Air Date 11/12/2021
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast, in which we shall take a look at the current state of homelessness in America and the best solution we currently know of to tackle the problem. Spoiler alert: it's surprisingly simple. The best way to end homelessness is to give people homes. You should still listen though.
Clips today are from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the Thom Hartmann Program, 99% Invisible, and Second Thought, with additional members only clips from Justice in America and the PBSNewsHour.
Homelessness - LastWeek Tonight - Air Date 11-1-21
[00:00:32] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: I know it is easy to criticize Fox News for being alarmist. Alarmism is their whole thing; that and airing ads for pills that make your dick go bongo. But the truth is even some residents of Austin, famously a blue dot in a red state, have said it's been a struggle to reconcile their feelings about their homeless neighbors.
[00:00:49] VICE NEWS REPORTER: Do you think if you had seen this issue happening in another city and it wasn't happening in your neighborhood, you wouldn't feel differently?
[00:00:56] UNIDENTIFIED AUSTIN RESIDENT: Once you're in the middle of it, you change your mind of how you approach the situation. But as your safety declined, so does your compassion. Every, every time I have to pick up human shit, my liberalness just got lowered one more notch.
[00:01:13] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: Wow. That is very honest. Every time I have to pick up human shit, my liberalism gets lowered is quite the sentence. Although I'm surprised it was heard in this context and not in a leaked recording from an Amy Klobuchar staff meeting.
Again, I am not saying that that is a nice situation to be presented with, but far too often, stories focusing on homelessness are presented solely through the lens of how it affects those with homes. When in reality, it is obviously the people without them are who need the real help. And the demonization of the homeless community in Austin may well have contributed to incidents like this.
[00:01:47] MARCIA COLLARD: We had so many people throw glass bottles from their cars at our tents and said, we don't want trash; y'all need to get a job, y'all need to get housing. Y'all don't need to be out on the streets.
[00:02:06] ADAM CARTWRIGHT: For someone to yell out, go home, it's like, this is technically our home.
[00:02:10] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: Right. And that is obviously horrible. Although we'll say no one screaming out of the car window has ever said anything worthwhile. It's like giving a eulogy through flashmob, but the method of delivery alone is just immediately disqualifying.
The story of homelessness in this country is grounded in a failure of perception compounded by failures of policy. So tonight let's look at the way homelessness is talked about, how the problem is currently being made worse, and what could actually help.
And like so many things, the modern version of this issue was turbocharged by Ronald Reagan, who came to power at a time when homelessness was increasing and made the problem far worse by cutting programs for the poor and slashing housing subsidies by 75%, making it pretty galling that Reagan regularly made arguments like this:
[00:02:56] PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: One problem that we've had even in the best of times, and that is the people who were sleeping on the gates, the homeless, who are homeless you might say by choice.
[00:03:08] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: Uh, I'm sorry, homeless by choice? Look, there were lots of things from 1984 that we could have used an undo button for. Long dock dong. Most of Temple of Doom. This extremely unfortunate Jello ad. But Reagan's quarter ass thoughts on homelessness are near the top of that list. And that notion that homelessness isn't related to economic policies, but it simply reflects the problems of the individuals experiencing it, still informs the way it's discussed today. Here is Dr. Drew (of all people) talking to Seth Green (of all people) and pushing back on the notion that the homeless crisis in LA might have anything to do with a shortage of affordable housing.
[00:03:46] DR. DREW PINSKY: This isn't a housing problem. -It's not? - No, no. That's a hoax. That's a hoax being perpetrated by the government here locally. They need to stop - that there isn't a bit, cause it seems like - of course we have housing expense issues, but we just absorbed a million illegal undocumented immigrants without a home, without a country, without a job, without a penny, we absorbed them. They found a place to live. It's a hoax. So it's a mental health crisis and addiction crisis -- full on.
[00:04:10] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: Oh, okay then! I certainly don't see why we wouldn't innately trust Dr. Drew confidently mouth splurging bullshit theories to Dr. Evil's son, but a few notes on what he said there. Set aside the nonsense that undocumented immigrants don't experience homelessness, because experts will tell you that they very much do. They're just less likely to avail themselves of services because of the whole undocumented thing. Instead, let's address the notion that all of this is down to mental health and addiction, because yes, many who are homeless do struggle with both those things. And those people are often the most visible. But by no means all of them. Also in many cases, those struggles can be the result of being homeless and not the cause of it.
The truth is, there are many reasons someone might find themselves without housing: medical debt, job loss, fleeing domestic violence, being kicked out of their homes because their parents don't approve their sexuality, or being recently released from prison, or just the overriding fact that housing costs are rising much faster than wages.
Currently, 70% of all extremely low income families are spending more than half their income on rent and only 37 affordable and available homes exist for every hundred extremely low income renter households. That is a startlingly low number, especially considering just how much this country loves watching TV shows about homes, little homes, humongo homes, homes for ghosts, and homes remodeled by weirdo twins who definitely shower together, to name just a few of them.
The point here is, it doesn't take much for people to suddenly find themselves without stable housing, as this woman found out:
[00:05:44] MSNBC REPORTER: Two years ago, Priscilla had a full-time job at a health clinic for the homeless. Her husband Ryan stayed home to care for their two sons. The youngest has severe autism.
They lived on a tight budget and then their landlord raised the rent $150.
[00:06:04] RYAN : That's a lot of money for a lot of people that live paycheck by paycheck. And we live like that.
[00:06:10] MSNBC REPORTER: The family was evicted and in a place they never imagined: homeless themselves, living in their car.
[00:06:17] PRISCILLA : I work at a homeless clinic, and I'm homeless. How the heck does that happen to me?
[00:06:22] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: Yeah, that is an awful situation to be in. You never want to find yourself suddenly saying, how did this happen to me? With the sole exception of being if you are knee deep in Stanley Tucci sheets, and even then, why question it? You're swimming in Touch peppermint. This is going to be a delight.
So despite Reagan's confidence, there can be not much choice in the matter after all. As for those outward signs of homelessness that raise such alarm, they are typically the result of public policy choices that we have made. Remember that woman complaining about human shit? That is actually a common thread in coverage of the homeless. In LA, you can find multiple stories about human feces near homeless encampments. But it's worth knowing there is a reason for that.
[00:07:07] UNIDENTIFIED LOCAL REPORTER: Most of the cities, hundreds of encampments are nowhere near a public toilet. In fact, LA has only 16 mobile toilet stations for its 36,000 homeless people. To make matters worse, with no funding for round the clock security, the city hauls away these toilets at night, leaving the homeless no choice, but to go on the streets.
[00:07:29] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: What the fuck to all of that? From the amount of public toilet stations available, being less than the amount of Bond movies, to shuffling those very minimal toliets away, like they're going to turn into a pumpkin at midnight. And while that clip is from just before the pandemic, which prompted city officials to increase toilet stations, there are still currently only 55 accessible 24/7. So the next time you complain about human shit in the streets, maybe think about what it will be like if someone padlocks your bathroom every night, you too will suddenly be getting really creative, really fast.
And it seems the impulse behind many local policies surrounding unhoused people isn't so much to help them as to punish them for their existence and keep them out of sight. You're probably familiar with hostile architecture designed to prevent homeless people from sitting and lying on certain property. It's why you'll sometimes see spikes under bridges like this, or benches with dividers to prevent anyone lying down.
And one city when even beyond architecture.
[00:08:28] JAMES TULLY: Debate raging over a Florida city playing children's music at a park pavilion at night to keep homeless people away. People say the music rotates between Baby Shark and this song: "
[00:08:39] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: It's
[00:08:40] JAMES TULLY: raining tacos..."
[00:08:45] JOHN OLIVER - HOST, LAST WEEK TONIGHT: It's true. They pumped the song, "Raining Tacos" at people when they were just trying to sleep, which is completely inhumane. Nobody deserves that.
