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We do not take care of our own
I am walking to the grocery to get a few things tonight when I see a young woman pulling off her shorts (? it has been cold here lately) just off the sidewalk in the entrance to a bank. At first I am afraid I will see her defecate on the side walk and then I realize she is probably just changing her clothes. I do not have much time, maybe 4 seconds, to look at what is going on. She had 2 garbage bags full of what looked to be mostly garments. She appeared to be maybe mid 20's and not obviously demented or drugged. For obvious reasons I did not observe the situation closely.

I have mentioned here before that I live in a relatively affluent community. There is no excuse that there not be shelter for someone who needs it. I have no idea what this woman's crisis is that would put her on the street. It is a condemnation of our society that there is no temporary place where she could take shelter.

It is rather like the treatment that poor in this country receive. Tough shit punks, why don't you just kill each other off.

I am more than a little shamed that we care so little for the disadvantaged and conflicted people in this country.

A silly side issue, as someone who has made the mistake of leaving the bar when one should have urinated before leaving I could have shown the woman where she could have taken care of business with a little more privacy. One should always know where one can find some privacy, admitting that it is easier when you are in your own territory.
The current 'everyone for themselves' climate in this country is very disturbing IMO. When did selfishness become a virtue?
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
When "welfare" became "entitlements" and "entitlements" became "never tried to make it on your own" became "what liberals do" became "and therefore what conservatives don't". (Despite there not being any truth to any of those equivocations.) People just don't check their premises well enough.

On that note, is the claim "there is not shelter for those who need it" true? My understanding of homelessness (in modern America, that is) is that it exists but that there are various reasons that the homeless do not take it.
Cynic, I think you are both correct and wrong. I know that there are some homeless who refuse selter for a variety of reasons, prohibition of drugs or alcohol, prohibition of other kinds of behavior often associated with violence or simple crazyness, or not wanting to be subjected to some kind of probing questions or even religious nonsense.

There is also the fact that I do not know of a community in the San Francisco Bay Area that has sufficient beds for all the local homeless. I am not certain what the shortfall is but I believe in San Francisco proper it is something like 50%.

An interesting article recently in the local paper, the Chronicle, about a wideout for the Packers, James Jones, who as a child was homeless in San Jose. He and his mother were often kicked out of shelters because they exceeded the 30 day maximum. We impose rules on the marginalized people which almost guarentee they will remain marginalized. This family got lucky, with his first contract Jones bought his mother a home.

An interesting side issue here is that years ago I realized that a single community which provides sufficient shelter or liberal welfare policies will soon find themselves overwhelmed by individuals from elsewhere. A locality can not do this on its own it has to be nationwide. A situation which is very unlikely in the current climate.
Edited by JohnH on 01/19/2013 03:18
I guess I'm never going to be able to accept that people are so easily fooled or, alternatively, that we just spontaneously just decided to stop caring for the needy. We've become a nation with no compassion, unwilling to pay a little more in taxes to invest in our own people.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
I forgot about time limits. It's a pretty tough problem to attack, but it should certainly be made a higher priority. The trend toward "tough love" for the poor is very disheartening.

Apropos to the general gist of this site, it's ironic, politically, that the same people who are against "entitlements" are also the most likely to be Christians who condemn using taxes to help people as communism but when asked where the poor should go for help, they suggest churches -- which at their best take collection money and help the poor (but squander most of it on missionary work).

But anyway, it's not easy. That example of hard-working, dedicated families who are down on their luck and live homeless for years is probably as elusive as the welfare queens we've all heard too much about. All the reasons John states are real, and I think a lot of times they're intractable. We can't force help on people and some people can't be helped. We should try more, but I would maintain there is a certain degree of "acceptable losses" that is acceptable not because it's actually acceptable, but because it's just going to happen no matter what.

I'm actually in favor of forcing help on children, even if that means dragging the parents along for the ride. Kids shouldn't grow up literally on the street just because their parents can't or won't cope with their responsibilities.
Cynic wrote:We can't force help on people and some people can't be helped. We should try more, but I would maintain there is a certain degree of "acceptable losses" that is acceptable not because it's actually acceptable, but because it's just going to happen no matter what.

I'm actually in favor of forcing help on children, even if that means dragging the parents along for the ride. Kids shouldn't grow up literally on the street just because their parents can't or won't cope with their responsibilities.

Like any ideal the goal isn't to reach it but to get as close as possible. Helping 100% of the poor is impossible, I would agree. The point is how far we'll go to try to help those in need, how deep into our own pockets are we willing to dig.

