No Loitering. Loiterers will be made painfully unwanted.
October 26, 2017 5:00 PM   Subscribe

How Hostile Architecture Conquered Los Angeles (Jonny Coleman, LAist) ~ How Cities Use Design to Drive Homeless People Away (Robert Rosenberger, The Atlantic ~ Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of 'hostile architecture' (Ben Quinn, The Guardian) ~ More on the politics of architecture at Failed Architecture. [Hostile architecture previously]
posted by Room 641-A (52 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm really fascinated by this kind of stuff and will have more to say when I read all the links. Thanks!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:59 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


In Irvine, California, I noticed that they removed all the bus stop shelters in an effort to keep people from sleeping under them. So now the working poor, who work their fucking asses off, get no shade from blistering heat or rain while they wait for the bus.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:10 PM on October 26, 2017 [49 favorites]


Irvine is a symptom of a societal illness.
posted by The Power Nap at 6:21 PM on October 26, 2017 [10 favorites]


It's to the point now when I am surprised to see a regular bench, rather than the hostile kind that have bars and ridges to prevent anyone from lying down.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:21 PM on October 26, 2017 [8 favorites]


One of the signs of getting old is that I remember when we invented widespread homelessness in the late 70s. It's really hard to convince younger people that we as a society chose to go down this path.
posted by rdr at 6:22 PM on October 26, 2017 [67 favorites]


My husband is a civil engineer who works in commercial real estate construction. You should see some of the "creative" measures construction and contractor outfits keep coming up with to offer to commercial developers to keep homeless people, teens, skateboarders, and other people who don't spend money from congregating. There are even devices that squirt water on a schedule, ostensibly to "periodically clean" an area, with the obvious truth being that anyone sleeping in that space--no matter how cold it might be--will be doused. And lest we confine any scorn to commercial interests, St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco got in a heap of PR hot water for using this very system, which they had to remove (after it being in use for years). It's maddening, but there's so little to be done about it without local ordinances forbidding them. Outside of those few and far between PR crises, it takes a lot of pushing and pulling to get that conversation elevated to decision-makers who can make systematic policies to limit this sort of thing or at the very least define what is and isn't acceptable.

And people really are split down the middle about the value of this kind of hostility. Take San Francisco, for example, where there aren't many public toilets open overnight. The nearer one lives to the center of the city, the more likely it is that one's doorway or garage alcove or alleyway will be used as a toilet. Some people balk at that as not being a real problem, but then we end up with hepatitis outbreaks and the like, not just little cleaning up inconveniences. Do I blame my neighbors who string up metal gates to block off their porches to avoid urine and feces? Not at all. I blame the city for being so slow to sort out the public facilities problem. It makes me grateful for non-profits like Lava Mae that transform buses into portable washrooms to fill in the gap while we try to get the bureaucracy to go through its slow-as-molasses motions to find a permanent, sustainable solution.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:25 PM on October 26, 2017 [25 favorites]


I'm so used to seeing the park benches with dividers in Tokyo (as well as the "creative sculptures" filling nooks and crannies) that I was stunned to find a recently refurbished park bench without any dividers.
posted by oheso at 6:37 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


I moved to LA not long ago, and I have been overwhelmed by the extent of the homelessness here, as well as by the horrifying juxtaposition of shanty towns and Teslas--it's like the monstrous social obverse of those steampunk fantasies that project the nineteenth century into the present.

Moreover, the whole time I've lived here now, I have felt that the city's design seems to reject the very notion of public space. There are designated areas for living, working, and consuming, all separated by vast "non-places," colossal expanses of concrete baking in the unremitting sun. Heaven forfend that you should ever find yourself in between any of these places without moving towards one of them at superhuman speed. It's an urban design that seems to reflect the notions that the other is to be kept at bay with barred gate and shotgun, that anyone who isn't a property owner is at best unreliable, and that any spontaneous interaction with other human beings is dangerous and to be avoided. This all strikes me as suburban republican paranoia, which is why it is so strange to encounter its concrete expression in so liberal a city as LA.