Should America Outlaw Homelessness - Thom Hartmann Program - Air Date 6-8-21
[00:08:54] THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THE THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Homelessness was not much of a problem prior to the mid 1980s in the United States.
In fact, in the 1970s, this is, this is fascinating. Um, Henry Graber wrote about this over at slate. A 1976 history of low income housing in America made the impossibly foreign observation that quote the housing industry trades on the knowledge that no Western country can politically afford to permit its citizens to sleep on the streets.
Now, you know, and then it goes on to say the word homeless in those days, we're talking about 19 76, 4 years before. Jimmy Carter, just elected president. The word homeless in those days was used mainly to describe persons displaced by war or natural disasters. Now there were a few people sleeping rough, but it was nothing like what followed because in Reagan's first year in office, he not only cut taxes on rich people from 74% down to 25% and then raise them back up to around 35.
But oversaw homelessness exploding. How did that happen? Well, he cut funding for public housing and section eight housing subsidies in half. Now these are, these are the, this is from the, the great society programs of Lyndon Johnson from the 1960s. He created these, these, uh, public housing and section eight subsidies.
You know, largely eliminated homelessness in the United States for a while. And then Reagan slashed it in half in his first year and then continued to slash housing supports. It's it's a pretty breathtaking situation. And, and here we are, I mean, you know, it's, it's far worse than it ever was that a one-third of homeless people in New York city are actually families with children and one-third of that.
I have somebody working, but Finland said, okay, that's it. We're going to end homelessness. It's really simple. It's like saying, we're going to end poverty. We're going to give money to poor people. Right? You want to end homelessness? You give housing to homeless people. Now the Republican response to that is, oh my God.
You've got some of those people who are lazy and won't work. So, wow. You know, yeah, there'll be a few, uh, what would you call them? Grifters or parasites or the phrases that Republicans use? I would call them, you know, people who are struggling, people who are, are, are, uh, you know, unable to find meaningful work, people who are afflicted with mental illness.
I mean, there's a whole variety of probable reasons for this, but it's still, it's such a small percentage of the population when Finland, you know, typically two, three. When Finland looked at the situation they concluded in their first year experiment with us, or first two year experiment with this kind of indicates that simply giving housing to homeless people costs the government of Finland 16,000 euros, or about $18,000 per year per homeless person.
Last. Then the, then leaving, letting them sleep in the streets and then having to pick up the cost of policing and emergency services, medical services, uh, cleaning up the mess, um, uh, dealing with you're dealing with the courts. I mean, there are a lot of expenses associated with homelessness. The society pays in addition to a radically reduced quality of life for people who have.
And, you know, near large quantities of homeless people. And so this housing, first movement has been adopted. Now it's been, it's been adopted actually in a number of, um, places, but it's always been individual cities that have done it around the world. And now the Finland is the first country to actually adopt it and say, okay, we're going to do it now, the problem with implementing this here in the United States.
And there's every reason to believe that our experience would be identical to Finland's. That giving housing to homeless people would actually cost us less than leaving them homeless.
But the problem we have is that the Supreme court in 76, 78 and 2010 with citizens United basically said that morbidly rich people may. No problem at all. More of a leverage. People may control, may own politicians and political parties. And so now you've got the entire Republican party owned and controlled by morbidly, rich people.
And those people are saying now don't want to pay any taxes you want to house homeless people. That's going to cost money. I'm not, I don't want to pay any more taxes. And then of course you've got right wingers who are just like, what help people? No, we don't do that. You know, what are you doing?
Someone's down. You kick them otherwise they won't get up. Well, you know, maybe that's true of a, kind of the normal person, but a person who's struggling with, with the homelessness, a person is struggling with joblessness, a person who is struggling with mental illness or addiction. No, they need a house first or a flat or an apartment, a room, and then they need some of those servers.
Very straightforward stuff, Reagan, by the way, in, in, uh, in the 1980s gave this famous speech, this is a, this is 1984. This is four years after, or three years after he cut housing support in half in the United States, he said, Uh, what we have found in this country, and we're maybe more aware of it now is one problem we've had, even in the best of times, is people sleeping on the greats, the, in the homeless, you might say, but they are homeless by choice.
This is a speech Reagan gave in 84, right? He said, the problem has been aggravated by new laws requiring mental health institutions to release disturbed persons who have no place to go. Yeah. His loss. He goes on to say, as the political rhetoric heats. There will be those trying to appeal to greed and envy.
Make no mistake about that. What they're trying to do is to suggest that our tax program favors the rich. This is the same antibusiness anti success attitude that brought this country to the brink of economic disaster said Ronald Reagan in 1984. Uh, I I'm reading from a piece in the Washington post published February 1st, 1984, titled homeless choose to be Reagan said.
Uh, Reagan again, reading from the article Reagan brand of the charge that he favors the rich and absolute falsehood. Reagan said he rejected the proposition that supporting government programs. So the poor is a form of charity. He said, charity is what an individual chooses to do. Uh, Reagan did not mention the 8.2% unemployment rate, 1984.
That's worse than it is, right. During St. Ronnie's rain. Right? And he said, now we can turn to the equally difficult task of streamlining government making a more efficient, right. What was his top priority? He said, uh, the $180 billion budget deficit. He got the most applause of the day. However, when he told the convention that he would not raise taxes, To reduce that deficit.
Housing First - 99% Invisible - Air Date 12-8-20
[00:16:22] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: After a couple years of this routine – taking people to Bellevue, seeing them bounce back onto the streets-- Sam decided to try something new. Instead of dragging people off to the hospital, or a, kind of, "Here’s-your-diagnosis-and-here’s-your-prescription" methodology, Sam wanted to try, basically, just asking people how he could help.
[00:16:43] SAM TSEMBERIS: We’re going to listen to our clients, and we’re going to really offer them the things they want, in the sequence they want it. We were going to facilitate it.
[00:16:54] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Sam hired a new team, some of whom had personal lived experience with homelessness. And they opened a drop-in center for people who were either struggling with mental illness, or addiction, or both. They named the center "Choices Unlimited," although mostly people just called it "Choices."
Choices wanted to give people a place to come and rest, take a shower, and then start to think about a plan.
[00:17:18] ALLEN: Like, we still out. We’re still homeless. But we could go there during the day, and get shower, and change clothes, and they buy you lunch.
[00:17:28] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: This is Allen. I’m just going to use his first name to protect his privacy.
Allen was one of the first clients at Choices. He’d grown up in Boston and had made his way to New York in the early 80s. By the time he ended up at the Choices drop-in center, he’d already had a bunch of interactions with the kind of psychiatry that Sam was hoping to move away from.
When Allen was just 13, he ended up in Bridgewater State Hospital after getting into a fight. Bridgewater was an infamous prison/hospital for the so-called “criminally insane.”
[00:18:01] ALLEN: Prison/hospital – it was a prison period. They just called that a hospital. That was a torture chamber. That’s what it was. I turned 14 in one of those cells.
[00:18:11] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Allen told me that abuse from his mother and mistreatment from all kinds of authority figures had left him full of rage that he couldn’t always control.
[00:18:20] ALLEN: I got to a point where I wasn’t taking no [BLEEP] from nobody. Oh, yeah, I used to, I used to fight a lot. I do got a short temper when it comes to a bunch of bullcrap.
[00:18:31] SAM TSEMBERIS: He would come into my office like, “Hey, if they ever do this to me, I’m going to kill them!” And I’m, like, “Allen, you can’t actually say these things. It’s a mental health program! People are going to come and lock you up, you know. You’ve gotta watch your language, you know.”
[00:18:52] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: For Allen, it was anger. But all the clients at Choices were dealing with some kind of mental health issue. Things like bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
These clients didn’t trust the choices other people made for them, but maybe they would trust their own. Sam’s job was just to help make it happen.
You want a drug rehab program? We’ll help you find one and enroll. You want to get on meds? We’ll get you connected to the right doctors. You want housing? Cool. We can help with that, too.
