This is a zine I put together a few months ago with poems and art based on my travels throughout The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Newark. The poems are inspired by observations and one in particular, The Rationale, is based on common justifications for not helping the homeless. It's about how we turn our discomfort into anger and prejudice when we see a street-homeless person whose existence forces us to confront injustice.
Giving Tuesday may have passed, but one homeless man is embracing his new role as a philanthropist after an inspiring act earned him hundreds of thousands of donated dollars.
Johnny Bobbitt, Jr., a former paramedic experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia, came to the aid of Kate McClure when her car ran out of gas on a strip of highway. Bobbitt walked two miles to the nearest gas station, used his last $20 to buy gas and delivered the fuel to McClure.
Instead of simply paying Bobbitt back, McClure shared the story and established a GoFundMe page that quickly went viral. Less than three weeks later, the fund has raised nearly $400,000 from 14,000 individuals inspired by the Good Samaritan act.Read More
This lazy editorial encapsulates the New York Post's perception of homelessness in #NYC. To them, the only #homeless people are the prominent & disruptive—yet statistically small—group of men and women with mental illness on the street. Meanwhile, 22,885 kids slept in a DHS shelter last night.Read More
If we start with the premise that housing is a basic human right we cannot accept homelessness. It's simple. And yet not one municipality in the country considers permanent housing a human right.
New York City is going through a humanitarian crisis with more than 60,000 people staying in municipal homeless shelters each night. In addition, countless others experience housing instability but are not counted in the official homelessness figures because they're not logged by a city agency. They crash with friends, family, acquaintances and strangers or they sleep on the street or the subway or church steps.
But it could be worse. New York City, at the very least, provides shelter to anyone who needs it. It is the only municipality in the country that guarantees shelter to anyone in need based on a 1979 ruling known as Callahan v. Carey, after the lead plaintiff - a homeless man - and the then-governor of New York.
Seattle is also experiencing its own homeless crisis right now. More than 12,700 people live on the streets, in cars, in dangerous encampments or in shelters. A study conducted by Zillow rates Seattle as having the third highest homeless population in the country after only New York and Los Angeles. Seattle is more than ten-times smaller than New York.
Moon said she does support a mandate. Durkan proposes 700 new shelter beds but said she does not support a legal right to shelter.
The effect, she said in a statement, would be “diverting millions of dollars in scarce resources to warehousing people experiencing homelessness in sometimes degrading shelters rather than providing people the housing they need to permanently exit homelessness."
I hear what she's saying - shelters are notoriously nasty and potentially dangerous. But why do they have to be?
More importantly, why build and guarantee shelters when we can build and guarantee housing?
We severely limit our thinking and capacity for innovation when it comes to homelessness, here in New York City and across the country in Seattle. We allow shelters to remain dirty and dangerous, even as families with children comprise the majority of the homeless population.
We say the city doesn't have enough money to build affordable housing for the homeless, but we don't seem to analyze whether that's true. Or what it would take to build housing. We dismiss the idea as unrealistic — it's not. We just don't have the will to accomplish it.
We point to NYCHA and say city-operated housing is inevitably crappy and unsafe. But it doesn't have to be. We don't have the will to fix and maintain public housing.
We need to expand our thinking and consider how the city can compel private developers to build truly affordable housing. Or how the city can build the housing itself.
Expanding our minds also means that we cannot accept subhuman conditions for people in homeless shelters as though it's a natural phenomenon.
Homelessness is not natural; it's a human-made crisis. One that we could address immediately — if only we had the will to.
But right now, it's news when a long shot candidate in Seattle musters the will to pledge temporary shelter for all.
On Thursday, I covered the annual City Council Candidates' forum at St. John's University for City Limits. The event gives Queens councilmembers and their primary challengers a chance to share their positions on a range of hot topics, including homelessness. Sixteen council candidates (including five incumbents) attended the event and each demonstrated
Anti-homeless policies (not necessarily anti-homelessness policies) appeal to a lot of voters, especially in the suburban, upper middle class districts near Long Island. For those candidates, it's not 'How will you address homelessness?' It's 'How will you keep homeless people out of our district'.
