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Tent Cities, USA
November 7, 2008 8:20 AM   Subscribe

As forclosures rise, so do tent cities filled with Americans. Across the country, tent cities are rising everywhere. From California, where foreclosures are taking over 60,000 homes per month, to Vegas, where hungry children sleep in the glittered dust of the wealthy, to St. Petersburg, Florida where the cops are destroying the tents of the homeless to make them leave the city, to the suburbs, homelessness, hunger, and poverty are on the rise. The government's response? Change how "homeless" is defined, so that the numbers appear to be decreasing at the same time that tents are springing up all over the country.

This is a tragedy of epic proportions, and figuring out how to help can be overwhelming. What can you do?

Donate to a local shelter.
Donate to a food bank. Volunteer at a local charity. Build a house.

And always remember, that there but for the grace of something, go you. Treat the homeless with respect. Don't just ignore the problem.
posted by dejah420 (135 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 

We are an enlightened democracy. Right? Right?

Wrong again. I just got the word. We are Capitalists.
posted by notreally at 8:32 AM on November 7, 2008


Sometimes I feel like I am living in a movie. Hopefully this will eventually turn into a feel good buddy movie.
posted by nedkingsley at 8:37 AM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Just a small quibble: according to your link about the redefinition of homelessness, people who live in tent cities would indeed be counted in the federal homelessness numbers. It's people who lose their homes but move in with families (or into their RVs) who aren't counted.

Both are bad outcomes, but I'm sympathetic to the argument that they are of differing severity and may require different tools to fix. If we don't know how many of the homeless are actually able to secure a roof over their head--even if that's contingent on the charity of their family and friends, and not available for a long period of time--versus how many are literally living in the street, I think it's hard to know the extent and severity of homelessness.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:38 AM on November 7, 2008


I sure hope there's a decimal problem with that 60,000/month.
posted by DU at 8:38 AM on November 7, 2008


where the cops are destroying the tents of the homeless to make them leave the city

Holy crap that's assholish. Is that even legal?
posted by weston at 8:41 AM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


Another way to help, at least in San Francisco: help fund drug treatment programs and mental health services. Suggestions welcome, I've been looking for years for someone to support. Delancy Street is effective but seems to be well funded.
posted by Nelson at 8:44 AM on November 7, 2008


The debate over defining homelessness especially for the family population has been going on for a long time. Doing it right comes down to drawing qualitative distinctions on a case-by-case basis, which I think frustrates HUD types who want hard lines drawn because the bottom line is that this is a question of who is eligible for scarce funding.

For example, when Joey loses his job and as an adult and he and his wife and two kids return to live with his parents who have two spare bedrooms in the empty nest, Joey and his family are probably not going to qualify as homeless under HUD definitions and will not be eligible for funding. However, when single mom Jane loses her job and as a result winds up couch surfing between her cousin's and sister's small one bedroom apartment there is a much stronger case. These scenarios are called "doubling up" and most low income housing/homelessness conferences have a lot of heated back and forths about this.

UPenn's Culhane is sort of the quant guru dejour in the homelessness field right now and his opinion is that family homelessness is almost entirely an economic proposition as opposed to chronic street homelessness which is mostly a mental health issue. I appreciate his suggestion that expanding the definition of homelessness to include the bulk of foreclosure cases is counterproductive considering that HUD doesn't even have the funding to properly house the extreme poverty cases that were struggling before the financial collapse. However, family homelessness advocates have been beating the table for an expanded definition for a long time because HUD's guidelines haven't include doubled up families because it make for a messy proposition.

So the housing crisis is really going to throw a monkey wrench in an already convoluted discussion about who gets too few funds that already weren't enough to adequately serve families in extreme poverty.
posted by The Straightener at 8:49 AM on November 7, 2008 [15 favorites]


Great post! I love to read all this history stuff about how bad things were in the Great Depression. Couldn't happen today, of course.
posted by cillit bang at 8:52 AM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


Wrong again. I just got the word. We are Capitalists.

I fail to see where capitalism is at all to blame.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 8:54 AM on November 7, 2008


where the cops are destroying the tents of the homeless

On the bright side, Rowdy Roddy Piper should be finding those sunglasses any minute now.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:55 AM on November 7, 2008 [23 favorites]


Wrong again. I just got the word. We are Capitalists.

I fail to see where capitalism is at all to blame.


...and we're off!
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:55 AM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


Sometimes I feel like I am living in a movie. Hopefully this will eventually turn into a feel good buddy movie.

I'm getting the feeling it's going to be more like Grapes of Wrath.

That St. Petersburg link is fucking bullshit. At least in BC, local governments can't prevent homeless people from taking shelter on public land. Of course, that doesn't really solve the problem, but it keeps it from being swept under the rug so easily.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:59 AM on November 7, 2008


Oh, come on. Camping is fun.

When you can go home afterward.
posted by Balisong at 9:00 AM on November 7, 2008


The word "shruburb" has not taken root as firmly as I had hoped.
posted by Wolfdog at 9:00 AM on November 7, 2008 [9 favorites]


The Vegas link points to an article about Reno...

Things are a bit different in Vegas. The city is less inclined to help. The policy has sometimes been to give them bus tickets to California. Vegas is a really crappy place to try to get public assistance.

And yeah, my wife and I have both noticed a significant rise in the number and size of tent cities here in the valley.
posted by krisak at 9:01 AM on November 7, 2008


The government's response? Change how "homeless" is defined, so that the numbers appear to be decreasing at the same time that tents are springing up all over the country.

How positively Stalinist. Stalin's flunkie's used to cook the census books so they wouldn't reveal the fact that the Russian population was in decline due to people dying in droves and people deciding not to have babies when it was so difficult to survive.
posted by orange swan at 9:01 AM on November 7, 2008


And since I hit the Post button too early... I would think that in a lot of places like Reno, the big concern with a tent city is winter. It gets awfully cold and snowy in that city.
posted by krisak at 9:09 AM on November 7, 2008


The tent city in Seattle, Nickelsville, appeared a few weeks ago not as an impromptu gathering but a consciously constructed community. Part of its purpose is an awareness-raising effort -- the majority of the tents are bright pink and the encampment was named in "honor" of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, to protest his dealing with the homelessness problem in the city. The encampment has strict rules about behavior -- for example, no alcohol is allowed. They have been evicted from a couple of different locations, but each time have found a new place to set up their tents.
posted by camcgee at 9:09 AM on November 7, 2008


We leftwingers--socialist, wealth distributers, will soon make the resident in the White House move out, and so perhaps there will be a new twist to the way things are done or will be done.
A problem with defining "homeless" is of course that there were those that were homeless before the present housing mess, and they were often not wanted, but for various reasons--addiction, joblessness, mental problems--lived on the streets. The "new" homeless represents the fallout of the houseing mess. My best advice: let FEMA be in charge with his trailors not used, its huge budget for hurricane and flood fictims who are homeless...that would at a minimum accept the issue as a national one and require national effort to cope with this crises. ps: I do not suggest bring Brownie back but whoever replaces Chernoff will begin his new job with a lot on his plate. Let us hope he can put food on the plates of those in need.

in sum: this is not a local issue in reality and if we treat the banks and the car industry and the insrurance and mortgage industries at the federal level for bailouts (help), then this is a part of the current crisis and ought similarly be treated at the national level.
posted by Postroad at 9:12 AM on November 7, 2008


Basically, the idea is to identify the big users of government shelters and services and show voters that you can slowly herd them into permanent housing. With its emphasis on tangible gains and more rigorous data, it might as well be called No Transient Left Behind. -Times article

Amazing. Because we wouldn't want to harm the optimism of the American people.
posted by aliceinreality at 9:13 AM on November 7, 2008


I remember when half of Tompkins Square Park was a tent city in the 80s; there were tent cities all over the place, under the Manhattan Bridge and squirreled away in almost every vacant lot. That was after years of Republican rule too; how coincidental that the tents are now back after eight years of Dubya. Trickle down economics works so incredibly well.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:13 AM on November 7, 2008 [14 favorites]


In Portland, since 2001 there's been Dignity Village, who have also put together a Tent Cities Toolkit. Here's an interview with a long-time resident.

Holy crap that's assholish. Is that even legal?

If an encampment itself isn't on firm legal ground, forcing people to abandon it isn't hard for the police to defend. Gaining explicit and durable sanction for camping from a city isn't a trivial thing.
posted by cortex at 9:17 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, what possible connection could capitalism have to the economy, banks or mortgages?
posted by DU at 9:17 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


But destroying their tents? That's wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
posted by Malor at 9:23 AM on November 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


1. Clinton administration relaxes FNMA and FMAC lending criteria.
2. Bush administration does nothing to reverse it.
3. A lot of people go out and buy houses they can't afford.
4. Financial industry makes millions.
4. Foreclosures ensue.
5. Financial industry tanks.
6. Taxpayers pick-up the bill.
7. ???
8. Profit!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:24 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


But destroying their tents? That's wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Oh, I totally agree. But I'm a pinko hippie dirtbag from the Pacific NW, so that's just what you'd expect me to think.

My point is not that legality = righteousness, just that wrongness != illegality in this case. I think this shit is spectacularly problematic and bad.
posted by cortex at 9:28 AM on November 7, 2008


My little county already has a plan to end homelessness in 10 years (12mb PDF). Mind you, it's only a draft at the moment, but we've got plans, yes we do.

We've got plans, how 'bout you?

And if that fails, we can just redefine what a home is - maybe anything that provides shelter from rain? Works for me!
posted by filthy light thief at 9:29 AM on November 7, 2008


forcing people to abandon it isn't hard for the police to defend.

Right, but the destruction of property involved seems really, really iffy to me.

If I'm illegally parked somewhere, the police can ask me to move, they can cite me, they or the owner can haul my car away, sure.... but are they allowed to simply destroy the car?