Except housing, it turned out, was tricky. It was also what Allen, and just about everyone else, wanted.
[00:19:28] SAM TSEMBERIS: So, ok. People want housing. So, there were any number of housing providers opened for business at that time.
[00:19:39] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: The system for getting into housing at that time, in the 1980s and 90s, was designed as a sort of staircase. You started at the bottom in shelter, and then if you fulfilled certain requirements, like getting sober, or taking your meds, you graduated to something sort of like a dormitory. From there, you might go to a shared apartment with a few other people. The final, final step, at the very top of the staircase, might be your own apartment in a building with other formerly homeless people.
But it was hard to get there. The idea behind the staircase was something people called ‘Housing Readiness.’
[00:20:17] SAM TSEMBERIS: A, kind of, a quarantining, to get people ready for housing. And get them to get their life together so they can get back into housing.
[00:20:27] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: To Sam, the staircase felt frustratingly paternalistic. When he heard Housing Readiness, it sounded more like "Housing Worthiness."
[00:20:36] SAM TSEMBERIS: You know, the… the kind of “improve the poor” attitude.
[00:20:43] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: The staff at Choices helped the clients apply for these programs. But inevitably the housing providers would end up asking things like “How long have you been clean and sober?” and “If you have a mental illness, what sort of treatment are you doing?”, “What medications are you taking?”, etc.
[00:21:00] SAM TSEMBERIS: And so when these kinds of questions came up, our applicants repeatedly failed the housing interviews. We could not persuade housing providers to take anybody. We were failing miserably.
[00:21:14] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: It’s sort of a problem when you start a program called Choices Unlimited, only to find the choices are, in fact, quite limited.
And so, once again, Sam started thinking about doing something new. Something that, at the time, barely anyone had actually tried before. He wanted to try moving homeless people with significant mental health issues straight from the streets into their own apartments. Just regular apartments that they would find for folks on the private market.
This approach would come to be known as "Housing First." But back then it was just a wild idea they were trying out.
[00:21:51] SAM TSEMBERIS: You know, the people we were going to house, when you met them, they didn’t inspire confidence that it would all work out ok.
[00:22:01] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Sam and his colleagues secured money from the state office of Mental Health Services to pay for this experiment, enough for 50 apartments plus case management services. And they started a new nonprofit to handle all this new work called "Pathways to Housing."
One of the first things they had to do was reach out to landlords.
[00:22:21] SAM TSEMBERIS: So you have to, you know, beat the streets, and find the people that are willing to work with you.
[00:22:29] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: And what would you tell them about the clients?
[00:22:32] SAM TSEMBERIS: We would tell them as little as possible.
[00:22:34] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Sam said they would tell people basically, “We’re working with low-income clients, helping them find housing” but not, “We’re working with formerly homeless, severely mentally ill clients who are also struggling with addiction.”
They also had people on staff whose specific job it was to communicate with landlords. And it helped, Sam said, that they were always able to guarantee the rent would be paid.
Pathways’ clients would have to put 30% of their incomes toward rent, but the rest would be covered. For most clients, the 30% came out of some kind of benefit check they were eligible to receive from the government.
The hope was that Pathways would continue to provide this subsidy for the rest of these clients’ lives if they needed it, although, at the beginning, Sam said no one had any idea whether this experiment would last.
[00:23:23] ALLEN: Sam told us that the apartment was ours as soon as we get the leases. So we were sitting down there in Choices one day. And this young lady, she was the receptionist, or the secretary, or whatever. She’s got all those sweaty guys standing around her, you know, at that fax machine. And we’re watching this fax machine push the leases out. And we’re standing there like, “Oh, there’s mine! Mines comin’ out over there, that one’s mine!” Soon as we got the lease, we walk over to that apartment building and to Alex – he was the super. And we show him that lease and he knows everything’s legitimate. Then he give us the keys and point to the apartment. "That’s yours."
[00:24:06] QAMAR D. SMALLWOOD: I was so overwhelmed with joy, I didn’t know how to act.
[00:24:09] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: This is Qamar D. Smallwood.
[00:24:10] QAMAR D. SMALLWOOD: And D would be my middle initial and Smallwood is my last name. But I prefer to be called Qamar because that’s my Muslim name. So that’s who I am, so, I love that name.
[00:24:23] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Like Allen, Qamar was one of the first people to get housing through the Pathways program. For the last several years, she’d been sleeping wherever she could.
[00:24:32] QAMAR D. SMALLWOOD: I slept all over the place. I slept in the subway station on 42nd Street. Before you get to the N Train, there used to be a newsstand and a bathroom. And there was a lady that worked and cleaned the bathrooms. And at nighttime, she would lock me in the bathroom so I would stay in there and I would go to sleep. And then when she came in the morning to clean up, she opened the door and let me out. I slept in a cardboard box under the FDR Drive, I think that was.
[00:25:01] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Finally, after years of homelessness, Qamar and her boyfriend – who was also homeless – were getting their own place.
[00:25:08] QAMAR D. SMALLWOOD: We had parquet floors, central heating, central air conditioning. We had two bedrooms, and it was only me and him. If you wanted to go to the park, you just crossed the street, go over there and have a cookout. We lived on Central Park West 110th Street. Beautiful, nice over there.
[00:25:28] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Do you remember, like, trying to, kind of, set it up and decorate it, and just feeling like...?
[00:25:34] QAMAR D. SMALLWOOD: I wasn’t even thinking about decoration. I was just so glad I wasn’t in the street.
[00:25:40] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: But that beautiful place by the park, it didn’t last that long.
[00:25:44] QAMAR D. SMALLWOOD: We was living there and we was doing well, but we just couldn’t let go of the drugs. Yeah, we was running out, going around the corner, buying drugs and comin’ back. Now, I don’t know if anybody’s seen us go buy drugs, then come back, because all I know is that they kept saying we’re doing a lot of running in and out. And they not having it.
[00:26:07] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: A few months into their stay, Qamar and her partner got kicked out of their building.
[00:26:11] QAMAR D. SMALLWOOD: I felt really bad. I felt like I wish I could get off these drugs.
[00:26:18] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Allen had problems too; not with his apartment. Allen’s problem was always his anger. He got in fights with everyone. With co-workers, police, caseworkers…
[00:26:31] SAM TSEMBERIS: It didn’t take much, you know, for him to get very upset. He had a very low threshold for disappointment and he would threaten people, and he was very, very good at threats. I mean, there were not like, “I’ll kill you.” Like, they were very specific to the person. You know, like, he knew how to read people’s vulnerabilities. In a way, it was kind of uncanny.
[00:26:54] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: At some point, Allen had threatened so many people at Pathways that the program director told Sam he’d get kicked out if he did it one more time. Sam’s experiment was being tested.
[00:27:07] SAM TSEMBERIS: You know, it’s not like this thing solves your problems of loneliness, of poverty, of addiction, of mental illness, of disconnection from your family. It’s not like a panacea. The whole point of doing Housing First is you can actually start to deal with these other things, which are much more profound and much more difficult. And, you know, at least it gives you a shot at having those conversations. Because if people are on the street, you’re never going to be able to have those conversations, because it’s all about "Where am I going to sleep?" and "What am I going to eat?" and, you know, like, "Am I safe?"
[00:27:45] KATIE MINGLE - HOST, 99% INVISIBLE: Sam is fond of saying Housing First does not mean "housing only." And Pathways’ clients had access to all kinds of support like therapy and drug treatment.
And in general, Sam just tried really hard not to give up on folks. When Allen was on the verge of getting kicked out of the program for threatening people, Sam took him out to dinner to make one last appeal.
[00:28:06] SAM TSEMBERIS: And we were at a Chinese restaurant, and I had to, kind of, convey this news to him, that if he threatened anyone else on the staff, that that would be it, we couldn’t work with him anymore. And when I started telling him about it, I started to cry because I… because I’d spent years, like, trying to hold on to people, and here I’m telling him I have to go. And when he saw me crying, his response was, "I had no idea it meant that much to you. I’m not going to do that anymore."