That said, I certainly understand people's discomfort at the proximity of the homeless, but the desire to get them out of sight seems to me like a socially acceptable expression of the desire that they would just cease to exist.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 6:40 PM on October 26, 2017 [36 favorites]


Yeah, the urban design of LA is profoundly awful. I live here and there are many aspects of the city that I love, but the urban design kind of strangles them all. It feels like a punishment. We picked a location with ideal climate, close to oceans, mountains, gathered diverse cool people, got some industries that generate enough money for everyone (theoretically). But then the growth boom had to happen during this country's brief mid-20th century infatuation with cars. The car focus was baked into the city's urban design in a way that can never be corrected, and now the city can never live up to its full potential.
posted by scose at 7:13 PM on October 26, 2017 [7 favorites]


The podcast 99% Invisible has an excellent episode on hostile architecture. Their dissection of the Camden Bench is worth it alone, and even if you don't listen to podcast, check out the accompanying blog post.
posted by sgranade at 7:19 PM on October 26, 2017 [6 favorites]


The LAist article is pretty weak. Most of the examples shown don't really fit the description by Amber Hawkes as “any streetscaping element or design move in the public realm that is unfriendly to the human being.” The examples I think are better described as being unfriendly to sleeping and skateboarding. Which doesn't seem completely unreasonable to me. But "unfriendly to the human being"? Not really. Unlike the Camden bench, the benches shown look perfectly reasonable to sit on.

I've mentioned this before, but I find the framing of hostile architecture has a tendency to be bogus. Design that is friendly to slumbering or skateboard grinding or other even more obnoxious behavior is fine and dandy, until it's actually used for those activities. At which point those design features become hostile to everyone else.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:55 PM on October 26, 2017 [4 favorites]


Everytime “hostile architecture” comes up as a subject, it seems like people think the problem being solved is “I don’t want to look at homeless people”. It’s not a bunch of latte sipping Tesla drivers that can’t sit at that bench and wait for the bus.

I live in Echo Park, and some of the pederisan routes to other parts of town are effectively blocked by encampments. I don’t mean I’m scared because there are few homeless people around, the sidewalks on both sides of the street are full of semi-permanent structures.

Someone like me can take a Lyft to get past the encampments and into Westlake or whatever, but someone who can only afford to walk would just to never go from here to there.
posted by sideshow at 7:56 PM on October 26, 2017 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the urban design of LA is profoundly awful. I live here and there are many aspects of the city that I love, but the urban design kind of strangles them all. It feels like a punishment. We picked a location with ideal climate, close to oceans, mountains, gathered diverse cool people, got some industries that generate enough money for everyone (theoretically). But then the growth boom had to happen during this country's brief mid-20th century infatuation with cars. The car focus was baked into the city's urban design in a way that can never be corrected, and now the city can never live up to its full potential.

The sprawl in LA is terrible but it does seem to help make things a little less homogeneous than ultra-dense cities like New York. Like commercial real estate is just so valuable in your dense urban centers that some very weird investing decisions start to make sense, in a way that actively harms livability for the residents. LA being spread out seems to prevent this from what I've seen of it.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:24 PM on October 26, 2017


i live and work in dtla.. and it's true that the anti homeless, anti pedestrian design is pretty awful. anyone who says there is a clear solution to the homelessness problem is lying to you. it is one of the most immensely complex public policy problems that exist. the housing first approach is promising.

BUT ... to say la lacks public space is really wrong. vista hermosa park, elysian park, griffith, the arroyo, the silverlake reservoir, the new chinatown state historic park.. and that's just the eastside, and not including east la.
posted by wibari at 8:27 PM on October 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


i'm not sure such a big, "destination" park is what people mean when they talk about public space though. like yes it's a space for the public. but when i hear people talk about the benefits of public space i tend to think about a place in the neighborhood where you can just sit and hang out and maybe talk to people. not somewhere you plan to go and make a big trip out of it.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:29 PM on October 26, 2017 [14 favorites]


Not all of Los Angeles is this way, but I can walk to any of a dozen taco trucks if I want somewhere to sit and hang out with people on the street. Hell, the closest McDonalds (Glendale and Montana) has 20-30 people that hang out there all-day-every-day.
posted by sideshow at 8:44 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Homeless have zero power, therefore they are not responsible for how cities react to (deal with) their presence, and hostile architecture is good old fashion boot kicking fascism. God help us.
posted by Beholder at 9:03 PM on October 26, 2017 [10 favorites]


i live and work in dtla.. and it's true that the anti homeless, anti pedestrian design is pretty awful. anyone who says there is a clear solution to the homelessness problem is lying to you. it is one of the most immensely complex public policy problems that exist.

Not really. If we can build tent cities to jail petty criminals, we can at least do the same for the homeless.
posted by Beholder at 9:06 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Not really. If we can build tent cities to jail petty criminals, we can at least do the same for the homeless.

