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It takes a village
August 13, 2007 7:27 AM   Subscribe

A State Street Family Album - State Street in Madison, Wisconsin is a half mile link between the Capitol dome and the campus of the University of Wisconsin. Tree lined, traffic restricted, shops of all manner, State Street represents an almost picture postcard ideal. It is also home to the Family. In the 30's they might have ridden the rails, now they are hanging out in the Peace Park. Glenn Austin has documented their community.
posted by caddis (72 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
(I know, he gets a little bit too preachy sometimes.)
posted by caddis at 7:27 AM on August 13, 2007


I swear I see Floyd in at least one of those photos.

:P
posted by thanotopsis at 7:43 AM on August 13, 2007


This is really good. The preachiness is minor overall, balanced against the provocative comments and simple humanizing effect of the photos (which I think are beautiful). Be sure to get to the end and the photos and comments about how children are raised by "The Family." Really interesting stuff, caddis, thanks.
posted by mediareport at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2007


You know everybody is a little hesitant when the idea of camps come up, because of the whole Hitler thing, but is it so bad that I think that we should round the homeless up and put them in camps? We can build barracks type structures in the desert of Nevada or somewhere remote on government property. Irrigate it to make it farmable. Fence it off so that people can't bring drugs or alcohol in. Provide treatment for addictions and mental illness. It would be like prison-lite. Your crime is vagrancy and as soon as you can prove to a social worker that you have an actual place to live, you can go. I mean, society is about restricting the freedom of the individual so that the people as a whole can have a better life. I think that living on a park bench and spending all day in the library and asking strangers for money is going outside of the range of what freedom should be allowed in a society. If there is a better way to treat homelessness, then we should do that (and I hear good things about the "housing first" type programs) but I think that we as a society should have a zero tolerance policy for homelessness. It just isn't cool. And if camps are the best way to go, then camps it should be.

I should add that in this plan no one will be killed or anything. You know you start mentioning camps and people get defensive.
posted by ND¢ at 7:50 AM on August 13, 2007


There is something about the body language of these two policemen that is very threatening.
A touch preachy, yes. But thanks for this - ten years ago I walked the length of State Street every damn day. The buskers, the tiny Cornish pasty stand at the Capitol end, the literally underground comic shop.... I have nostalgia now.

And the peanut stew stand, and the apple-cheeked goths, and Red Meat posters everywhere, and The Onion's Drunk of the Week contest, and...
posted by ormondsacker at 7:52 AM on August 13, 2007


(I know, he gets a little bit too preachy sometimes.)

Yeah, I was just coming in to say that there are some really interesting pictures in that collection, but the prose is insufferable. It's also unintentionally hilarious in the lengths to which he goes to portray these people without exception as smart, virtuous, kind, peaceful, etc., when obviously they, like any group of people, have their good and bad qualities. Someone needs to tell Glenn Austin that it's not necessary to make someone a saint in order to argue that they're being treated unfairly.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:54 AM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


ND¢: Man, has Deep Space Nine taught us nothing?
posted by ormondsacker at 7:58 AM on August 13, 2007


Read more closely, pardonyou? The photographer definitely has an agenda - these people should be treated with respect, not contempt - and definitely has chosen to focus his attention on the positive elements of a community that doesn't get much positive attention, but there's also enough realism about their situation in the comments.
posted by mediareport at 8:00 AM on August 13, 2007


the literally underground comic shop....

I had many a friend spend a few semesters working that shop. The beauty of the State St. area is that there have to be at least 50 more of these sorts of shops in that area, and a festival every weekend.
posted by thanotopsis at 8:03 AM on August 13, 2007


So, ND¢, in your view having no home and asking for money is enough of a social problem that we should send these people to jail? You really think people should be placed in jail until they can prove that they have a stable home?

What about people who refuse to bath but insist on sitting next to you one the subway; or religious people who insist on burdening me with their pamphlets (I'm happy with my own religion thank you); or people who perform in public spaces; or protesters. All of these people are a tiresome burden to many members of putatively upright society, but none of them are doing anything that is wrong. Do you want to round them up to?

Seriuosly, you want to put people in a "prison-lite" camp for wanting to stay in a park overnight? Seriously?

Finally, have you ever been in prison? Even the best day at a minimum security prison, the so-called club-fed variety, sucks ass. Taking someone's freedoms away is not something that society should do for trivial trespasses.
posted by oddman at 8:13 AM on August 13, 2007 [2 favorites]


1. I have never been to prison, but I will take your word for it that it sucks.

2. I have also never been homeless. I would imagine that it sucks quite a bit too.

My idea is to create a prison (which, bear in mind people can leave at any time if they can prove that they can support themselves) that would be better than being homeless. That way it improves the lives of the homeless as well as society as a whole.

As for your other examples of people that get on other people's nerves, a society has rules and those rules are a balancing act between freedom and rights for the minority versus what is best for society as a whole. I think that anyone could perform that balancing act with people who don't bathe and religious proselytizers or your other examples and decide that their rights outweigh the burden they place on society. I am arguing that homelessness is on the other side of that line.