[00:28:44] ALLEN: He did it. Look, I saw it in his face. That’s what made me… I’ll tell you the truth, that’s what really made me really stop, stop, stop. Because I did see that. You know, this guy right here, he’s really trying to protect me. Because he didn’t have to do that. That’s what I told myself. And that’s when I started chilling out a bit.
Thom Hartmann Program - Air Date 10-15-21
[00:29:10] THOM HARTMANN - HOST, THE THOM HARTMANN PROGRAM: Wall Street's barons are causing homelessness. Can we stop them?
And this is just an absolutely astonishing. Zillow -- the big national real estate listing company, zillow.com is their website -- they funded an in-depth research study into the relationship between housing prices and homelessness.
Remarkable and remarkably socially responsible. And what they found is that whenever the cost of houses exceeds 32% of the median income in a neighborhood, you start seeing a rapid explosion of homelessness. In other words, when houses begin to cost more than three times the average wage, then homelessness starts to stalk neighborhoods. The median American income right now is $35,805 -- 35,000, say $36,000. So what they're saying is for the median neighborhood, if the house is costing more than three times that, which would be like, what, a hundred [thousand]? You're going to start seeing homelessness. And what we're finding for what the Fed that the median house right now is selling for $374,900. That was last year's numbers from the Fed. As Zillow reports, the rent burden already exceeds the 32% of median income threshold in 100 of the 386 markets included in this analysis.
I tell the story of my dad back in 1956 or 57, I guess it was, I was six years old. He got a VA loan -- which again, we use to subsidize Americans buying homes; now we're subsidizing giant corporations buying homes with tax breaks -- but anyhow, he bought this house in south Lansing, Michigan for 13,000 bucks. Maybe it was 15. I'm pretty sure it was 13. Anyhow, it was in that neighborhood. And that was about twice what he made when he was working at a good union job at a tool and dye shop. Obviously the dollar was worth a lot more back in 1956. Back then the median price of the single family home was 2.2 times the median American family income. It was about twice what people earned. That was how high it cost. And that's why people were able to live and pay their rent and pay their mortgage and have food for their kids and even put their kids through college, which also wasn't very expensive then, and afford health insurance or afford medical expenses. Because housing wasn't taking this giant bite out of us. Today, the fed says the average, the median house is selling for $374,000.
And we're seeing this in part because there's more Americans and fewer houses. When my dad bought his house, there were 168 million people in the United States today there's 330 million. And it's true that Reaganism has stopped the growth of wages while causing an explosion in the growth of everything else.
But the main thing that's driving this is actually not, it started with foreign investment. There was this big wave of foreign investment in US housing over the last 30 years, more or less. But the last decade has been a completely different thing. And it can track back to this study that Morgan Stanley did in 2011, saying that basically this is the great new investment opportunity. Buy up all the available housing in a middle-class neighborhood, turn it all into rentals. So basically if somebody wants to live there, if it's a neighborhood that's got good schools, that was the principal magnet. You've got a neighborhood with good schools, buy up all the houses in that neighborhood and then rent them out to people so people can no longer buy the houses.
And what this does is it drives up the housing prices. They tell the story that there was a Wall Street Journal article about this -- "Meet your new landlord: Wall Street." They say, on the first Tuesday of every month -- this is in Atlanta where the first Tuesday of every month is when they auction off homes that are in foreclosure -- on the first Tuesday of each month, investors toted duffels stuffed with millions of dollars in cashier's checks made out in various denominations so they wouldn't have to interrupt their buying spree with trips to the bank. In this one suburb of Nashville that they documented in the Wall Street Journal, the vice mayor Bruce Hall says, "Before the big companies came in, you could rent a three bedroom, two bath house for a thousand bucks a month. The average rent now as a consequence of it" I just quote from the Wall Street Journal, quote, "the average rent for 148 single-family homes in Spring Hill owned by the big four Wall Street investor landlords was about $1,773 a month." So rents have almost doubled.
Ryan just published this new book, Underwater: Our American Dream of Home Ownership Has Become a Nightmare and he tells the story of home buyers, middle-class families who are trying to buy their first home, and they're going in and they're making offers on houses at asking price. There's a house on the market for $150,000, they offer $150,000, and suddenly somebody comes in like minutes later and says, we'll make it 160,000 cash. And of course the home buyers can't offer cash. They have to say it's subject to approval of the bank and the bank won't approve it until there's an inspection, and so it's going to take a month. And home sellers would much rather have cash than wait a month. So anyhow, they note that this guy, this one family, the Jacobs family, there were bewildered. They made an offer on a house. As I recall, it was around $90,000 house. They made an offer on it. And it was at ask. And then the seller came back and said somebody just offered $10,000 more friends, or a couple thousand dollars more, whatever it was.
And so the Jacobs family upped their bid and instantly the other bidder -- and finally it just hit the point it passed through a hundred thousand dollars and hit the point where the Jacobs family said, we can't afford it anymore. And they backed out. And they were trying to figure out who was this aggressive bidder. It turns out it was Blackstone group, which is an almost $1 trillion investment fund run out of New York City. It's a Wall Street investor group. It's in fact, it's the largest real estate investor in the world right now. And that week they were buying, at that time they were buying $150 million worth of American houses every week, trying to spend over $10 billion. In 2018, according to the Wall Street Journal, corporations bought one out of every 10 homes sold in America. Dezember in his book, he notes between 2006 and 2016, when the home ownership rate fell to its lowest level in 50 years, the numbers of renters grew by about a quarter.
And again, you go back to this study by Zillow. What Zillow found was that, quote, "Communities where people spend more than 32% of their income on rent can expect a more rapid increase in homelessness," number one. Number two, "income growth has not kept pace with rents, leading to an affordability crunch with cascading effects that for people on the bottom economic rung increases the risk of homelessness." And number three, the areas I'm reading from the study, "the areas that are most vulnerable to rising rents on affordability and poverty hold 15% of the US population and 47% of people experiencing homeless."
It's measurable. It's predictable. And it's destroying, what's left of the American working class, and particularly minorities, and creating an absolute screaming explosion in homelessness.
And this also is locking middle-class people out from being able to grow equity. Most of the wealth of most middle-class families -- it's true of me, I can tell, it's probably true of most people -- is their home. Their equity in their home. That's their biggest pile of money. And it increases over time faster than any other investment you can make, and relatively safely. But now you've got families who are being locked out in the market, locked out of the ability to buy a home and then having to rent where you gain no equity over time, you don't gather wealth. And then the big corporations come in and started doubling the rents or increasing the rents and pretty soon you've got this explosion of homelessness.
When is America going to wake up? When are we going to do something about this?
How Finland Ended Homelessness - Second Thought - Air Date 9-3-21
[00:37:30] JT CHAPMAN - HOST, SECOND THOUGHT: About 600,000 people experience homelessness in the US.
Think about your own life. You might not be homeless or necessarily even know someone who is or has been. But you certainly know someone paying too much for rent, someone having trouble finding a place to live, someone facing eviction; in other words, someone who could become homeless without much needing to go wrong.
More and more Americans are joining this category every day. The truth is, that in 95% of U. S. counties, those who work a full-time minimum wage job cannot afford even a one bedroom apartment. Change that to a two bedroom, and the entire country becomes unaffordable.
This situation is only getting worse. As a result of the pandemic, rising housing costs, wage stagnation, and the inadequate policies of our local and federal governments, the number of people experiencing homelessness, and of people on the brink, has been steadily growing for the past decade.
That is, if you only look at the U. S. In this episode, we're looking at Finland's approach to homelessness, what housing first is, and what it could mean for the American economy.
In Finland only about 5,000 people, 0.1% of the population, are homeless. And that's even with the broadest definition of what constitutes homelessness, which includes more than who you typically think of when you hear the term. The Finnish definition of homelessness goes beyond just those who are living on the streets or in emergency accommodations like shelters.
