America is undergoing a surge in homelessness that is greater that the 1980’s increase due to Reagan’s neglect of the Urban poor. This is the largest increase since the great depression and we are seeing tent cities emerge. Hobo villages might make a comeback and hopefully the IWW and other radical groups will take time to organize among this new angry disenfranchised population.
As I write in Ontario, California homless people are being separated and forced out of a tent city that the city provided in lieu of housing. We should act now to protest this and support the homless of Ontario and everywhere else.
In an article from the Veterans for Common Sense an increase in demand on shelters is reported.
“Shelters across the country report that more people are seeking emergency shelter and more are being turned away. In a report published in December, 330 school districts identified the same number or more homeless students in the first few months of the school year than they identified in the entire previous year. Meantime, demand is sharply up at soup kitchens, an indication of deepening hardship and potential homelessness.
“Everything we are seeing is indicating an increase,” says Laurel Weir, policy director at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “And homelessness tends to lag the economy. So we’re probably seeing the tip of the iceberg here.”
In the foreclosure crisis, the people being displaced from homes won’t likely be on the street immediately, explains Michael Stoops, director of National Coalition for the Homeless.
“The people who have lost homes or tenants in homes that were foreclosed … have downsized, and if that doesn’t work they will move in with family and friends,” says Stoops. “After a while, they will move into their RV in a state campground. The next step is a car. And the worst nightmare for a working, middle-class person or even a wealthy person who has never experienced homelessness is knocking on a shelter door.”
Services teeter on brink
As the case of Seattle’s City Team shelter illustrates, many nonprofits serving the poor are working on a shoestring, even in better times. Seattle-area donations to the shelter had to be supplemented from general funds, said Jeff Cherniss, chief financial officer of City Team, which operates shelters and food programs in five other U.S. cities.
“We were hoping (the Seattle shelter) could become self-sustaining,” says Cherniss. City Team Ministries, a Christian organization funded by donations from individuals, corporations and churches, kept the Seattle facility afloat with help from its general fund for most of a decade, but the 2008 crisis prompted them to retrench.
Every major source of funding is under pressure in the current environment: Charitable foundations - which rely on corporate profits for their seed money and investments to preserve and build those funds - have been forced to pull back grants after taking a massive hit as corporate earnings faltered and stocks plunged. The National Council of Foundations recently estimated that philanthropic foundation endowments have lost $200 billion in value during the economic crisis.
A few of the largest foundations have, despite losses, promised to maintain or give at higher levels in the face of the crisis. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this week said it would increase its giving to 7 percent of its assets from 5 percent. And the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced three gifts totaling $34 million to help homeowners in Chicago avoid foreclosure and keep renters in homes.
Still, the casualties are mounting. Among them: Atlanta nonprofit Nicholas House, which closed a shelter for families in mid-January so it could safely keep other housing services open. Nearly all corporate donors gave to the organization at lower levels this year, says Dennis Bowman, executive director of the 26-year-old agency. The final straw came when a corporate donation ended, and was not renewed.”
Here is an article from the AP new service about tent cities from last summer before the real collapse in the economy hit.
“Tent Cities Spread In U.S. As Economy Sags
Foreclosure Crisis Blamed For Rise Of Homeless Camps In Cities
RENO, Nev., Sept. 19, 2008
(AP) A few tents cropped up hard by the railroad tracks, pitched by men left with nowhere to go once the emergency winter shelter closed for the summer.
Then others appeared - people who had lost their jobs to the ailing economy, or newcomers who had moved to Reno for work and discovered no one was hiring.
Within weeks, more than 150 people were living in tents big and small, barely a foot apart in a patch of dirt slated to be a parking lot for a campus of shelters Reno is building for its homeless population. Like many other cities, Reno has found itself with a “tent city” - an encampment of people who had nowhere else to go.
From Seattle to Athens, Ga., homeless advocacy groups and city agencies are reporting the most visible rise in homeless encampments in a generation.
Nearly 61 percent of local and state homeless coalitions say they’ve experienced a rise in homelessness since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group says the problem has worsened since the report’s release in April, with foreclosures mounting, gas and food prices rising and the job market tightening.
“It’s clear that poverty and homelessness have increased,” said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the coalition. “The economy is in chaos, we’re in an unofficial recession and Americans are worried, from the homeless to the middle class, about their future.”
The phenomenon of encampments has caught advocacy groups somewhat by surprise, largely because of how quickly they have sprung up.