Your example of the person spending one night in a park by choice does not have anything to do with homelessness and is silly.
posted by ND¢ at 8:23 AM on August 13, 2007


these people should be treated with respect, not contempt - and definitely has chosen to focus his attention on the positive elements of a community that doesn't get much positive attention, but there's also enough realism about their situation in the comments.

That's easy to say, when you don't live there, don't do business there, and don't pass through there on your way to class every day.

The homeless that we have in Madison are different than the homeless I've encountered almost everywhere else. Firstly, the incidence of crazy is much, much higher. And not the "Mr. Wendell" type crazy. The stab you with a broken bottle and wander off muttering about the gremlins crazy.

It's gotten worse in the past few years as Dane County has been the recipient of other counties vagrants/drunks/transients by dint of having better support services available. Nearby counties (Grant, Rock, etc.) bring those types here because they don't have (Don't want, IMO) the resources to deal with them.

So, they come here, get treated for a few days, and then they're out onto the street. They congregate around State St. because all of the homeless shelters are there, all of the foot traffic is there - but mainly, they cause trouble and make it difficult to enjoy meal, or a stroll, or just to let my kid return some videos to 4star

Now, I'm not saying the streets need to be cleared of the undesirables. But Madison has far too many homeless and not enough budget to deal with the problem well, and it gets handled in a half-assed fashion that is really frustrating. But it's a problem, not something to make you nostalgic for your old college days, and certainly doesn't contribute to Madison's otherwise high quality of life.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:26 AM on August 13, 2007


I swear I see Floyd in at least one of those photos.
Yuppers! Pre haircut!

I spend a lot of time on State st. and recognize most of these folks. I've worked with two of the people pictured. One of them has managed to hold her addiction at bay and maintain a permanent address for the past 3 years, the other has continued his downward spiral into drinking and crack, bouncing in and out of jail. Every time I see him he looks worse. I expect he'll be dead soon. The beds at the shelters are full every night, and it's illegal to sleep outside so their options are limited. As a society we've decided to criminalize what in most cases is a mental health issue, which just creates more problems.
But the panhandling annoys the hell out of me.
posted by Floydd at 8:28 AM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Read more closely, pardonyou?

I read pretty closely. Here's the kind of stuff I was talking about:


Perhaps this wouldn't seem so over-the-top if he had bothered to balance it at all with a little honesty. I'm sorry, I just can't buy it when someone tries that hard to convince me that a group of people -- any group of people -- magically demonstrate the best qualities of humans. But maybe I'm wrong -- maybe it is just unconditional love and acceptance, a safe environment for everyone (even kids), where apparent violence is really just "rough play" and a "macho display," and maybe it is a true "village" where everyone cares about, and takes care of, everyone else.

Color me skeptical.
posted by pardonyou? at 8:32 AM on August 13, 2007


His comment about the threatening body language the cops did more than anything else to make me question the conclusions he draws about the other folks he photographs. Neither of the cops looks at all threatening. They do look like cops, which, I can understand, might make them a threat to a homeless guy, but their body language is actually pretty relaxed.
posted by OmieWise at 8:53 AM on August 13, 2007


The people in this picture are breaking the law. They aren't supposed to sit on that particular wall and there is a big fine for sitting there. I cannot imagine why this law exists.

Um, to keep homeless people from sitting on the wall??


Anyway, w/r/t the preachiness of the captions, I didn't think it was preachy. It just sounded naive to me, as though he had never heard of these whaddaya-call-em "homeless" people before. A little sanctimonious, perhaps.
posted by scratch at 9:07 AM on August 13, 2007


The writing is insufferable. Come live in San Francisco for a few years and then tell me how wonderful it is that violent mentally ill people "find acceptance" on the streets and in the parks as opposed to getting the treatment they desperately need.

Nice pictures though.
posted by Nelson at 9:14 AM on August 13, 2007


Well, see I think your argument is really disturbing. Societies require us to balance freedoms and responsibilities, granted. But I just don't think we should be talking about incarceration unless there is some actual harm being done. I don't see how your failure to have a home harms me or anyone else. (You might think it raises our taxes and therefore is a kind of indirect harm. But that's a different argument then you are making. and of course your camps would cost money, too.)

As for the street preacher not being bad enough to warrant being restricted, I disagree. In Gainesville, Fl. we have a fair amount of both homeless and street preachers (for a variety of religions). Frankly I walk past the homeless with a nod and no trouble, I can't walk past the preachers without being accosted. The panhandlers are unfailingly polite, the preachers insist on shouting, quite rudely, at me. You really think that the relatively harmless homeless guy deserves to be locked up, and yet the assaulting religious guy can stand around accosting strangers with impunity? This is fair?

Also, you say that "people can leave at any time if they can prove that they can support themselves" the antecedent clause cancels out the consequent in your statement. You can't leave any time you want, if you have to prove something to earn your freedom. (How is your claim not analogous to the idea that a traditional prisoner can leave anytime he wants once he qualifies for parole?)
posted by oddman at 9:17 AM on August 13, 2007


Um, ND, they used to have this. It was called debtor's prison.

