The 1% wants to ban sleeping in cars - it hurts their ‘quality of life’April 16, 2014
Across the United States, many local governments are responding to skyrocketing levels of inequality and the now decades-long crisis of homelessness among the very poor … by passing laws making it a crime to sleep in a parked car.
This happened most recently in Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley, where new billionaires are seemingly minted every month – and where 92% of homeless people lack shelter of any kind. Dozens of cities have passed similar anti-homeless laws. The largest of them is Los Angeles, the longtime unofficial “homeless capital of America”, where lawyers are currently defending a similar vehicle-sleeping law before a skeptical federal appellate court. Laws against sleeping on sidewalks or in cars are called “quality of life” laws. But they certainly don’t protect the quality of life of the poor.
To be sure, people living in cars cannot be the best neighbors. Some people are able to acquire old and ugly – but still functioning – recreational vehicles with bathrooms; others do the best they can. These same cities have resisted efforts to provide more public toilet facilities, often on the grounds that this will make their city a “magnet” for homeless people from other cities. As a result, anti-homeless ordinances often spread to adjacent cities, leaving entire regions without public facilities of any kind.
Their hope, of course, is that homeless people will go elsewhere, despite the fact that the great majority of homeless people are trying to survive in the same communities in which they were last housed – and where they still maintain connections. Americans sleeping in their own cars literally have nowhere to go.
Indeed, nearly all homelessness in the US begins with a loss of income and an eviction for nonpayment of rent – a rent set entirely by market forces. The waiting lists are years long for the tiny fraction of housing with government subsidies. And rents have risen dramatically in the past two years, in part because long-time tenants must now compete with the millions of former homeowners who lost their homes in the Great Recession.
The paths from eviction to homelessness follow familiar patterns. For the completely destitute without family or friends able to help, that path leads more or less directly to the streets. For those slightly better off, unemployment and the exhaustion of meager savings – along with the good graces of family and friends – eventually leaves people with only two alternatives: a shelter cot or their old automobile.
However, in places like Los Angeles, the shelters are pretty much always full. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of unsheltered homeless people increased by 67%. In Palo Alto last year, there were 12 shelter beds for 157 homeless individuals. Homeless people in these cities do have choices: they can choose to sleep in a doorway, on a sidewalk, in a park, under a bridge or overpass, or – if they are relatively lucky – in a car. But these cities have ordinances that make all of those choices a criminal offense. The car is the best of bad options, now common enough that local bureaucrats have devised a new, if oxymoronic, term – the “vehicularly housed”.
People sleeping in cars try to find legal, nighttime parking places, where they will be less apparent and arouse the least hostility. But cities like Palo Alto and Los Angeles often forbid parking between 2am and 5am in commercial areas, where police write expensive tickets and arrest and impound the vehicles of repeat offenders. That leaves residential areas, where overnight street parking cannot, as a practical matter, be prohibited.
One finds the “vehicularly housed” in virtually every neighborhood, including my own. But the animus that drives anti-homeless laws seems to be greatest in the wealthiest cities, like Palo Alto, which has probably spawned more per-capita fortunes than any city on Earth, and in the more recently gentrified areas like Los Angeles’ Venice. These places are ruled by majorities of “liberals” who decry, with increasing fervor, the rapid rise in economic inequality. Nationally, 90% of Democrats (and 45% of Republicans) believe the government should act to reduce the rich-poor gap.
It is easy to be opposed to inequality in the abstract. So why are Los Angeles and Palo Alto spending virtually none of their budgets on efforts to provide housing for the very poor and homeless? When the most obvious evidence of inequality parks on their street, it appears, even liberals would rather just call the police. The word from the car: if you’re not going to do anything to help, please don’t make things worse.
Source

The 1% wants to ban sleeping in cars - it hurts their ‘quality of life’
April 16, 2014

Across the United States, many local governments are responding to skyrocketing levels of inequality and the now decades-long crisis of homelessness among the very poor … by passing laws making it a crime to sleep in a parked car.

This happened most recently in Palo Alto, in California’s Silicon Valley, where new billionaires are seemingly minted every month – and where 92% of homeless people lack shelter of any kind. Dozens of cities have passed similar anti-homeless laws. The largest of them is Los Angeles, the longtime unofficial “homeless capital of America”, where lawyers are currently defending a similar vehicle-sleeping law before a skeptical federal appellate court. Laws against sleeping on sidewalks or in cars are called “quality of life” laws. But they certainly don’t protect the quality of life of the poor.

To be sure, people living in cars cannot be the best neighbors. Some people are able to acquire old and ugly – but still functioning – recreational vehicles with bathrooms; others do the best they can. These same cities have resisted efforts to provide more public toilet facilities, often on the grounds that this will make their city a “magnet” for homeless people from other cities. As a result, anti-homeless ordinances often spread to adjacent cities, leaving entire regions without public facilities of any kind.

Their hope, of course, is that homeless people will go elsewhere, despite the fact that the great majority of homeless people are trying to survive in the same communities in which they were last housed – and where they still maintain connections. Americans sleeping in their own cars literally have nowhere to go.

Indeed, nearly all homelessness in the US begins with a loss of income and an eviction for nonpayment of rent – a rent set entirely by market forces. The waiting lists are years long for the tiny fraction of housing with government subsidies. And rents have risen dramatically in the past two years, in part because long-time tenants must now compete with the millions of former homeowners who lost their homes in the Great Recession.

The paths from eviction to homelessness follow familiar patterns. For the completely destitute without family or friends able to help, that path leads more or less directly to the streets. For those slightly better off, unemployment and the exhaustion of meager savings – along with the good graces of family and friends – eventually leaves people with only two alternatives: a shelter cot or their old automobile.

However, in places like Los Angeles, the shelters are pretty much always full. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of unsheltered homeless people increased by 67%. In Palo Alto last year, there were 12 shelter beds for 157 homeless individuals. Homeless people in these cities do have choices: they can choose to sleep in a doorway, on a sidewalk, in a park, under a bridge or overpass, or – if they are relatively lucky – in a car. But these cities have ordinances that make all of those choices a criminal offense. The car is the best of bad options, now common enough that local bureaucrats have devised a new, if oxymoronic, term – the “vehicularly housed”.

People sleeping in cars try to find legal, nighttime parking places, where they will be less apparent and arouse the least hostility. But cities like Palo Alto and Los Angeles often forbid parking between 2am and 5am in commercial areas, where police write expensive tickets and arrest and impound the vehicles of repeat offenders. That leaves residential areas, where overnight street parking cannot, as a practical matter, be prohibited.

One finds the “vehicularly housed” in virtually every neighborhood, including my own. But the animus that drives anti-homeless laws seems to be greatest in the wealthiest cities, like Palo Alto, which has probably spawned more per-capita fortunes than any city on Earth, and in the more recently gentrified areas like Los Angeles’ Venice. These places are ruled by majorities of “liberals” who decry, with increasing fervor, the rapid rise in economic inequality. Nationally, 90% of Democrats (and 45% of Republicans) believe the government should act to reduce the rich-poor gap.

It is easy to be opposed to inequality in the abstract. So why are Los Angeles and Palo Alto spending virtually none of their budgets on efforts to provide housing for the very poor and homeless? When the most obvious evidence of inequality parks on their street, it appears, even liberals would rather just call the police. The word from the car: if you’re not going to do anything to help, please don’t make things worse.

Source

Torture, racism, drones & unlawful killings: UN Human Rights Committee releases report on US government
March 28, 2014

The United Nations Human Rights Committee completed its review of the United States’ compliance with a major human rights treaty. It takes issue with the government’s interpretation that the treaty only applies to persons when they are inside the country and also expresses concern with drones, racism, gun violence, excessive use of force by police, Guantanamo, NSA surveillance, mandatory detention of immigrants and impunity for those who commit torture and unlawful killings.

It is the Obama administration’sposition that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the US is a signatory, does not impose any “human rights obligations on American military and intelligence forces when they operate abroad.”The treaty covers “individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction” so the committee refused to accept this position.

It expressed concern about the “limited number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions of members of the Armed Forces and other agents of the US government, including private contractors, for unlawful killings in its international operations and the use of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in US custody, including outside its territory, as part of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” program.”

“The Committee notes with concern that all reported investigations into enforced disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that had been committed in the context of the CIA secret rendition, interrogation and detention programmes were closed in 2012 leading only to a meager number of criminal charges brought against low-level operatives,” the Committee added.

Torture victims, in general, are unable to claim compensation from the US government and its officials “due to the application of broad doctrines of legal privilege and immunity.” The US lacks legislation prohibiting all forms of torture.