I look at helping the poor as an investment. We improve our country overall by giving as many people as possible a fair shot at living a decent life.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
Agreed. Where do you think the opportunities are?

Whenever I think about the problem, I'm always at a loss as to whether what is being done now is the right approach not taken far enough, or the wrong approach (or some combination). I tend to start thinking more abstractly about drain-the-swamp solutions that attack the kinds of environments and conditions create or re-enforce the development of people likely to become homeless. Which is, you know, a big order.
Like many questions the answer isn't simple. I think you have to make resources available and see who takes them. Of course that means someone will find a way to abuse resources but its more important that help is available for those in need.

The notion that the system can be abused isn't completely wrong but the fact is that the vast majority of people are honest if they are allowed a choice. The 1 or 2 percent of the public dishonest enough to try to rip off the welfare system are usually to dumb to do it well or for very long, discounting thefts by politicians of course.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
John referenced many of the conditions and caveats attached to such help. They can include anything from limited duration at any given facility, restrictions on things like drugs and alcohol, being subject to various programs, training, lectures, and even religion. In addition, there are implicit things keeping people back -- stigma, pride, shame, mistrust, fear (of deportation, having priors catch up to them, etc.) and just plain ignorance of or misinformation about the programs.

A lot of the resistance to such programs from those who would rather they aren't funded is based on this idea that people will abuse and/or its existence will prevent people from learning how not to require it. These kinds of arguments pale, IMO, next to the consequence of allowing people to suffer. I think we all agree on that. But that isn't to say they're completely wrong and whatever can be done to mitigate those outcomes should be looked into.

I don't know how to deal with the potential of creating kind of a default lifestyle that people could just adopt where their food and shelter are freely given in exchange for absolutely nothing and a whole culture springs up around it, like a youth hostel gone mainstream. That seems a little dystopian, but I don't think it's difficult to see it happening the way jobs and the economy are going.

Let me re-emphasize that I don't think that absence of such a thing is acceptable.

The real difficulty comes with all the steps required to prevent that. It's not about worrying about people who are trying to abuse it outright on purpose. It's about people getting complacent with it not taking steps to get out of it. How is that prevented without it taking away the option of allowing it? Kicking people out because it's been "30 days" or whatever is arbitrary, but there aren't too many other things that wouldn't either be equally arbitrary (not having a job in a given time) or unfair (not having a job when there aren't any) or just cost prohibitive, or worse.

By "or worse" I mean returning to workhouses and such. I don't mean to wax Dickinsian, but there are a host of solutions to these sorts of problems that tread mightily close to prisons and slavery.

Again, I'd emphasize that the most common case of homelessness isn't the fleeting down on my luck, between jobs kind of thing. I think most of us can agree that getting by to an acceptable limit isn't all that hard. A minimum wage job and some government programs can support a life that isn't great, but it's anywhere close to homelessness. We're talking about people who for whatever reason have become unable or unwilling to rise to that minimum. That's different and requires a different mindset so solve, IMO.
I think that people don't realize that living on welfare is no great life. The fact is that there really isn't incentive for people to take advantage of the system because there isn't all that much to get. Take a good look at low income housing, trust me, you wouldn't want to live in most section 8 housing.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
I certainly don't -- but I wasn't raised in it, either, and have always had options. I expect, in addition to maybe not having options and getting used to it, there's a kind of "boiled frog" effect where things can just get bad so slowly that you don't even think it anything's out of sorts. We often talk about "standard of living" as if it's an absolute thing, and when it comes to determining that certain "minimum" that our government shouldn't allow its citizens to endure, this is only right. But that's not really how people are wired to think about things.
Try talking to some people that live in section 8 housing some time. All you hear is how they want out. I suppose there is some small percentage that get used to it but I doubt it is a percentage greater than the low single digits.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
I wonder what percentage actually does get out. When confronted with the sort who try to argue that "coddling" the poor only prevents them from rising out of that status, I've tended to observe that there will always be a given percentage of people who are poor, but that it's a churn of people rising and falling -- that it's not as if be getting tough, we just won't have poor people anymore. But I've never been too sure about the numbers. Whatever they are, I maintain that there is a low that is too low for us to allow.

I visited a few such places when I was much younger on many occasions (had friends who grew up in them). At least, the Western PA version of it, and in the 'burbs at that. Surely no one thought that was the place to be, but I don't recall seeing too many "go getters" either. But then, I was young (17-21). After that I saw plenty actual homeless (by which I mean street beggars (not a derogatory term, but an actual description of what they did when you saw them) who mostly had shelters to stay in at night, but spent their days on or near campus (it's a city campus).