One problem with your theory is, it's damned hard to find stable housing when you're, you know, in prison, however "lite."
posted by nasreddin at 9:29 AM on August 13, 2007


Only seeing the best in people is a more appealing trait in a photographer than it is in an anthropologist.
posted by box at 9:30 AM on August 13, 2007


I'm note sure if the photog mentions the role of de-institutionalization and people getting kicked out of Mendota way, way too quickly, but this started in the 80s when I started grad school in Madison (86-93), and the consequences were fast and obvious. Tommy Thompson should be in these pictures.

Including the dred-locked girls who probably have parents with five-bedroom homes in Whitefish Bay or Mequon--or Middleton--that they've "escaped" from is worse than naive, though. Not all of these people have the same set of experiences. I know this goes without saying.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:41 AM on August 13, 2007


"You can check out any time you like but you can never leave".

Some good photos. I had to stop reading the commentary after a couple of pictures though.
posted by Sailormom at 9:45 AM on August 13, 2007


Pogo - Omigod, 4Star!!!

Sorry man, I didn't mean to trivialize the homeless problem in Madison - my reaction to the post just went to the State Street love rather than the cartoon-y Big Rock Candy Mountain version of homelessness presented.
"The cops that enforce this bit of idiocy are simply doing their job: acting on the unspoken but clear desire of the liberal folks of Madison to make The Family disappear. "
Discuss.
posted by ormondsacker at 9:47 AM on August 13, 2007


I spent the past year in Dublin, Ireland, followed by a last summer in Ann Arbor where I was going to graduate school. Dublin has a considerable homeless problem largely due to the heroin epidemic that began in the 70s. People there often ask for spare change and can sit right next to the ATM to panhandle. At times I found this to be annoying. I definitely didn't want to give money that could enter the drug trade.

One day my wife was withdrawing money. A man asked her for change. She said "I'm sorry, I can't give you any money."

He said "At least you talked to me. It's a nice day isn't it?"

It's amazing the things that can profoundly change your mind.

I moved away from Ann Arbor this summer, which is a smaller version of Madison. I was walking to work everyday and one day realized there was no reason to avoid a particular panhandler. Sure he was talking to himself and gesturing wildly, but I decided I would least say "hello." I can run pretty fast, so I figured if he threatened me with a broken bottle, I could get away.

It turned out he was quite lucid. I believe he acted crazy to get money. He was however, a disabled American veteran who fought in Vietnam. A very friendly fellow who got hurt and couldn't hold down a job. I actually enjoyed talking to him on future walks. Fortunately he is eligible for Social Security this Fall and felt like he might be able to get an apartment when that comes through.

I'm still skeptical of giving money to homeless people as substance abuse often is a partial cause of their homelessness. But I came to realize in a new way that it was appalling not to see these people as simply people, because I had some ridiculous Hollywood idea of them as mentally deranged and dangerous.

ND, you've claimed to argue that vagrancy is a crime and a drain on society. You haven't actually argued that point as you've provided neither evidence nor assertion to back up your claim. How is it a crime? How is it a drain on society? I suspect your reason might be that it makes it hard to "enjoy dinner." That's a real shame that you can't enjoy dinner because people who don't have food are asking for help.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the photographs. I agree that Austin overly romanticizes his subjects, but I think he overreacts given the equivalent or worse overreaction of people who fear the homeless.
posted by Slothrop at 9:53 AM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


Color me skeptical.

I had many of the same reactions - wow, he's over-romanticizing; come on, the guy was probably arrested for real violence; really? those kids are well-adjusted? - but what stays with me are the more believable moments - that selfless acts are indeed common; that there is some affectionate, multi-adult childrearing; that there is more acceptance of difference.

None of those (which include some of the comments you quote above) seems particularly awful to me. Again, there've been plenty of photo-essays that portray the dark side of homelessness. I like that this one chose the more provocative approach.
posted by mediareport at 9:59 AM on August 13, 2007


That's easy to say, when you don't live there, don't do business there, and don't pass through there on your way to class every day.

Actually, we deal with panhandlers on our store's street all the time. It can be very annoying and we have little patience for drunken people stumbling around spare-changing our parking lot. That's probably why I was particularly struck by this picture.
posted by mediareport at 10:04 AM on August 13, 2007


ND, you've claimed to argue that vagrancy is a crime and a drain on society. You haven't actually argued that point as you've provided neither evidence nor assertion to back up your claim.

I don't know what I can do to argue that vagrancy is a crime other than provide statutes from various jurisdictions making it so, which I would rather not take the time to do, but here is a chart listing 24,359 arrests for vagrancy that took place in the U.S. in 2005.