The tent cities are already there. The whole point of the article is that we have the tent cities, but there are efforts made to make sure other people can still use the bench while waiting for the bus.
posted by sideshow at 9:45 PM on October 26, 2017


Not really. If we can build tent cities to jail petty criminals, we can at least do the same for the homeless.

tent cities would absolutely not be a tenable solution. it would be a human rights debacle where many people would be harmed, even worse than the current situation, because it would come with the imprimatur of government sanction.
posted by wibari at 9:53 PM on October 26, 2017 [3 favorites]


Someone like me can take a Lyft to get past the encampments and into Westlake or whatever, but someone who can only afford to walk would just to never go from here to there.

What if I told you someone would? What if, and I know this sounds crazy but stick with me here, I told you that the denizens of the encampment are themselves human beings and therefore "someones"?
posted by forgettable at 10:27 PM on October 26, 2017 [24 favorites]


What if I told you someone would? What if, and I know this sounds crazy but stick with me here, I told you that the denizens of the encampment are themselves human beings and therefore "someones"?

That, to me, is oversimplifying the problem. I don't think sideshow was remotely suggesting homeless people weren't, you know, people, but that there are many associated problems that accompany homeless encampments that make their presence a real problem.

We can all certainly wish for some solution that would enable homeless people to better deal with their situation or, even better, would help them get off the streets entirely, but there are real issues with encampments and homelessness in general that aren't going to go away because simply because we feel some sympathy for the conditions they face alone.

I live and work in areas with significant homeless populations, not remotely as large as those in LA, but ones where I and people I know have to deal with the issues associated with homelessness as well as the "someones" themselves regularly. Untreated mental illness and rampant drug use cause great difficulties in behavior. Harassment is common, not just panhandling, but from those seemingly under some form of mental duress yelling racial and sexual slurs at passersby without provocation. Knowing that such actions mostly aren't going to turn violent or that there is some unaddressed issue behind the action doesn't make the encounter feel any safer.

Trash and human waste can pose health threats and the general congregation of the homeless and their use of the city streets and surrounding "empty" areas makes those places far less inviting for business and general activity. It's easy to scoff at "business" concerns but those have serious effects for a community just as homelessness does. Maintaining a healthy city center requires dealing with the business and pedestrian concerns as well as concern for the homeless. It's undeniable that some cities show little or no concern for the latter and that isn't acceptable, but these are real problems that aren't made better by downplaying them for appeals to sympathy when no there is no clear solution to be presented that will resolve the situation for anyone involved.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:05 AM on October 27, 2017 [13 favorites]


With all due respect the only problems he referred to were his problems. The worry for his personal safety Not the problems of the homeless. If anyone was "simplifying" it was the person cutting the other persons out of the equation entirely.

Here's a hot take for his other post regarding someone missing out on precious bench time while waiting for a bus:

A wild bench appears!
The homeless person wants to sleep on it.
The poor working class person wants to sit on it and wait for a bus.
The business man wants to tie his shoes on it while going for a jog.
The billionaire wants to snort coke off it and make a blood sacrifice.

What are we to do? Well we have a bit of a Maslow's heirarchy kind of thing going on here... I think common fucking sense is the homeless gets a place to sleep. Im sorry you lost your bench while waiting for a bus. Thats an inconvenience. The other person though, they don't have a fucking place to sleep. Case closed.
posted by forgettable at 1:17 AM on October 27, 2017 [14 favorites]


Fair enough, my issue is that so often the talk about the homeless sounds tends to revolve around sympathy and disgust. The sympathetic side seems to talk about the issue like they would stray dogs, where the homeless are "people" more in the sense of some general concept of distant others rather than, like any group, filled with a wide variety of types, including a significant portion of assholes and deeply troubled types. Those that only see the homeless as occasion for expressing disgust, thankfully, are not common to Metafilter, so my argument here is focused more on the problems that homelessness brings to the pedestrian/worker side.

I work overnight shifts alone at a business that stays open all night and have had to deal with rapes, assaults, threats, people passed out in hallways and trying to hide in bathrooms and shoot up while attempting to provide reasonable accommodation to those who seek it, despite it being against the best interests of the business and against the expressed wish of my boss. Sometimes it works fine and there can be beneficial encounters, but many times it doesn't and I have to deal with the situation without knowing how it will turn out. That places a burden on me to have to assess the people and the risks involved every time someone who isn't intending to conduct business comes in. The risks are real but so is the sympathy for the situation, that means I have to balance confrontation and refusal in protecting the business and those who use it with optimism and attempts at assistance when the situation seems suitable. The wrong decision can have serious repercussions for me and those who use the business, which I then have to shoulder.