The review drew attention to “targeted killings” in “extraterritorial counterterrorism operations” with drones and criticized the “lack of transparency regarding the criteria for drone strikes.” It questioned the government’s “very broad approach to the definition and the geographical scope of an armed conflict, including the end of hostilities, the unclear interpretation of what constitutes an ‘imminent threat’ and who is a combatant or civilian taking a direct part in hostilities.”

On the continued detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the review lamented the fact that President Barack Obama’s administration has no timeline for the closure of the prison.

NSA surveillance was highlighted the body of secret law that has developed, which makes it possible for the government to systematically violate privacy rights. It expressed concern that non-US citizens receive “limited protection against excessive surveillance.”

This review acknowledged the “practice of racial profiling and surveillance by law enforcement officials targeting certain ethnic minorities and the surveillance of Muslims undertaken” by the FBI and New York Police Department in the “absence of any suspicion of any wrongdoing.”

When it comes to indigenous people, “insufficient measures,” the committee said, are being taken to protect  sacred areas from “desecration, contamination and destruction as a result of urbanization, extractive industries, industrial development, tourism and toxic contamination.”

The committee noted the significant racial disparities in the imposition of the death penalty. African-Americans are disproportionately affected and this is “exacerbated” by a rule that discrimination can only be proven on a case-by-case basis. Plus, a high number of individuals are wrongly sentenced to death and untested lethal drugs are being used to execute people.

It also called attention to the “high number of fatal shootings by certain police forces” like the Chicago Police Department and continued reports of excessive use force by law enforcement including “deadly use of tasers, which has a disparate impact on African-Americans.”

Also, as highlighted in the report’s findings, high numbers of “gun-related deaths and injuries” and the “disparate impact of gun violence on minorities, women and children” persist. There is a steady trend of “criminalization” of homeless people, who engage in “everyday activities, such as eating, sleeping or sitting in particular areas, etc.” Students in schools are being increasingly criminalized by administrators seeking to “tackle disciplinary issues” in schools.

In the criminal justice system, juveniles can be sentenced to life without parole for homicides and adults can be sentenced to life without parole for “non-homicide related sentences.” A number of states” exclude 16 and 17 year olds from juvenile court jurisdictions and thus juveniles continue to be tried in adult courts and to be incarcerated in adult institutions.”

Solitary confinement continues to be practiced in US prisons. “Juveniles and persons with mental disabilities under certain circumstances” may be subject to “prolonged solitary confinement” (which often amounts to cruel and inhuman treatment or torture).

Immigrants, the review found, are subject to “mandatory detention” in violation of the treaty. The “mandatory nature of deportation” is extremely troubling. It also is problematic that undocumented immigrants and children are excluded from the Affordable Care Act.

There also is “widespread use of non-consensual psychiatric medication, electroshock and other restrictive and coercive practices in mental health services.”

The Committee would like to see the US government “disclose the criteria for drone strikes, including the legal basis for specific attacks, the process of target identification and the circumstances in which drones are used,” which has been a top priority of human rights organizations in the country. The Obama administration has vigorously resisted this call.

Like numerous human rights groups, it urged the US to transfer detainees “designated for transfer” to countries, including Yemen. Provide detainees with a fair trial or immediate release and “end the system of administrative detention without charge or trial.” It suggested the US “ensure that any criminal cases against detainees held in Guantánamo and military facilities in Afghanistan are dealt with within the criminal justice system rather than military commissions.”

Furthermore, it recommended a federal moratorium on the death penalty, reforming surveillance so it does not violate privacy, impose strict limits on solitary confinement, enact legislation to prohibit torture. And, to address impunity, the recommendation that “command responsibility” be incorporated into criminal law was made, along with a call to “declassify and make public the report of the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence into the CIA secret detention program.

Source

~American excellence~

Mother arrested after leaving kids in the car during job interview because she couldn’t afford childcareMarch 27, 2014
Shanesha Taylor is a homeless, single mother of 2 children, who was arrested for child abuse this week. Taylor left her children, ages 6 and 2 years old, in her Dodge Durango while she attended a job interview in Scottsdale, Arizona.
A passerby found the children in the car, with the engine turned off and the windows cracked open. Once Taylor returned to the car, 45 minutes later, she informed the police officer that she did not have a babysitter for her children.
“She was upset. This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless. She needed the job. Obviously not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation,” said Scottsdale Police Sergeant Mark Clark.
She was arrested and booked into jail for child abuse.
Her children are now in CPS custody.
Source
Update from Prison Culture: 
An email from Amanda Bishop who has organized a fundraising drive for Shanesha offers the following additional information:

Shanesha has been in jail over a week. She will be out within the next few days when her bail is done by her family. I do not know if the family would like me sharing any information regarding the jail she is at.
She has plans to get a specific lawyer when she is out. Her children are with family

Ms. Bishop also responded to a question about where the funds raised would be directed:

“All money from this fundraiser is deposited into a bank account of Shaneshas mother. The money is currently being used to bail her out. The money collected afterwards will be used for the care of herself and her children.”

Here is a local report where Ms. Bishop is quoted about the case here.
There is currently no more information available. @lifeandmorelife and I would like to encourage everyone who wants to support Shanesha to please donate to the fundraiser for now. You can also continue to spread the word about this story through your networks. A newsreport about this story is here.
We have been in touch with some folks based in Arizona, are gathering more information, and will provide updates as they become available.

Update #1 (4:30 p.m. central)Shanesha is still in jail at this point. I was able to learn that she has a hearing scheduled on Friday at 8:30 am. Perhaps, she’ll be able to make bail at that point. Please keep donating to the fundraiser.

Mother arrested after leaving kids in the car during job interview because she couldn’t afford childcare
March 27, 2014

Shanesha Taylor is a homeless, single mother of 2 children, who was arrested for child abuse this week. Taylor left her children, ages 6 and 2 years old, in her Dodge Durango while she attended a job interview in Scottsdale, Arizona.

A passerby found the children in the car, with the engine turned off and the windows cracked open. Once Taylor returned to the car, 45 minutes later, she informed the police officer that she did not have a babysitter for her children.

“She was upset. This is a sad situation all around. She said she was homeless. She needed the job. Obviously not getting the job. So it’s just a sad situation,” said Scottsdale Police Sergeant Mark Clark.

She was arrested and booked into jail for child abuse.

Her children are now in CPS custody.

Source

Update from Prison Culture

An email from Amanda Bishop who has organized a fundraising drive for Shanesha offers the following additional information:

Shanesha has been in jail over a week. She will be out within the next few days when her bail is done by her family. I do not know if the family would like me sharing any information regarding the jail she is at.

She has plans to get a specific lawyer when she is out. Her children are with family

Ms. Bishop also responded to a question about where the funds raised would be directed:

“All money from this fundraiser is deposited into a bank account of Shaneshas mother. The money is currently being used to bail her out. The money collected afterwards will be used for the care of herself and her children.”

Here is a local report where Ms. Bishop is quoted about the case here.

There is currently no more information available. @lifeandmorelife and I would like to encourage everyone who wants to support Shanesha to please donate to the fundraiser for now. You can also continue to spread the word about this story through your networks. A newsreport about this story is here.

We have been in touch with some folks based in Arizona, are gathering more information, and will provide updates as they become available.

Update #1 (4:30 p.m. central)
Shanesha is still in jail at this point. I was able to learn that she has a hearing scheduled on Friday at 8:30 am. Perhaps, she’ll be able to make bail at that point. Please keep donating to the fundraiser.

Hunger crisis: 1 in 5 New Yorkers depend on food pantries
March 18, 2014

It’s a quiet crisis. In a city of plenty, a staggering number of people are struggling to feed themselves and their families.

Nearly one in five New Yorkers, 1.4 million people, now rely on a patchwork network of 1,000 food pantries and soup kitchens across the city to eat.

That represents an increase of 200,000 people in five years — straining the charities that are trying to help.

The two biggest, City Harvest and the Food Bank for New York City, now provide nearly 110 million pounds of food to soup kitchens and food pantries a year.

Yet those working on the front lines of the hunger crisis say it’s still not enough.

“It’s an astounding surge in need, and it’s because it is so hard for people to find jobs, or find a decent-paying job. They are turning to us for emergency help,” said Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, 63, executive director of 90 free food outlets run by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.

“So many people, too many people, don’t have enough money to pay for rent and also eat.”

At the Washington Heights Ecumenical Food Pantry, bags packed with milk, juice, rice, pasta, tomato sauce, dry beans and other staples fly off the shelves.

