By John Lawrence
Amy Goodman did a recent show about the refugees living in a camp in Calais, France. She walked around the camp interviewing several refugees all of whom spoke good English. Most of these people were sleeping in tents similar to the ones you see on the sidewalks of San Diego. Some had built simple structures. As she walked around, I began to notice some facilities that they had there which are nowhere to be found for the San Diego homeless. First I noticed a dumpster. There’s no dumpster for San Diego’s homeless. The trash just gets left on the street.
Then I noticed a whole row of Port-a-Potties. San Diego had one Portland Loo which they are getting rid of. Unlike San Diego’s homeless, the refugees in Calais, who are from all over the Middle East – Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan –everywhere the US has bombed, had a place, places, to go to the bathroom. There were other services. A barber and a restaurant were mentioned. A little later there was a guy doing laundry. There was running water – a sink with faucets. Are there facilities like this for San Diego’s homeless? No. Not at all.
America’s homeless numbering some 600,000 have become a sub-class. While George Orwell in his book 1984divided society into four classes – alphas, betas, gammas and deltas – the American homeless have surely metamorphosed into zetas. They have no services, no civil liberties, no human rights because the US does not believe in human rights. Sleeping in public or in vehicles is even being criminalized. US laws criminalizing sleeping in public have grown 60% in recent years.
I was rousted out of my van in which I was sleeping on an Encinitas street several years ago. It seems the homeowner, whose house I was sleeping in front of, had called the police. He had a beach front estate. The cop said, “How would you like to look out your window and see this?” What, you mean a properly licensed Ford E-150 van has no right to be parked on a public street because it’s a visual eyesore to some private property owner who doesn’t exclusively own the public streets?
Some Cities Are Criminalizing Homelessness
According to Nation of Change:
• City council members in Columbia, South Carolina, concerned that the city was becoming a “magnet for homeless people,” passed an ordinance giving the homeless the option to either relocate or get arrested. The council later rescinded the ordinance, after backlash from police officers, city workers, and advocates.
• Last year, Tampa, Florida — which had the most homeless people for a mid-sized city — passed an ordinance allowing police officers to arrest anyone they saw sleeping in public, or “storing personal property in public.” The city followed up with a ban on panhandling downtown, and other locations around the city.
• Philadelphia took a somewhat different approach, with a law banning the feeding of homeless people on city parkland. Religious groups objected to the ban, and announced that they would not obey it.
• Raleigh, North Carolina took the step of asking religious groups to stop their longstanding practice of feeding the homeless in a downtown park on weekends. Religious leaders announced that they would risk arrest rather than stop.
In Calais, the refugees wait for a chance to get through the Chunnel to the UK. Six to seven thousand people are camped out in makeshift tents. Each night members of the camp set out along the highway to the Channel Tunnel, where they attempt to cross into Britain by jumping on top of or inside trucks or to somehow get on the high-speed train. In the meantime they had some services which make life livable – bathrooms, dumpsters, barbers.
Tiny Home Confiscated by Police
In San Diego a tiny home that a homeless man parked on the sidewalk was confiscated by police and the man, Michael Clark, was taken to jail. It was parked in front of the International Love Ministries of God in the 400 block of 16th Street. There is a movement afoot to provide tiny (60 square feet) homes for the homeless in San Diego. They just need somewhere to put them and hook-ups for utilities or at least communal facilities. They’re lockable – so possessions are secure not left on the street to be looted or vandalized.
They’ve already done this in Nashville. A Good Samaritan in Nashville used the GoFundMe site to raise $50,000 to build six tiny homes. With the cooperation of a church-owned vacant lot, he set them up for the homeless.
The point is that the homeless need a variety of solutions at different stages before they can reintegrate into the mainstream society. Many of these partial solutions elevate their quality of life without costing much money. Just providing lockers and Portland Loos or Port-a-Potties would alleviate some of the worst problems for both the homeless and for society at large. At San Diego events such as the Summer Pops series for the San Diego Symphony, they provide dozens of Port-a-Potties and even portable hand washing facilities. But yet no one in San Diego government or San Diego’s ubiquitous philanthropists can provide them for the homeless. Even a vacant lot with Port-a-Potties and sinks with faucets would provide some of the facilities that Europeans are providing for refugees there. The homeless are America’s refugees and are worse off than their counterparts in France.
San Diego’s Homeless Sleeping on the Streets
San Diego has the fourth largest homeless population in the nation. Nearly 48% of those without housing are sleeping on the streets. San Diego’s homeless population rose to 8,742 in 2015 from 8,506 in 2014, a 2.8% increase that bumped it into the top four for the first time behind the metropolitan areas of Seattle, Los Angeles and New York City.
Father Joe’s Villages and other agencies and organizations are doing a lot to help the homeless. Housing First is a concept that has caught on in many places where the homeless are housed and social services provided to help them with their life situations whether it’s addiction or joblessness or something else. The problem is that there are never enough of these various services to do more than to put a minor dent in the problem. They are partial solutions not comprehensive solutions.
San Diego’s sidewalk tent cities keep growing. So there should be a ladder of solutions where all those who don’t get into Father Joe’s or other programs at least get something – even a dumpster and a Portland Loo or a safe vacant lot to sleep or put a Tiny Home on. Many of these solutions for those on the street cost practically nothing and could be implemented immediately without waiting for a shelter bed to be available.
American taxpayers have shelled out roughly $1.6 trillion on war spending since 9/11, according to a new report from Congress’ nonpartisan research arm. That’s roughly $337 million a day or $14 million per hour every single day for 13 years. Result? The Middle East is totally destabilized and terrorism has risen. US bombing pushes more people into the arms of ISIS every day according to the European refugees at Calais that Amy Goodman interviewed. US bombing kills 200 civilians a day according to one of the refugees. Is it any wonder they hate us?