The homeless encampments in the undeveloped area behind where I work has had fires and is where some of the assaults and rapes have occurred and regularly causes police interventions for general disturbances related to yelling and fights of some sort or another. The downtown area where I live doesn't just have people sleeping in entryways, something largely accepted within limits, but people using entryways and alleys for toilets, violence, as well as the kinds of harassment I mentioned earlier, in addition to a great many street people who are no problem whatsoever. As I suggested earlier, there are assholes and problem people in any group one cares to name, but the difference is that with most of those other groups the problems are often confined to their homes and to those who know them, making dealing with them something tied to their social circle in most circumstance. For the homeless the city is their living room, bedroom, and bath and all those who have to work and live in that environment may end up involved in the ugly side of that "homelife".

It's fine to talk about hierarchies of need, I agree that there is some need for that, but at the same time, trying to diagram that into a clearly defined set of relationships when the people involved defy such easy categorization makes the process difficult. Is it wrong for someone alone to feel uncomfortable waiting at a bus stop when someone is sleeping there? Telling them they should accept it and feel safe regardless hardly seems to cover the problem. The same goes for all these kinds of encounters. It's one thing to say be sympathetic, but another to actually have to deal with the variety of situations that accompany homelessness and the uncertain histories and attitudes one may encounter in individual circumstance. Homeless people aren't a concept, they are individuals, and those individuals often enough have some serious issues.

Just to reemphasize though that this is just one side of the problem and isn't meant to suggest cities should "crack down" on homelessness in some brutal manner as that clearly isn't a solution either. Attempts to address homelessness need, I think, to deal with both those in the situation as individuals, some who will be more able to adjust or escape their circumstance, and as a group problem where the local governments try to find solutions to the logistical issues that accompany large groups of people without a fixed place to live as well as the mental and physical health issues involved. The best way to do that while preventing substantial abuse of the system is hard to imagine though. Even something as simple as providing bathrooms for the homeless falls into difficulty when those places instead are used for shooting up, sex, and are otherwise misused or damaged. Helping those who are seeking to reintegrate with society and also those who act to remain outside it is not an easy thing to balance.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:11 AM on October 27, 2017 [20 favorites]


Hostile architecture requires hostile (or at least compliant) architects, engineers and landscape architects, and is sustained by lack of advocacy for the poor.

To me as a lascArch I find this appalling but NZ is like anywhere else, we have lots of examples. When I've raised this in design circles the response is often indifference.
posted by unearthed at 2:22 AM on October 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


No witches, either.
posted by chavenet at 2:43 AM on October 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Mike Davis, City of Quartz (1990, 2006) and many other works and articles was my first meaningful study of ekistics.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 3:06 AM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Im sorry you lost your bench while waiting for a bus. Thats an inconvenience. The other person though, they don't have a fucking place to sleep. Case closed.

It's really not that simple. Discussions about "hostile architecture" always seem to forget that public space is public. When people, for whatever reason, treat it like their personal space, that space becomes hostile to other people. There's a bus shelter near my home that was once taken over by two homeless guys who used it as their sleeping room/drinking room/bathroom and quickly turned it into a trash heap surrounded by their own piss and shit. The people waiting for the bus - mostly immigrant women in that case - had to stand away from the shelter for a whole week until the guys moved out and the place was cleaned up. For those bus users, waiting 10 minutes each morning next to 2 drunk persons that were pissing and shitting in public was more than an "inconvenience".

In a similar way, the (very small) entrance hall of the building I live in - which used to be open at all times - was appropriated last year by local kids. We were cool with that at first (just kids looking for shelter from rain and cold etc.) but after a few weeks things started to escalate: trash all over the place, graffiti, broken windows, broken doors, broken mailboxes. The initial group of 3-4 high school kids regularly turned into small mobs of 15-20 young men, who dealed drugs and threatened us, which made our lives increasingly stressful. Some of the kids told us that our hall was the only meeting place they had, so we asked the town's social services if it was possible to provide them with a room, but social services told us that every time this had been tried the room had been misused and trashed, so such experiences were short-lived. So we did the "hostile" thing and secured the hall with a lock and a keypad, which was destroyed twice before we installed a really strong one. This solved the problem (for now) and at least we did not have to put the building behind bars. That was a heartbreak - we loved the fact that our building was open to anyone - but what choice did we have? Let those people own the place? Leave?
posted by elgilito at 6:04 AM on October 27, 2017 [25 favorites]


This is my personal theory:

We know sleep is super important for mental health. Like very very important, and lack of sleep really mess with people.