Located in a small church vestry, the pantry is open one day a week, serving a steady clientele of 275 people. It could easily help three times as many, if only it had the food, volunteers said.

From soup kitchens in the Bronx, to mobile food markets on Staten Island and in Brooklyn, to pantries in Queens, the story is the same: lines stretching longer and longer, people arriving earlier and earlier, even in the depths of winter.

“Our Lady of Grace, in the northeast Bronx, saw the number of new households double in November — a 100% increase,” said Paul Costiglio, spokesman for Catholic Charities. “Across the board, our programs are reporting a continued increase in the number of working people, unemployed and families.”

The hunger crisis erupted when the Great Recession set in.

The number of city residents receiving aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, soared from 1.3 million in 2008 to 1.8 million today.

Yet, with so many people in need, the biggest benefit reduction in the 50-year history of food stamps took effect Nov. 1.

That’s when a temporary increase in benefits — pushed through by President Obama in 2009 as part of his economic stimulus program — lapsed.

New York households receiving food stamps saw their benefits decrease by an average of $30 to $50 a month, depending on a complex formula that takes into account family size and income.

For a typical family of three, that meant a drop to $189 a month, down from about $220.

Food pantry and soup kitchen operators said the impact was swift and dramatic: Although the economy had rebounded since the financial crisis, those at the bottom of the ladder had not fully shared in the recovery.

And so, on a frigid and windy Wednesday recently, a cluster of about 30 men and women stood outside — sometimes for as long as an hour — to get into the Food Bank for New York City’s Community Kitchen and Food Pantry in Harlem.

In the cramped basement, families took turns moving through a makeshift supermarket, picking what they liked from the small selection on the shelves.

“I got fish today. They gave me salmon,” said Alejandro Medina, 54, a maintenance man at a homeless shelter who earns about $24,000 a year.

His wife works part-time and brings in $8,000. With four kids at home — two of their own and two nephews they care for — they also get $189 a month in food stamps.

But after spending $1,200 a month in rent for their two-bedroom apartment in the Bronx, and paying their other bills, there’s never enough left for food, he said.

Full article

Homeless folks have real solutions to the housing crisisFebruary 27, 2014
When Bill de Blasio took office on January 1, he inherited a broken, bloated and expensive homeless shelter system that cost almost $1 billion to operate in 2013. He also inherited neighborhoods dotted with vacant buildings and lots that represent both potential housing and jobs. For New York’s homeless, there is a Kafkaesque paradigm where so-called affordable housing is in fact unaffordable due to the federal government’s Area Median Income guidelines.
Those who can’t afford housing are the same unemployed, or low-wage workers, seniors, disabled and just poor New Yorkers in the shelter system. On bitterly cold nights this winter, the shelter-industrial complex housed more than 50,000 adults and children — enough to fill Yankee Stadium. That didn’t include those using the domestic violence shelter system and the untold numbers of homeless folks sleeping in churches, mosques and synagogues. Nor does it include the thousands sleeping in trains, public transit facilities or parks. It doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands doubled or tripled up with friends and family hoping for a break so that they don’t have to go into the shelter system.
Real Roots of the Problem
Homelessness has been framed as the result of individual dysfunction and pathology. “Oh, they’re mentally ill, or they need to get a job,” — this mantra has been repeated by politicians and media for two decades. Picture the Homeless encourages the de Blasio administration to look at the big picture, to take into account rising rents and stagnant incomes at the bottom of the wage scale. Forces like gentrification, property warehousing and disinvestment in effective housing programs such as Section 8 have led us to where we are today.
The bottom-line cause of homelessness is the high cost of housing. Real estate development here has been geared to business interests, hotels and high rises, offices and office towers. When there is new housing construction, it’s for the super rich. Banks and landlords keep buildings empty while they wait for neighborhoods to gentrify, and to get rid of protections on rent-stabilized apartments.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg took away the homeless priority for permanent housing solutions like Section 8 and public housing, replacing them with time-limited rental subsidy programs (first Housing Stability Plus and then the Advantage programs) that were doomed from the start.
Past administrations have cried poverty when asked why they don’t prioritize housing for homeless people, but that’s a lie. The money’s there, it’s just being wasted on a politically connected shelter-industrial complex. A billion dollars a year could house a lot of people. Most shelters get two to three times as much money per month for each homeless household as it would cost to pay their rent.
In 2011, we partnered with the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development to devise and execute a replicable methodology for how the city could conduct a vacant property census. We found enough empty buildings and lots to house up to 200,000 people, and that was just in one-third of the city. But the city doesn’t keep track of vacant property and the little bit of money that is out there is being used to house people in shelters.
Every homeless person is different, and it’s true that mental illness and substance abuse play a role in some people losing their housing, but plenty of very wealthy people have issues of substance abuse or mental illness. The root issue is poverty. Public policy needs to address the systemic causes of homelessness. No mayor or president can implement a policy to stop people from having mental illness or losing their jobs, but they can make it so that everyone can afford housing.
There are numerous factors that contribute to record levels of homelessness, like how people coming home from jail with a record are excluded from housing, so there’s nowhere for them to go. Banks are still redlining in certain communities. Institutional racism is also a huge problem — over 90 percent of homeless families in shelters are African-American and/or Latino. Predatory lending has been targeting people of color. Ninety-nine percent of the people who go into housing court get no legal representation, so many of them end up losing their homes.
There’s no cohesive overall plan between government agencies that serve low-income people, and that adds up to a lot of resources being wasted. There’s no unity or collaboration between housing courts and the welfare and shelter systems. HRA, DHS, NYPD — it’s a whole lot of alphabet soup that doesn’t add up to anything.
People say homeless people should go get jobs — but people have jobs! The pay just doesn’t match the rental market. Very low wages, including social security and other income forms for folks who aren’t working, plus inadequate income supports, plus high rents, equal homelessness. It’s simple math.
Making Demands
At Picture the Homeless, we don’t just complain about problems. Homeless people know what’s not working, and they know what needs to change. That’s why our organizing campaigns have concrete policy demands of the new administration.
For starters, it’s unacceptable that the city has no idea how much property is currently vacant. We have to have conduct an annual citywide count of vacant buildings and lots, so we know what kind of resources are out there to develop new housing — and who’s keeping housing off the market. Legislation that would empower the city to do such a count was stalled for three years in the City Council under Christine Quinn. We were heartened to see it identified as a necessary solution on Bill de Blasio’s campaign website, as well as a priority for the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.
The new administration could immediately utilize a small portion of the Department of Homeless Services’ (DHS) shelter budget (even just 1 percent would be almost $10 million!) and create permanent rental subsidies so homeless people can get out of shelters. That funding could also support a pilot project for innovative housing models like community land trusts, which have the potential to create permanently-affordable, democratically-controlled housing for folks at all income levels, as well as supporting small businesses and incubating jobs that pay a living wage.
The city should take all the property whose owners owe taxes on water or violations, and put it into a land bank and develop it for those who really need it. Property that the city acquires through the Third Party Transfer program should be prioritized for nonprofit housing developers, including community land trusts. And the city should create and expand community land trusts that will be permanently affordable to the people who live there.
The new administration could also limit what is considered “affordable housing” to the city of New York. Right now, “affordable housing” can go to folks making upwards of $80,000 a year, because it’s based on Area Median Income calculations that factor in affluent parts of Westchester and Long Island.

Full article

Homeless folks have real solutions to the housing crisis
February 27, 2014

When Bill de Blasio took office on January 1, he inherited a broken, bloated and expensive homeless shelter system that cost almost $1 billion to operate in 2013. He also inherited neighborhoods dotted with vacant buildings and lots that represent both potential housing and jobs. For New York’s homeless, there is a Kafkaesque paradigm where so-called affordable housing is in fact unaffordable due to the federal government’s Area Median Income guidelines.

Those who can’t afford housing are the same unemployed, or low-wage workers, seniors, disabled and just poor New Yorkers in the shelter system. On bitterly cold nights this winter, the shelter-industrial complex housed more than 50,000 adults and children — enough to fill Yankee Stadium. That didn’t include those using the domestic violence shelter system and the untold numbers of homeless folks sleeping in churches, mosques and synagogues. Nor does it include the thousands sleeping in trains, public transit facilities or parks. It doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands doubled or tripled up with friends and family hoping for a break so that they don’t have to go into the shelter system.

