of a schedule. The next wave were transients and drifters. And then we started getting families or parts of families. In five or six years time, we grew to 125 beds.

As vacapinta said, whatever resources these people had often got tapped out in a bad economy. Also, wherever there are homeless, there is a network of predators. A street person gets a check but they can't cash it - some businesses will be only too glad to cash it at usurious rates. Or a landlord of a skeevy rooming house will make people pay for the month in advance and then evict residents a week later on the flimsiest of pretexts.

We ran into a lot of people like Ziggy who didn't want to be helped, although most of the hardcore homeless were alcoholics, drug users, or out of touch with reality. In the summers our census dropped but in the winter, we overflowed. We provided the most marginal of subsistence services - a bed, a shower, and a bowl of stew - and we looked for opportunities to pluck people out and get them on a better path. Everyone who stayed in our shelter got seen briefly by a nurse - it wasn't unusual to find wounds festering with maggots. We often found people who hadn't removed clothing or shoes for months at a time, just layered over them. It's a terrible and brutal world. As The Straightener said, many drift in and out of this world, but for some, it becomes normal life.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:16 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


People who dislike the homeless often say that they should get jobs as manual laborers/garbage men/whathaveyou. This is countered by saying that the homeless often have mental illnesses, so they're incapable of working. However, it's also pointed out that when the economy takes a nosedive, the number of homeless increases. Why is that so? Presumably, a person who is incapable of working would be equally incapable whether the economy is good or bad.
Part of this may be that there are two different definitions of "homeless." When most people talk about "the homeless," they mean people sleeping rough on the street. Those people tend to be mentally ill and/or have hardcore substance abuse problems. But there's a much larger number of people who don't have homes but who aren't reduced to sleeping on park benches. They sleep on friends' couches or in their cars or in shelters. Those people are also homeless, although they don't fit most people's image of a homeless person. And that second group of homeless people grows a lot when the economy goes sour. In the U.S., many of those people have jobs. They just don't have jobs that pay enough to allow them to save up a month's rent and a security deposit.

Also, you have to think about the population that has mental illness that is controlled by medication. If they get laid off, they can lose their insurance and not have easy access to medication. Without access to medication, a functional mentally ill person can pretty easily be reduced to a non-functional one.
posted by craichead at 7:19 AM on April 21, 2007


First: Many homeless are mentally ill. Many are not. Many develop mental illness (or at least social interaction problems) from being homeless.

For a year I worked in a community center in a poor area of Baltimore, and we saw all manner of homeless people. Some people were not technically homeless, but they had no electricity or water or heat, and depended on us for their only hot meal of the day. Some managed to break into one of the boarded-up rowhouses and hole up in there. Some were addicted to drugs, but others were not--they were simply trapped in a cycle that began with a stroke of bad luck and ended with them finding themselves hitting the wall of anti-poverty, anti-welfare sentiment and prejudice that exists in our society. One of our regulars had two years of medical school.

It is so easy to tell people to get a job. To just foist the whole issue on their shoulders. OK--but what do you need to get a job? Let's first assume that you can read, that you have a stable work history and that you're able to explain away the gaps in that work history from being homeless. You'll probably be applying for a minimum wage job--good luck trying to get anything else--but to make things even easier for this hypothetical homeless person, we're going to assume you can live off of minimum wage.

Anyway, so you're getting a job. So you need someplace to wash, because you can't go into the job smelling and looking like you've been on the streets. And you need nice interview clothes. This means you'll have to be dragging around a nice suit or business shirt and pants with you on the streets, and you'll have to keep it clean. And you'll need an address, because you can't apply without an address and you need some way for people to contact you if you got the job. So really, you need a home, a place where mail can get to you, you can sleep, you can have an alarm to get up in the morning, you can store your nice clothes, and you can wash. But to get a home, even a cheap apartment, you need money for a deposit. So you need a job. Wait . . . Fuck. Let's not forget you need transportation to get you to and from your job, and money for that transportation.

This all assumes you're single. What if you have a family? What if you have kids who need to get to school? How do you take care of them? And how the hell will you support them on a minimum-wage job? You can't apply for welfare--you don't have an address. And forget about trying to keep the mother and father together. We had families where the father left because they were close enough to poverty that when he lost his job they needed support--and the wife couldn't get support if she wasn't a single mother.

You know, even this situation ignores all the other aspects of being homeless. The difficulties navigating the weather, escaping the rain and the snow and the cold and the heat (the heat can be as bad as the cold if you have no access to clean water). The health problems caused by malnutrition. The problems finding food. Sure, there are places that serve free meals, but they're on other sides of the city. When you're starving, do you spend your time trying to get to job interviews or trying keep yourself fed?