I think Depriving homeless of areas to to sleep can exacerbate and cause additional mental health symptoms that can perpetuate homelessness.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:39 AM on October 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


Just to reemphasize though that this is just one side of the problem and isn't meant to suggest cities should "crack down" on homelessness in some brutal manner as that clearly isn't a solution either.

They already are tho is the thing. Hostile architecture is one of the mechanisms. You're acting as if we're starting from some state of nature or something when in fact the state made the homeless homeless and then declared war on them, largely with the rest of the population's assent.
posted by PMdixon at 6:55 AM on October 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


Personally, I think the homeless should be encouraged to sleep, piss, and shit on every surface in the richest part of every city. Every stoop, every jogging trail, every copper-laden brewpub patio. Every playground in gated parks.

I mean maybe folks would start building shelters again (especially ones that accept men) if folks with money were the ones who had to deal with the consequences of a large homeless population.
posted by FakeFreyja at 8:16 AM on October 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


tent cities would absolutely not be a tenable solution. it would be a human rights debacle where many people would be harmed, even worse than the current situation, because it would come with the imprimatur of government sanction.

Would you mind elaborating? A tent city with plumbing, security, sanitation, how would that be worse than the status quo? And what would be a better more feasible option? Trailers? Hey, I'm all for that, but the tax payer would balk at the cost and scale.
posted by Beholder at 9:13 AM on October 27, 2017


For those bus users, waiting 10 minutes each morning next to 2 drunk persons that were pissing and shitting in public was more than an "inconvenience".

How so? That sounds exactly like an inconvenience to me - something distracting and annoying, that may impact your work or play, but doesn't contain significant risk of harm. It sounds like an extended inconvenience - a bit more of a nuisance than the fact that the escalator to my train stop has been "under construction" for four months - but the same type of "ugh, I wish this were different," not "my life is terrible for as long as this goes on."

I don't mean that any homeless person should be allowed to set up camp anywhere, but I'm always dismayed by people who talk about "the homeless" as if they were an amorphous, near-identical mass - whose numbers would never include themselves or anyone they care about.

If the problem is "drunk people who piss in public," solve for that; the fact that many of them don't have houses to be drunk in can be addressed in the solution. The problem is not "homeless people."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:20 AM on October 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


A tent city with plumbing, security, sanitation, how would that be worse than the status quo? And what would be a better more feasible option?

Sanction brings liability; granting official permission to live in a place incurs the responsibility to manage both safety and crime there. While there is a strong streak of "no freebies for the lazy!" in politics, providing shelter comes with administrative and other practical costs that often aren't part of the "why don't the just..." solutions.

I believe the problems of widespread homelessness could be solved by setting up dorms of some sort, but doing so requires a lot more infrastructure than most cities are willing to take on. Someone has to set rules: are dogs allowed? Cats? Families of six? Minors with no adults? Alcohol? Illegal drugs? Not bathing for two months? Is it wheelchair-accessible? Is it in-and-out at will, or are there specific hours of entrance/egress? Does it provide internet access? Does it have meals? Kitchens?

Each rule excludes some people, which puts the problem back on the streets. Each rule will come with a justification: "they're homeless; they should be happy for whatever they get." There are shelters now that don't fill up because their rules are intolerable to some of the people they intend to help.

I don't disagree that almost any type of support would be better than what's available now, but I understand why cities are cautious about trying to "fix" their homelessness problems.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:33 AM on October 27, 2017


How so? That sounds exactly like an inconvenience to me - something distracting and annoying, that may impact your work or play, but doesn't contain significant risk of harm. It sounds like an extended inconvenience - a bit more of a nuisance than the fact that the escalator to my train stop has been "under construction" for four months - but the same type of "ugh, I wish this were different," not "my life is terrible for as long as this goes on."