Real Roots of the Problem

Homelessness has been framed as the result of individual dysfunction and pathology. “Oh, they’re mentally ill, or they need to get a job,” — this mantra has been repeated by politicians and media for two decades. Picture the Homeless encourages the de Blasio administration to look at the big picture, to take into account rising rents and stagnant incomes at the bottom of the wage scale. Forces like gentrification, property warehousing and disinvestment in effective housing programs such as Section 8 have led us to where we are today.

The bottom-line cause of homelessness is the high cost of housing. Real estate development here has been geared to business interests, hotels and high rises, offices and office towers. When there is new housing construction, it’s for the super rich. Banks and landlords keep buildings empty while they wait for neighborhoods to gentrify, and to get rid of protections on rent-stabilized apartments.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg took away the homeless priority for permanent housing solutions like Section 8 and public housing, replacing them with time-limited rental subsidy programs (first Housing Stability Plus and then the Advantage programs) that were doomed from the start.

Past administrations have cried poverty when asked why they don’t prioritize housing for homeless people, but that’s a lie. The money’s there, it’s just being wasted on a politically connected shelter-industrial complex. A billion dollars a year could house a lot of people. Most shelters get two to three times as much money per month for each homeless household as it would cost to pay their rent.

In 2011, we partnered with the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development to devise and execute a replicable methodology for how the city could conduct a vacant property census. We found enough empty buildings and lots to house up to 200,000 people, and that was just in one-third of the city. But the city doesn’t keep track of vacant property and the little bit of money that is out there is being used to house people in shelters.

Every homeless person is different, and it’s true that mental illness and substance abuse play a role in some people losing their housing, but plenty of very wealthy people have issues of substance abuse or mental illness. The root issue is poverty. Public policy needs to address the systemic causes of homelessness. No mayor or president can implement a policy to stop people from having mental illness or losing their jobs, but they can make it so that everyone can afford housing.

There are numerous factors that contribute to record levels of homelessness, like how people coming home from jail with a record are excluded from housing, so there’s nowhere for them to go. Banks are still redlining in certain communities. Institutional racism is also a huge problem — over 90 percent of homeless families in shelters are African-American and/or Latino. Predatory lending has been targeting people of color. Ninety-nine percent of the people who go into housing court get no legal representation, so many of them end up losing their homes.

There’s no cohesive overall plan between government agencies that serve low-income people, and that adds up to a lot of resources being wasted. There’s no unity or collaboration between housing courts and the welfare and shelter systems. HRA, DHS, NYPD — it’s a whole lot of alphabet soup that doesn’t add up to anything.

People say homeless people should go get jobs — but people have jobs! The pay just doesn’t match the rental market. Very low wages, including social security and other income forms for folks who aren’t working, plus inadequate income supports, plus high rents, equal homelessness. It’s simple math.

Making Demands

At Picture the Homeless, we don’t just complain about problems. Homeless people know what’s not working, and they know what needs to change. That’s why our organizing campaigns have concrete policy demands of the new administration.

For starters, it’s unacceptable that the city has no idea how much property is currently vacant. We have to have conduct an annual citywide count of vacant buildings and lots, so we know what kind of resources are out there to develop new housing — and who’s keeping housing off the market. Legislation that would empower the city to do such a count was stalled for three years in the City Council under Christine Quinn. We were heartened to see it identified as a necessary solution on Bill de Blasio’s campaign website, as well as a priority for the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.

The new administration could immediately utilize a small portion of the Department of Homeless Services’ (DHS) shelter budget (even just 1 percent would be almost $10 million!) and create permanent rental subsidies so homeless people can get out of shelters. That funding could also support a pilot project for innovative housing models like community land trusts, which have the potential to create permanently-affordable, democratically-controlled housing for folks at all income levels, as well as supporting small businesses and incubating jobs that pay a living wage.

The city should take all the property whose owners owe taxes on water or violations, and put it into a land bank and develop it for those who really need it. Property that the city acquires through the Third Party Transfer program should be prioritized for nonprofit housing developers, including community land trusts. And the city should create and expand community land trusts that will be permanently affordable to the people who live there.

The new administration could also limit what is considered “affordable housing” to the city of New York. Right now, “affordable housing” can go to folks making upwards of $80,000 a year, because it’s based on Area Median Income calculations that factor in affluent parts of Westchester and Long Island.

Full article

Two emergency actions to stop NYC’s homeless purge on trainsFebruary 21, 2014
We knew this was coming - NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton is rolling out his first major anti-homeless policing initiative. And we’re ready to fight back. And we need your help.
DNAInfo is reporting that at 3AM on Monday, the City will start purging sleeping homeless people from the subways, stopping trains at two stations to force people off and into a shelter or a hospital. But the NYPD will be on hand, presumably to arrest people who refuse to go. It’s framed as an MTA response to the increased volume of homeless people during this bitter cold winter, but this is a police action, pure and simple. Homeless people who ride the trains have already assessed and rejected the shelter and the hospital as alternative options.
Our main concerns are:
Folks will be profiled as homeless and told to leave the trains after they’ve paid their fare
Folks will be told to leave the train if they are homeless regardless if they’ve been on the train for 15 minutes or 15 days. It isn’t against the law to be riding a subway while homeless!
Besides being a misguided, broken windows strategy, this is a clear violation of the newly-passed Community Safety Act, and its ban on profiling based on “housing status” or perceived homelessness.
While it is problematic that there is a huge increase in homelessness in NYC policing is not the solution, housing is.
Some of our members have already written powerful responses, captured here on our blog. But statements are not enough.
On Sunday, February 23rd, we’ll gather at NYPD headquarters to hold a press conference condemning this blatant violation of our rights.
3PM, Sunday February 23rd1 Police Plaza (4/5/6 train to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall; behind the Municipal Building)
And then at 3AM, when the MTA is scheduled to roll out this new policy, we’ll be on hand with legal observers to monitor the enforcement and ensure no ones rights are violated! 


3AM, Monday February 24thJamaica Center Subway Station, E PlatformWTC Subway Station, E Platform

We really really need your help, at either or both of these important actions. We knew that when Bratton returned as NYPD commissioner, bad policing was on its way - but if we fight back fast and hard, we can show him that a lot has changed in New York City since he’s been away, and folks won’t stand for profiling of any kind!
- Picture the Homeless NYC
In news related to NYC’s homelessness crisis & deplorable shelter system, 400 children & their families will be removed from two city shelters - Auburn in Brooklyn & Catherine Street in Manhattan - for more than 400 violations, including “vermin, mold, lead exposure, an inoperable fire safety system, insufficient child care and the presence of sexual predators, among them, a caseworker.” 
Disgusting shelter conditions, high rates of sexual abuse, violence, & pure bureaucratic bullshit people have to deal with when entering the shelter system are exactly why there are so many street homeless people & subway sleepers here. Now people will be kicked out of the only warm (& relatively safe) shelter they can find in the city.
The homeless population in New York City includes more than 52,000 people, including 22,000 youth. 

Two emergency actions to stop NYC’s homeless purge on trains
February 21, 2014

We knew this was coming - NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton is rolling out his first major anti-homeless policing initiative. And we’re ready to fight back. And we need your help.
DNAInfo is reporting that at 3AM on Monday, the City will start purging sleeping homeless people from the subways, stopping trains at two stations to force people off and into a shelter or a hospital. But the NYPD will be on hand, presumably to arrest people who refuse to go. It’s framed as an MTA response to the increased volume of homeless people during this bitter cold winter, but this is a police action, pure and simple. Homeless people who ride the trains have already assessed and rejected the shelter and the hospital as alternative options.
Our main concerns are:
  1. Folks will be profiled as homeless and told to leave the trains after they’ve paid their fare
  2. Folks will be told to leave the train if they are homeless regardless if they’ve been on the train for 15 minutes or 15 days. It isn’t against the law to be riding a subway while homeless!
  3. Besides being a misguided, broken windows strategy, this is a clear violation of the newly-passed Community Safety Act, and its ban on profiling based on “housing status” or perceived homelessness.
  4. While it is problematic that there is a huge increase in homelessness in NYC policing is not the solution, housing is.

Some of our members have already written powerful responses, captured here on our blog. But statements are not enough.

On Sunday, February 23rd, we’ll gather at NYPD headquarters to hold a press conference condemning this blatant violation of our rights.

3PM, Sunday February 23rd
1 Police Plaza (4/5/6 train to Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall; behind the Municipal Building)

And then at 3AM, when the MTA is scheduled to roll out this new policy, we’ll be on hand with legal observers to monitor the enforcement and ensure no ones rights are violated! 
3AM, Monday February 24th
Jamaica Center Subway Station, E PlatformWTC Subway Station, E Platform
We really really need your help, at either or both of these important actions. We knew that when Bratton returned as NYPD commissioner, bad policing was on its way - but if we fight back fast and hard, we can show him that a lot has changed in New York City since he’s been away, and folks won’t stand for profiling of any kind!