In some cities like the country's capital Helsinki, no one sleeps on the street. That type of homelessness has been completely eliminated.
Compare that to the U.S.'s nearly six hundred thousand homeless people, which is almost exclusively so-called "rough sleepers," those who live on the street, and the problem starts to become apparent.
What's more important, though, is that homelessness isn't just low in Finland; it's actively going down. Between 2010 and 2018, Finland enjoyed a massive 40% decline in the homelessness rate.
If it sounds like we're cherry picking data, even during the pandemic-- which, let me remind you, has caused a massive surge of homelessness in the U.S.-- Homelessness in Finland did not increase.
So what happened? How is Finland so effectively reducing homelessness?
In 2007, the Finnish government started a national "Housing First" program. Housing First is a philosophy that argues that to make progress on homelessness, particularly chronic homelessness, you need more than temporary emergency solutions. You need permanent housing, right out the gate.
In other words, housing is the starting point, not the end point.
The way Housing First programs work is pretty simple. People experiencing homelessness receive independent housing immediately, without having to first fulfill mental health, sobriety, income, employment, or other requirements. Once
they're housed support services are offered, not imposed; and, over time, the newly housed begin to begin to finance part of the cost of their housing to the degree that they can afford it.
It sounds pretty intuitive, but this is very different from the more common "Continuum of Care," or "Staircase" approach we're mostly using.
In Continuum of Care programs, homeless people are expected to make progress on any mental health or addiction issues they may have, and to pass a certain standard before being housed. In this system, housing is at the top of the staircase.
These individual changes that these programs require are the sorts of things that are incredibly difficult to address when you are still contending with the anxiety of not having a home, possibly still sleeping on the street. In these continuum of care program only once you have demonstrated some change, which we should keep in mind, is incredibly difficult to achieve without housing stability, do these programs graduate you into housing arrangements-- first shared housing, and, slowly over time, independent housing.
To some, Continuum of Care approaches sound great. That is, in theory. They map onto our society's values of meritocracy, of security. Only those who are deserving get access to the prize of having a home. Under this mentality, if you don't have a home, it must be because you're just not good enough yet. Come back later.
It should be obvious that these programs just don't work. Not only do they strip people of their agency, and come with an enormous moral burden, but recidivism is high, and a huge number of people don't make it into the program in the first place because of the high barrier to entry.
Compare that to Housing First. In the initial study on Housing First, back in 2003, a randomized trial of the two approaches decidedly shows the strength of the new program. Around half of the initially homeless group were accepted into permanent housing, regardless of their eligibility according to other programs. And they were then offered tailored and optional care for their individual circumstances.
The other half went through conventional channels. And at the end of the trial, the results were clear. The Housing First group spent more time in stable housing, less time hospitalised, and results carried over for longer than when homeless people went through the Continuum of Care path. Within just six months, Housing First had virtually eliminated homelessness in the experimental group. It was a massive success.
That first study was in New York, and inspired by its promising results, the EU ran its own pilot programs in five European countries, with the same outcome: secure, long-term housing stability.
And now that it's become the official national policy of the Finnish government, we've seen just how much good this can achieve. It is abundantly clear that this approach works.
Despite all of this, some of you might still be skeptical.
Forget for a second that housing is a universal right we are all entitled to, that it is baked into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U. S. has signed onto and agreed to provide in front of the entire international community. Forget that this right doesn't include temporary shelters, but only real stable housing, and that there are metrics around accessibility, affordability, discrimination, and protection from eviction, which good Housing First programs conform to perfectly, in addition to affirming the basic idea of being decent to real human people.
You might still wonder about costs-- in the wealthiest country in the world, that regularly provides housing subsidies, mostly to the wealthiest people in the country through mortgage interest tax deductions, costing the American people, I don't know, $70 billion a year. Or close to 25 times what is set aside for homelessness programs at the federal level.
Imagine all that incredibly important stuff doesn't matter. It's gone, forget about it. Housing First is still cheaper than not housing people or walking them through an ineffective Continuum of Care program.
Not only are people housed through Housing First covering part of the cost, and are more easily employed, but housing people saves money in the longterm on comparatively costly emergency hospitalization bills and absurdly expensive policing, which both go down when; one, peoples' needs are taken care of preventatively; and two, they aren't exposed to an expensive state apparatus that has criminalized existing without a house.
Given all this evidence, you're probably wondering, "Why aren't we doing this?"
To be fair, there are some small scale examples of this in the U. S. The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does fund certain homelessness programs, some of them with the Housing First methods. However, these programs are only robust in a few cities and states.
But no matter the nature of the program, whether it's Housing First, Continuum of Care, or something else, funding is far too low. The HUD's budget and municipal aid funds have steadily declined over time. And as a result, programs scrape together a budget from the general public and several different local and federal funds, rarely ever amounting to what they actually need to provide effective services.
But the main problem behind all of this isn't that homelessness programs aren't getting enough funding. That is an issue just a little further down the line. The underlying problem is affordable housing. And at the core of that problem is our capitalist organization of the economy.
Under a capitalist economy, housing isn't treated like the right it's considered to be by most nations, including, on paper, the United States. Instead, it's a commodity, something to be traded, speculated on, turned for a profit. That is the main goal of housing in a commodity market. Not putting people in homes, making money.
As a result, developers, investors, and the like, don't focus their energy on housing the poor, from whom they can only extract so much, but rather on building luxury accommodations for the wealthy, leaving largely empty units across the country only rarely occupied, if at all, while people in desperate need of housing are refused access and subjected to a manufactured housing scarcity.
On top of that, there is a very real incentive for capitalists to only partially resolve homelessness. The threat of losing the roof over your head keeps even the most exploited worker in a job they hate.
Increasingly, that threat forces people into even more dire conditions, as wages become less and less sufficient to cover housing costs, forcing people to take on several jobs and work untenable hours to avoid the possibility of eviction. It is not in the capitalist interest to remove that powerful, terrifying incentive.
And here is where the Finnish success story may go beyond Housing First alone. Not only is Housing First doing a good job of taking people out of homelessness in a reliable way, but a social democratic organizing of the economy is limiting the extent to which people are likely to fall into it in the first place.
It's still capitalism, so it still relies on somebody being exploited-- in this case, people in the global south; but at the very least social democracy goes part of the way on neutering perverse capitalist incentives on continuing homelessness domestically.
One key element of this is unionization. High unionization, at 75% of the Finnish workforce, and therefore higher wages, and higher job security than in freer markets, mean that as people exit homelessness, they are unlikely to be replaced or fall back into it themselves.
American conservatives love to rail against Housing First, touting its failures to make significant changes in cities like Los Angeles, where homelessness has continued to rise despite Housing First programs taking root. What they conveniently forget to mention is that the Continuum of Care programs they prefer still deliver worse results.
And the core issue of the skyrocketing housing prices in the free market is why people are even pushed out into homelessness in the first place.
The Criminalization of Poverty - Justice In America - Air Date 1-23-19
[00:47:50] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: So in Augusta, Georgia there was a homeless guy named Tom Barrett. Barrett stole a beer from the corner store. It was one can of beer, worth just about $2. So Tom was arrested and he was offered a court appointed attorney, but it would’ve cost him 50 bucks, which he couldn’t afford. As we mentioned, Tom was homeless. So he went to court without an attorney and he found himself in a lot of trouble.
[00:48:14] CLINT SMITH - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: He faced more than $400 a month in fees, including a daily rental fee for his ankle monitor. The fees mostly went to a private probation company called Sentinel, but again, Tom was homeless. He sold his plasma to the blood bank to get money, but every time he only made about $35. So of course, Tom couldn’t pay those fees that were imposed on him and even beyond the fees, he was now owing late payment penalties.
So very quickly it added up to over a thousand dollars that he owed the court and the private probation company. Eventually a judge who’s court had an exclusive contract with Sentinel sent him to jail for not being able to pay.