I know, I know, I just made a car analogy.
posted by weston at 9:30 AM on November 7, 2008


cortex: If an encampment itself isn't on firm legal ground, forcing people to abandon it isn't hard for the police to defend.
If I park my car illegally, are the cops liable to smash my car's windows out, to force me to abandon the parking spot? How can this be as anything but organized vandalism?
posted by Western Infidels at 9:33 AM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


there's plenty of houses. people need to stop moving out of them (and no, its not as easy as it sounds, but it is possible, a number of ways).
posted by mano at 9:34 AM on November 7, 2008


'Trickle-down economics' is when the rich piss on the poor.
posted by jamstigator at 9:39 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


There are two great TED talks on this, The Shadow Cities Of The Future and Why Squatter Cities Are A Good Thing.

There's a ton of great stuff at the TED site, of course.
posted by mhoye at 9:43 AM on November 7, 2008


Another way to help, at least in San Francisco: help fund drug treatment programs and mental health services. Suggestions welcome, I've been looking for years for someone to support. Delancy Street is effective but seems to be well funded.

I don't know about San Francisco, but I do suggest that anyone who feels like giving money in Portland think about sending some to Outside In or Central City Concern. I've been homeless, I've known a lot of homeless people, and I've seen firsthand that both organizations do a lot of good with what little money they have.
posted by cmonkey at 9:52 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Clinton administration relaxes FNMA and FMAC lending criteria.

1) FNA and FRE, with rare exception, do not make loans. They back loans that meet certain criteria.

2) FNA/FRE backed loans have done very well. FNA/FREs problems stem from derivative exposure, and the collapse of housing prices as a whole. They do not stem from loans that they neither made, nor backed.

3) And, until this year, they only backed loans up to the conforming limit -- and they only backed 10% jumbo loans now.

3) In 2004, anti-predatory rules (disallowing high-risk/high-cost loans from being credited as affordable loans under the 1999 Clinton Mandate) were dropped. This lead to...

4) .. the great subprime push, the vast majority of which were *not* backed by FNM/FRE.

Things that FNM/FRE did not (and do not) back -- Interest only, neg-am,teaser, low-doc and no doc loans. Never mind things like NINJA. You know, the loans that drove the housing bubble by making basically anyone able to "afford" a house for a couple of years.

The reason that we have this crisis is lenders found that they could (temporarily) make more money by ignoring the ability to pay and count on flipping the property in two-three years to pay off the loan.

These lenders didn't need FNM/FRE -- indeed, they *couldn't do this* with FNM/FRE backing, because they weren't conforming loans. This works as long as housing prices increase. When they didn't, because a slowdown led to people not even able to afford the teaser payment, it all fell down.

This screwed FNM/FRE even more -- because *all* housing prices rose, so loans that would have been X seven years ago were often 2X one year ago. Now that the houses are selling for near X again, that's a good deal of people underwater, and if they're forced to move, they default too -- because implicit in short term home owning is that you're able to sell the house to clear the loan. The bubble breaking violates that constraint.



Nice try blaming Clinton, by the way.
posted by eriko at 9:54 AM on November 7, 2008 [37 favorites]


What I want to know is how the St. Petersburg cops can sleep at night after cutting those tents up. What kind of person could follow that order?
posted by RussHy at 9:57 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mind you, it's only a draft at the moment, but we've got plans, yes we do.


In our country, we barely dodged that bullet as a way to end homelessness.
posted by Balisong at 9:58 AM on November 7, 2008


If I park my car illegally, are the cops liable to smash my car's windows out, to force me to abandon the parking spot? How can this be as anything but organized vandalism?

Cars are oddly concrete, durable things, with a pretty clearly defined sense of property in the minds of the populous. It's hard to do something to a car and not have the owner of that car be able to clearly communicate to one and all just what exactly you did, be it an egging or a keying or the slashing or tires or the outright stripping of the car for parts.

A homeless person with some tarps tied up on property he doesn't have permission to camp on doesn't have the advantage of that easy, shared popular concensus about inviolable private property. I'm not saying this is good or right; I'm saying there's a lot of reality that needs to be accounted for here, in the sense of public perception (or lack thereof) that makes a fluidity (rather than clear, concrete sanction) something that in this sort of situation very, very poorly favors the folks in the tents.

I hope no one has gotten the impression that I'm interested in defending the idea of rousting tent cities. I'm probably unreasonably biased on the subject, but in precisely the other direction. But the question was illegality, and this is not a subject where that is (yet, at least) a particularly strong tool to use against city police and management.
posted by cortex at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


weston/western infidel: They CAN tow your car and be legally not liable for any damage done to it on its journey to the impound. Not that it makes this any better, that video of the po-po ripping up tents with razors made me physically angry.
posted by Mach5 at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2008


What I want to know is how the St. Petersburg cops can sleep at night after cutting those tents up. What kind of person could follow that order?

Many police officers and indeed most humans are automata doing what they have to do to survive. If the choice is between "illegally destroy their property" and "lose job; join them" you would be out there with the biggest pair of scissors you can find.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


If the choice is between "illegally destroy their property" and "lose job; join them" you would be out there with the biggest pair of scissors you can find.

Maybe so, but I hope my conscience would bother me. I bet I wouldn't sleep well that night.
posted by RussHy at 10:26 AM on November 7, 2008


Many police officers and indeed most humans are automata doing what they have to do to survive. If the choice is between "illegally destroy their property" and "lose job; join them" you would be out there with the biggest pair of scissors you can find.

And you can't see how capitalism might be a part of the problem. Interesting.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:26 AM on November 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


We leftwingers--socialist, wealth distributers, will soon make the resident in the White House move out, and so perhaps there will be a new twist to the way things are done or will be done

The Seattle tent city disagrees with your idea that leftwingers are any different. The Seattle Mayor, a democrat in a decidedly liberal city, has been a complete asshole towards the tent city. On the other hand, the majority of support for the tent city has come from local area churches, many of whom are considered social conservatives on most issues.

Maybe dealing with poverty isn't a right/left issue.
posted by jsonic at 10:34 AM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


I sure hope there's a decimal problem with that 60,000/month.

Indeed. I can't stand whopper, game-playing statistics like that. Sixty thousand a month = 720,000 per year, times a loose average of 2 people per home = 1.4 million people.

So, does this mean 1.4 million people will be living in tents in California this year? That'd be twice as many homeless in one state than in the entire country.

No, it's a foreclosure number. But what does that mean? Sixty thousand per month ... missing a monthly payment? Recalibrating the mortgage? Actually starting foreclosure proceedings? Getting tossed out on their ear?

This is the third annual national HUD count, and in previous years, some cities had been counting families who were living two families to an apartment

So, is that wrong or right? What's the definition of a family? If Grandma and Uncle Joe are in the back room, is that one family? Two families? Three?

Of course, it's an advocate's job to keep the pressure on government by saying that the problem is still large and still needs attention.

Of course.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:38 AM on November 7, 2008


The encampment has strict rules about behavior

Including offering free temporary shelter to people that came to Seattle from out of state to take commercial fishing jobs.

It wasn't all "oh noes i lost my house" out there.

A lot of it was, "I thought Deadliest Catch looked cool, so I came here from Oklahoma and, umm, the boat ain't here yet, so..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:43 AM on November 7, 2008


They CAN tow your car and be legally not liable for any damage done to it on its journey to the impound.

Right, and by analogy, I could see it if officers weren't liable for unintentional damage done while removing a tent.

Cars are oddly concrete, durable things, with a pretty clearly defined sense of property in the minds of the populous....A homeless person with some tarps tied up on property he doesn't have permission to camp on

The thing is, in the video, I'm not just seeing a random collection of tarps being dismantled by cutting strings. By 20 seconds in, there are officers taking box cutters and very deliberately doing permanent damage to what is obviously not just a makeshift structure but a real tent.

It is surprising to me that this kind of deliberate destruction has a legal foundation, and I'd like to understand what it is.

If the choice is between "illegally destroy their property" and "lose job; join them" you would be out there with the biggest pair of scissors you can find.

I've done things I wasn't sure about for a buck before and probably less necessary reasons. But I've also simply refused to do things I wasn't behind and left jobs for far more petty reasons than this. If I were an officer, I might well tell them they had to move on, threaten them with penalties, real and bogus, maybe even forcibly remove the people and their tents. But I'm pretty sure I'd hand the box cutter back to anybody that handed it to me, and let them know if they wanted the work of firing me and hiring somebody else over the issue, they'd be welcome to it.
posted by weston at 10:43 AM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


My little county already has a plan to end homelessness in 10 years (12mb PDF). Mind you, it's only a draft at the moment, but we've got plans, yes we do.

We've got plans, how 'bout you?


Everyone's got 10 year plans to end homelessness, they're mandated now in order to receive McKinney-Vento funding which is sort of a national funding pot for homeless programs. This mandate was put into place by Bush's homelessness czar; the first ten year plan was here in Philly about five years ago and judging by the record numbers of homeless on the streets here you can tell it's going swimmingly. Consider the ten year plan sort of the no child left behind of homelessness; the general concept sounds great on paper but is rarely properly funded or effectively implemented in any meaningful way from a policy standpoint. Philly's plan, the original plan that the rest were modeled on, is a hilariously substanceless policy document that runs about 30 or so pages and is full of large font type and giant pictures of smiling black people. The plan as it was presented wasn't even adequate to prevent a further rise in homelessness let alone end it, which is exactly what has happened. I imagine your ten year plan isn't much different.

I will say though that the Bush administration was not all bad on homelessness. I don't even know how they tuned into the housing first movement, probably because aforemention Penn prof Culhane has played a major advisory role for them, but they did in a big way and the movement benefitted from it.
posted by The Straightener at 10:55 AM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


And you can't see how capitalism might be a part of the problem. Interesting.

The hell do actions of the state police have to do with capitalism? Or are you blaming homelessness generally on the private ownership of the means of production?

Homelessness is caused like all sad things in life: neural defects and credit bubbles.

The real issue here is the deliberate destruction of private property. By the state.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 11:00 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The thing is, in the video, I'm not just seeing a random collection of tarps being dismantled by cutting strings. By 20 seconds in, there are officers taking box cutters and very deliberately doing permanent damage to what is obviously not just a makeshift structure but a real tent.