- Picture the Homeless NYC

In news related to NYC’s homelessness crisis & deplorable shelter system, 400 children & their families will be removed from two city shelters - Auburn in Brooklyn & Catherine Street in Manhattan - for more than 400 violations, including “vermin, mold, lead exposure, an inoperable fire safety system, insufficient child care and the presence of sexual predators, among them, a caseworker.” 

Disgusting shelter conditions, high rates of sexual abuse, violence, & pure bureaucratic bullshit people have to deal with when entering the shelter system are exactly why there are so many street homeless people & subway sleepers here. Now people will be kicked out of the only warm (& relatively safe) shelter they can find in the city.

The homeless population in New York City includes more than 52,000 people, including 22,000 youth. 

President Obama signs $8.7 billion food stamp cut into law

February 7, 2014

On Friday, President Obama added his signature to legislation that will cut $8.7 billion in food stamp benefits over the next 10 years, causing 850,000 households to lose an average of $90 per month. The signing of the legislation known as the 2014 Farm Bill occurred at a public event in East Lansing, Mich.

The food stamp cuts are one component of a massive omnibus bill which also includesbillions of dollars in crop insurance and various other programs and subsidies involving American agriculture. Before he signed the legislation, President Obama praised it as an example of bipartisan problem-solving that would help create jobs and move the American economy forward.

“Congress passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that is going to make a big difference in communities across the country,” said the president.

Obama’s remarks also focused heavily on economic inequality, which he has previously called “the defining challenge of our time.” The Farm Bill, he said, would “give more Americans a shot at opportunity.”

When House Republicans originally argued for a food stamp cut of between $20.5 billion and $39 billion, the White House threatened to veto both of those proposals. During his Friday speech, the president did not say whether he was satisfied with the final $8.7 billion figure, or even mention the cuts at all. Instead, he praised the food stamp program and said that the final Farm Bill preserved much-needed benefits.

“My position has always been that any Farm Bill I sign must include protections for vulnerable Americans, and thanks to the hard work of [Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich] and others, it does just that,” he said.

Stabenow, who played a key role in Farm Bill negotiations, fully embraced the cuts in a speech delivered shortly before the president took the stage.

“This is a nutrition bill that makes sure families have a safety net just like farmers do,” she said. “The savings in food assistance came solely from addressing fraud and misuse while maintaining the important benefits for families that need temporary help.”

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One before the speech, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made much the same point, saying that the $8.7 billion cut “probably makes the program more legitimate than it was.”

In fact, the benefits reduction would eliminate the state-level “Heat and Eat” policies currently employed in 15 states and Washington, D.C. Left-wing opponents of the Farm Bill, including Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., expect the burden of burden of the cuts to fall disproportionately on the elderly and disabled.

“Poor people are getting screwed by this Republican majority [in the House] and Democrats in my opinion aren’t doing enough to push back,” he said. “I wish there had been more of a fight from the White House and others.”

McGovern also admitted to being “puzzled” by the White House’s silence on hunger and food stamp cuts. He predicted that Republicans’ success in getting a several billion dollar food stamp cut meant that they would soon try again for even more.

“They know they can’t get a $40 billion cut right off the bat, so what they’re doing is they’re chipping away at it,” he said.

Source

New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheidJanuary 21, 2014
It’s a sight to behold. Just off Lagos, Nigeria’s coast, an artificial island is emerging from the sea. A foundation, built of sand dredged from the ocean floor, stretches over ten kilometres. Promotional videos depict what is to come: a city of soaring buildings, housing for 250,000 people, and a central boulevard to match Paris’ Champs-Élysées and New York’s Fifth Avenue. Privately constructed, it will also be privately administered and supplied with electricity, water, mass transit, sewage and security. It is the “future Hong Kong of Africa,” anticipates Nigeria’s World Bank director.
Welcome to Eko Atlantic, a city whose “whole purpose”, its developers say, is to “arrest the ocean’s encroachment.” Like many low-lying coastal African countries, Nigeria has been hit hard by a rising sea-level, which has regularly washed away thousands of peoples’ homes. To defend against the coastal erosion and flooding, the city is being surrounded by the “Great Wall of Lagos”, a sea defence barrier made of 100,000 five-ton concrete blocks. Eko Atlantic will be a “sustainable city, clean and energy efficient with minimal carbon emissions,” offer jobs, prosperity and new land for Nigerians, and serve as a bulwark in the fight against the impacts of climate change.
At least that’s the official story. Other facts suggest this gleaming city will be a menacing allure to most. In congested Lagos, Africa’s largest city, there is little employment and millions work and scavenge in a vast, desperate informal economy. Sixty percent of Nigeria’s population – almost 100 of 170 million people – live on less than a dollar a day. Preventable diseases are widespread; electricity and clean water hard to come by. A few kilometres down the Lagos shoreline, Nigerians eke out an existence in the aquatic slum of Makoko, built precariously on stilts over the ocean. Casting them as crime-ridden, the government regularly dismantles such slums, bulldozing homes and evicting thousands. These are hardly the people who will scoop up square footage in Eko Atlantic’s pricy new high-rises.
Those behind the project – a pair of politically connected Lebanese brothers who run a financial empire called the Chagoury Group, and a slew of African and international banks – give a picture of who will be catered to. Gilbert Chaougry was a close advisor to the notorious Nigerian dictatorship of the mid 1990s, helping the ultra-corrupt general Sani Abacha as he looted billions from public coffers. Abacha killed hundreds of demonstrators and executed environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who rose to fame protesting the despoiling of the country by Shell and other multinational oil corporations. Thus it’s fitting for whom the first 15-story office tower in Eko Atlantic is being built: a British oil and gas trading company. The city proposing to head off environmental devastation will be populated by those most responsible for it in the first place.
The real inspiration for Eko Atlantic comes not from these men but the dreamworlds of rampant capitalism, stoked by a successful, thirty year global campaign to claw back gains in social security and unchain corporations from regulation – what we now know as neoliberalism. In Nigeria, oil wealth plundered by a military elite spawned extreme inequalities and upended the economy. Under the IMF’s neoliberal dictates, the situation worsened: education and healthcare were gutted, industries privatized, and farmers ruined by western products dumped on their markets. The World Bank celebrated Nigeria; extreme poverty doubled. The most notorious application of the power of the Nigerian state for the interest of the rich came in 1990: an entire district of Lagos - 300,000 homes – was razed to clear the way for high-end real-estate development.
As elites in Nigeria and elsewhere have embraced such inequality as the very engine of growth, they have revived some of the most extreme forms of colonial segregation and gated leisure. Today, boutiques cannot open fast enough to serve the Nigerian millionaires buying luxury cars and yachts they’ll be able to dock in Eko Atlantic’s down-town marina. Meanwhile, thousands of people who live in communities along the coast expect the new city will bring displacement, not prosperity, says environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey. To get their way, the developers, backed by industry and politicians, have trampled over the country’s environmental assessment process. “Building Eko Atlantic is contrary to anything one would want to do if one took seriously climate change and resource depletion,” he says.
The wealthy and powerful may in fact take climate change seriously: not as a demand to modify their behaviour or question the fossil-fuel driven global economy that has made it possible, but as the biggest opportunity yet to realize their dreams of unfettered accumulation and consumption. The disaster capitalists behind Eko Atlantic have seized on climate change to push through pro-corporate plans to build a city of their dreams, an architectural insult to the daily circumstances of ordinary Nigerians. The criminalized poor abandoned outside their walls may once have served as sufficient justification for their flight and fortification – but now they have the very real threat of climate change as well.
Eko Atlantic is where you can begin to see a possible future – a vision of privatized green enclaves for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms. Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising. A world in which the rich and powerful exploit the global ecological crisis to widen and entrench already extreme inequalities and seal themselves off from its impacts – this is climate apartheid.
Prepare for the elite, like never before, to use climate change to transform neighbourhoods, cities, even entire nations into heavily fortified islands. Already, around the world, from Afghanistan to Arizona, China to Cairo, and in mushrooming mega-cities much like Lagos, those able are moving to areas where they can live better and often more greenly – with better transport and renewable technologies, green buildings and ecological services. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, the super-rich – ferried above the congested city by a fleet of hundreds of helicopters – have disembedded themselves from urban life, attempting to escape from a common fate. 
In places like Eko Atlantic the escape, a moral and social secession of the rich from those in their country, will be complete. This essentially utopian drive – to consume rapaciously and endlessly and to reject any semblance of collective impulse and concern – is simply incompatible with human survival. But at the moment when we must confront an economy and ideology pushing the planet’s life-support systems to breaking point, this is what the neoliberal imagination offers us: a grotesque monument to the ultra-rich flight from responsibility.
Full article

New, privatized African city heralds climate apartheid
January 21, 2014

It’s a sight to behold. Just off Lagos, Nigeria’s coast, an artificial island is emerging from the sea. A foundation, built of sand dredged from the ocean floor, stretches over ten kilometres. Promotional videos depict what is to come: a city of soaring buildings, housing for 250,000 people, and a central boulevard to match Paris’ Champs-Élysées and New York’s Fifth Avenue. Privately constructed, it will also be privately administered and supplied with electricity, water, mass transit, sewage and security. It is the “future Hong Kong of Africa,” anticipates Nigeria’s World Bank director.