And here’s another story. In Texas, a woman named Janet Blair-Cato had a bunch of dogs that she had rescued. She got something called a "barking ticket." Basically her dogs were too loud, so the cops wrote her a ticket. I didn’t know that was the thing, but apparently it is. Then she got other fines for not having the proper vaccinations with the dogs and not having the right tags. Additionally, she also had an unpaid speeding ticket on her record. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Janet finds herself owing thousands of dollars in fines. She got on a payment plan with the court, but missed just one installment, so they issued a warrant for her arrest.
[00:49:29] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: Now, her original infractions-- her dogs are barking too much, her animal registration issues, her speeding ticket-- these were not punishable by jail. But because she missed an installment on her payment plan, now she could actually serve time. And the court told her either you pay all the money or you go to jail. They wouldn’t let her just go to jail on weekends, or do community service either. But she could not afford to pay all that money. She just didn’t have the money. So she spent 52 days in jail for unpaid fines.
[00:50:00] CLINT SMITH - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: And this is by no means an isolated anecdote. There are countless examples like this where the criminal justice system makes it a crime not to have money, and punishes people just for being poor. Meanwhile, the system is profiting and making money off of them. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
[00:50:16] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: So here’s a clip from a short documentary film called "A Debtor’s Prison" of a woman in St. Louis who was incarcerated after she couldn’t pay her fines and fees.
[00:50:26] WOMAN: Even if you get all the down to owing this one last payment, you miss that payment, your ass is going back and starting over. You get new fines, new court dates and they want to keep you in the system. Nothing says, ‘Hey, we see here you have five kids. We see your rent’s due. We see your lights are off. You still have to pay for daycare. Go ahead and skip this last payment because you have a life to live.’ It’s like, ‘Fuck your life. Pay us our money, fuck your life.’ And they have fucked me last.
[00:50:51] CLINT SMITH - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: So there are two things at work here. The first is how the system criminalizes poverty through the actual infraction; and then the other is how it criminalizes poverty throughout the entirety of the process. From appearing in court, to the sentencing.
So let’s talk about the first one to begin.
[00:51:07] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: Back in the 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that you can’t punish someone for a status or a condition without them being guilty of a specific illegal act. So you can’t punish someone for being an addict, for example. You can punish them for possessing drugs, using drugs, selling drugs, but you can’t punish them for their actual condition as an addict.
This would lead one to believe that you can’t criminalize the status of being homeless, and maybe that’s technically true, but in countless towns and states across the country, being homeless has been made basically illegal.
[00:51:42] CLINT SMITH - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: There were about 2 million people that experience homelessness in a given year. And on any given night, there are roughly half a million people going to bed without a home. And about a quarter of them are children, and 15 percent of them haven’t had a permanent home in many years.
Unsurprisingly, Black people make up a disproportionate part of the homeless population. Black people are about 13 percent of the general population, but comprise 40 percent of the homeless population.
Military veterans and domestic violence survivors, and people with mental or physical disabilities, are also more likely to be homeless than their counterparts. In many places, one of the causes of homelessness is lack of access to services: mental health services, social services, and, critically, housing. When affordable housing is scarce, homelessness is more common. One report found that, nationwide, there’s about a 7.2 million unit shortage in affordable housing.
[00:52:35] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: But instead of solving homelessness by building more housing, for example, cities and states are criminalizing it. Like in Colorado: 76 cities in Colorado have passed 351 ordinances all targeting the homeless. They’ve banned stuff like: sitting too long, sleeping outside, sharing food outside, camping.
Lots of places call these “quality of life ordinances.”
And this is happening across the country. In Honolulu, the tourism lobby has pushed for laws that criminalize homelessness as not to discourage tourism. In Dallas, 11,000 sleeping in public citations were issued to homeless people over four years.
[00:53:18] CLINT SMITH - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: So there are some really cruel laws out there, and they’re pretty inventive in their cruelty. There are laws saying that you can’t place property on sidewalks, laws saying that you can’t sleep in your car, and even laws that make it illegal to distribute food to homeless people without a permit.
[00:53:32] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: Yeah. There are literally places where you can get arrested for distributing food to homeless people. It’s ridiculous.
[00:53:38] CLINT SMITH - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: There are also stay away orders, which make it impossible for some homeless people to have access to the services that they really need. Take San Diego, for example, where social service providers are mostly located downtown. But if a homeless person is found sleeping on the street, the police will issue a stay away order, which means they can’t go to any of those locations. So when a person who’s homeless is making this calculus about whether or not they should go get assistance, sometimes they might not risk it because of the possibility that will be arrested.
And what do you think the punishment for many of these infractions is? It’s fines. And fines people can’t afford to pay.
[00:54:12] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: Right. If you do any of these things which indicate that you don’t have enough money to buy a sandwich, even, basically, then you now owe a whole bunch of money and fines. And if you can’t pay the fines, now you’re looking at jail time.
Now, this may be confusing to some of you, because debtors’ prisons are supposedly illegal in America. And as a quick side note, a debtor’s prison is a prison full of people who owe money. It’s pretty self explanatory. And they’re seen as, kind of, barbaric now, but they were common through the mid 19th century, where a person with unpaid debt could be hauled off to prison until they had either worked it off or managed to get enough money to pay it off.
[00:54:54] CLINT SMITH - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: They were really big in Europe, and also here for a while. In fact, James Wilson, who was a Supreme Court Justice, and who signed the Declaration of Independence, spent some time in a debtor’s prison while he was on the Supreme Court.
[00:55:06] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: Yeah, and Robert E. Lee also spent time in a debtor’s prison.
[00:55:10] CLINT SMITH - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: Well, I don’t think anyone should spend time in a debtors’ prison, but I have to say, Robert E. Lee isn’t somebody that I feel too bad about.
[00:55:17] JOSIE DUFFY RICE - HOST, JUSTICE IN AMERICA: Yeah, that one I’m not losing any sleep over.
Input from the unhoused may be crucial solution to homelessness in San Francisco - PBSNewsHour - Air Date 7-6-21
[00:55:19] STEPHANIE SY: This is Silicon Valley, home to Facebook, Google, and some of the greatest wealth in the country. And yet along the 140 miles of trails and river beds in the city of San Jose lies its other half.
Do you think you're always going to be homeless?
[00:55:35] JIMMY : Yeah. I've come to terms that I'll probably die out here.
[00:55:38] STEPHANIE SY: The hidden population of homeless, who can't afford the ever-increasing cost of living.
What's it like to live here?
[00:55:46] SCOOTER: You're vulnerable. You can't really be prepared for everything that's out there.
[00:55:50] EVELYN: You can't get better. Once you get on the street, there's really no way to get a job.
[00:55:54] LEE CLARK: And one of my greatest desires is for somebody to see the change in me. Cause I know a lot of these people out here.
[00:56:01] STEPHANIE SY: Lee Clark has been there himself. Addiction and jail time led to a five-year stretch of living on the streets.
[00:56:07] LEE CLARK: I used to ride the bus all night. They call it the Hotel 22.
[00:56:11] STEPHANIE SY: Like the thousands of others without a home in the region, he felt lost and ignored by a broken system.
Just before the pandemic hit, Lee finally made his way out, but hasn't forgotten who he left behind.
[00:56:24] LEE CLARK: I'm gonna call you this week or next week. One of the biggest things out here is being able to win people's trust, you know, reaching back out to the homeless, offering them services, you know, trying to get them housed.
[00:56:35] STEPHANIE SY: Lee's transformation is in part due to his involvement with the Lived Experience Advisory Board, formed by the nonprofit Destination Home, it gives the homeless a voice in what matters to them. Destination Home CEO Jennifer Loving says this type of formal board reflects a paradigm shift.