“What you’re seeing is encampments that I haven’t seen since the 80s,” said Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, an umbrella group for homeless advocacy organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore. and Seattle.
The relatively tony city of Santa Barbara has given over a parking lot to people who sleep in cars and vans. The city of Fresno, Calif., is trying to manage several proliferating tent cities, including an encampment where people have made shelters out of scrap wood. In Portland, Ore., and Seattle, homeless advocacy groups have paired with nonprofits or faith-based groups to manage tent cities as outdoor shelters. Other cities where tent cities have either appeared or expanded include include Chattanooga, Tenn., San Diego, and Columbus, Ohio.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently reported a 12 percent drop in homelessness nationally in two years, from about 754,000 in January 2005 to 666,000 in January 2007. But the 2007 numbers omitted people who previously had been considered homeless - such as those staying with relatives or friends or living in campgrounds or motel rooms for more than a week.
In addition, the housing and economic crisis began soon after HUD’s most recent data was compiled.
“What’s happening in Seattle is what’s happening everywhere else - on steroids,” said Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, an advocacy organization that publishes a weekly newspaper sold by homeless people.
Homeless people and their advocates have organized three tent cities at City Hall in recent months to call attention to the homeless and protest the sweeps - acts of militancy, said Harris, “that we really haven’t seen around homeless activism since the early ’90s.”
In Reno, officials decided to let the tent city be because shelters were already filled.
Officials don’t know how many homeless people are in Reno. “But we do know that the soup kitchens are serving hundreds more meals a day and that we have more people who are homeless than we can remember,” said Jodi Royal-Goodwin, the city’s redevelopment agency director.
Those in the tents have to register and are monitored weekly to see what progress they are making in finding jobs or real housing. They are provided times to take showers in the shelter, and told where to go for food and meals.
Sylvia Flynn, 51, came from northern California but lost a job almost immediately and then her apartment.
Since the cheapest motels here charge upward of $200 a week, Flynn ended up at the Reno women’s shelter, which has only 20 beds and a two-week limit on stays.
Out of a dozen people interviewed in the tent city, six had come to Reno from California or elsewhere over the last year, hoping for casino jobs.
“I figured this would be a great place for a job,” said Max Perez, a 19-year-old from Iowa. He couldn’t find one and ended up taking showers at the men’s shelter and sleeping in a pup tent barely big enough to cover his body.
The casinos are actually starting to lay off employees.
“Sometimes I think we need to put out an ad: ‘No, we don’t have any more jobs than you do,”‘ Royal-Goodwin said.
The city will shut down the tent city as soon as early October because the tents sit on what will be a parking lot for a complex of shelters and services for homeless people. The complex will include a men’s shelter, a women’s shelter, a family shelter and a resource center.
Reno officials aren’t sure whether the construction will eliminate the need for the tent city. The demand, they say, keeps growing.
© MMVIII The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.” So sue me.
The roots to modern homelessness have their beginnings in the Reagan administration when the Federal government cut back on aid to the poor and the cities. The attitude became one of lets get tough on the welfare cheats and under Clinton they rode that horse right out of town. Now there is no federal welfare when we really need it.
Reagan’s Legacy Homelessness In America by Peter Dreier puts it this way in an article written not long after the death of the great communicator.
“As some Americans mourn the death of Ronald Reagan, let us recall that the two-term president was no friend to America’s cities or its poor. Reagan came to office in 1981 with a mandate to reduce federal spending. In reality, he increased it through the escalating military budget, all the while slashing funds for domestic programs that assisted working class Americans, particularly the poor.
Reagan’s fans give him credit for restoring the nation’s prosperity. But whatever economic growth occurred during the Reagan years only benefited those already well off. The income gap between the rich and everyone else in America widened. Wages for the average worker declined and the nation’s home ownership rate fell. During Reagan’s two terms in the White House, which were boon times for the rich, the poverty rate in cities grew.
His indifference to urban problems was legendary. Reagan owed little to urban voters, big-city mayors, black or Hispanic leaders, or labor unions – the major advocates for metropolitan concerns. Early in his presidency, at a White House reception, Reagan greeted the only black member of his Cabinet, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Samuel Pierce, saying: “How are you, Mr. Mayor? I’m glad to meet you. How are things in your city?”
Reagan not only failed to recognize his own HUD Secretary, he failed to deal with the growing corruption scandal at the agency that resulted in the indictment and conviction of top Reagan administration officials for illegally targeting housing subsidies to politically connected developers. Fortunately for Reagan, the “HUD Scandal” wasn’t uncovered until he’d left office.