....So okay, I commute to work via a fairly shitty bus system passing through a whole whack of places in town, including benches with and without hostile architecture "armrests." My city has a very visible homeless population, many of whom use the city buses as an inexpensive place to access a warm place to sleep for a bit or air conditioning in the summer or what-have-you. Sometimes these folks smell bad, which sucks but which I can generally deal with. Panhandlers stand on what feels like every stoplight, which always worries me for their safety. I pass one of these folks' usual spots on my way to work, and there's usually a pile of garbage at the street crossing, maybe someone sitting on a bucket as they wait for another red light. That is a minor inconvenience to me; I'm moving past it and I don't have to stick around in it, and it's not like I'm going to have to sit down. So are most of the rest of them.

The case of my entire bus shelter being consumed by piss and fucking shit, especially in the winter when it gets cold and sitting on the pavement is particularly painful? If you commute by bus, literally everything you will need while you're out and about you have to carry with you, usually on your back--so for me, that would mean that instead of being able to sit in a wind-sheltered place while I wait for my unpredictable bus, I have to stand with usually about 20-25 pounds on my back while I wait. (Sure, for me, that's largely my laptop... but my partner and roommate, who both work retail jobs, carry backpacks that aren't too much lighter than mine.) Generally that's either immediately after or immediately before a mile-and-a-bit walk, so this is not a trivial exhaustion point. If the bus shelter is full but clean, I might sit on the floor instead or at least set my bags on the floor--but if it's full of human waste left by people who are of questionable health, of course I'm not going to be able to do that. So a wait that is usually not a bad part of my commute would become absolutely miserable in very short order, particularly if you have a bad back or any kind of joint issue or disability.

Even assuming that these gentleman are 100% polite and friendly to me and don't scream slurs at me or make me afraid they might hurt me--which has absolutely happened to me with homeless men before--or almost as bad, demand my attention and my conversation to entertain themselves, meaning I can't do my own thing on my goddamn commute like anyone else--that immediately worsens my life in a very, very direct and frankly horrifying way on a regular basis. That is not an inconvenience that is totally obviated by the benefit to those man of having that bus stop!

For many of us using city buses, also, ten-minute intervals between stops sound like an impossible luxury. My own bus line shows up every 20-30 minutes, usually at relatively unpredictable times. So I budget twenty to thirty minute waits into my commute time, and if I'm early that's a bonus. I'm gonna assume that this bus system is nicer than mine, but as I waited for three predicted buses (of three different lines!) that straight up did not show up within an hour at the stop I waited at this morning, I feel the need to remind those of you who either do not regularly use public transit or use primarily extremely well funded and maintained transit that bus waits are not always predictable, further worsening the situation for those women waiting.

I like taking the buses. I like that there's a wide variety of class background and experiences among my fellow commuters, and I like being able to get to know my neighbors when I want and not have to drive.

But jesus, I wish we'd invest in better homeless shelters and support here. Selfishly, I would like to be able to stop at a red light just once without feeling guilty and sometimes having to directly shake my head and ask someone to step away when they ask for money and clearly are not doing well--while my finances are shaky themselves. I would like to not keep a careful watch on homeless men around me who clearly have substance abuse or behavior problems--which is not the case for all homeless folks around me--and I would like to relax more than I actually get to on my walks through the city, because I never know what category any given homeless man I walk by will fall into. I would like to know that the homeless folks with the invariably-immaculately-behaved-and-kept dogs at their sides have access to support services that keep them together with their friends, too.

It's fucking hard! And I'm scraping by, I'm doing my best where I can to help right now with folks I know, we donate blankets where we can and bottled water and whatever we can spare, but it's so infuriating to know that we could solve most of this if we gave a shit about it, collectively. But the people with the most money and power to change the situation never see it, or they must manage to be selectively blind or something, so.... I guess we're stuck with it.
posted by sciatrix at 11:36 AM on October 27, 2017 [11 favorites]


One of the signs of getting old is that I remember when we invented widespread homelessness in the late 70s. It's really hard to convince younger people that we as a society chose to go down this path.

And you, elaborate on this, because I didn't know this. I didn't know we'd fixed this problem and then chosen to do worse. Talk about this to me.

The late 70s were my parents' early adolescence. This is not a world I have first hand experience of--every city I have ever been in or used public transit in has been full of the unlucky, trying to scrape by as best they can.

Tell me about this world and why we left it. And tell me how the hell we can go back.
posted by sciatrix at 11:38 AM on October 27, 2017




And tell me how the hell we can go back.