Despite spending $14 million an hour on war, US and San Diego authorities can’t even provide the homeless with a dumpster or a safe place to sleep off the sidewalk. The only impetus to solving this problem has been when some bigwig woke up recently and figured out that some homeless man had been calling 911 repeatedly and cost taxpayers $537,000 in ambulance services alone when he was taken to the emergency room on numerous occasions.
Compassion-R-Not-Us but economic incentives just may be. In this tourist town it’s disheartening for local consumers and out-of-towners to have to step over homeless people and/or their trash and/or human feces on their way to Petco Park or Sea World or some other tourist destination. The authorities are afraid that, if they provided more services which would cost practically nothing like Loos and Dumpsters and safe vacant lots, the homeless would flock to San Diego. Well so what? Maybe we could pride ourselves on being a compassionate city which is doing its best to solve the homeless problem like a lot of other cities have. Contrary to the cities which have criminalized homelessness, some cities are actually trying to solve the problem. In eight years, Utah has reduced homelessness by 78 percent.
Utah solved homelessness by giving people homes. In 2005, Utah figured out that the annual cost of emergency room visits and jail stays for homeless people was about $16,670 per person, compared to $11,000 to provide each homeless person with an apartment and a social worker. So, the state began giving away apartments, with no strings attached. Each participant in Utah’s Housing First program also gets a caseworker to help them become self-sufficient, but they keep the apartment even if they fail. The program has been so successful that other states are hoping to achieve similar results with programs modeled on Utah’s.
Phoenix and Salt Lake City Ended Homelessness Among Vets
Two years ago the city of Phoenix, AZ announced that it had ended homelessness among veterans. Salt Lake City, which was in a friendly competition with Phoenix to see which city would be first to end homelessness among veterans, announced that it had done so about a year later. However, this does not solve the homeless problem in general – just among vets. The point is that, while some cities are criminalizing homelessness, other cities are doing their best to solve the problem. My point is that to solve the problem in a comprehensive manner requires giving those that can’t be housed and provided with a social worker because of lack of funds or whatever, something while they are still “homeless” – Port-a-Potties, lockers, a safe vacant lot, a transit pass, a bicycle – SOMETHNG!
The concept of “homeless magnet” be damned. We should endeavor to become a homeless magnet and take pride in our efforts to solve the homeless problem. Instead of spending trillions of dollars fighting wars which have only exacerbated the terrorism problem, America should realize the error of its ways and defund militarism. But too many people are making too much money from it. They have created the refugee problem, the terrorism problem and the homeless problem by benign neglect. It’s a worldwide war on poor people so the rich can live a pampered, protected life in luxury real estate while others sleep on the street without even sanitation facilities.
No wonder Washington, DC is the only city where salaries are going up in line with productivity for everyone, not just the rich. The average compensation for an employee in Washington, DC in 2015 was $119,934. The Washington, DC suburbs dominate the list of the most affluent places in the United States. Among more than 3,000 counties across the nation, Loudoun County, VA is the richest, with a median household income of almost $119,000. Maryland’s Howard County and Virginia’s Fairfax, Arlington and Stafford counties also made it into the top 10. The city of Falls Church, VA, where the median income is $121,000, is the richest city in the nation.
The outsized military-industrial complex and America’s first priority, fighting wars, along with lobbyist salaries make the Washington, DC area the richest in the nation while hundreds of thousands of American refugees sleep on the streets. The only well-paying jobs in America as of 2016 are on Wall Street or Washington, DC. College graduates take note.
Safe Parking Lots
In San Diego there is a group that sponsors safe parking lots for the many thousands of vehicular homeless – those living in their cars – because, although most of them work, they still can’t afford a motel room.
A group called Dreams for Change has provided safe parking lots in San Diego, Chula Vista and Vista. The San Diego location is at 766 28th Street just across from the New Life Church and just off the Martin Luther King freeway. They ask that you call (619) 497-0236 before you come. Sleeping in your car is illegal as I found out many years ago although I parked on the street and was only rousted out twice in two years. One of them was my fault for violating my own rules of never parking where I stood out like a sore thumb. A Neighborhood Watch guy got me.
This is from the Dreams for Change website:
The idea of the Safe Parking Program was developed by seeing the rise in newly homeless due to sudden loss of employment and homes. A student group from SDSU School of Social Work and Cal Western Law School researched and started the ground work for the Safe Parking Program to be a viable program here in San Diego.
We at Dreams for Change believe an individual’s vehicle is often times their last asset. We see the value of this asset which allows them to continue to access resources, look for employment and get to and from school. A loss of their vehicle is seen as one of the final step[s] to chronic homelessness; thus we focus on stopping the downward spiral of homeless and bring stability to families and individuals.
The idea is that, since the traditional programs to house or shelter the homeless only accommodate about half the actual homeless at any given time, things should be done to ease the situation for those that are left over, who haven’t been accommodated by social services or Housing First or those who have fallen through the cracks. That is the point of this article – that society should spend a pittance to provide some services to those who are still on the street whether it be lockers, used bicycles, a safe place to sleep, port-a-potties or Portland Loos, sanitation facilities.
If society wants these people to be cleaned up, providing some basic sanitation facilities might be a good place to start. Ditto for the streets. Another point: if you want homeless off the streets and into shelters, provide some accommodation for their possessions and their pets. All these things could be done at little expense and would also provide the benefit of getting the homeless and their material possessions off the streets so a walk in certain areas is not so intimidating for the average homed person.
Human Rights for the Homeless aka American Refugees
Human rights advocates point out that according to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25:
• 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 [or her] control.
• 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.