I would have thought that the cost to society of homelessness would be self-evident, but here is a description of a study that estimates the cost at 40k a year per homeless person:

University of Pennsylvania researchers conducted a five-year study that examined 10,000 homeless persons with mental illnesses in New York City. Half of this group were placed in government-funded housing with mental illness services available. The homeless persons who were not placed in supportive housing cost the taxpayers an average of $40,500 a year for their use of emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, shelters, and prisons. However, those individuals who were placed in supportive housing with assistance for mental illness issues, used much fewer emergency care services. The study found that cost to taxpayers for providing supportive housing and treatment to homeless persons with mental illnesses cost only $994 more than the $40,500 cost to do nothing and leave these individuals homeless and on the streets.
posted by ND¢ at 10:12 AM on August 13, 2007


"The cops that enforce this bit of idiocy are simply doing their job: acting on the unspoken but clear desire of the liberal folks of Madison to make The Family disappear. "

It's all good, ormondsacker

I don't think that's a very fair sentiment, though. Of course, we would love to see the homeless go away. Thing is, we would love for it to be because they were getting help with their problems, rather than doing the detox-jail-shelter-street cycle.

Like I said, part of the reason that Madison has as large a problem as it does is because other counties fail to address the problem and just move the people here, and make it Madison's problem.

To be clear, the problem isn't that homeless people congregate on state street. It's that it's really the only place they can go. Nobody is very happy with the way things are.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:15 AM on August 13, 2007


As for those above pointing out that my proposed camps are more akin to prisons because you have to prove to a social worker that you have a home to go to and a chance of keeping it in order to leave, you are correct that this is the reason that I called them "prison-lite" (I also chose that term because I would give the residents freedom to do whatever they wanted within the camps as long as it wasn't involving violence or addictive substances). Along with mental and substance abuse counseling, I would provide residents with access to programs to assist them in finding a job and a place to live outside the camp. I would argue however, that there are many homeless people that are not capable of doing so because of addiction problems and mental illness. Therefore, they would indeed be forced to live in a clean, safe environment until they could overcome, with the help of treatment, these obstacles, or they would be lifelong residents. I submit to you that this would be preferable to the homeless and to society as a whole than the current situation.
posted by ND¢ at 10:21 AM on August 13, 2007


Wow, that was like Vice magazine except it romanticized the community rather than the individuality of the homeless. Seriously, I think any glorification of homelessness needs to come from the homeless.

Also, I miss Madison.
posted by Taargus Taargus at 10:24 AM on August 13, 2007


nasreddin already made my point for me.
posted by desjardins at 10:25 AM on August 13, 2007


ND¢, many cities already have something like this - it's housing on demand, with rooms available in managed buildings that have mental health and medical treatment available onsite, and you don't have to be sober/drug-free to get into one (though I believe you at least have to be willing to go into treatment). You're not stuck out in the sticks in a "camp", where I imagine it would be awfully hard to find a job or a place to live. At the same time, of course, folks who access housing on demand are not "forced" to live in them.
posted by rtha at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2007


We are not going to end homelessness until we are willing to devote a much higher % of our government operating costs to social programs.
Our current economic system relies of a given level of unemployment, so there will ALWAYS be people without jobs, forcing people into isolated ghettos because they conform to the lower expectations of our economic policies would seem ill informed. How about those that go bankrupt because of medical bills (which is becoming more and more of a problem), how about the working poor, all those that end up in homeless shelters despite having paying jobs. Single mothers who have to chose between taking care of their children or working. Sending those that are ill away to do labor instead of providing medical assistance?
I think a program that would be as subjective as to cart away people based on economic status would be ripe for abuse even if set up with the best of intentions. With a system like that in place how hard would it be to expand it to any given group. With that type of monetary investment you could, oh I don't know, increase minimal wage, increase health services, even out the health care discrepancies between locations, lower education costs, start a new CCC... any number of things. We already have way too many prisons, lite and otherwise, and continuing that trend would cause much more harm than good.
posted by edgeways at 10:31 AM on August 13, 2007


rtha: Exactly, and people who are paranoid and desperately afraid of authority figures (often rightly so) are afraid to take advantage of those programs, and those with substance abuse problems need only walk out the door to find crack or alcohol. I applaud programs like that, but I don't think that they are working. The difference between those programs and my proposed camps is that you arrest the homeless for the crime of vagrancy and you do not allow them to leave until they are capable of functioning. I think that this is paternalistic, but also necessary.
posted by ND¢ at 10:37 AM on August 13, 2007


Hell, there are plenty of people WITH homes that aren't functional.
posted by desjardins at 10:39 AM on August 13, 2007


Wow, I would have enjoyed these pictures quite a bit more without the commentary.

The idea that homeless people are somehow of a better nature than the non-homeless is ridiculous:

These women are trying to get the stray cat to take some water. [...] How often do you see people doing selfless acts? In our metropolitan society people mind their own business, but on State Street, a small village within the city, folks care about each other. Selfless acts are commonplace.

The non-homeless nuture sick and dying animals every day. It's just that this guy has no interest in photographing them while doing it.
posted by FortyT-wo at 10:47 AM on August 13, 2007


edgeways: I am not proposing to cart away the poor. I agree with all your proposals to increase the ability of the poor to escape the cycle of poverty, but this is not just the poor that we are talking about. These are people without a roof over their head. These are people that desperately need help and either aren't getting it, or are getting just enough to stay alive, but not enough to improve their lives. What we are doing isn't working. However we do it, I think that we need to view people sleeping in boxes on the side of the street as absolutely unacceptable. We should not seek to assist people in being homeless, we should be seeking to eradicate homelessness.
posted by ND¢ at 10:49 AM on August 13, 2007


We are not going to end homelessness until we are willing to devote a much higher % of our government operating costs to social programs.