So for me, there's a concrete difference between living in a ratty place and signing papers every night in order to sleep on a mattress. I'm mostly talking about the second kind's plight.
I think we agree though that, regardless of the reason, people getting public assistance, for the most part, wish they had better lives. Most of the time they are just incapable of figuring out how. We should be spending money training them.

You are right though that there is always going to be some percentage of the populace on the bottom. We are just arguing over where the bottom is or, put another way, whose bottom we will use.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
I would say that it's not so much that I see two bottoms, but that being poor and being homeless are fundamentally different problems with potentially different causes and thus potentially different solutions. By analogy, compare people who for whatever reason have developed questionable social behaviors versus people who are, in fact, mentally "abnormal" in some way.

The end result might be similar and there's certainly a lot of overlap and expected outcomes are all over the map. But I believe there's clear divergent baseline, on average, between people who tend to be poor versus people who tend to be persistently (much emphasis on persistent here) homeless.

The "poor" group might respond to training, better schooling, better upbringing in general ("better" being defined as being more likely to produce economically productive people in the current climate). The "more likely to become homeless" group might not. You don't hear too many stories of former CFOs and other big shots ending up making minimum wage at Wal-Mart. But you do hear about them ending up homeless. (Yes, anecdotal evidence is not evidence, but you see where I'm coming from.)

For the most part, I think the "poor" issue comes down to various combinations or delineations of shitty attitudes, catch-22 life situations, top-down systemic problems from employers (e.g. providing a poor climate for internal upward growth), and often a genuine lack of potential (some people are in their crappy menial job because it's literally all they can handle).

Training and retraining can help, particularly those who know how to take advantage of an opportunity. But I'm reminded of high school vo-tech programs: inclusion in such a program is symptomatic of a larger impediment to success (which, if you ask me, is more often their parents than their actual potentials).

Providing the means to connect people and their career paths is vital, though. I myself changed careers very successfully via a community college associate program, but every day I'm reminded that I've been so much more successful than many of the people who went through the same program because of factors I have and they don't, or don't have in place yet. I've made a ton of mistakes, but I'm learning from them. A lot of people aren't ambitious enough to make a ton of mistakes, even.

I'd like to see more programs in schools aimed at cultivating what makes a good employee -- ambition, integrity, etc. I've worked with so many people with horrible attitudes that very much make them their own worst enemy in any job situation and while I get where a lot of it comes from, the fact remains that it holds them back. A curriculum that focuses on recognizing that sort of thing could work wonders.
I live in a welfare state. It was not one quick movement that brought it about, but a bunch of movements, stemming mostly to the fallout of the second world war.

I think it is a brilliant idea, you create, through general taxation, a safety net for all members of your society, so that if they fall from a job, or develop some illness there is something in place to offer support.

Sadly, businesses also know this exists, so they kept their wages artificially low. So much so that most people who use 'Government handouts' are actually employed people! What a fucking disgrace that is.

A Bachelor used to be a great thing years ago, because a wage paid to an adult male used to account for the non-working female. Hence a man of those times could live wonderfully alone, and comfortably with a family. This has all changed for the worst - but shockingly you have people railing against our big welfare bill, screaming at the government to reduce it, and all ignoring the very people that have caused the dependence, the private industry.

Our government could reduce that bill dramatically if they simply raised the minimum wage. Yes businesses would have to take a cut in profit, but their work force would be happier and output increased.

America could do with a meaningful federal minimum wage.
When I alluded to 'different bottoms' I was referring to differing perspectives on what circumstance would be an acceptable minimum in our society.

Your distinction between 'poor' and 'homeless' might be fit better terminology-wise as a distinction between 'functional' and 'non-functional'. Many homeless people are completely non-functional in our society because they are mentally incapable in some way but that is not the case for all homeless people.

Some people do better with education than others, respond better to training etc. The point is though that we are better off helping the ones that can be helped even as we realize not all of them will be capable of taking full advantage.

TE makes a great point, a person with a job should not still have to rely on welfare to make ends meet.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
I do like the idea of small self sustained groups too. It requires land (an expensive thing in the UK, cheap as chips in America) and a few skills/knowledge, but teach people how to work the land, mend and repair and they can support themselves while developing exportable skills.

This will not work for everyone mind, but as a relatively cheap option (expenditure on initial land / tools and a contingency sum if things fail) you get a lot back. Mobolized people with an obvious/direct visualization of the worth of their work.
They called those communes in the 60's TE
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
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