[00:56:53] JENNIFER LOVING: It was created by a group of people that had either been homeless here or were currently homeless, saying we need a place where we can talk about what's going on. We need power to make decisions. And I'm like, sign me up. Like today. All Destination Home did really was provide the container. It's been self-governed from the beginning.
[00:57:13] STEPHANIE SY: It's executive committee led by Dantae Lartigue oversees the 16 member board.
[00:57:18] DONTAE LARTIGUE: It's important for us to build organizations rooted in lived experience.
[00:57:24] STEPHANIE SY: Together they advise nonprofits such as Destination Home on policy and spending, while also consulting for the local government. Their most recent assignment was to determine why this hotel bought by the city for housing the homeless wasn't being fully utilized.
[00:57:39] DONTAE LARTIGUE: And the reason why is it looks institutional, it looks like a prison. You go up, there's this gate. You gotta be buzzed into this gate. So it looks like a juvenile hall. Well, it looks like you're in a cell. First thing I told them, it's not going to work.
[00:57:53] STEPHANIE SY: And they listened to you?
[00:57:55] DONTAE LARTIGUE: We'll see.
[00:57:56] RAGAN HENNINGER: We've set aside funding to make improvements to the site in partnership with the Lived Experience Advisory Board.
[00:58:04] STEPHANIE SY: Deputy director for San Jose's housing department, Ragan Henninger, says the advisors have shed light on the complexity of the homelessness crisis.
[00:58:12] RAGAN HENNINGER: For us, it really highlighted nearly every homeless person we're serving has some kind of previous trauma in their life.
[00:58:20] JENNIFER LOVING: The more that people are understanding how powerful this is, the more in demand they are. There's a undersupply of housing that's affordable in every city in this country.
[00:58:32] STEPHANIE SY: In San Francisco, another organization has taken working with a homeless community advisory board even further, leading to tangible results in housing.
Andrea Evans leads the chronic homeless program at Tipping Point, a nonprofit backed by some of San Francisco's richest philanthropists, including 49er CEO, Jed York, and the Charles Schwab family. Its goal is ambitious.
[00:58:57] ANDREA EVANS: It is a 100 million-dollar five-year initiative, the goal of which is to partner with San Francisco and a bunch of non-profits to cut the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in half by the end of 2022.
[00:59:11] STEPHANIE SY: How much is a hundred million dollars in the grand scheme of the homelessness problem here in San Francisco?
[00:59:16] ANDREA EVANS: It's not a lot in the grand scheme.
[00:59:19] STEPHANIE SY: That's due to the fact that 3,000 chronically homeless San Franciscans are currently living on the streets.
[00:59:25] ANDREA EVANS: We are by no means able to kind of replicate what the city does on an ongoing basis. And so we are really trying some very targeted approaches to house people more quickly, and to make sure that they're able to stay housed.
[00:59:37] STEPHANIE SY: And that's where Tipping Point seven-member advisory board comes in. Like Destination Home, it consists entirely of individuals who've been homeless, like T J Johnston.
[00:59:47] TJ JOHNSTON: Right now I'm staying in a house, but for about nine years I've been unhoused in San Francisco.
A lot of people like do struggle just to survive. I'm kind of honored that people are asking us for input.
[01:00:03] ANDREA EVANS: These are very much studio units.
[01:00:05] STEPHANIE SY: And each of these has an on-suite bathroom?
[01:00:07] ANDREA EVANS: That;s right.
[01:00:08] STEPHANIE SY: So far, that input has resulted in major decisions in grant money spending, including Tipping Point's $11 million flexible housing subsidy program.
[01:00:17] ANDREA EVANS: It's been incredible to have that wisdom at the table.
[01:00:21] STEPHANIE SY: However, longtime homeless advocate, Jennifer Friedenbach, cautions that not all boards are as effective.
[01:00:28] JENNIFER FRIEDEBACH: There's advisory boards where you'll have like one or two unhoused people, and then they get kind of tokenized and never listened to in the group. And so you really have to have a deep connection to decision-making real power.
[01:00:38] ANDREA EVANS: Even before the formal advisory board was formed, we canvassed about 300 people who are experiencing homelessness and ask them what are your priorities? And it's bringing in that expertise.
[01:00:50] TJ JOHNSTON: We have that sort of like know how that we would like to impart to the rest of our community. Our needs are relatively simple in that we just want it to be housed. And we want to be able to live in dignity. In shelter situations, having your own privacy, it's next to impossible.
[01:01:13] STEPHANIE SY: And that input is what drove forward the construction of the Tahanan building: 145 units dedicated solely for the homeless population downtown.
[01:01:23] ANDREA EVANS: We're using modular construction. And so that has cut both the time and the costs significantly.
[01:01:30] STEPHANIE SY: The goal is to have the entire project finished in just under three years for under $400,000 per unit, a record for the city's tough buildings laws.
Which still sounds like so much money.
[01:01:42] ANDREA EVANS: It's still a lot of money, but by San Francisco standards, it's normally about $600,000 a unit.
[01:01:48] STEPHANIE SY: The units are free for those who qualify. To pull it off, each unit was created offsite and then hauled in and assembled on location.
All right, let's go in and check out what it looks like inside.
[01:02:00] ANDREA EVANS: It is much more than a roof over your head. It really is an opportunity. It's going to be beautiful.
[01:02:07] STEPHANIE SY: There it is. You've never seen this before. What do you think?
[01:02:11] TJ JOHNSTON: Wow. Relief, for one thing. Just to see all of this kind of realized, I think this represents a chance to get a new start on life. A fridge!
[01:02:22] STEPHANIE SY: And for TJ it's satisfaction in knowing that he helped so many homeless individuals find a new home with a door.
Final comments on the panicked flail of those who used to be ahead of the curve but have now been left behind
[01:02:30] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with last week tonight with John Oliver art explaining the political difficulty of dealing with homelessness. Thom Hartmann explained the origins of America's current homeless problem. Going back to Reagan 99% invisible told the origin story of the housing first move.
Thom Hartmann explained the wall street connection to higher home prices that lead to homelessness and second bought detailed to the housing first policy in place in Finland. That's what everyone heard. But members also heard bonus clips, including justice in America, discussing the defacto debtors' prison system.
We have put in place in America and PBS news hour looked at the benefits of San Francisco's homelessness council, which gives homeless people a direct voice in the policies that affect them To hear that. And all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your podcast feed, sign up to support the show at Best of the Left dot com slash support or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds, a barrier to hearing more information.
Every request is granted. No questions asked and now. I have a new theory. I want to share about the conservative drift that happens with age for as long as I've been politically aware, people have been debating why people seem to get more conservative with age and all sorts of standard questions come up, you know, is because their incomes have gone up or they just have more money in general.
And so they're inherently resistant to taxes or. Is it that with age, they learn so much and they've gotten smarter or they're just sort of more comfortable and they have more to lose and progress politics sort of revolutionary. And, oh, what if they really make a lot of change? And that upsets the status quo that I'm comfortable with.
That is the one that I think is sort of the closest, the comfort with either the status quo or the comfort with just continuing to believe what you always have, because you know, maybe it's simply harder to integrate new information as time goes by as you age or. You just get tired of learning new stuff or, you know, whatever.
I mean, I'm sure people older than me will want to chime in on their own perspective on this, but it does seem to be consistent that older Americans tends to be more conservative. But my theory has to do less with a person changing their mind over time and more with a person not changing their mind over time inertia.
Following the status quo, continuing to believe what you have always believed. Those seem like really natural inclinations for all people, maybe all people of all ages, but those are things that seem like they may solidify with time and age. So I thought of a little bit of a metaphor to go along with this longtime listener, to know that I love a good metaphor, even as problematic as they can be.
And I thought of political opinion as a sort of wave there's flat wall. Ahead of, and behind the wave and the wave moves. So the, the wave moving is, you know, happening over time. And so you could be in, you know, one of a few places in relation to that wave. You could be ahead of it, but to stay ahead of the.