And things like video evidence that can be disseminated via youtube are a very good thing; the public embarrassment of a police force or municipality may be more immediately useful and effective right now than trying to e.g. specifically legally challenge the slashing of tarps and tents etc, for a number of reasons:

- a video showing cops fucking up tents may lend exposure to the fact that there's a difference between what unengaged Joe Middleclass might think a "tent city" is and what reality is for the actual fellow citizens who are actually living with homelessness;

- footage of this stuff is immediate and unavoidable in a way that even a legal proceeding isn't—anybody can see this in three minutes on their coffee break when someone IMs it to them, compared to a trial (or, more likely, internal investigation) that's only as visible as the the eyes on the reporting from folks following the issue, and it can hit the local news as a readily digestible shiny clip to boot;

- humanizing the issue by putting out there a visceral portrait of real people on the skids vs. a municipality making their bad situation worse can energize a reaction from citizens (and, read: constituents) that can make the question of legality/illegality moot. The law may not have an inherent conscience, but voters do.

Portland is a pretty protest-happy town, at least at smaller scales, so it's easy living here to kind of get used to and fatigued by protest activities, but even at that I thought the long-haul City Haul campout recently was a smart use of this notion of leverage-by-embarrassment. I thought it was sort of fascinating to see the mayor go from being accepting and conciliatory initially to being much less friendly when it turned out that saying nice things didn't make the protestors smile and go home, and I doubt that the majority of folks in this town came away feeling more sympathetic to City Hall on the balance.
posted by cortex at 11:05 AM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


The hell do actions of the state police have to do with capitalism?

You tell me. You're the one who posited the "obey or don't survive" dichotomy as an explanation behind police activity. I'd say that sort of social Darwinist mentality has everything to do with capitalism. The same sort of social Darwinism that doesn't yet recognize people's basic right to adequate shelter.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:05 AM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


The cops actually did severely damage the tents, up to the point they couldn't be readily used without time and money expensive repairs, not considering the reduction or complete loss of value. That's a convenient, but for the cops only, way to prevent more squatting for some time, yet at the same time that prevents the owner from using the tents in legal facilities in which they could have found shelter for the night.

It may be legal, yet it's definitely the most callous and cruel way I have seen so far to deal with citizens in a dire financial situation. The argument that they do deserve being evicted for some reason can't be used as a justification for making their life even more miserable, as increasing their misery doesn't solve any squatting problem, it only makes it more likely and possibily more violent as their basic needs are being attacked, which is eventually likely to provoke a violent reaction.

Cops aren't just mindless robots that should obey orders, nor is any justification of "just following orders" enough to justify such a behavior.
posted by elpapacito at 11:07 AM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


I sure hope there's a decimal problem with that 60,000/month.

That's the number reported by the BBC in the second link. 60k foreclosures a month.
posted by dejah420 at 11:10 AM on November 7, 2008


The real issue here is the deliberate destruction of private property. By the state.
No. The real issue is the rise of tent cities due to severely-depressed economic conditions brought about by the more extreme profit-chasing elements of free-market capitalism.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:13 AM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


Oh you guys are being too hard on those cops. Everybody knows that the job of the police is to enforce the law and in St. Pete, the law clearly says that if you are camped under an overpass, the police will slash your tent to pieces with knives. So what's the problem?

In all seriousness though, one of the reasons this stuff is allowed to happen I believe is that those who are homed don't see any relationship with those who are homeless. A few years ago I was working in Victoria BC running a community engagement process around a large project that was looking at inner city urban issues. We had a large community gathering that included lots of middle class folks from the better neighbourhoods AND lots of homeless folks who that summer had been camping in the Beacon Hill Park tent city that was referenced upthread. At that time, in 2005, the city government was in the process of evicting people from the park, and during one of the conversations at the gathering, a middle class man (who was running the larger project) went and sat with a group of itinterant rastafarians. An hour later he came back to me and expressed his utter amazement that he hadn't seen the connection between his life and theirs.

One of the things they talked about was which park to move to next, and they were choosing a park that was in his neighbourhood. He was at first scared and angry but then they poutlined the choices they had - to stay living in an orderly tent city where there was a sense of community and responsibility, to move to another place, or break up and travel around Vancouver Island. Bottom line is that none of these solutions was perferable, sustainable or permanent. My friend then began to see that without his support and help, and indeed without the help and support of others outside of the homeless community, the problem simply wasn't going away.

There is lots of work to do, but I think a huge part of what YOU can do if you are housed and have some extra time, is organize some meetups between folks from uptown and folks in the tent cities and strategize together about what you do to get change happening in your city or town. Leaving it up to the homeless to fight for their own rights is not going to work, and making representations to councils without a coalition of folks behind you is too easy to dismiss. Work together, learn something about each other, and use the tremendous creativity that Mefites are known for to generate new ideas.

The climate may be as good as it is going to get for these kinds of interventions.
posted by salishsea at 11:26 AM on November 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


I love it that we live in a country that would spend almost a trillion dollars on helping the homeless. They made so many homes for those people.... Wait... What? We gave all of that money to WHO? SON OF A BITCH!!!!!11one.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 11:27 AM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Redefining homeless in order to "solve" the problem. Heavily-armed police busting up tent cities. Homeless people beaten & shot to death because the perpetrators know no one will bother solving the crime. And this is all OK with a lot of people who'll tell you they live in the greatest nation on Earth.
posted by Forrest Greene at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Cutting up someone's tent with a knife is a criminal act, there is no doubt about that!
posted by lee at 11:41 AM on November 7, 2008


From California, where foreclosures are taking over 60,000 homes per month,

That figure may be a tad high. Recent figures indicate 80,000 foreclosures statewide in the third quarter, following several months at 40,000 per month. Still, it's a big number even for a big state.
posted by dhartung at 11:44 AM on November 7, 2008


Everyone has been asking me to give lately, but I don't think they realize I'm unemployed. Sorry, folks. It's not cause I hate you!
posted by Eideteker at 11:51 AM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


My community has a plan to end homelessness, too. The "wealthier" of the homeless live in RV's.
Police don’t have an ordinance under which they may move, arrest, or cite people who camp in unauthorized places. These tent campers typically are homeless with problems such as substance abuse and mental illness that make it tough for them to obtain social services, Perez {police chief} said.

Under the proposed ordinance, camping violators would first receive a warning. A person convicted of a first offense would face fines of up to $1,000 and/or up to 90 days in jail. Each infraction after that within a five-year period would face increasingly stiffer punishments.

Someone who’s cited three times within a year for camping in an RV could have his RV immediately impounded.
The quote by the chief of police made me think of a quote I read yesterday in regard to Thomas Friedman: "The plural of anecdote is not data."
posted by leftcoastbob at 11:55 AM on November 7, 2008


I'd like to have a research about correlation of latitude and acceptance of homelessness and other forms of extreme poverty as side-effects of chosen economic system. In Nordic winters, if there aren't enough shelters, involuntary homelesness is soon a death sentence. Which is pretty cruel for few bad economic decisions. In warmer climate, effects are less dramatic and so more acceptable. It has to have influence on how people feel about these problems.
posted by Free word order! at 12:20 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


You tell me. You're the one who posited the "obey or don't survive" dichotomy as an explanation behind police activity. I'd say that sort of social Darwinist mentality has everything to do with capitalism. The same sort of social Darwinism that doesn't yet recognize people's basic right to adequate shelter.

"Obey or don't survive" is specifically an anti-capitalist mentality. When you own your own capital, you don't have to obey anybody, because you can put your own food on the table. When you don't own your own means of production is when you must obey.

That being said, such is a bit of a farcical ideal. Humans are a domesticated herding species who, like the gazelles of the great plains of Africa, instinctually respond to biologically relevant signal after biologically relevant signal until death. The lower the cognitive abilities of the human, the more herd-like his behavior becomes. Police departments do not draw their hiring from the ivy league. We can generally forgive them for ignorance of the constitutional ramifications of their actions, despite the visceral reaction they might evoke.

You seem to have a problem with Darwinism, not capitalism. I can't really help you there; welcome to Earth.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 12:22 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


When you own your own capital, you don't have to obey anybody, because you can put your own food on the table. When you don't own your own means of production is when you must obey.

And you do know there are these people called "labor" who, in a capitalist system, don't own the means of production, right?

You're playing word games here. On the one hand, you say "Well the cops have to obey their bosses or they'll lose their jobs", but then claim this is an "anti-capitalist mentality", because if you're at the top of the pyramid, you don't have to listen to anybody. Guess where the other 95% of participants in a capitalist system are?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:28 PM on November 7, 2008 [8 favorites]


a little late, but TheWhiteSkull, you got it wrong. the city changed the rules and sent in the thugs.

i'd like to see a change to the legislation whereby anyone who personally evicts a squatter must billet that squatter in their own home until such time as said squatter can find permanent housing. problem solved!
posted by klanawa at 12:31 PM on November 7, 2008


Guess where the other 95% of participants in a capitalist system are?

Plumbers, as I understand it.
posted by cortex at 12:31 PM on November 7, 2008 [11 favorites]


I don't understand how losing your house to foreclosure leads directly to homelessness. Aren't many people losing their homes because they got a teaser rate on their mortgage and then they couldn't afford the payments when the rate adjusted? If you could afford to pay the teaser rate on a mortgage, can't you afford to rent something?

I realize that many of these people had some sort of misfortune to end up where they are, but the path is misfortune > foreclosure > homelessness. It's not foreclosure > homelessness. Housing needs to become more affordable, and the idea that foreclosure leads to homelessness only makes that less likely.
posted by diogenes at 12:31 PM on November 7, 2008


Previously.

There are over a million homeless kids in the USA.
posted by nickyskye at 12:47 PM on November 7, 2008


In warmer climate, effects are less dramatic and so more acceptable. It has to have influence on how people feel about these problems.

There are certainly homeless destination cities along the coast in California and in Florida. Different cities react to this fact differently; part of the reason you're seeing such a visceral, violent response in St. Petersburg is that many Florida cities are anti-homeless because they don't want to give the impression that it's easy to get by living on the streets, thereby (according to their reasoning) increasing the number of homeless migrating to be homeless there. They've been just as hard on their chronic street population for years, believe me.
posted by The Straightener at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2008


I don't understand how losing your house to foreclosure leads directly to homelessness.