Yeah, that'll work.
posted by tadellin at 11:16 AM on August 13, 2007


What ND¢ proposes is just a further extension of our already FUBAR penal policies which are turned on their head. Stick up a liquor store, get a couple of years, get caught with enough dope to sell, cop a decade, and now get caught loitering take a lifelong stint in "prison lite." C'mon. Please stop trolling the thread ND¢, because that is all you are doing, and if you are serious then you really are a heartless bastard.
posted by caddis at 11:25 AM on August 13, 2007


I really am serious. I have never trolled a thread in my life. I have been called heartless before (and a bastard), but I fail to see how being against people living on street corners qualifies as such.
posted by ND¢ at 11:32 AM on August 13, 2007


This thread sure takes me back. I recognized many of the people in the pictures (Cosmo!!!) as well as the locations. Equally nostaligic are the arguments carried on in defense of the homeless, and devotion to the end of homelessness, but just like in college, they were rather empty mental exercises, carried out over coffee and cigarettes at a State Street bar.
posted by msali at 12:06 PM on August 13, 2007


ND, point taken on whether vagrancy is a crime - that part of my assertion was not well-worded. What I meant to ask was why homelessness should be considered a crime. Your claims as to whether homelessness is a drain on society includes in its own statistics the fact that that $40,500 tab is generated from prison stints, among other facilities' usages. The ending claim is that it's more expensive still to keep homeless people in treatment centers, with no mention of "recidivism" rates.

In other words, going by pure monetary costs alone, I think you'd be hard-pressed to credibly argue that a "camp" or prison-lite would be cheaper than the current mixed bag of individual services. Prison-lite would be significantly more expensive that prison alone, given that the more porous security of a camp would be quite expensive to be at all effective.

Now, what I intended to ask was actually a moral/emotional cost on society. I was perhaps conflating your viewpoint with other posters' but the question was more along the lines of : in what way does society have an interest in curbing the rights of the individual homeless person to better serve our interests? This was the broad claim you made initially, that we had to limit the rights of the individual vagrant for our own good, for which you have provided a single defense - that it costs "lots"* of money to allow homeless people to live on the streets. You haven't made any sort of claim that it's bad to expose ourselves to homeless people (is it?) or that it's bad for homeless people to be free (is it?).

Lots of things that we spend money on as a society and government I don't agree with. That doesn't mean I will curb people's freedoms to attain my ideal world.

Lastly, I jumped on you because you basically referred to concentration camps as "the whole Hitler thing." If nothing else, let me suggest that that's a poor rhetorical opening.

* - We have nothing to compare that $40,000 amount to. Should I compare it to my personal income? What portion of my taxes go to homelessness (probably about 1 penny a year)?
posted by Slothrop at 12:14 PM on August 13, 2007


You say that you would not restrict people's freedoms to attain an ideal world, but we as a country do that every day. Freedom in a society is not absolute. You are free not to be murdered, but in exchange for that freedom, you have to give up the freedom to murder others. Same with theft, and pollution, and millions of other things. We restrict people's freedom all the time, when the cost of restricting their freedom is outweighed by the good to society that such a restriction provides. I am proposing that we restrict people's freedom to be homeless. I am proposing that the benefit to the homeless themselves, as well as to society as a whole, would far outweigh a person's right to live in this country but not have a place to live. It doesn't have to be fancy. It can be a trailer. It can be a shack. However, I propose that to live in this society you must have a place to go to sleep and eat and use the bathroom that is not a public place or that involves trespassing. I don't think that this is a high bar, as long as people have the assistance of their fellow man.

The benefit to the homeless is that they are no longer homeless, one way or another. Just because a person would not choose to go to one of these camps does not mean that it is not to their benefit to do so. As I said above, it may be paternalistic, but I believe that getting these people off the streets and away from drugs and alcohol and violence and getting them treatment for medical and mental illnesses and drug and alcohol addiction is doing them good whether they can see it or not. To make this true, the camps would have to be as I describe them. They couldn't be prisons where there are more drugs and more violence than there are out on the streets. They would have to be places that a person could live without the fear of abuse that homeless people constantly feel. They would have to be places where medical and psychological care was mandatory and of good quality. They would have to be clean and livable. I think that if a camp were of this nature then it would be better for someone to be in this camp against their will than on the street and "free".