You got to swim or it's going to pass you by you can't stand still ahead of a wave and expect to stay ahead of it. So the people who are ahead of the wave are like the researchers and academics and theorists, the people formulating ideas like intersectionality and critical race theory and the concept of sexual harassment, et cetera, or.
You could be behind the wave and you're just sort of getting dragged along or maybe left completely behind. And that would make a person sort of bitter and annoyed, I think too, to see society changing and moving away from you. And so I think a lot of people, maybe most people fall into that category, basically all conservatives, you know, they, they support whatever was in the past.
Like civil rights movement, but they oppose whatever is new in the present. Black lives matter just as one example of many. And then the other place you could be is sort of riding the wave itself for, or riding the leading edge of it. You know, then you're actually. Yeah, you're up on your surfboard. You're surfing the wave, right?
And this takes effort to catch the wave, but actually keeping it isn't that difficult. So for me, I remember going through the phase of resistance and difficulty when someone was sort of encouraging me to hop up on the wave. The conversation that I remember most clearly was when someone tried to tell me for the first time that there was more than one definition of racism, I had grown up with sort of the standard white friendly dictionary definition of racism.
You know, it's all in the individual's mind. It's all about how you feel personally. It's all about, you know, personal animosity based on race, that sort of thing. And then someone tried to introduce me to the idea that. All racism is systemic racism. And so there's this other definition that sort of takes that into account.
And I was extremely resistant to that. I was not a fun person to try to have that conversation with, because that was the first time I was being challenged to learn, to update my information, learned, to take in new things that I wasn't at all familiar with and be open to that basically now. I am perfectly comfortable riding the wave I expect for there to be changes like that all the time.
I expect to learn new things that change my perspective all the time. So I bring this up in the context of a cultural moment when we were having a lot of people who I think started out ahead of the wave and have ended up behind it. And now they are very confused and angry. First example comes to mind for me is always bill Maher.
He was seen as very progressive in the nineties to me and to many, many others. He is seen as incredibly regressive by today's standards. He, I think would argue hasn't changed much. And so he thinks of himself as still progressive and probably thinks of himself as ahead of the curve and thinks everyone else has lost the.
Dave Chappelle is obviously in the news recently for his most recent comedy special, same sort of thing. Right. Going back to the nineties, who's ahead of the curve. Now, not so much radical feminists in general, you know, that's not an individual person, but. I think that they were asking really interesting questions about gender and sexuality decades ago, but by today's standards, they honestly have more in common with religious conservatives than mainstream feminists.
And I think it's also worth noting how. Regressive views get presented as modern and progressive because the people who hold these views think of themselves as progressive. They think of themselves as ahead of the wave, right? Bill Maher, a listener told me maybe last year, sometime and argued. Bill Martin is great because he's believed the same things he always has since the nineties, the implication being look how smart he must've been to be so far ahead of the curve.
So he might. Still be ahead of the curve, right? That's the assumption. But to believe the same thing that you did 30 years ago is not a bragging point. It means you have probably been left behind Dave Chappelle. He has a new anti-trans comedy, special full of untruths as the basis for his opinions, but the people who love it, you know, they, they look at how far ahead of his time he was back in the nineties.
He was speaking truth to power, right? He's satirizing races. And so we should just assume that he's still the same way now he's still ahead of the curve, except, you know, the power structure he's speaking to is trans women, you know, not so much radical feminists asking interesting questions decades ago.
You know, I once heard a radical feminist podcast on which someone dismissed all modern perspectives and research and updated ideas on gender studies by saying. We figured out how gender worked in the seventies. You know, people were figuring this out before I was even conscious to question, it must be an insult to their efforts or something.
Now you don't figure things out once and then stop you keep figuring things out forever. That's, that's how things end up having to work. And then this is a little slightly off topic, but I think it's a good go-to Jimmy Dore and the, the wing. The left or whatever he is, or progressivism or something that he kind of represents, you know, his favorite go-to line is I'm just a dumb comedian.
And even I understand this, which is. Fascinating psychologically he's framing ignorance as common sense clarity. Right? How could he possibly be wrong? He knows he's dumb, but he still also knows he's right. It's practically Bulletproof. So these are the kinds of strategies they get used to make regressive, or maybe just wildly off base ideas seem incredibly legitimate and modern and progressive.
To get back to the political wave metaphor. I think that so-called wokeness is the social phenomenon that arises in every generation to tell people. It is not okay to fall too far behind the wave. And by the way, that wave is moving. So you'd better catch up and get on board because having too many people behind that wave is actually destructive to society.
You know, the metaphor doesn't quite fit there, but that's the point of it. That's why people get upset about people falling behind, because it is detrimental to society. As a side note could just quick side note, I would argue that the derisive use of the term woke is itself racist because it started as a very positive concept in black slang.
And so I think that to co-opt it and use it as a negative was a sort of semi-conscious effort to link what white people would consider incorrect English and grammar. With a concept that they wanted to derive, you know, forward thinking that they also want to derive and they would do that because it plays into the idea that anything stemming from black culture is inherently worthy of mockery and duration.
I mean, it reminds me of the white panic over Ebonics back when I was a kid, you know? Oh, we can't just say that. It's okay to speak incorrectly. Society would collapse. And you know, here we are, 20 years later, 25 years later, and the term woke is in the. It was slang. Now it's not it's official. So they deride the concept of wokeness with the help of a racist grammar, policing sort of dog whistle, because it helps reinforce existing power dynamics on the structural level.
But then on the individual level, people just don't like to be told that they're behind the times or that they need to catch up. So they attempt to reverse it. I'm not behind you. You're just crazy. You've lost your mind. This whole movement's lost its mind, you know, 10 years ago, in my opinion. Anyway, the left did not have a crazy section.
There was no such thing as woke. Uh, and now they do have a crazy section, which I call out as a little. It's a predictable response, but not one. I think we really need to worry about too much or cater to, because it's basically a flail it's people who have delusions of their own sense of correctness, because what they believe now kind of used to be generally accepted truth a while ago.
And now that it isn't anymore. Well, I can't possibly be the one who's wrong. Everyone else must be wrong, but the reason we don't need to cater to this too much and, and why it is so obviously a flail is because the only way they ever rebuke the new concepts that they don't like is by wildly mis-characterizing them.
I honestly don't think I've ever seen a single criticism against wokeness or critical race theory or feminism that doesn't mischaracterize. Those moves. Wildly, like not a little, a lot. So to me, that's the easiest way to know who's more right in this debate note that I didn't just say right. Only more.
Right. Cause I fully expect for the discussion to continue to change and evolve and for one side to become even more right over time. So in currently. Be prepared to ride the wave rather than letting it pass you by. If you see yourself as a head of it, that's great, but it isn't sufficient. If you don't continue to do the work to stay ahead.
If you don't have the time and energy to stay ahead, then the good news is, as I said, riding the wave really isn't that hard. You just have to keep yourself open to new information and fully expect to have to continually update your understanding of. As society evolves because it is going to continue to do that.
I promise if you'd like another metaphor to work with. I just came up with another one we're in the middle of operating system. Season, new operating system updates have been coming out for our computers and phones across the board, just like they do every year. Maybe you're not a techie who loves to use every new feature as it's released, but it is still in your best interest to stay relatively up to date because.
Just like your political opinions. If you let your operating system get more than five years out of date, your software and your worldview will start to run into major compatibility problems. So ride the wave, update your software. The only constant is change. Get over it as always keep the comments coming in at 2 0 2 9 9 9 3 9 9 1.
Or by emailing me to Jay at Best of the Left dot com. That is going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton for their. Work for the show and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic, Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Scott for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together.
Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism, segments, graphic design. And a bonus show co-hosting and thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at Best of the Left dot com slash support or from right inside the apple podcast app membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes.
In addition to there being extra content and no ads and all of our regular episodes. So coming to you from far outside, the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay, and this has been the Best of left podcast coming to you twice a week. Thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from Best of the Left dot com.