Reagan also presided over the dramatic deregulation of the nation’s savings and loan industry allowing S&Ls to end their reliance on home mortgages and engage in an orgy of commercial real estate speculation. The result was widespread corruption, mismanagement and the collapse of hundreds of thrift institutions that ultimately led to a taxpayer bailout that cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
The 1980s saw pervasive racial discrimination by banks, real estate agents and landlords, unmonitored by the Reagan administration. Community groups uncovered blatant redlining by banks using federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act information. But Reagan’s HUD and justice departments failed to prosecute or sanction banks that violated the Community Reinvestment Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in lending. During that time, of the 40,000 applications from banks requesting permission to expand their operations, Reagan’s bank regulators denied only eight of them on grounds of violating CRA regulations.
By the end of Reagan’s term in office federal assistance to local governments was cut 60 percent. Reagan eliminated general revenue sharing to cities, slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally funded legal services for the poor, cut the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit. The only “urban” program that survived the cuts was federal aid for highways – which primarily benefited suburbs, not cities.
These cutbacks had a disastrous effect on cities with high levels of poverty and limited property tax bases, many of which depended on federal aid. In 1980 federal dollars accounted for 22 percent of big city budgets. By the end of Reagan’s second term, federal aid was only 6 percent.
The most dramatic cut in domestic spending during the Reagan years was for low-income housing subsidies. Reagan appointed a housing task force dominated by politically connected developers, landlords and bankers. In 1982 the task force released a report that called for “free and deregulated” markets as an alternative to government assistance – advice Reagan followed. In his first year in office Reagan halved the budget for public housing and Section 8 to about $17.5 billion. And for the next few years he sought to eliminate federal housing assistance to the poor altogether.
In the 1980s the proportion of the eligible poor who received federal housing subsidies declined. In 1970 there were 300,000 more low-cost rental units (6.5 million) than low-income renter households (6.2 million). By 1985 the number of low-cost units had fallen to 5.6 million, and the number of low-income renter households had grown to 8.9 million, a disparity of 3.3 million units.
Another of Reagan’s enduring legacies is the steep increase in the number of homeless people, which by the late 1980s had swollen to 600,000 on any given night – and 1.2 million over the course of a year. Many were Vietnam veterans, children and laid-off workers.
In early 1984 on Good Morning America, Reagan defended himself against charges of callousness toward the poor in a classic blaming-the-victim statement saying that “people who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.””
That was the reason in the 1980’s we had the sudden appearance of homless people all over the county in every city.
Before that we had street people, kids who were crashing in cheap apartments and hanging out on streets like Haight Street in San Francisco, and St Marks Place in the East Village of NYC. But they were more of a cultural hangover from the hippies and beats. What happened in the 80’s was the result of social policies made by the Reagan administration looking for a way to fund the huge military build up and boondoggles like Star Wars by cutting money for the poor.
These policies culminated in the Clinton administration elimination of welfare and the federal safety net for poor Americans. The most regressive social policy among the industrialized world. It is a model that was followed by eastern Europeans and Russia as the swept aside communism for free market reforms. Now these countries have people rioting in the streets.
In Milan there has emerged a new Nazi movement that blames the economic crisis on Jews and we hear of an increase in hate crimes across the country. This is an alarming tendency that needs to be stopped before it gains momentum like in the 1930’s Germany.
What we need is a radical reorientation of the values of this country away from service to the rich and the financiers that the Obama administration continues to coddle. This weekend Obama finaly took some action to put the fear into some of these Corporate types by firing the CEO of GM, Oh how the mighty have fallen when the largest auto maker in the country is treated like a delinquent son. About time.
But unfortunately Obama was just warming up the workers for another round of cutbacks. He was warning them as much as the corporate leaders, Obama may turn out to be more of a Reagan than a Roosevelt. If he forces the working people to make more concessions and continues to let the financiers slide, well at least we will clearly know who butters his bread.
Meantime we have a homless crisis and we need to organize a march on city hall, on state capitals and on Washington DC, a poor peoples march just like what Martin Luther King was planning when he was assassinated. More than march we need to demand a level of service to the people on European levels. We need to take back the money Reagan gave to Defence and give it to the people. We need housing, food and medical care for all, it is a human right not some sort of charity.
As radicals we need to be on top of this crisis and moving with the people to provide answers that make sense. We need to follow our gut instincts and our highest vision here and work for a better world now before this one shatters into collapsed potentialities.