Above you stated "I suspect your reason might be that it makes it hard to "enjoy dinner." That's a real shame that you can't enjoy dinner because people who don't have food are asking for help." You are exactly right. I don't want homeless people sleeping on benches when I go to the park. I don't want them at every table in the periodical section at the library. And I don't want them telling me that they just need a couple of bucks for a bus ticket home once a week when I pass them on the street. I don't want them sitting in the emergency room because they let an illness go untreated until it became life-threatening. I don't want them wandering around talking to themselves because they have undiagnosed and untreated mental illnesses. God forbid I become a Republican in my old age, but I don't want my tax dollars going to keeping them alive where they are rather than doing something positive for them. You are right. I don't like people who have no place to live taking up an inordinate amount of communal spaces. I like communal spaces. I like the idea that a community of people can come together and build something for everyone to share. These places become less usable to the majority of society when they are filled with people that are only there because they have no place else to go. See also. If this makes me a bad person, then so be it.
posted by ND¢ at 1:19 PM on August 13, 2007


They couldn't be prisons where there are more drugs and more violence than there are out on the streets. They would have to be places that a person could live without the fear of abuse that homeless people constantly feel. They would have to be places where medical and psychological care was mandatory and of good quality. They would have to be clean and livable.

Putting aside whether or not it's morally right to imprison people for homelessness, let's be practical.

This is America. We're not going to have a nice clean happy little camp in the desert where the guards keep order in a friendly fashion, people mostly get along, and everyone gets the needed medical and psychiatric care.

We're going to have a nasty pit run by Wackenhut for the highest profit, with beatings, rapes, sweatshop labor, and insufficient medical care. It will be very difficult to "prove you can live on your own" because of course they lose money when they lose a prisoner. And there'll still be drugs and alcohol in the place.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:48 PM on August 13, 2007


I think that we can do anything that we set our minds to. My idea is to do x. I can't defend my idea against an argument that "This is America. We can't do x. It will be y instead."
posted by ND¢ at 1:56 PM on August 13, 2007


It's probably obvious to everyone reading this thread, but many (if not all) of the vagrants in these photographs probably suffer, in one degree or another, from some form of mental illness.

I also also agree with ND, for the most part. Why? Because many of the people in the photos are only on the streets because the U.S. seriously underfund mental health treatment for the poor. If they were getting treatment they'd be somewhere else, whether it was a building, a farm, or "gasp" at work, or at home with family and friends.

Romanticizing homelessness amongst the mentally ill is horrible. Equating it with freedom is equally stupid.
posted by ogre at 2:31 PM on August 13, 2007


I have set my mind to house the homeless using nothing but Jarlsberg cheese. Protected from the elements and never hungry. Two birds, one stone. AMERICA ARE YOU WITH ME??!!
posted by coffee and minarets at 2:32 PM on August 13, 2007


The homeless that we have in Madison are different than the homeless I've encountered almost everywhere else. Firstly, the incidence of crazy is much, much higher. And not the "Mr. Wendell" type crazy. The stab you with a broken bottle and wander off muttering about the gremlins crazy.

I don't have much to say about the OP except they're good photos and it's interesting to see a very familiar urban landscape from another viewpoint. But I have got to wonder where Pogo_Fuzzybutt has been living; I walk by these folks all the time and have never felt an ounce threatened, which is more than I can say for D.C., Berkeley, or Boston.
posted by escabeche at 2:35 PM on August 13, 2007


I like the idea that a community of people can come together and build something for everyone to share.

Everyone except those undesirables over there.
posted by desjardins at 2:41 PM on August 13, 2007


TheOnlyCoolTim hits the nail on the head.

We can do anything we set our minds to? Really? So I guess we haven't set our minds to having clean, safe, drug- and violence-free schools, or prisons, or neighborhoods populated largely by poor people. Wasn't there an FPP earlier about "boot camps" for troubled teens? Those have worked out so well!

And when you start pouring resources into "camps" for homeless people that you say will have drug and mental health treatment, nutritious food, job training, and education classes, what does that say to all the people who pay rent for apartments in substandard housing in dangerous neighborhoods, or to kids who have to go to gang-ridden schools with metal detectors on the doors and textbooks that are older than I am?

This is America. And the last time I checked, you can't actually force someone to get mental health treatment against their will unless they are dangerous to themselves or others.

I live in San Francisco, where we have a pretty significant homeless population (and the beginnings of housing on demand). I don't like to see so many homeless folks; I wish they didn't camp in Golden Gate park or sleep on my corner. I also don't think that simply not having a place to live (in one of the three most expensive cities in the U.S.) should be a criminal act worthy of imprisonment, no matter how "lite."
posted by rtha at 2:44 PM on August 13, 2007


Everyone except those undesirables over there.

Any person can use the library or a park or a street to their heart's content, but through overuse we lower the value of these things. I am not seeking to restrict who uses these communal spaces, I am seeking to restrict the way in which they are used, i.e. for the purpose that they were intended and not as homeless shelters.
posted by ND¢ at 2:54 PM on August 13, 2007


The polly-anna-ish narrative really turned me off. Like he was braying, why won't anyone help these magical people! It was like he was de-humanizing them while trying to humanize them. I happen to agree that we as a society and culture need to get away from the pull yourself up by your bootstrap mentality and start caring for the less fortunate. The way things are is truly inhumane. However, this guy's idea that all the folks at Peace Park were benign has never walked down State St. as a single woman. I lived in Madison, I worked at the U and lived on Jenifer St. so I walked past these guys every day. I found the men in Peace Park quite intimidating at times and I believe they meant to be. I really didn't appreciate all the litter or bodily fluids either. Peace Park should be called piss park since that is what it smelled like, when it didn't smell like vomit. Providing basic sanitation would be a great first step to help the homeless there.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 3:00 PM on August 13, 2007