You have a good point here, but there is an interrelation. When the overall economy is good, there are far more crappy jobs which pay just enough to qualify for crappy loans which in the end slowly rip you off. See the last ten years. What's happening now is the jobs are drying up, the loans are ripping people off at a much quicker pace and the banks are foreclosing on everything in sight.

Basically, lose your job and the whole system comes down on you. Since there is no net, the distance from home-owner to homeless is far shorter than most of us have imagined.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:52 PM on November 7, 2008


What's happening now is the jobs are drying up, the loans are ripping people off at a much quicker pace and the banks are foreclosing on everything in sight.

I agree, but it's the job loss that leads to homelessness, not the foreclosure.
posted by diogenes at 12:58 PM on November 7, 2008


Build a house.

Clearly, an undersupply of houses is at the root of these problems.
posted by Kwantsar at 12:59 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


weston writes "It is surprising to me that this kind of deliberate destruction has a legal foundation, and I'd like to understand what it is. "

If you've ever been homeless, then you know that the police aren't likely to consider your rights when clearing you away, because chances are you don't have a lawyer or means to effectively fight for your rights when survival is your first concern.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:19 PM on November 7, 2008


Y’know, sometimes I can have a real mouth.
...times like this tho I realize that I don’t know *enough* fucking swear words.

Cortex’s fanatical defense of the practice of police destroying tent cities aside (smiling when I say that) - part of the problem is that this *is* legal.

The cops (in and of themselves) aren’t the problem. Criticise them, love them, whatever. They’re cops. They enforce the law. This is the law.

I don’t know that a lot of people would roust homeless folks before quitting. But then, they’re not cops.

I know a lot of people who would never kill another human even if that guy were going to take their lives or their mother’s life or something. But then, they’re not soldiers.

I’m not putting forth a value judgement there. I’m just saying it’s a wash. Don’t like the smell of garbage? Don’t be a garbageman. And many people do indeed chose other lines of work more in line with their own ethos.

That said, there are compassionate yet orderly ways to go about enforcing the law. This wasn’t one of them.

But then, a lot of people have the unpleasant habit of biting those who can’t bite back. Not just cops. (Some folks here even). Obviously not this concrete.

And further - enforcing the law isn’t an excuse for that. I can think of nothing that makes someone more agitated than adding an extra boot in the ass where it’s not necessary.
Especially when they don’t have much to lose.

I suspect some idiot at the top had a jagoff attack and said “make sure they don’t come back” and some mid-level hard-ons thought “let’s destroy the tents with knives” and so enough rank and file knuckleheads said “Duh, ok” and here we have it.

So now the displaced are going to take that aggression and put it somewhere else.
You don’t just kick someone’s ass and the hard feelings just vanish because they’re so scared of you. They’re going to find someone they can hit on and get away with it (just like the cops here).

So domestic violence goes up (oh, boy do cops love those), barfights (ditto), theft, car break ins, etc etc etc.

So back to the garbageman terms - this is just tossing the junk over the neighbor’s fence and pretending it doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s gonna come back up the street one way or another.
And those same cops who don’t know any better than to slash a guy’s tent are going to be wondering why someone would chew up municipal property or throw a brick through the window of a squad car or take a swing at a cop on an occasion when they actually are there just to help.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:22 PM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


norabarnacl3 writes "We can generally forgive them for ignorance of the constitutional ramifications of their actions, despite the visceral reaction they might evoke."

I think it depends whether "we" are on the receiving end of their actions. It's easy for "us" to forgive actions taken against another, particularly when they're helpless to do much about it and "we" only have to hear about it on the news. Of course, when "we" are the recipients of our rights being ignored and violated, you can bet the forgiveness isn't so quick to come.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:26 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


So at a time when 40,000 plus homes a month are being foreclosed on we still need Habitat for Humanity to be building homes so that people can find affordable housing? Isn't there something really wrong in that?
posted by mr.grum at 1:27 PM on November 7, 2008


Out here in the heart of McCainland, ( Tulsa, OK) we just sent in the bulldozers.
posted by bradth27 at 1:30 PM on November 7, 2008


“I don't understand how losing your house to foreclosure leads directly to homelessness.” - posted by diogenes

Of course you wouldn’t, you live in a bathtub.

Buddy of mine died a bit ago. When he passed his family had nothing. They were in some debt, not a lot, but his wife was a housewife. Nice lady, but dropped out of college to get married and be a mom. Which again, is great, but when your spouse dies leaves you with a critical lack of job skills. No family out here. Tried to sell the house, but it’s a big house and a tight market, so it’s in forclosure because most of their savings went to medical bills (didn’t know how sick he was for a long time - business reasons) and paying the mortgage after he passed.
We’re pretty much all that’s keeping them afloat right now.

So that right there - you’ve got an otherwise fairly well off family who unfortunately had most of their money resting on earned income and the stock market. Husband dies. Stocks tank. And without any luck you’re out on the streets with your kids. Riches to rags.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:30 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


norabarnacl3 writes "You seem to have a problem with Darwinism, not capitalism. I can't really help you there; welcome to Earth."

There is no such thing as "Darwinism," at least not in the disciplines of evolutionary science. This isn't such a big deal, but you did call someone out about these very details.

"Humans are a domesticated herding species"

Really? Fascinating. Of course, it's nonsense, but it's fascinating.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:31 PM on November 7, 2008


it's the job loss that leads to homelessness, not the foreclosure.

I think the point I want to make is job-loss, foreclosure, homelessness and other problems tend to travel together. As we see more foreclosures, we will probably see more homelessness. The former may not directly cause the latter, but the issues are interrelated.

As a side note, one thing I've noticed in my city is how much rent has risen in the last two years. One theory I've heard is the rents have been pushed upward by a dwindling rental stock - apartment buildings have been sold as condos. (Many of which remain empty.) Another is that apartment buildings have been sold as apartment buildings - but at the inflated housing boom prices, forcing the new owners to raise rents in order to meet their debt obligations. Regardless, rising rents are hurting the working poor just as much as re-set interest rates. I wonder how many evictions are occurring each month?
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:31 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


The cops (in and of themselves) aren’t the problem. Criticise them, love them, whatever. They’re cops. They enforce the law. This is the law.

I recognize that if I say this many more times, I'm going to achieve Philip Glass criticality and turn into piece of minimalist performance art, but the part of the law the permits deliberate property destruction during the course of enforcement is the specific part that's unclear to me.
posted by weston at 1:34 PM on November 7, 2008


Cortex’s fanatical defense of the practice of police destroying tent cities aside (smiling when I say that)

Why I oughta...

*shakes fist, sips latte*
posted by cortex at 1:34 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


When I lived on Capitol Hill, in Seattle, I remember the tent city right across the street from my apartment. It was in a Catholic School parking lot for the summer. I still smoked cigarettes then, and I would sit outside the building to smoke. I met a couple of the folks from the tent-city. It was a pretty broad band of folks. But they all shared being broken financially.

Some were truckers who were caught up in the realities of gas prices. Quite a few were veterans whose pension couldn't make it work with the cost of living in their hometown. Others were folks in or around civil legal trouble, like divorces, bankruptcy or foreclosures. And there were a few folks who could hold it together for these diverse mobile communities but could not make life work for a more sedentary existence.

But the community would patrol our streets and do trash duty in the neighborhood. That rocked. Eventually their blue-tarps and canvas shelters and ad-hoc government were replaced with the parents in Volvos and Porsche SUV's dropping off a daughter or a son. I preferred the tent city, now that I think of it. However, I know none of those folks wanted to be there.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 1:37 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're playing word games here. On the one hand, you say "Well the cops have to obey their bosses or they'll lose their jobs", but then claim this is an "anti-capitalist mentality", because if you're at the top of the pyramid, you don't have to listen to anybody. Guess where the other 95% of participants in a capitalist system are?

There is not a free market in policing, I never said there was. The police industry is specifically a non capitalistic industry. Legal enforcement is a socialized industry. Not saying that's bad, but I'm saying it's not going to attract a lot of anti-authoritarian entrepreneurs.

Capital concentration is generally bad, no one's arguing that. In an efficient market, a laborer is more than free to quit, middle-fingers up, and enjoy retaining the highest possible price his labor is worth. This is all econ 101.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 1:40 PM on November 7, 2008


“but the part of the law the permits deliberate property destruction during the course of enforcement is the specific part that's unclear to me.”

So as Phillip Glass is a minimalist you minimalize your reading?

You actually think cortex was seriously defending the practice as well?

Was “ enforcing the law isn’t an excuse for that” in a language foreign to you?

Perhaps you’re unaware that the terms “jagoff” “hardon” and “knucklehead” are derogatory?
posted by Smedleyman at 1:42 PM on November 7, 2008


So at a time when 40,000 plus homes a month are being foreclosed on we still need Habitat for Humanity to be building homes so that people can find affordable housing? Isn't there something really wrong in that?

Well, HfH actually has control over the houses they're building. Carter didn't really charter them to acquire otherwise vacant properties at gunpoint, as far as I know.

You could make the argument that finding someway to put people in houses that are empty is, like, humane and shit, but I'll remind you that that would be Redistribution Of Wealth, which is by no coincidence the same number of words as "Worse Than Hitler".
posted by cortex at 1:42 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Change how "homeless" is defined, so that the numbers appear to be decreasing at the same time that tents are springing up all over the country.

This is leading up to next month's definition of "home is where the heart is," leading sociologists to marvel that the nation has only one homeless person, a Mr. Richard Cheney of Wyoming.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:45 PM on November 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


norabarnacl3 writes "There is not a free market in policing, I never said there was. The police industry is specifically a non capitalistic industry. Legal enforcement is a socialized industry. Not saying that's bad, but I'm saying it's not going to attract a lot of anti-authoritarian entrepreneurs."

The state has a monopoly on force. Calling it an "industry" and calling its participant "entrepreneurs" is only useful if you're talking about markets.