Welcome to Eko Atlantic, a city whose “whole purpose”, its developers say, is to “arrest the ocean’s encroachment.” Like many low-lying coastal African countries, Nigeria has been hit hard by a rising sea-level, which has regularly washed away thousands of peoples’ homes. To defend against the coastal erosion and flooding, the city is being surrounded by the “Great Wall of Lagos”, a sea defence barrier made of 100,000 five-ton concrete blocks. Eko Atlantic will be a “sustainable city, clean and energy efficient with minimal carbon emissions,” offer jobs, prosperity and new land for Nigerians, and serve as a bulwark in the fight against the impacts of climate change.

At least that’s the official story. Other facts suggest this gleaming city will be a menacing allure to most. In congested Lagos, Africa’s largest city, there is little employment and millions work and scavenge in a vast, desperate informal economy. Sixty percent of Nigeria’s population – almost 100 of 170 million people – live on less than a dollar a day. Preventable diseases are widespread; electricity and clean water hard to come by. A few kilometres down the Lagos shoreline, Nigerians eke out an existence in the aquatic slum of Makoko, built precariously on stilts over the ocean. Casting them as crime-ridden, the government regularly dismantles such slums, bulldozing homes and evicting thousands. These are hardly the people who will scoop up square footage in Eko Atlantic’s pricy new high-rises.

Those behind the project – a pair of politically connected Lebanese brothers who run a financial empire called the Chagoury Group, and a slew of African and international banks – give a picture of who will be catered to. Gilbert Chaougry was a close advisor to the notorious Nigerian dictatorship of the mid 1990s, helping the ultra-corrupt general Sani Abacha as he looted billions from public coffers. Abacha killed hundreds of demonstrators and executed environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who rose to fame protesting the despoiling of the country by Shell and other multinational oil corporations. Thus it’s fitting for whom the first 15-story office tower in Eko Atlantic is being built: a British oil and gas trading company. The city proposing to head off environmental devastation will be populated by those most responsible for it in the first place.

The real inspiration for Eko Atlantic comes not from these men but the dreamworlds of rampant capitalism, stoked by a successful, thirty year global campaign to claw back gains in social security and unchain corporations from regulation – what we now know as neoliberalism. In Nigeria, oil wealth plundered by a military elite spawned extreme inequalities and upended the economy. Under the IMF’s neoliberal dictates, the situation worsened: education and healthcare were gutted, industries privatized, and farmers ruined by western products dumped on their markets. The World Bank celebrated Nigeria; extreme poverty doubled. The most notorious application of the power of the Nigerian state for the interest of the rich came in 1990: an entire district of Lagos - 300,000 homes – was razed to clear the way for high-end real-estate development.

As elites in Nigeria and elsewhere have embraced such inequality as the very engine of growth, they have revived some of the most extreme forms of colonial segregation and gated leisure. Today, boutiques cannot open fast enough to serve the Nigerian millionaires buying luxury cars and yachts they’ll be able to dock in Eko Atlantic’s down-town marina. Meanwhile, thousands of people who live in communities along the coast expect the new city will bring displacement, not prosperity, says environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey. To get their way, the developers, backed by industry and politicians, have trampled over the country’s environmental assessment process. “Building Eko Atlantic is contrary to anything one would want to do if one took seriously climate change and resource depletion,” he says.

The wealthy and powerful may in fact take climate change seriously: not as a demand to modify their behaviour or question the fossil-fuel driven global economy that has made it possible, but as the biggest opportunity yet to realize their dreams of unfettered accumulation and consumption. The disaster capitalists behind Eko Atlantic have seized on climate change to push through pro-corporate plans to build a city of their dreams, an architectural insult to the daily circumstances of ordinary Nigerians. The criminalized poor abandoned outside their walls may once have served as sufficient justification for their flight and fortification – but now they have the very real threat of climate change as well.

Eko Atlantic is where you can begin to see a possible future – a vision of privatized green enclaves for the ultra rich ringed by slums lacking water or electricity, in which a surplus population scramble for depleting resources and shelter to fend off the coming floods and storms. Protected by guards, guns, and an insurmountable gully – real estate prices – the rich will shield themselves from the rising tides of poverty and a sea that is literally rising. A world in which the rich and powerful exploit the global ecological crisis to widen and entrench already extreme inequalities and seal themselves off from its impacts – this is climate apartheid.

Prepare for the elite, like never before, to use climate change to transform neighbourhoods, cities, even entire nations into heavily fortified islands. Already, around the world, from Afghanistan to Arizona, China to Cairo, and in mushrooming mega-cities much like Lagos, those able are moving to areas where they can live better and often more greenly – with better transport and renewable technologies, green buildings and ecological services. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, the super-rich – ferried above the congested city by a fleet of hundreds of helicopters – have disembedded themselves from urban life, attempting to escape from a common fate. 

In places like Eko Atlantic the escape, a moral and social secession of the rich from those in their country, will be complete. This essentially utopian drive – to consume rapaciously and endlessly and to reject any semblance of collective impulse and concern – is simply incompatible with human survival. But at the moment when we must confront an economy and ideology pushing the planet’s life-support systems to breaking point, this is what the neoliberal imagination offers us: a grotesque monument to the ultra-rich flight from responsibility.

Full article

The roots of gentrification & how we can respondJanuary 19, 2014
The gentrification of a neighborhood often produces conflicting impressions on residents and non-residents. On the one hand, the area seems safer than in the past, houses are increasingly renovated, and new cultural and commercial resources are established. On the other hand, long-standing residents leave and appear to be replaced by higher-income people, usually white.
Edward, a longtime resident of Brooklyn, commented on the changes in his Crown Heights neighborhood in an interview at Narratively:

I’ve lived here 37 years, and now I start to see white people moving in. And I’m telling you the truth now, I start to feel like…’But why are all these people moving in?’ And I think to myself, ‘Ah shit!’ The changes around here—the police start to change; all this other shit, all these bicycle things.

Gentrification is the result of capitalism, a system characterized by the relentless pursuit of profit. In this article, I will examine what appear to be two contradictory outcomes of gentrification: the “improvement” of a neighborhood on the one hand and the displacement of its long-time residents on the other.
My intention is to provide an objective analysis from the perspective of those who make this city run—that is, the working class of New York and of all other cities undergoing gentrification.
First, let’s clear up a few misconceptions. For one, the driving force behind gentrification isn’t the appearance of “hipsters,” as seems to be assumed by many people, such as this blogger at DieHipster.com:

You clueless wannabe urban fucks aren’t fooling any of us real New Yorkers. You’ve accomplished nothing over the last decade, but displaced hardworking families, old-time residents and newly arrived immigrants…Rents have doubled and tripled because of your desire to be some kind of urban pioneer.

This blogger’s resentment toward a group of people who are used to crack open a neighborhood for so-called “urban renewal” is prevalent and understandable. Likewise, geographer David Levy explains gentrification as flowing from the consumer preferences of a new, youthful, white-collar middle class that wishes to change from a suburban to an urban lifestyle.
It seems unlikely, however, that the group’s actions alone can cause such an overwhelming and synchronous transformation of urban communities across the world. Moreover, it seems less likely that we can challenge gentrification by convincing hipsters to move elsewhere.
Levy’s “consumption-side” theory fails to identify the larger economic and political forces that nourish gentrification, and it cannot explain why certain neighborhoods are targeted for gentrification.
The late geographer Neil Smith counterposes Levy’s theory with a class perspective. He writes:

By contrast, the owners of capital intent on gentrifying and developing a neighborhood have a lot more “consumer choice” about which neighborhoods they want to devour, and the kind of housing and other facilities they produce for the rest of us to consume.