Here's an excerpt on homelessness from my article:
All candidates addressed the impact of homelessness in their districts, but few provided specific proposals for addressing the housing crisis. Instead, their responses contained varying shades of “NIMBY-ism” regarding shelter placement: few were willing to welcome shelters, though only District 32 overlaps with a community district that ranks among those with the highest ratio of shelter beds to population.
During the second session, Councilman Barry Grodenchik and challenger Concannon from District 23, candidate Anthony Rivers from District 27, candidates Mike Scala and William Ruiz from District 32 and candidates Adrienne Adams, Hettie Powell and Richard David from District 28 – a seat vacated by Ruben Wills’ corruption conviction – said new shelters shouldn’t be built in their home districts.
“We have been the dumping ground for everything that every other community does not want,” said Adams from District 28, which includes parts of Jamaica and South Ozone Park. “We continue to fight for equity. Everybody needs to bear this burden – not just Southeast Queens.”
Vallone, whose district spans Northeast Queens neighborhoods like Bayside and Little Neck, said he and other shelter opponents are not “bad guys” – their opposition reflects the need for more community participation in deciding where to place new shelters.
“We want to have a say in the process,” he said. “We’ve stopped every attempt to put them in our district because it doesn’t make sense. Make sure there’s input from everybody before you just stick one in our backyard.”
Graziano, the primary challenger, also said he opposed any shelters in District 19 and called Holden – president of the vocal Juniper Park Civic Association – a “hero” for confronting the mayor’s shelter expansion plan.
“Our area shouldn’t have any homeless shelters because there’s about forty homeless families in all the 19th Council District,” he said. “We need homeless shelters and we need affordable housing in the places that need them.” (The mayor has also expressed interest in siting shelters near to the places where homeless families live before becoming homeless.)
Meanwhile, Crowley and Holden each claimed responsibility for rejecting the use of a hotel to house homeless families in Maspeth, a flashpoint in the debate over housing homeless New Yorkers in commercial hotels and opening shelters in middle-income communities.
“We were out there every night protesting,” Holden said, as a small band of his supporters cheered. “We stopped that Holiday Inn.”
After moderators prompted candidates about what to do with vacant NYCHA units, Ruiz suggested filling the vacancies with homeless families.
“If we have a huge problem with the homeless and we have all these empty apartments, let’s fill them,” he said. “Instead of paying thousands of dollars to landlords, let’s fill in NYCHA.”
(NYCHA, according to a 2015 report, has a very low, one percent vacancy rate. The authority has committed to providing at least 1,500 units to homeless families each year through 2020, though some advocates would like to see even more given to homeless families.)
We’re discerning with our rights here in the United States. Critics might call it stingy, but that’s because they’re extravagant suckers, handing out rights to everyone and their immigrant mother.
You have to earn your rights here in this country.
You don’t have a right to your rights. Rights are a privilege and we’re teaching you responsibility and gratitude by distributing them in increments.
I’ve read the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I know that Article 25 states:
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
But that’s just phony universalist BS. Where’s the incentive to work if food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services are all guaranteed??? Whenever my kid tells me he's hungry, I'll just tell him to go into the kitchen, grab a red pen and punch up the verbs on his resume.
I concede that some rights are sacred. Like the right to a work requirement. We are, of course, bestowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and a work requirement to access a basic standard of living. What does that work requirement mean in practice? Who the fuck knows? Citizens have debated it since the nation's founding.
I think it means that if you find yourself homeless, you gotta be a cashier at a Dollar Tree to get a studio apartment. Or maybe that, if you can't afford healthcare for your children, you have to fold Little Caesars pizza boxes for at least 35 hours a week to enable them to see a pediatrician. Something like that. Who cares. WORK REQUIREMENT. Just flows off the tongue all easy and memorable the way the Framers intended.