OTOH, a strong civilian oversight and strict constitutional adherence requirements are helpful in law enforcement. Not every police force in the world is brutal and ignorant.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:50 PM on November 7, 2008


I've been homeless a few times in varying degrees of suckiness. I almost died of pneumonia and scurvy the first time when I was barely 20, living on an ill chosen diet of malt liquor and dumpstered McDonald's. (Which, scarily, doesn't spoil. Or attract insects. Even in a cardboard box outdoors.) A decade later I was an urban outdoorsman in style in a nice camp complete with a laptop, extra batteries and wireless internet tucked within a greenbelt near multi-million dollar homes while keeping a nice job at a nearby university. My boss even knew, and he'd sometimes drop me off on the side of the freeway near my camp after work.


Sometimes the best thing you can do for homeless people is leave them alone - stop the active harassment and victimization. The depersonification someone feels when they're homeless is bad enough. Stop preventing ways to recover food from dumpsters. Stop breaking up camps. Stop treating them as outcasts, untouchable non-persons.

There's no single cause of homelessness. Yes, mental illness is a common problem, but not everyone who is homeless is mentally ill, or an alcoholic or an addict. Not all homeless people panhandle for money - though I've been aided generously by friends, I've never stood on a street corner asking for spare change. Not all homeless people are even visible. Many manage to blend in and survive in ways that would surprise you. Some survive by pretending to be students and hiding in the nooks and crannies of a campus. Some use malls, libraries or parks and stay fastidiously clean and travel light. You would never know unless they told you.

Is homelessness solvable? I'm not entirely sure. In a sense - humanity has always had a homelessness problem in its eternal struggle for shelter. The idea of a detached home or an apartment for every family and individual is not traditionally how humanity as a whole has lived. It's a sort of artifact of the European/English landowner - the American Dream of owning a plot and a building surrounded by vague illusions of manicured wilderness and farmland.

Maybe it's not the homeless people that are broken. Maybe it's our homes that are broken - the whole way we think about shelter, dwelling, ownership and property. Maybe the way we think about society, culture and community is broken.


So, if it can't be solved outright - without a complete restructuring of our culture and community - how can we actively help?

Speak up against the victimization of the homeless. If police or community violence or oppression occurs, speak up. Write to your mayor, city council, letters to the editor in your local paper.

Build facilities and service centers. There should a secular "YMCA" that provides laundry, shower and medical facilities, along with job and general education opportunities. Offer a help desk that facilitates seeking housing and medical aid as well as functioning as a general information. Offer internet and phone access - especially free voicemail. Such facilities can even offer temporary housing and shelter - but providing basic human care needs like bathing and laundry in a dignified environment are often worth much more than a hot meal.

Support drug and mental illness treatment programs. These two problems are very closely related to each other and the most visible and problematic forms of homelessness.

Support shelters and housing facilities. Don't succumb to "ok, but not in my backyard" - have some compassion. There's probably already homelessness in your backyard.

Support food banks. The food from a food bank can make the difference between paying the rent or mortgage and eating for a family or individual and keep them from becoming homeless in the first place.

Support strong renters and homeowners rights. Support rent control and rent aid programs. Support squatters rights, particularly when it comes to abandoned and disused properties both industrial and residential. Support tent camps or temporary shelters.

Volunteer at shelters, community centers, soup kitchens. If you work at a grocery store, restaurant, coffee shop or bakery and you have edible food waste find someone you can give it to, even if its illicitly or under the table. Bread and baked goods in particular are thrown out a lot - and edible or recoverable long after staleness. Offer perishible edible things you don't want on craigslist or freecycle. Canned and non-perishibles can often be donated to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters.

Individual support is possible, too. Material support like blankets, clothes, plastic bags, toiletries and such. I've known a couple of success stories where someone has approached and selected a homeless person based on previous positive interactions with them. It can take as little as $100 to get someone who really wants it back on their feet. In this particular instance the homeless man had been a teacher and just lost the plot after losing his wife. His response was something like "What would I do with a hundred bucks? Man. A cheap motel, a suit from the thrift store and a bunch of copies of my resume." He had a job within the week.

Your mileage may vary, do be careful - but never underestimate how much good you can personally do.
posted by loquacious at 1:58 PM on November 7, 2008 [39 favorites]


There is not a free market in policing, I never said there was. The police industry is specifically a non capitalistic industry. Legal enforcement is a socialized industry.

Depends entirely on what's being enforced here, and how they choose to enforce it. Homeless people living in tents having their one and only shelters physically destroyed would seem to lean towards favoring the top of the pyramid. Especially how the people responsible for using the invisible hand to bitch-slap America will probably not have their homes destroyed by cops any time soon.

Capital concentration is generally bad, no one's arguing that. In an efficient market, a laborer is more than free to quit, middle-fingers up, and enjoy retaining the highest possible price his labor is worth. This is all econ 101.

Yeah, well, those Econ 101 theories don't seem to be working out in the real world. We really need to drop this meme that capitalism in theory is perfect, and if only X, Y and Z, it would run perfect. Capitalism, like every other economic theory, has real-world flaws and we need to own up to them.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:02 PM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


loquacious...I'd work with you in split second. Those are excellent suggestions.
posted by salishsea at 2:06 PM on November 7, 2008


I feel I should ammend my previous statement on cops destroying bank manager homes.

I don't actually advocate this, by the way. But I do think it's naive to believe that the police force in a capitalist system is this perfectly neutral entity that enforces the law with equal degree to everyone, regardless of their place in the pyramid.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:11 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


I actually would be in favor of some level of free generic public housing if it was manageable, something along the lines of livin' at the YMCA as a public benefit. And maybe it's because I'd be in favor of that that I have difficulty feeling sympathy for those amongst the tent-dwellers who are the ones that got a mortgage way, way beyond their means or even just one which they definitely couldn't handle should the economy turn south. In those specific cases I think a little time living in a tent is a fairly just consequence for their actions.

Though I certainly blame the financial industry too and the deregulators even more so, and I recognize that there are many people in these tent cities who behaved quite responsibly and simply got caught in the downturn. And there are the children of course, this is one of the times you can legitimately say, "think of the children!" All my sympathies to those two groups. And certainly the police shouldn't be tearing these places apart, they should be making sure there's proper sanitation and preventing crime etc.
posted by XMLicious at 2:12 PM on November 7, 2008


You actually think cortex was seriously defending the practice as well?

I don't think anybody here at all is defending the practice as morally right, so I give everybody credit on that front. And I see that you suggested the tent-slashing might've been a bit of, um, improvisation... but if that's the case, I don't see how that squares with the other idea in your post that the responsibility rests with law and those who made it, rather than the police who got creative.

A couple of other people seem to have also suggested there are laws behind the property destruction too, and I'm really not just trying to be a knucklehead myself, I'd just like to understand which and what kind of laws support this if it's true.

tonic minor third tonic minor third tonic minor third tonic minor third
posted by weston at 2:14 PM on November 7, 2008


I find it kind of funny that most people I talk to or read online who say thing like "It is all Economics 101, you can read this 10,000 word post somewhere and understand it all, unless you are dumb", when talking about science, especially neuroscience, hard psychology, evolution, sociology, or anything else that tries to understand or explain the human mind, say thing like "There is no fucking way they know what they are talking about, not enough data, overcome by their biases, etc"

On 4th rewriting of this comment, I am too irritated to make my point as clearly as I want, I hope someone fills in the gaps.
posted by dirty lies at 2:26 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I suppose it's a bit off-topic, but I want to echo eriko's comment, with a minor proviso. Fannie did not purchase the more exotic loan products (e.g., NINA, no doc, balloon, neg ams, etc.), but they did start returning credit evaluations on such products in their automatic underwriting tool, which meant that lenders using Fannie's Desktop Underwriter could see what Fannie thought of the credit-worthiness of the borrower-loan-collateral package. Still, it is important that Fannie and Freddie never purchased or backed the esoteric loan products (commonly but mistakenly referred to as "subprime" loans) that are at the root of the current foreclosure and credit crises.

Fannie Mae did have annual low-moderate-income housing goals - their regulator required that loans to low-moderate income borrowers had to make up a certain percentage of their overall intake for the year, and Fannie set similar internal goals for minority borrowers. My understanding was that Fannie often paid premiums on such loans near quarter- and year-end to meet their housing goals. It may be that lenders anticipated this and issued additional loans to less credit-worthy borrowers to capture this premium, but (1) those loans still had to meet Fannie's regulatory and internal credit requirements, and (2) the marginal effect of such premium payments could not have been significant enough to have any noticeable effect on the MBS or MBS-derivative markets.

The housing bubble was no doubt fueled by the expansion of consumer credit made possible by more sophisticated credit analyses, expanded data processing capabilities, and automated underwriting tools. But one factor nobody seems to discuss much in analyzing the subprime/esoteric loan crunch is the effect of the end of the refi boom in the early 2000s. For a couple of years, interest rates were so low, and housing prices were escalating so rapidly, that lenders were issuing unprecedented volumes of refinance loans. When interest rates began to inch up, the refinance market dried up almost overnight, and lenders across the country were faced with enormous excess capacity and vaporized demand for loan originations. So they went looking for ways to increase their origination volumes. Desperately. The traditional credit pools had been tapped, so they started expanding into less credit-rich populations, and found that the best way to do that was to bury the details about rate resets and balloon payments in the fine print, and if they were asked about them, to wave their hands and claim the borrower could use the (almost certain!) housing value appreciation to finance a refinance loan with a lower rate in a couple of years.

Which, by the way, are a few of the reasons so many of those people are losing their homes to foreclosures, and tent cities are springing up all over the place. Whew - sort of back on topic.

Disclaimer: I worked at Fannie Mae from late 2002-2004 in their Credit Policy division.
posted by dilettanti at 2:27 PM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


I recognize that there are many people in these tent cities who behaved quite responsibly and simply got caught in the downturn.

I'm not taking a potshot at you here, XMLicious.

I'd seriously like to meet a single family that is literally living in a tent city that "behaved quite responsibly and simply got caught in the downturn."

There seems to be a meme running here that it's not just possible, but quite common for an otherwise average family (Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids) to get tossed out on the ear, with no stops on the road from fighting over the best SUV parking places to fighting over the best dumpster scraps.

Clearly, it's far too easy to slip through the cracks of the laughably funded net of social services in the U.S.