Any person can use the library or a park or a street to their heart's content, but through overuse we lower the value of these things. I am not seeking to restrict who uses these communal spaces, I am seeking to restrict the way in which they are used, i.e. for the purpose that they were intended and not as homeless shelters.

please, lock up those homeless people, they are spoiling my parks, and really it isn't about me, it's all for their own good....yada yada yada oh, and this constitution thing, hah, jusk ask karl rove, its just a musty old piece of paper, who cares about due process, who cares about cruel and unusual punishment, who cares about these things when these people are spoiling my parks? of course, we could just build and staff better shelters, which are not incarceration, but what's the fun in that? these people need to be punished for wrecking my parks, dammit.
posted by caddis at 3:06 PM on August 13, 2007


rtha: Your first point that we must not have put our minds to several positive changes that we could be making, I agree with. We must not have put our minds to it, or I think that we could have achieved it by now.

As for not being able to force people to submit to mental health treatment unless they are a danger to themselves or others, I would submit to you that if you are living on the streets then you are a danger to yourself by definition.

If you don't think that not having a place to live should be a crime then you should write your City Council Person. Yours is ranked as the 11th meanest city in terms of criminalizing homelessness.
posted by ND¢ at 3:07 PM on August 13, 2007


Belle-

I walked past Peace Park every day for the 6 years I lived on the east side. I always, always found that I was targeted by panhandlers more often than women, whether they were with me or not. They'd ignore streams of female pedestrians and better dressed older folks and converge on me, a 20-something (at the time) male PhD student, like I was carrion. Every day.

These guys aren't going to RAPE you, they typically panhandle men, not women- so what, exactly, is your point about being a "single woman"? Unless they're doing something more overt than "intimidating" you (and guess what- MEN get "intimidated" too- and MEN are more likely victims of violent crime, like the poor guy who was stabbed to death by panhandlers in Toronto yesterday- a group of four, two men, two women), the problem appears to be yours, not theirs.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:17 PM on August 13, 2007


caddis: Rove comparisons becoming the new Godwin? I didn't say anything about denial of due process. They can have a trial. There would be a law against being homeless. The trial can be: "Do you have a home?" If yes, then a social worker goes over and sees if they really live there and if so then they are free to go and told not to sleep on the street anymore. If no, then they go to the camp. That is due process. As for cruel and unusual punishment, I don't see it. They are taken from living on the street or on park benches and eating out of trash cans and given a roof over their head and a bed to sleep in and three meals a day. It may be incarceration to a certain extent, but I don't see it as punishment. Finally, the shelters aren't working. There is evidence of that in the pictures that you linked to. These people need real care and not the half-measures that shelters are currently providing. The shelter I volunteer in doesn't open until 7pm and feeds people one meal, which usually consists of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because that is all that they can afford on their meager budget and then sends the people out again in the morning. It has no medical care or mental illness treatment at all, and it is barely safer than the streets, and it is staffed by mostly volunteers. The shelters that we have now are not doing the job, and I don't think that they can be improved enough to make a real difference.
posted by ND¢ at 3:17 PM on August 13, 2007


I am not seeking to restrict who uses these communal spaces

If you restrict people's environment to your prison-lite camp, you restrict the use of communal spaces.
posted by desjardins at 3:19 PM on August 13, 2007


Now, skateboarders should get the hell out of my parks.
posted by desjardins at 3:20 PM on August 13, 2007


They can use any space they please as soon as they get back from the camp and have a home of some kind so that they don't have to sleep there or live there.

Also I have to go now, so I won't be able to reply anymore. Thanks for the interesting discussion all.

P.S. Skateboarders should have skate parks. That is their camp/prison-lite.
posted by ND¢ at 3:22 PM on August 13, 2007


I think we should lock the skateboarders up with the homeless in ND¢'s lite prisons. When they can prove that they own their own land upon to which they will restrict their skateboarding then we let them out. I think we need to put fat people in there too. Do they realize how dangerous their unhealthy eating habits are for them? Smokers too. So many people are dangers to themselves, these prison camps might be busy.

(umm, the present shelters suck, but if you made them as happy and nice as the prison camps you propose the folks would leave your nice parks for you and you wouldn't even need to incarcerate them. you still have yet to explain why you love to force these people to do something against their free will.)
posted by caddis at 3:29 PM on August 13, 2007


rtha: Your first point that we must not have put our minds to several positive changes that we could be making, I agree with. We must not have put our minds to it, or I think that we could have achieved it by now.

And you think we'll put our minds to it when it comes to homeless people? Come on.


As for not being able to force people to submit to mental health treatment unless they are a danger to themselves or others, I would submit to you that if you are living on the streets then you are a danger to yourself by definition.


Why?

If you're a hardcore alcoholic or junkie, say, but you have a place to live, are you not a danger to yourself just because you have a place to live?