You start by asking why the preferred reaction by governments to homelessness is spike strips and not shelter funding.
posted by PMdixon at 12:05 PM on October 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


Would you mind elaborating? A tent city with plumbing, security, sanitation, how would that be worse than the status quo? And what would be a better more feasible option? Trailers? Hey, I'm all for that, but the tax payer would balk at the cost and scale.

what ErisLordFreedom said in response to the above is exactly right: it's all about rules and liability, who to let in and who to keep out. obviously there are a lot of reasons why people find themselves homeless. some are people who just fell on hard luck and would do great if given a permanent home. but many others have untreated mental health and alcohol/drug problems, some of which result in violence. and then there are the criminals who are not homeless but live among them just to prey on them by selling them drugs and using them for prostitution. a dorm/tent/trailer city that tried to accommodate all homeless people would be concentrating all of these issues in one small area, and crazy things would happen there, and the government that set it up would be on the hook.

i think the best way to solve the problem is neither to make public spaces into de facto sleeping areas , nor to build a concentrated mini-city for the homeless. instead, the way to go is to separate the homeless problem into those who can hold down a job and an apartment, and those whose mental/drug problems mean they can't. the first group should be given basic housing (dispersed over various neighborhoods, like halfway homes are now, not in one tent city), job training and placement.

the second group is the impossible problem.
posted by wibari at 1:05 PM on October 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Removing the first group from the streets would give a better understanding of the second - some of them can't hold a job and apartment but would be just fine in a standard group living situation, after a bit of assistance to get used to the changes.

The end goal shouldn't be "end all homelessness" but "get as many people into homes as possible, and make life as comfortable as reasonable possible for those who will not or cannot deal with a stable address."

And if you house the ones who *can* cope with normal living arrangements, a few people who wind up sleeping in the park would not be the great public imposition they are now.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:11 PM on October 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


Not tents, domes. It can work. It has worked.

A dream dies as Dome Village is dismantled
Residents of the homeless encampment in downtown L.A. are leaving, unable to meet a sevenfold rent hike. (Rong-Gong Lin II, LA Times)
Shaded by a grove of trees as old as the village itself, each dome -- 20 feet in diameter and 12 feet tall -- offered privacy for men, women, married couples, same-sex couples, families, and even pets. "Each homeless person's dome is his castle," Hayes told The Times in 1993.

"The idea was to create a family environment.... We recognized that people needed to be in a social environment, but they needed a private space," Hayes said Saturday. A $250,000 grant from Arco to help buy the domes, other donations, and an agreement with the land owner allowed the project to proceed.

Residents, who paid $70 to $100 a month, were responsible for chores and could buy and cook their own food in a communal kitchen dome. Also on site was a dome for a library containing computers with Internet access. Other domes housed washrooms and laundry facilities.

The domes were chosen for reasons of convenience: They could be assembled and disassembled quickly. Each was made of 21 sections of curved, lightweight polyester fiberglass, fit together like a soccer ball and sealed with 150 bolts.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:30 PM on October 27, 2017 [10 favorites]


When the right had to coin the term Compassionate Conservatism because it was obviously not a feature of regular conservatism anymore.
When FDR became an object of derision and hatred as opposed to the man who instituted needed change for the US to survive exactly what we seem to be going through right now.
When we started seeing the homeless, the poor, the weaker than, as irredeemably morally bad.
This is when we became monsters.
This is why we deserve all of our problems.
Fuck me.
posted by evilDoug at 1:39 PM on October 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


FDR was an object of derision and hatred while he was in office.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:44 PM on October 27, 2017


instead, the way to go is to separate the homeless problem into those who can hold down a job and an apartment, and those whose mental/drug problems mean they can't. the first group should be given basic housing (dispersed over various neighborhoods, like halfway homes are now, not in one tent city), job training and placement.

the second group is the impossible problem.


There is nothing like that clean a split. A lot of people with mental health problems and substance abuse problems develop them due to homelessness, and a lot of supported housing options, temporary or permanent, can help people with mental health issues or substance abuse problems succeed. That's pretty much the idea behind the Housing First movement.
posted by lazuli at 2:45 PM on October 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


And, as AlexiaSky pointed out, getting decent sleep tends to reduce a great many mental-health problems all on its own.
posted by lazuli at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


A lot of people with mental health problems and substance abuse problems develop them due to homelessness, and a lot of supported housing options, temporary or permanent, can help people with mental health issues or substance abuse problems succeed.

Yes yes yes. Get roofs over heads and beds under sleepers, and after that, it's easier to see who just needed those and who needs more help.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:48 PM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Personally, I think the homeless should be encouraged to sleep, piss, and shit on every surface in the richest part of every city. Every stoop, every jogging trail, every copper-laden brewpub patio. Every playground in gated parks.