But I mean, this is starting to remind of the stories of "homeless, injured veterans" that didn't turn out to be veterans at all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:28 PM on November 7, 2008


The number of people in tents is also increasing in Oklahoma City, supposedly a recession proof city, with a stable housing and job market.

The homeless alliance organization, another of those "no homeless left behind" plans, appears to be working. I like the idea of a central service location, where a homeless human being would be able to apply for social security disability, veteran benefits, help with health problems, would have a place to take a shower and do laundry.

Another proposal, the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), is going to scare away the very people needing the most help: the majority of the mentally ill are already so suspicious and scared of government of any type that they will resist being I.D.ed in order to apply and receive help.

The voucher proposal, (vouchers for food and shelter that can be purcased by charitable individuals to give to panhandlers instead of cash) seems a rather wacky proposal: has anyone seen it working in other cities?
posted by francesca too at 2:29 PM on November 7, 2008


I don't understand how losing your house to foreclosure leads directly to homelessness.
I suspect, given these economic times, having the foreclosure on your credit report just might slam the door on most opportunities to buy or rent anything much better than a cardboard box. Doubly-so if one had been, say, racking-up the credit card bills in order to pay that mortgage in the first place.

That said, you would be correct in positing that there are other factors at work. They were, perhaps, accumulative. They may have still had a job, but the wages were stagnant over the past few years (or even cut). Perhaps they had to take-on a larger share of their health insurance. Or maybe they had to resort to buying it completely when their employer cut that benefit. You'd quit, but the jobs market in your area has dried-up. You start leaning on the credit cards to make ends meet, like paying the electric bill. It's like the fabled death by a thousand cuts. Then, the mortgage explodes and, before you know what hit you, you're foreclosed.

What concerns me is that anyone paying attention could have seen these things accumulating years ago. The death cuts were hitting people five, six or more years ago. But, it was just average workers it affected, so we called them "losers" and applauded the free market for weeding-out the dead wood. It's only now, when the big turd has hit the fan and many of the winners suddenly find themselves losers, do we pay attention. This problem could have been avoided if only we had paid attention. But there was big money to be made. Hey, if the canary in the coal mine dies, we can just get a new canary, right?
posted by Thorzdad at 2:33 PM on November 7, 2008


Shipping containers cost just $2k and you can get 'em delivered anywhere (obviously). Obviously, more expensive then a tent, but if you're going to be living in a 21st century Hoovervile Bushville. you might as well do it in full-on cyberpunk style.
posted by delmoi at 2:38 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd seriously like to meet a single family that is literally living in a tent city that "behaved quite responsibly and simply got caught in the downturn."

Well, we know where they are. If you'd seriously like to meet one, I'm sure it couldn't be that hard. You could just drive down to one of those tent cities and ask people their stories, and then you could judge them from your comfortable middle class perspective.

Of course, that takes some doing, and so it's much easier to simply make assumptions and judge them based on those.
posted by delmoi at 2:42 PM on November 7, 2008 [5 favorites]


There seems to be a meme running here that it's not just possible, but quite common for an otherwise average family (Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids) to get tossed out on the ear, with no stops on the road from fighting over the best SUV parking places to fighting over the best dumpster scraps.

I wouldn't try and sell that story, and I'd be careful about how I framed a phrase like "quite common", but there is a very real problem of perception for many people that homeless is something like an intrinsic, caste-level malady rather than something that happens to people. That being homeless is not the result of only ever (a) being born homeless to homeless parents in a squalid alley or (b) being a reckless drug addict or otherwise deservingly bad/evil/lazy/insufficiently-Ayn-Randian person.

What is worth emphasizing, because many people just plain do not get this, is that the less dramatic version of the meme you're warning against—and it's not clear to me if you mean a meme running "here" as in the source article or mefi, because what you're describing is at best a gross exaggeration of what's being discussed so far in this thread—actually does happen. An otherwise not-insanely-outlier family, maybe both parents or maybe one or maybe 1.5, kids or not, driving an '89 civic instead of an Escalade, with a mortgage and a tight budget, can get railroaded by bad timing and bad circumstances and no safety net. They can end up without the house they were living in and have a hard time immediately getting it together.

There's a lot of fiduciary idiocy out there. I don't think, flaming social liberal that I am, that everybody should just get a hug and a free ride for making bad decisions about money or lifestyle. But I don't think that a crushing collapse of folks standard of living is a particularly equitable outcome either, and I think it'd be a good thing if more people were aware of the fragility of a lot of presumed-okey-dokey people's lives. That the distance to that kind of situation is not as great as might be assumed, that the pool of people living in the territory of that canyon is not so vanishingly small.

It'd be good for folks not in that sort of danger personally to be aware of, and it'd be a good thing for folks living in that danger zone to be more cognizant of as well so they're better equipped to keep themselves and those they can cooperate with clearer of the abyss in the first place.

So by all means, combat the meme, but keep in mind the need to make a clear distinction between your caricature and reality so that your meme-fighting doesn't end up acting as a handwaving-away of the need to be conscious of the less-caricatured reality.
posted by cortex at 2:53 PM on November 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


You could just drive down to one of those tent cities and ask people their stories

I don't have to. Journalists do it all the time. And you'd think a group of people trained to look for -- and deliberately, specifically looking for -- interesting, heart-breaking stories would find them. But since we don't see that ... then the popular characterization of the homeless population as "the-merely-unfortunate-that-could-be-you-out-there" starts to break down.

I read the articles about the Seattle tent city. Nickelsville wasn't far from my house. There were no families from Redmond that couldn't pay the bills. No former Boeing employees that were handed a pink slip. Nary a foreclosed house among them. It housed an all-too-common mixture of the mentally ill, the drug-addicted and the severely socially disabled. They don't need tents. They need old-school hospitalization, and the more we talk about tents and mortgage relief, the less service actually gets to the people that really need it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:57 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sometimes I feel like I am living in a movie.

Seriously, over the last 8 years there's been a constant stream of headlines and the like that seem like they were ripped straight from the background TV feed in one of the Robocop movies or something. "New Orleans Underwater, While President and Photo Crew Fuck Around On a Rowboat!" "Yakuza Ninjadroids Prevented from Hostile Takeover of OCP." "Ruthless Assassinations Continue to Plague Russian Press Members." "Holy Shit, Robocop Has a Jetpack!"
posted by FatherDagon at 2:57 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Holy crap that's assholish. Is that even legal?

This is the state that elected John Ellis "Jeb" bush.

I fail to see where capitalism is at all to blame.

You may not be seeing very clearly.
posted by delmoi at 2:57 PM on November 7, 2008


“but if that's the case, I don't see how that squares with the other idea in your post that the responsibility rests with law and those who made it, rather than the police who got creative.”

Then you’ve read it wrong.
I know you’re not trolling man, no sweat.
But I don’t think it was unclear at all that I was, implicitly, augmenting cortex’s point that while legal to remove them, it’s morally abhorant and futher asserting that slashing tents is functionally and practically an improper way to proceed.

One of the methods by which to evaluate a police officer, and a police department, is by consistency - that is, equitable treatment for everyone an officer encounters.

Clearly this is not equitable treatment.

I mean, it goes without saying. So I avoided the whole “nazis are bad!” rhetoric and went right to the jugular.

Responsibility and assignation of blame in this case is silly - whether there are laws which protect officers and/or the property in question the practical effect is that the laws are moot.
Who’s going to complain? Who’s got the time, effort, energy, money, etc. to lodge a complaint, follow the court case, show up, etc.
Furthermore - anyone with any juice in the city (power, money, etc) would likely side with pushing the bums out by whatever means and not get to torn up over how it’s done.

Ergo - the people who did this - and I lump the cops in with the business and political folks as well as the apathetic - knew they were biting folks who couldn’t bite back.

Legal? Who cares? Maybe there are strict and clear laws against police conduct of exactly this type. Perhaps there’s a specific law that states “police may not harm tents of any kind within city limits” it’s not going to matter at all because functionally - they’re going to get away with it.
Indeed - they *have* gotten away with it. Here, and in the past. Time and time again.

I will say if there is a law that states that this kind of behavior is legal for police officers to engage in, it should be struck as unconstitutional.

But even if there are clear laws against it, politically and practically these kinds of things bend with the will of the people who’ve got the juice.
It’s how it is. I’m not saying it’s right or I like it. And I am saying it should change.
And I’ve been saying that for many, many years. I’ve got a lot of friends who are vets. Some have gotten the shit kicked out of them by cops. The same cops who are so ‘rah ‘rah when talking about ‘the troops.’

But I seriously doubt the political will is going to be there. At least for a bit. If ever.
Lots of laws on the books that get flouted when people get upset.
Torture - pretty big magilla there.

If there are laws that ok cops doing it, they’re indefensible, morally and constitutionally.
If there are laws against it - for practical purposes, they’re worthless.


“I'd seriously like to meet a single family that is literally living in a tent city that "behaved quite responsibly and simply got caught in the downturn."”

Well, again my friend’s family would be out in the street otherwise. He didn’t do anything risky. He made very good money, his house was well within his means, he had a good chunk of savings, only thing he did wrong was own his own business, and get sick and die when he was trying to make some business moves.
I suppose you could blame his wife for not having job skills, but c’mon. Some things are just bad timing.
Granted it doesn’t happen overnight - but you try going back to school and keeping a bunch of kids clothed, fed, doing homework, etc. while working a McJob to put food on the table and settling your late husband’s estate.

A lot of people become drug addicted or alcoholic *because* they are homeless. There’s a reciprocating cycle there that needs to be broken.
One way to do it is to help people become self-supporting.
You can’t just look at a homeless person and say, well they’re homeless because they’re disabled in some way.
What caused the disability?
How can we get people back on the continum of success?
Those are the important things and hospital care is a component, but the cause has to be addressed, not the symptoms.
I don’t think there’s any question the economy and the ridiculous state of the health care system have been two of the primary causes of homelessness.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:35 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


Fifteen years ago, I was an active, card-carrying commie.

I predicted that capitalism would experience various boom-and-bust cycles, ultimately culminating in another Great Depression. The big corporations would start to go under. People who had been living prosperous and comfortable lives would be out on the streets. You would have wars and rumors of wars. A revolutionary alternative might arise but in the meantime, most of us would sink into poverty and misery.