Smith’s point helps illustrate that the roots of gentrification lie much deeper than in the lifestyle of hipsters—they arise from the very fact that the economy is profit-driven. The things we consume are produced under the control of, and ultimately in the interests of, a minority of the population—the capitalist class. Any rational considerations, such as human well-being or climate change, aren’t priorities.
Once profit is made, it must be reinvested quickly to make even more profit, and so on. The accumulation of capital is therefore limitless and has no boundaries. Out of this limitless potential for the accumulation of capital arises competition between capitalists, in which the ones who accumulate the least perish from the market. Therefore, anything and everything becomes a commodity and is milked for profit—including land and housing.
In an article he co-authored with Michelle LeFaivre called “A Class Analysis of Gentrification,”, Smith explains after the Second World War, there was a mass movement of capital to the suburbs, where in contrast to the city, land was cheaper, little development existed, and larger sums of profit could be extracted.
Once capital left the city, many urban communities deteriorated. As they deteriorated, the value of properties decreased, and the capital needed to maintain them yielded fewer and fewer returns—and so the urban infrastructure was left for dead.
In the past few decades, however, as the suburbs developed, there was less room to invest small and gain big. Thus, capital made its return to urban life. After decades of consigning them to poverty and despair, capital re-enters starved urban communities only when it has become most profitable to do so.
When there’s a wide enough gap between the current rent in an area and the potential rent that can be made if it were to undergo reinvestment, a project for gentrification is born. This “rent gap” is the mechanism underlying gentrification.
Full articlePhoto

The roots of gentrification & how we can respond
January 19, 2014

The gentrification of a neighborhood often produces conflicting impressions on residents and non-residents. On the one hand, the area seems safer than in the past, houses are increasingly renovated, and new cultural and commercial resources are established. On the other hand, long-standing residents leave and appear to be replaced by higher-income people, usually white.

Edward, a longtime resident of Brooklyn, commented on the changes in his Crown Heights neighborhood in an interview at Narratively:

I’ve lived here 37 years, and now I start to see white people moving in. And I’m telling you the truth now, I start to feel like…’But why are all these people moving in?’ And I think to myself, ‘Ah shit!’ The changes around here—the police start to change; all this other shit, all these bicycle things.

Gentrification is the result of capitalism, a system characterized by the relentless pursuit of profit. In this article, I will examine what appear to be two contradictory outcomes of gentrification: the “improvement” of a neighborhood on the one hand and the displacement of its long-time residents on the other.

My intention is to provide an objective analysis from the perspective of those who make this city run—that is, the working class of New York and of all other cities undergoing gentrification.

First, let’s clear up a few misconceptions. For one, the driving force behind gentrification isn’t the appearance of “hipsters,” as seems to be assumed by many people, such as this blogger at DieHipster.com:

You clueless wannabe urban fucks aren’t fooling any of us real New Yorkers. You’ve accomplished nothing over the last decade, but displaced hardworking families, old-time residents and newly arrived immigrants…Rents have doubled and tripled because of your desire to be some kind of urban pioneer.

This blogger’s resentment toward a group of people who are used to crack open a neighborhood for so-called “urban renewal” is prevalent and understandable. Likewise, geographer David Levy explains gentrification as flowing from the consumer preferences of a new, youthful, white-collar middle class that wishes to change from a suburban to an urban lifestyle.

It seems unlikely, however, that the group’s actions alone can cause such an overwhelming and synchronous transformation of urban communities across the world. Moreover, it seems less likely that we can challenge gentrification by convincing hipsters to move elsewhere.

Levy’s “consumption-side” theory fails to identify the larger economic and political forces that nourish gentrification, and it cannot explain why certain neighborhoods are targeted for gentrification.

The late geographer Neil Smith counterposes Levy’s theory with a class perspective. He writes:

By contrast, the owners of capital intent on gentrifying and developing a neighborhood have a lot more “consumer choice” about which neighborhoods they want to devour, and the kind of housing and other facilities they produce for the rest of us to consume.

Smith’s point helps illustrate that the roots of gentrification lie much deeper than in the lifestyle of hipsters—they arise from the very fact that the economy is profit-driven. The things we consume are produced under the control of, and ultimately in the interests of, a minority of the population—the capitalist class. Any rational considerations, such as human well-being or climate change, aren’t priorities.

Once profit is made, it must be reinvested quickly to make even more profit, and so on. The accumulation of capital is therefore limitless and has no boundaries. Out of this limitless potential for the accumulation of capital arises competition between capitalists, in which the ones who accumulate the least perish from the market. Therefore, anything and everything becomes a commodity and is milked for profit—including land and housing.

In an article he co-authored with Michelle LeFaivre called “A Class Analysis of Gentrification,”, Smith explains after the Second World War, there was a mass movement of capital to the suburbs, where in contrast to the city, land was cheaper, little development existed, and larger sums of profit could be extracted.

Once capital left the city, many urban communities deteriorated. As they deteriorated, the value of properties decreased, and the capital needed to maintain them yielded fewer and fewer returns—and so the urban infrastructure was left for dead.

In the past few decades, however, as the suburbs developed, there was less room to invest small and gain big. Thus, capital made its return to urban life. After decades of consigning them to poverty and despair, capital re-enters starved urban communities only when it has become most profitable to do so.

When there’s a wide enough gap between the current rent in an area and the potential rent that can be made if it were to undergo reinvestment, a project for gentrification is born. This “rent gap” is the mechanism underlying gentrification.

Full article
Photo

Thousands of teachers in Puerto Rico strike against pension cuts
January 15, 2014

Thousands of teachers across Puerto Rico walked off their jobs Tuesday in a noisy two-day strike over cuts to their pensions that the island’s government says are necessary to avert financial disaster but that educators say will force many of them into poverty.

The teachers gathered with tambourines, cowbells and bullhorns outside public schools across the island on the first day of classes after winter break, forcing hundreds of schools to close. 

Aida Diaz, president of Puerto Rico’s Teachers’ Association, condemned the law that was approved on Christmas Eve and calls for switching from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution system, among other changes. She noted that teachers in Puerto Rico do not collect U.S. Social Security, and that many would see a decrease in their pension.

“This is the most important fight in our history,” she said. “It’s about protecting and defending the only source of income we have upon retirement.”

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California actions planned for Homeless Bill of RightsJanuary 15, 2014
Homeless advocates are planning actions across California to promote a bill of rights for the un-housed this coming Friday and weekend. Activists from at least 10 cities will be participating through community forums, speak-outs and marches.
In Los Angeles, advocates are planning a “sleep-out” in Venice, where participants will pitch tents and sleep overnight in a public space.
Organizers and participants are demanding California adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights and end, what they call, the criminalization of the poor and homeless by canceling ordinances and policing strategies that target them.
In Los Angeles alone, several city ordinances, sometimes called “Quality of Life” laws, have been written specifically targeting the poor, such as dictating when people can sleep, sit or lie down on sidewalks, as well as restricting overnight parking to rid neighborhoods of anyone who lives in their cars. Food lines are also under threat, as business interests are seeking to end public feeding, saying it is a hazard to public health and safety.
Organizers for the Western Regional Advocacy Project, or WRAP, which is spearheading the campaign, likens these laws to previous discriminatory practices, such as the ugly laws of the 1870s, the anti-Oakie laws of the 1930s, the sunset laws of the 1950s and Jim Crow.
“These so-called ‘Quality of Life’ laws are to disappear homeless people, to keep homeless people out of public spaces. It’s basically criminalizing their existence,” said Bilal Ali, a statewide organizer for WRAP.
The Homeless Bill of Rights is currently being reviewed by WRAP’s legislative committee for slight revisions, said Ali. State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) had introduced a version of the Homeless Bill of Rights to the Assembly in 2012. It was thought he would sponsor the bill this year, but as of now organizers are not sure how much support, if any, they will be able to expect from Ammiano.
The Homeless Bill of Rights is based on six principles, which, if passed, will protect the right to:
Move freely, rest, sleep, pray and be protected in public spaces without discrimination.
Occupy a legally parked vehicle.
Serve food to the homeless and eat in public.
Legal counsel if being prosecuted for infractions.
Twenty-four-hour access to existing hygiene facilities.
Be considered for necessity defense by judges when hearing homeless related cases.
The Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate, Luis Rodriguez, said last month that he supports the Homeless Bill of Rights. He said LA’s solution to homelessness has been to drive them away to areas outside the city.
“We have the largest homeless population in the country,” he said of California. “It is ridiculous in a state so rich and powerful that instead of providing people decent homes we’re just pushing them out.”
Part of the strategy of advocates is to tie in Marin Luther King Jr. Day, which falls on the Monday following the weekend’s actions. Advocates hope to use King’s position on economic justice to assist in their messaging.
Although government-corporate parades that honor King every year focus on his anti-segregation campaign, King’s plans for revolutionizing America were much broader. In 1968, he initiated a Poor People’s campaign, which linked capitalism’s inability to provide economic security for all Americans, as well as the country’s militarism, to race and poverty within its borders.
King’s stance on poverty, however, was about as popular today as it was in 1968, said Kwazi Nkrumah, a coordinator and co-chair for the Martin Luther King Coalition in Los Angeles. Many, he said, abandoned King for his support of the poor and speaking out against the war on Vietnam.
“It’s an important message for people to get, because they are not getting that message,” he said “It is important people recognize and acknowledge that King’s own orientation, while it was certainly very significant in terms of addressing the race issues in America, wasn’t solely about race. It was about race and economics and many other things.”
The actions in Venice will begin at 11 a.m. on Jan. 18 and will end by 11 a.m. the following day. Participants will be meeting at the Ocean Front Walk and Rose Avenue. Food lines are scheduled to provide breakfast and dinner. At 2:00 p.m., activists will be holding a parade on Ocean Front Walk. The sleep-out will begin around five or six p.m. at Windward circle at Windward Avenue and Main Street.
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California actions planned for Homeless Bill of Rights
January 15, 2014