Personally, I think the homeless ought to be encouraged to shit and piss in every lawn outside every suburban home in a city. Every flower bed and play structure, every front yard and side porch, every culdesac and dead end street.

Because the "richest parts of every city" are usually well aware of homelessness, in ways that self-righteous suburban homeowners can't be. People who live in the city see homeless people on a daily basis. People who live in suburbs and drive to office parks don't. And then they ship their mentally ill people to the center of town and blame city dwellers for causing the problem.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:57 PM on October 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


You start by asking why the preferred reaction by governments to homelessness is spike strips and not shelter funding.

There's no point in the process where someone is mulling over whether to spend a certain amount of money on homeless services or bench dividers.

To start, you have two pots of money that do not mix, operating and capital (bond funded, used to build or renovate things). You cannot use capital for operating expenses like salaries.

Here each department comes up with a list of needed and desired capital projects and how much they think they'll cost. They don't talk to each other about it. Parks decides what parks they want to renovate and why. The shelter people decide what shelters they want to renovate, and why. Same for transit. Meanwhile, someone else figures out how much to issue in bonds. The departments then make their pitches for what funding they want, and the finance people and politicians decide how to distribute the bond money. No one gets everything they need. In that sense, yes, someone is deciding to fund shelters, or parks, or police, or fire, but within a sea of conflicting priorities and constraints. No one is saying "well, we could fund the shelter renovation, but lets just buy some more bench dividers instead."

Once it's divided among departments, they each choose how to spend their part on their mission. They aren't starting from zero and saying "what's the best possible use of this piece of ground for the city as a whole?" When people are designing a park, they're trying to design the best park, not the best shelter. The people designing a bus stop are designing a place for people to wait for the bus, not a shelter.

Staff who run public playgrounds have told me they don't mind people sleeping there as long as they don't leave a mess (including used needles and condoms) and aren't preventing the kids from using the space. There really are some places that will otherwise become unusable for the their intended purpose if people aren't discouraged from camping, using drugs, and having sex (see McPhearson Square) , and there are a lot of related difficult decisions that often have no perfect outcome. You can want both for everyone to have a place to sleep, and for the neighborhood kids to have somewhere to play, and I don't think it's horrible to prioritize the latter if that's what you have control over.

SEPTA is in the process of doing the rare and excellent thing of using their funding for homeless services within their train station. This is costing $1.4 million for the renovation alone, compared to the $105,000 it would cost to buy a park bench divider ($300) for every single homeless person using the station in a single day (up to 350). The center is a vastly better response, but it's not a 1:1 decision.
posted by sepviva at 5:37 PM on October 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


Because the "richest parts of every city" are usually well aware of homelessness, in ways that self-righteous suburban homeowners can't be. People who live in the city see homeless people on a daily basis. People who live in suburbs and drive to office parks don't. And then they ship their mentally ill people to the center of town and blame city dwellers for causing the problem.

Exactly. Some of the largest populations of homeless in LA are in DTLA, Venice, and Santa Monica (“home of the homeless”) and these are also some of the most expensive parts of town. Whole Foods has a flagship store in Venice and I’d be surprised if you could get from the parking lot to the front door and back without seeing at least one homeless person.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:41 PM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


You start by asking why the preferred reaction by governments to homelessness is spike strips and not shelter funding.

Because the homeless don't have a lobby powerful enough to bribe politicians with. If they had the same pull as tobacco, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
posted by Beholder at 9:21 PM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


I feel like "let's just give them homes and toilets" is a huge oversimplification. I think that a lot of homeless people don't always fit well into the mold society has created. Some might at some point, some might not. We've got a diverse group of people here; some might suffer from debilitating mental illness and others not. Throwing money at one-size-fits-all solutions (just give them all housing and health care!) is probably never going to work.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:26 AM on October 28, 2017


I work with people with "debilitating" mental illness (as in, are on SSI due to disability from mental-health conditions), many of who are homeless, and yes, giving them housing helps. Not just "throw them in an apartment and say we're done," but healthcare (which includes things like specialty mental healthcare, including intensive case management) plus housing (which should include things like supported housing, with onsite services) does go a really long way into making people succeed. Throwing out the idea that people who can work full-time and can pay rent/mortgages all on their own are the only people who deserve to have housing would also help, because the "mold" that society has created is failing a lot of people.
posted by lazuli at 7:26 AM on October 28, 2017 [6 favorites]


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