And now, having read this post and seen the video of that tent city being trashed, I have to say that it really, really fucking sucks to be right sometimes.
posted by jason's_planet at 3:36 PM on November 7, 2008 [4 favorites]


Well, HfH actually has control over the houses they're building. Carter didn't really charter them to acquire otherwise vacant properties at gunpoint, as far as I know.

Carter didn't "charter" anything. Habitat is a private charity that was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller without his involvement. He only began working with them, in fact, in 1982. Despite Plains and Americus being down the road from each other.

In any event, Habitat Houses are not really compatible with McMansions. But many local Habitat affiliates do rehabs of existing buildings.
posted by dhartung at 3:41 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is not a free market in policing, I never said there was. The police industry is specifically a non capitalistic industry. Legal enforcement is a socialized industry. Not saying that's bad, but I'm saying it's not going to attract a lot of anti-authoritarian entrepreneurs.

This is priceless. Socializing an industry attracts "anti-authoritarian entrepreneurs"? Really? Fascinating. I guess we have to be on the look out for all those anti-authoritarian doctors, bus drivers, police officers, etcetera. What exactly is an anti-authoritarian police officer, though? Is that someone who lets you go with a warning?

I'm not sure who I should be more worried about: the anti-authoritarian middle school teacher, or the authoritarian burger flipper. Please educate me further on the dangers of socializing industry.
posted by mek at 3:47 PM on November 7, 2008


never underestimate how much good you can personally do.

Well said loquacious. I'd like to add:
34. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36. Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38. When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39. Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
posted by RussHy at 3:55 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Smedleyman: Husband dies. Stocks tank. And without any luck you’re out on the streets

That's a terrible situation, but it wasn't the foreclosure that caused the problem. It was the tragic death. Foreclosure is a symptom, not a cause. I'm just trying to combat the idea that leads the MSNBC article (and this post). The idea that "Since foreclosure mess, homeless advocates report rise in encampments" It doesn't make sense to frame it that way. It hides the root causes.

Thorzdad: having the foreclosure on your credit report just might slam the door on most opportunities to buy or rent anything much better than a cardboard box

I don't think that's true. I find it hard to believe that someone with a decent income would be unable to rent something. I was able to find plenty of people to rent to me when I was fresh out of college with no credit rating and 1 month of employment history. Again, if you don't have a decent income because of job loss, death, or illness, that's a different story.
posted by diogenes at 4:11 PM on November 7, 2008


I'd say that sort of social Darwinist mentality has everything to do with capitalism. The same sort of social Darwinism that doesn't yet recognize people's basic right to adequate shelter.

Capitalism, fundamentally, just requires the private ownership of capital. Capitalist economies, centrally planned economies, and everything in between can all (and have all!) demonstrated disregard for people's well being. I don't know what social Darwinism has to do with any of this.

There's no reason the legal systems of countries with capitalism-oriented economies couldn't recognize a right to adequate shelter, and I believe many do, to one degree or another.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 4:22 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've been trying to think of an analogy for saying that foreclosures are leading to homelessness. It's like saying "The inability to breath leads to death," when the real root cause was lung cancer caused by smoking. Yeah, it's true that not breathing was the final step before the outcome, but that doesn't really help. A campaign to prevent "not breathing" wouldn't save very many people. Trying to fight homelessness by preventing foreclosures makes about as much sense.
posted by diogenes at 4:27 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


klanawa

Yes, both Victoria and Vancouver responded in a shitty way to the ruling, but at least there was a ruling. Furthermore, by acting without even knowing if they could appeal, both cities may have put their own legal standing in jeopardy somewhere down the road.

As far as the St. Petersburg bullshit is concerned, one would think that the fifth amendment would cover this sort of thing, regardless of whether or not the property in question happened to be on public land. Of course, as someone upthread pointed out, people who live in tents rarely have lawyers.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:34 PM on November 7, 2008


I work as a financial professional in a divorce law practice, so I see personal financial statements and financial histories on a daily basis.

The real problem isn't the initial loans that put people into homes they couldn't afford. That, to me is a small piece of this debacle. Where things really went wrong is when people got in the habit of refi-ing every 1.5 to 2 years to pay down credit card debt. Their homes' equity paid for the lifestyle they couldn't really afford. And the less savvy believed that a mortgage broker was giving them financial advice, i.e., that they were doing themselves a favor by getting tax deductible interest. They did not understand that the mortgage broker was a salesman, making a profit.

The people who are hit the hardest are those who were once pretty flush, and can't seem to adjust to new realities. Two good incomes, a couple gets used to never having to think about what things are costing them. If they take more than one hit ( Loss of job, illness, divorce, stupid investment) and don't immediately adjust to the new reality (cook food at home, stop buying gadgets, budget and plan, develop a new skill/career) the shit hits the fan.
Some people find change difficult, if not impossible. It's not necessarily a moral failure, just a lack of imagination. There are many folks that never had to think about money, they have always lived a middle class lifestyle, spent the last 15 years living on the bubble.

I usually see the people that can't or won't communicate, which is why their marriage is ending, too. I think it's a basic human failing - to hide your head in the sand - but in this case they have lost everything when they finally have to face facts.
posted by readery at 4:39 PM on November 7, 2008 [3 favorites]


I was able to find plenty of people to rent to me when I was fresh out of college with no credit rating and 1 month of employment history.

That's not the same as having a foreclosure on your credit history, though. I would assume that landlords (both apartment complexes and individuals) would check your credit. A bad credit history is a problem in a lot of areas. I was surprised when I realized how many jobs check your credit when you apply now.
posted by immlass at 4:45 PM on November 7, 2008


I did a little research about renting after foreclosure.

The foreclosure makes it more difficult, but you can find someplace that doesn't check credit, put down a larger security deposit, or find a co-signer. I'm not saying any of those things are simple, but they don't seem like insurmountable obstacles (again, assuming that there was no tragedy in the family).
posted by diogenes at 5:28 PM on November 7, 2008


You could make the argument that finding someway to put people in houses that are empty is, like, humane and shit, but I'll remind you that that would be Redistribution Of Wealth, which is by no coincidence the same number of words as "Worse Than Hitler".

Squatter's rights are an obvious one, since if you've got whole streets full of unmaintaned, forcelosed-upon properties, and people can move in and manage them without getting evicted, they obviously weren't being used prouctively. I honestly can't see that flying in much of the US, though.

I'd seriously like to meet a single family that is literally living in a tent city that "behaved quite responsibly and simply got caught in the downturn."

There seems to be a meme running here that it's not just possible, but quite common for an otherwise average family (Mom, Dad, 2.5 kids) to get tossed out on the ear, with no stops on the road from fighting over the best SUV parking places to fighting over the best dumpster scraps.


Doesn't seem at all difficult. Banks are pretty much going zero-tolerance on any kind of missed payment in much of the world, from what I'm hearing, whereas a year ago they'd be running decent grace periods. Get made redundant, hit a big medical bill, oh dear, so sad, foreclosure, bad credit report, bad credit sir? Can't get that rental...

I don't have to. Journalists do it all the time. And you'd think a group of people trained to look for -- and deliberately, specifically looking for -- interesting, heart-breaking stories would find them.

Journalists are paid to find stories that make their editor happy. The editor may think pity stories will sell papers, or they may think that reinforcing a smug sense of self-satisfaction in the readership will sell stories.
posted by rodgerd at 5:30 PM on November 7, 2008


or they may think that reinforcing a smug sense of self-satisfaction in the readership will sell stories.

Prrrffft.

Sorry. That was me spitting Coke on the keyboard and laughing. At you.

"I want to sell papers. Human interest? Hmm. Tragedy? Pathos? All known winners. But I need more! Fuck, what I really need to do is reinforce people's smug sense of self-satisfaction! Yes! But how? Oh what shall I do? Wait, I know! Jenkins, come here, quick!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:49 PM on November 7, 2008


jason's_planet - communism had a hell of a lot of hardship as well.
One can argue systems, and I lean towards capitalism fairly strongly, but as it exists here I don’t think there’s any question there’s a problem.
Don’t know if one can say “capitalism” tho. Unrestricted capitalism, sure.
But introducing such a monster large scope - one could say ‘x’ isn’t really communism or ‘y’ isn’t really how capitalism is supposed to work.
I don’t think the failure here is cause to trumpet communism.
By the same token, sure, it’s unquestionable that there is a failure here.

“I'm just trying to combat the idea that...”
&
“Foreclosure is a symptom, not a cause”

Fair point. I was addressing it obliquely. I’m not sure how to better explicate the root causes. So I can’t really contend.

“which is by no coincidence the same number of words as "Worse Than Hitler".”

Y’know who else was worse than Hitler?
...no, wait I screwed it up
Why does it take so many Hitlers to screw in a lightbulb?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:56 PM on November 7, 2008


I really don't get the whole "OMG capitalism EVIL" business going on here. Capitalist societies in Western Europe seem to do relatively well (relatively, I say) in dealing with their homelessness problems without tossing out capitalism. Complaining that the sort of regulation-weak capitalism we've been dealing with here in the states doesn't work very well, and then condemning capitalism itself thereby, is rather like condemning all cars when yours fails to stop at an intersection - because you cut the fucking brakes.
There are sensible ways to run a capitalist system, ones which put safety nets and solid, but not too heavy, regulatory infrastructures into place. Determining where precisely that line should fall seems like a far more sensible way to deal with both the problem of chronic (mentally ill, incapable, etc.) homelessness and this more recent spate of "economic" homelessness. Not quite as emotionally satisfying as calling for the revolution, maybe, but still more sensible.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:01 PM on November 7, 2008


Or what Smedleyman just said, I guess. Minus the Hitler jokes.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:02 PM on November 7, 2008


Seriously, are the hothouse flower Mefi'ers really unaware that cops destroy tent cities frequently and have done so since at least the mid-80's? Stories about these raids are common fare in most local news outlets. I mean come on: "do cops really DO this???"
posted by telstar at 7:35 PM on November 7, 2008


Not quite as emotionally satisfying as calling for the revolution, maybe, but still more sensible.