Then there's the slow disintegration of one's self-esteem as one sinks further and further into the dregs of society, the ranks of the unknown and unwanted. Day after day people hissing at you, walking quickly by you, or, the worst not acknowledging that you're even there. One man I worked with said when he was homeless, the best part of his day was going into the Center when it first opened and talking with the receptionist. For those five minutes, somebody acted like he was a human being. How do you get a job when you barely believe you're a human being? How do you look a boss in the eye and say you're worth hiring?

Homelessness is not easy. It is not something reserved for the drug addicts and the mentally ill. Nobody chooses or deserves to be homeless. You who don't understand how or why people are homeless? Have you ever thought about it? Have you ever thought really about how fucking much you take for granted in your lives that enables you to not be them?
posted by schroedinger at 7:47 AM on April 21, 2007 [13 favorites]


Thank you, schroedinger.
posted by jokeefe at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2007


As for the homeless being dirty and smelly, I propose free public showers, perhaps with free or cheap barbering and free laundry facilities and/or charity clothes-changes. Staffing such places would also provide jobs. And speaking of jobs, people who are clean and non-smelly have better luck getting hired.
posted by davy at 10:33 AM on April 21, 2007


And I too thank schroedinger for his explanation.
posted by davy at 10:35 AM on April 21, 2007


Nobody chooses or deserves to be homeless.

Isn't the entire FPP focused on someone who pretty clearly chooses to be homeless?
posted by obfusciatrist at 10:39 AM on April 21, 2007


What I can't understand is how up in arms people get about providing the homeless without any basic necessities, and yet, the same people who oppose helping the poor and homeless have no problem building more and bigger prisons which provides pretty much exactly what the homeless need (room & board, food, showers, potential for education), except it's being provided to the very parts of society that is supposed to be reviled.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:16 AM on April 21, 2007


UB, it's because the people in prisons are being punished for their crimes, whereas it would seem as though the homeless were being rewarded for nothing.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2007


madamjujujive and schroedinger are obviously both textual documentarians of the highest order. Flagged as fantastic.
posted by Sparx at 2:51 PM on April 21, 2007


Isn't the entire FPP focused on someone who pretty clearly chooses to be homeless?

Clarification: The vast majority of homeless do not choose to be so, and they certainly don't deserve it. Also, I have yet to encounter someone trying to get out of homelessness who chose to be there in the first place.
posted by schroedinger at 4:02 PM on April 21, 2007


The Straightener writes "I've reviewed the rules for self-linking one more time and am going to post this first"

Straightener: some good news: the self-linking rules only apply to posts, not comments. In the comments section, you can self-link to your hearts content (as long as its appropriate to the topic at hand, of course, and not just spam/advertising).
posted by Bugbread at 5:55 PM on April 21, 2007


I've known any number of people who are one check away from losing their apartments. I've paid the rent for friends so they wouldn't lose their place, and let them pay me back when they could. I've had people live with me when they do lose their job and it takes 6-12 weeks at minimum wage to earn enough to put the deposits down to get a new place...especially if they broke the lease at the last one by being evicted.

At the women's shelter where I volunteer, the women and children who end up there have no where else to go. Not everyone has the life or opportunities that allow them to move up the social ladder to the pretense of security. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 1.35 million U.S. children are homeless on any given night, with families becoming the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

It's also important to note how many of our homeless people are veterans. Veterans who were never given the treatment they were promised. Estimates suggest that 1 out of every 3 homeless men you see have served this country wearing the uniform of our armed services.


The USA may have the vestiges of a social safety net...but it's a bare and empty net, I tell you what.

Minimum wage isn't a livable wage in almost any major metropolitan area. Blue collar labor has almost no fall back if their job ships overseas or they're replaced by illegal labor.

Based on how I've seen Dallas deal with the homeless, it seems that it's easier for "society" to incarcerate the homeless than to find real, long term solutions. Instead of having discussions about living wages, and medical care, and safe shelters for our huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we build more prisons and stuff them in there.
posted by dejah420 at 7:17 PM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


dejah420 writes "Estimates suggest that 1 out of every 3 homeless men you see have served this country wearing the uniform of our armed services. "

I believe you meant "1 out of every 3 homeless men I see", not "1 out of every 3 homeless men you see". A quick check of profiles shows that the majority of folks in this thread are not living in the US.
posted by Bugbread at 4:34 AM on April 22, 2007


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