Now, if you're asking about an individual's right to work, you're asking the wrong question (again, we don’t just give out rights all willy-nilly).
Right to Work actually refers to the unalienable right of employers to erode the workers' rights that don't really apply anymore. Like the right to organize. Or to receive compensation when your hand gets crushed by a pallet of Ragu jars.
Still confused? I recently came across this opinion piece in the New York Times by Howie Husock, vice president of the Manhattan Institute, a think tank that pumps out vital policy papers about why basic human rights are dependent on low-wage work at corporate behemoths.
Husock captures how this notion of a "right to housing" actually harms homeless kids and inspires them to be unemployed and pregnant later in life:
“For the families with children — many headed by single parents who had been doubled-up with family but were not literally on the street -- our strategies [for housing] should not be the same [as with single adults with mental illness]. We must acknowledge the risk that offering housing units will increase demand and even the formation of more such households, which are often homes to children who will face toughest type of poverty and greatest economic disadvantage. In other words, the “homeless” family problem is actually a subset of our challenge in assisting low-income, single-parent families without encouraging their formation.
Indeed, we must take care to avoid the risk that expanded government benefit programs—such as housing based on the combination of low-income and the presence of dependent children—may discourage the steps that will help improve a household’s long-term economic condition. As the University of Maryland poverty researcher Douglas Besharov observed in 2013 Congressional testimony, “Means-tested benefit programs undermine much of the good they do because their very structure creates substantial disincentives to work and marriage.”
This guy gets it. If a four-year-old had a job, she wouldn't be homeless. These kids needs to learn that there’s a work requirement for the right to the opportunity to access your rights. It just makes sense.
I took me a while to comprehend that there are people who I will never agree with. We just have fundamental philosophical differences that we will never reconcile. I used to believe that goodwill and empathy eventually win out. That with enough exposure to alternate ideas and experiences with people who share those ideas, people will find middle ground or shift toward inclusiveness. Unfortunately, that isn't true.
In his book Don't Think of an Elephant, which discusses how liberals can effectively frame issues to present an inclusive, progressive moral vision for our country, George Lakoff writes:
"The . . . mistake is believing that, if only we could present facts about a certain reality in some effective way, then people would 'wake up' to that reality, change their personal opinion and start acting politically to change society . . . The reality is certain issues have to be ingrained in us – developed over time to create an accurate frame for our understanding."
Like the issue of health care.
Consider this excerpt from an interview with Iowa Rep. Steve King, who introduced the House bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, on NPR's All Things Considered last night:
HOST ROBERT SIEGEL: Donald Trump's adviser Kellyanne Conway recently told an interviewer, we don't want anyone who currently has insurance to not have insurance. Would that be for you the test of a new law or the test of what happens after Obamacare is repealed - no one who's gotten health insurance through Obamacare losing it under its repeal and replacement?
KING: I think that's a fine and shining ideal, but it wouldn't be my standard. We have about 20 million people that they say would be pushed off of Obamacare if we just repealed it and did nothing. I look at the numbers on the 20 million. It's about 10.8 million that were pushed onto Medicaid, and so I don't really look at Medicaid as a health insurance policy that you own.
I would argue there is no constitutional - you have no right to a health insurance policy. Whatever our hearts tell us, we can provide those things, but there's not a right to them. The roughly 9.2 million people that are insured under Obamacare that would presumably lose their insurance if it were repealed - they're living under a subsidized premium, and that subsidized premium is paid for almost a hundred percent by the taxpayers.
"You have no right to a health insurance policy." That is simply an ideological position I fundamentally oppose.
Health care is a human right.
In our society, access to health care largely depends on access to health insurance because without health insurance, we tend to forgo health care, settle for haphazard remedies and neglect preventive care. Therefore, there is an implied right to a health insurance policy because that policy is a prerequisite for affordable, appropriate and necessary health care.