I wasn't calling for The Revolution. What I said was:

"it really, really fucking sucks to be right sometimes."

In other words, the big crisis I predicted as a starry-eyed 22 year old has arrived and I wish it hadn't. I wish my predictions had been wrong. I wish that the capitalists had managed the system wisely enough to avoid the crisis.

jason's_planet - communism had a hell of a lot of hardship as well.

True. Very true. Just got finished reading a book about American communists who emigrated to Russia in the Thirties and got caught up in the Gulag system.

Not pleasant or edifying reading.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:08 PM on November 7, 2008


Scratch that.

Actually, it was edifying. Just not very pleasant.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:10 PM on November 7, 2008


Cutting up these peoples tents seems pretty evil and mean spirited to me. Besides if governments were looking for a cheap way to deal with homelessness tent cities would be pretty cheap. All you would need is some showers/toilets and some live music and you could call it a festival.
posted by Tashtego at 8:26 PM on November 7, 2008


Another proposal, the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), is going to scare away the very people needing the most help: the majority of the mentally ill are already so suspicious and scared of government of any type that they will resist being I.D.ed in order to apply and receive help.

"The majority of mentally ill" here is meaningless. Mentally ill how? You mean suffering from a psychotic disorder, actively experiencing psychotic symptoms and in the midst of a paranoid delusion? Yes, that particular type of mentally ill person, in that specific state of being is going to be nearly impossible to engage on any level, let alone in a formal setting where a clinician would even attempt an intake. But even untreated chronic paranoid schizophrenia does not consist of full blown psychotic symptoms 24/7/365. There are times when the chronically mentally ill are not symptomatic and can be approached in a street outreach scenario or in a psychiatric facility and offered housing options. Meeting with someone a number times before attempting to have them sign anything in order to build trust is pretty standard operating procedure. At my last homeless services job my caseload consisted of exclusively the most chronically, severely mentally ill men and women in the city; after receiving the referral from the city we had a full 90 days to submit initial paperwork -- even the consent to services -- which is an awful lot of time to work intensively with even the most paranoid client and build the trust necessary to have them willingly participate in treatment. Even after 90 days they had the right to refusal, the right to refuse all consents, all paperwork and even then it didn't prevent the client from receiving services. Many clients found this very empowering and I often encouraged distrustful clients to write refused across all the papers I had if it would put them at ease enough to let me help them.

I'm just not sure where you're coming up with your conclusion, I'm not trying to be mean but it doesn't seem like you have experience in the field with these tools.
posted by The Straightener at 8:35 PM on November 7, 2008


i was around in 1992, when Mayor Daley ordered the bulldozing of homeless huts on Amtrak land. however, it was a lot harder to do it since they were a little more substantial than tents. (by the way, as a naive little suburban girl, going down and knocking on a homeless couple's door is exactly how i got a fast primer on homelessness and the injustices associated with same. in fact, it was the door that got me active in all kinds of ways. i recommend it.)

anyway, if i were homeless right now, going a little mad makes some sense.
posted by RedEmma at 8:50 PM on November 7, 2008


In an efficient market, a laborer is more than free to quit, middle-fingers up, and enjoy retaining the highest possible price his labor is worth. This is all econ 101.

There's nothing quite like citing Econ 101 to act as a red flag for "ignore my ideas, for I am a thin shell covering bloviation, sociopathy, and hate".
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:24 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is all econ 101.

AKA an appalling simplification which will be disproved by any serious investigation of the real world.
posted by pompomtom at 10:26 PM on November 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thorsdad: "What concerns me is that anyone paying attention could have seen these things accumulating years ago. "

There have been articles in places like Harper's - and I assume in lots of other places - going back several years saying that there are well-defined economic problems in America that have to be recognized and dealt with. When one of your core beliefs as a state is that any solution outside of basic capitalist theory is by definition communism, it kind of limits your options.

And I say this with all due respect as a Canadian who's boss just gave him an hour-long lecture about how Obama is going to lead both our countries to either Islamic statehood or economic failure, or both. Just to say that I know logic isn't necessarily going to help.
posted by sneebler at 10:37 PM on November 7, 2008


As far as foreclosure and rentals, I'm sure a foreclosure would prevent you from getting a nice renal, there will always be shitty apartments operated by cheap-ass landlords. If you have the money to pay, someone will rent to you. The problem is people without money to pay.

Capitalist societies in Western Europe seem to do relatively well (relatively, I say) in dealing with their homelessness problems without tossing out capitalism.

Everyone knows those countries are all socialist with their universal healthcare and progressive tax schemes. Just ask Joe the Plumber.

In an efficient market, a laborer is more than free to quit, middle-fingers up, and enjoy retaining the highest possible price his labor is worth. This is all econ 101.

Have you actually taken Econ 101? I have, and actually it didn't go into labor at all, as I recall. (My textbook did mention the drug war an example of harmful regulation, though. Heh)
posted by delmoi at 11:15 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Capitalist societies in Western Europe seem to do relatively well (relatively, I say) in dealing with their homelessness problems without tossing out capitalism.

It isn't capitalism that's the problem as the fetishization of capitalism. The idea that there's a moral rectitude in the free market and any divergence from this method of economic operation is a form of moral failure.

Not only is this idea uniquely American, but it's such a deeply ingrained religious belief that you've made it your historic mission to attempt to impose this moral philosophy on the rest of the world, through economic coercion and through war.

Well, when you've got abundant natural resources and a high demand for local labour, that stuff tends to work out well for you. When that changes though, as it has now, with labour being a global market and everyone else in the world charging somewhat less than Americans for their labour, you're gonna start to see a little attitude adjustment going on.

As for the rest of us -- we recognize that capitalism isn't the most reliable of mechanisms for delivering economic benefits, so we use it where it works, and we accept the need for social enterprises and safety nets in those areas where it doesn't. Hopefully, the election of Obama means that America is finally getting that message.

I've done things I wasn't sure about for a buck before and probably less necessary reasons. But I've also simply refused to do things I wasn't behind and left jobs for far more petty reasons than this.

It's nice to have that luxury and now that I'm older and have some degree of economic security, I suppose I may even have it myself. However, when it's your own wife and children that will be joining tent city should you lose your job, if you really care about what happens to them, then the chances are, you're going to be slashing the tents of the homeless, along with the rest of us.

Capitalist economies, centrally planned economies, and everything in between can all (and have all!) demonstrated disregard for people's well being.

Given that Romney didn't actually make it, was it Obama or McCain, Dr. Steve?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:24 AM on November 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


In an efficient market, a laborer is more than free to quit, middle-fingers up, and enjoy retaining the highest possible price his labor is worth. This is all econ 101.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 4:40 PM on November 7 [+] [!]


Maybe you should have taken Econ History 101 as well, because that is not how it works in reality.

If you want, I can give you a mini-lecture on land engrossment in the 16th century, increased landlessness, massive unemployment and how real wages fell - all at a time when markets were getting more "efficient". In any system where there are more people than jobs - as there as been for the majority of the several hundred years in Europe and more recently in North America - you can have "efficient markets" and a hell of a lot of joblessness. Or maybe "the highest possible price his labor is worth" is not actually enough to feed a family.
posted by jb at 8:11 AM on November 8, 2008


... really don't get the whole "OMG capitalism EVIL" business going on here.

Well, I too have a bit of confusion - why does everyone seem to assume that the alternative to capitalism is communism? If you know your Marx - or your basic European history* - then you know there is also feudalism.

And ironically enough, the transition from feudalism to capitalism did result in an increase in homelessness (as well as an increase in landlessness, which was often the same thing).** I'm serious - there are pressures within capitalism which do increase joblessness in the search for greater efficiency, and in income inequality, even as capitalism can (thought not always) increase the efficiency of markets and production. If you are a feudal lord, you have a social and economic pressure to keep a large number of people as tenants (aka serfs), all with farms just big enough to keep their families going, because then you have more people to provide you with labour service and/or support in war. But a capitalist landlord is getting his rent in money - and he's perfectly content with a couple of big farmers who make more money through their greater efficiency and greater ability to weather market fluctuations. And so you evict 30 families to make way for 3 farmers, and the farmers maybe employ 20 of the families as labourers, but maybe they don't make as much money as before, and the other 10 are landless and homeless and go wandering off looking for work and are willing to work for little. Or maybe they just become the wandering poor who are so much part of the story of early capitalism.***

The history of the development of capitalism in Europe is a history of production becoming more efficient - but more efficient also means that while the owner of the means of the production makes more money, he needs less labour to make that money - and there is downward pressure on wages or more joblessness. Economies might boom again with the cheap labour (as in the Netherlands in the 16th century), but that doesn't mean there aren't real social problems created or an increase in general inequality. Which is why alongside the history of the development of capitalism is the development of social welfare systems (from the 16th century forward) and regulation to mitigate against the social effects of capitalism.

As you point out, living conditions in European countries with regulated capitalism are quite good. And I don't think that anyone here would argue for a return to feudalism, or a change to centrally planned economies. When people criticize "capitalism", it's a shorthand for "unregulated market fundamentalism, as promoted by the Washington Consensus since c1980". No one is arguing that we should end investment in business (aka capital) or working for wages (the other half of the capitalist system). But they are arguing against market fundamentalism, and for regulation and interfeerence in the market system to a) restrict the bad stuff (like risky financial behaviour) and b) mitgate against the social effects of economic trends.

*I've not actually ever read Marx or much Marxist history, in case you just think I read Das Kapital and I am basing all this on out of date history research. This is all based on recent research, and yeah, I'm totally biased towards England with a little bit of Dutch history.

**There were, of course, landless and homeless in the feudal system. Just fewer of them.

*** Yeah, this is totally simplistic, and it took hundreds of years and people had inherited copyholds, and in some regions the trend went the other way. But if I were writing a picture book about the development of capitalist farming, this is how it would go.

posted by jb at 8:58 AM on November 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


Sorry, said I wasn't going to give the mini-lecture on 16th century land engrossment. I lied.
posted by jb at 8:59 AM on November 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


This week there was an article in the local alt weekly recently on a Sacramento tent town.

Depressing blog entry on kids picking on homeless.
posted by weston at 1:00 PM on November 8, 2008


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