What if you live on the street (or in a bus or car), but you're not an addict or an alocoholic (there are a few), and you're only regular crazy, not extreme "frighten the horses" crazy. Are you still a danger to yourself?
posted by rtha at 3:29 PM on August 13, 2007


But I have got to wonder where Pogo_Fuzzybutt has been living; I walk by these folks all the time and have never felt an ounce threatened, which is more than I can say for D.C., Berkeley, or Boston.

Nichols Station Apts.

Been here almost 7 years now. Funny story, my son and I were walking home from Memorial Union one evening, when one of the peace park dwellers thought it'd be fun to grab him and start screaming for no reason. He'd assaulted a few others before the cops hauled him off, kicking and screaming.

Ok, not so funny.

Or, there was the night my parents were in town, and we were eating outside of Qdoba. One of the local lunatics wanted spare change and spent the better part of 10 minutes trying to convince me that I had it to give him.

Point is that there is a problem on State street, and it's gotten worse over the past 3-4 years. I do agree that in general the Homeless deserve a bit more respect and help - but that said, what we have now is not working, and I find myself avoiding going down State Street if I can avoid it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:21 PM on August 13, 2007


ND¢: camps are an excellent idea. when we get done making decisions for the homeless, how about we move on to making decisions about your life for you. in your own best interests, of course!
posted by mano at 5:50 PM on August 13, 2007


but is it so bad that I think that we should round the homeless up and put them in camps?

Yes, it is. So long as they are not causing harm to others or others' property, why would you care what the homeless are doing? Are you saying that people can not be free to choose a sans-home lifestyle?
posted by five fresh fish at 6:18 PM on August 13, 2007


didn't you here him? these people are wrecking his park experience. off with their heads.
posted by caddis at 6:28 PM on August 13, 2007


well, i don't hear well, or even write well sometimes - the shame - will this camp protect me from idiot spelling mistakes, if i promise to proofread will i get out to walk state street again?
posted by caddis at 6:44 PM on August 13, 2007


these people are wrecking his park experience.

I don't care for ND¢'s internment camps, but the problem is a real one: urban parks, almost without exception, are "off-limits" to "normal" people unless there is a strong police presence. This seems wrong. This also seems like something the state should be there to help with. But unless it explodes or lands on an aircraft carrier, the state can't afford it. A conundrum.
posted by maxwelton at 7:47 PM on August 13, 2007


Here's an even better system than locking up all those poor fucks: how about becoming a modern, civilized society and start, you know, caring about one another? Universal healthcare, welfare, employment programs, income assistance, all the stuff real countries have.

It's time for the USA to grow up. The youthful wild west thing is over, folks. There's no "go it alone" any more. We're all on this big blue bubble together, and we need to get our shit together if we're gonna make it through this century.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:51 PM on August 13, 2007 [1 favorite]


I don't care for ND¢'s internment camps, but the problem is a real one: urban parks, almost without exception, are "off-limits" to "normal" people unless there is a strong police presence.

Here in NYC I think the parks are the one place I haven't had any bums ask me for change.

I have to say though that NYC bums are quite unobtrusive compared to some other places I've been. NYC bums ask you for some change and then leave you alone either way, compared to the Montreal bums that follow you around (perhaps because we were obviously tourists, but the NYC bums don't follow tourists either.) I don't know if they were real bums or just street dealers who looked like bums, but in SF they all wanted to sell us weed, or in one case, "Yo, I got a nug if I can bum a cig."

Anyway, anywhere I've been I've never felt like a park was off-limits.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:55 PM on August 13, 2007


TOCT, hang out in any downtown Seattle park to get your fill.

I agree with FFF, for the most part. Don't hold out much hope, though. Things would have to get mighty tough here before Al and Peggy even think about supporting that.
posted by maxwelton at 3:21 AM on August 14, 2007


maxwelton: I lived for years near a large concentration of homeless in Milwaukee. To the west was a busy street filled with pedestrians, and to the east was a park with only rare police presence.

The homeless almost exclusively hung out on the street and not the park. I'm assuming because that's where the people were (and a bicyclist flying by you at 20 mph isn't going to stop to give you change).

I was a single woman living alone then, and walked that street every day. I had one problem in four years, and that was a homeless woman who demanded money for Starbucks after I'd said I only had enough for bus fare. (Note: the homeless frequently ride the bus system here, and the only problem I've had there is a drunk, nearly-passed-out guy who vomited several rows up from me.)

I realize this is why some people move out to the suburbs (I had other reasons). The city is sometimes coarse and offers more reality than some can handle.
posted by desjardins at 6:36 AM on August 14, 2007


Wow, ethnomethodologist, you sure took that to the extreme. I was stating my experience. Just because you never witnessed it doesn't mean it didn't happen. What I saw was everyone being panhandled. I think it is difficult for men to see the intimidation women experience on a daily basis because it's outside your relm of experience. Or gee, maybe I'm just a big baby. I never said I thought they were going to rape me, and I don't appreciate your tone.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 10:36 AM on August 14, 2007


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