Lakoff chastises liberal leaders for failing to present the right to health care as a moral imperative and for not reaching enough people with their vision.
"Conservatives understood that politics is a matter of morality and decided to attack [the Affordable Care Act on moral grounds. They chose two moral domains: Freedom and Life. On Freedom, they attacked it as a "government takeover." On Life, they said it contained "death panels." And they repeated "government takeover" and "death panels" over and over, month after month. And every time the president said "It is not a government takeover" he used the words government takeover, which activated the idea of a government takeover, thus reinforcing the conservative attack."
"If the president had understood the conservative framing tactic, he could have undercut it in a simple way. He could have adopted the same two moral issues, Freedom and Life, from a progressive perspective."
"If you have cancer and you don't have health care, you are not free. You are probably going to die (a Life issue) . . . Even if you break your leg, do not have access to health care and cannot get it set, you are not free . . . Ill health enslaves you. Disease enslaves you."
Seven years later, is the rejection of the ACA still an issue of insufficient framing and presentation? Or is that rejection actually a GOP rallying cry, a piece of conservative canon, a repudiation of Obama and progressivism fueled by mythical individualism and infused by racism against the perceived undeserving recipients of Obamacare (poor people of color)?
I think commentators tend to overstate the framing argument. I think a certain segment of the population would reject anything Obama championed or achieved.
But with Trump and the GOP about to invalidate expanded health coverage, kick millions off health insurance and prevent millions more from obtaining affordable coverage, I constantly dwell on the threat to Life and Freedom, as Lakoff put it.
Poor people who lose or who are denied health insurance –– like those covered by the ACA Medicaid expansion or those who do not get coverage from their jobs but received access to subsidized health insurance through the ACA –– will suffer injuries and illnesses catastrophic to their health, their finances and their tenuous housing. Many people live paycheck to paycheck and spend a significant chunk of their income on rent or mortgage – often more than half their income. If they incur a medical expense - such as an ER visit or diagnosis of a chronic illness – and lack health insurance, they will owe thousands of dollars that they do not have. They can't pay the bill and their rent at the same time. The medical debt collectors will never let them off the hook. So they'll have to stop spending money on other things, like housing. In other words, they won't be able to afford rent or mortgage payments.
So health insurance preserves peoples' finances and enables them to afford housing. Coverage preserves their life and freedom. Conservatives either don't consider that position or don't care. Many of them will never change their minds. So we have to stand up for our convictions and outnumber them.
The New York Post loves homelessness. The paper uses stock images of disheveled men with matted beards and old sneakers shuffling along the sidewalk as a weapon against the leaders, laws and causes they oppose. Look at their Rotting Apple coverage. It's basically a series of photographs of adults in dirty clothes napping in uncomfortable positions with some unflattering photos of Bill de Blasio at press conferences mixed in. Homeless person - de Blasio. HomelesspersondeBlasioHomelesspersondeBlasioHomelessdeBlasio. Get it?
Even stories that seem like red meat for scandalized conservatives immediately adapt an unexpected anti-de Blasio bent. In December, cops cleared a group of men from the area beneath the MetroNorth tracks on Park Ave. in East Harlem. After sanitation workers threw out their possessions, including vital documents, the men sued the city. The city, meanwhile, claimed the men had slept on school grounds, which created an unsafe environment for kids.
In that case, I would expect the Post to just hammer the quality-of-life angle: homeless men are invading our children's schools??? Rotting Apple indeed! Instead, they ignored that easy narrative in favor of another. Here's the very first quote from the story:
Morales became homeless when Guiliani was in office? He was homeless through all three of Bloomberg's terms? The Post exploits homelessness to stoke anger among their small-minded audience?
It's almost like they have an agenda.
Earlier this week, the city agreed to pay the men $1,515. The short Post story features a large picture of a homeless stereotype above a few words.