Homeless advocates are planning actions across California to promote a bill of rights for the un-housed this coming Friday and weekend. Activists from at least 10 cities will be participating through community forums, speak-outs and marches.

In Los Angeles, advocates are planning a “sleep-out” in Venice, where participants will pitch tents and sleep overnight in a public space.

Organizers and participants are demanding California adopt a Homeless Bill of Rights and end, what they call, the criminalization of the poor and homeless by canceling ordinances and policing strategies that target them.

In Los Angeles alone, several city ordinances, sometimes called “Quality of Life” laws, have been written specifically targeting the poor, such as dictating when people can sleep, sit or lie down on sidewalks, as well as restricting overnight parking to rid neighborhoods of anyone who lives in their cars. Food lines are also under threat, as business interests are seeking to end public feeding, saying it is a hazard to public health and safety.

Organizers for the Western Regional Advocacy Project, or WRAP, which is spearheading the campaign, likens these laws to previous discriminatory practices, such as the ugly laws of the 1870s, the anti-Oakie laws of the 1930s, the sunset laws of the 1950s and Jim Crow.

“These so-called ‘Quality of Life’ laws are to disappear homeless people, to keep homeless people out of public spaces. It’s basically criminalizing their existence,” said Bilal Ali, a statewide organizer for WRAP.

The Homeless Bill of Rights is currently being reviewed by WRAP’s legislative committee for slight revisions, said Ali. State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) had introduced a version of the Homeless Bill of Rights to the Assembly in 2012. It was thought he would sponsor the bill this year, but as of now organizers are not sure how much support, if any, they will be able to expect from Ammiano.

The Homeless Bill of Rights is based on six principles, which, if passed, will protect the right to:

  • Move freely, rest, sleep, pray and be protected in public spaces without discrimination.
  • Occupy a legally parked vehicle.
  • Serve food to the homeless and eat in public.
  • Legal counsel if being prosecuted for infractions.
  • Twenty-four-hour access to existing hygiene facilities.
  • Be considered for necessity defense by judges when hearing homeless related cases.

The Green Party’s gubernatorial candidate, Luis Rodriguez, said last month that he supports the Homeless Bill of Rights. He said LA’s solution to homelessness has been to drive them away to areas outside the city.

“We have the largest homeless population in the country,” he said of California. “It is ridiculous in a state so rich and powerful that instead of providing people decent homes we’re just pushing them out.”

Part of the strategy of advocates is to tie in Marin Luther King Jr. Day, which falls on the Monday following the weekend’s actions. Advocates hope to use King’s position on economic justice to assist in their messaging.

Although government-corporate parades that honor King every year focus on his anti-segregation campaign, King’s plans for revolutionizing America were much broader. In 1968, he initiated a Poor People’s campaign, which linked capitalism’s inability to provide economic security for all Americans, as well as the country’s militarism, to race and poverty within its borders.

King’s stance on poverty, however, was about as popular today as it was in 1968, said Kwazi Nkrumah, a coordinator and co-chair for the Martin Luther King Coalition in Los Angeles. Many, he said, abandoned King for his support of the poor and speaking out against the war on Vietnam.

“It’s an important message for people to get, because they are not getting that message,” he said “It is important people recognize and acknowledge that King’s own orientation, while it was certainly very significant in terms of addressing the race issues in America, wasn’t solely about race. It was about race and economics and many other things.”

The actions in Venice will begin at 11 a.m. on Jan. 18 and will end by 11 a.m. the following day. Participants will be meeting at the Ocean Front Walk and Rose Avenue. Food lines are scheduled to provide breakfast and dinner. At 2:00 p.m., activists will be holding a parade on Ocean Front Walk. The sleep-out will begin around five or six p.m. at Windward circle at Windward Avenue and Main Street.

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Nobody is sleeping on the streets.

something New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg actually said.

Apparently the thousands of NYC children & adults who live on the streets every day don’t exist. I do outreach & advocacy for homeless youth in all five boroughs & obviously, this statement is 100 percent false, degrading, deceitful & shameful. I see young people trying to find shelter in train stations, alley ways, bus stops, parks & anywhere they can find refuge from the cold weather. 

There are 22,000 homeless children in NYC alone, & more than 4,000 youth who sleep on the streets each night. NYC shelters provide only 250 beds. Not only do these shelters rarely have vacancy & are difficult to get into, especially for a young person, they are also dangerous & unsanitary.

Homelessness in New York City (& elsewhere) is a huge fucking problem. In mostly neighborhoods of color, the system de-funds their schools, pushes out their small businesses & affordable housing with skyrocketing rent to fulfill an agenda of gentrification & exploits low-wage workers, eventually forcing people into illegal economies, such as selling drugs & sex work, & eventually onto the streets. 

Fuck you, $$$$$Michael Bloomberg$$$$$

Seven homeless people freeze to death in wealthiest area of the country

December 19, 2013

A 50-year-old California man  described by relatives as a “loving father and a doting grandfather,” White had been living on the streets of Hayward for years. He wanted to work and was able to find odd jobs here and there, but it was never much or consistent enough to afford a place to live. Hayward has no emergency shelter with beds for single men, so White slept outside.

But things were looking up. Last Saturday, White was  second on a long list to get permanent supportive housing in Hayward. He had been waiting in line for months and it seemed as though he might finally catch a break.

White died on Sunday.

Temperatures in the Bay Area plummeted to near-freezing on December 10, an uncommon occurrence in a region generally known for its lack of inclement weather. White’s body was found in the old Hayward City Hall courtyard. He’d been beaten up and robbed by multiple men, who took the new winter coat White’s sister had  given him on Friday. He was wearing just a hoodie and shorts. His cause of death is still being determined, but police  speculated that his death was weather-related.

White is now the seventh homeless person in the Bay Area to die in the cold since November 28. The others were Daniel Brillhart, 52; Enrique Rubio, 56; Andrew Greenleaf, 48; Daniel Moore, 53; and two men in the East Bay and Peninsula whose names have not been released.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, approximately 700 homeless people die from hypothermia every year. Those deaths tend to occur in the East Coast and Midwest, not California. But temperatures in the Bay have repeatedly dipped below freezing in the past few weeks, leaving thousands of homeless people in danger.

The Bay Area has one of the highest homeless populations in part because of the explosion of recent wealth that has led to increasing inequality and a lack of affordable housing for those without high-paying tech jobs. The San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose metropolitan area is the wealthiest in the country, even outpacing New York-Connecticut and Washington DC-Maryland-Northern Virginia. This influx of money has  brought higher housing prices and more evictions in the past few years.

And for those viscerally impacted by rising inequality, life is especially difficult when the temperatures drop. Many communities in the Bay Area lack emergency shelters, in part because freezes aren’t very common. But what happens to many of the thousands of people living without shelter in the Bay Area, waiting for their name to be called for the few affordable housing units that exist? “What happens is they die on the street,” Betty DeForest, director emeritus of South Hayward Parish,  wrote in an email to the City Council last week following White’s death.

In other words, we live in a society that leaves many people too poor to survive but are surprised to see them die.

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