Solving Homelessness: Health Care

Homelessness is unhealthy. In the United States poverty, extreme or otherwise, is unhealthy. For many middle-class families, simply being underinsured in unhealthy. Health care is a wide-reaching issue but the cost of health care, with or without insurance, is frequently financially devastating and potentially deadly.

Doctors don’t work for free. If you can’t pay the bill and the insurance company (assuming you have one) won’t cover the expenses, then medical care and medication are cut off. That’s the way things work.

For people trying to survive extreme poverty (homelessness), the conditions of day-to-day life exacerbate medical issues. The lack of health insurance all but eliminates health care. Trying to find work or other resources necessary to get off the streets is difficult under the best of circumstances, add an illness into that scenario and ‘extremely difficult’ becomes ‘near impossible.’

Universal Health Care

Universal health care would address the financial devastation that pushes middle-class families into extreme poverty (homelessness) when a loved one falls ill.

Universal health care would provide extremely poor people access to much-needed resources and services. Simply being able to address an illness or injury makes finding a job significantly more possible, which makes escaping homelessness possible – not easy or guaranteed but possible.

Universal healthcare would begin the long and arduous process of addressing the medical resource caste-system currently built around government-provided Medicaid and Medicare programs. People who receive health insurance through an employer have significantly more options and receive markedly better care. There are large numbers of doctors and medical care providers who refuse to accept patients reliant on government-provided benefits – unless they are government employees, in which case they receive the same care as people in the private sector. Since extremely poor people are overwhelmingly dependent upon these programs, this creates a prejudiced resource distribution wherein people at the bottom are treated very differently from people who have more social and financial ‘value.’

A true universal healthcare system would help to place all Americans on equal footing within the medical care system. It would place every person under the same medical payment system, giving all citizens access to the same medical resources without fear of financial devastation.

The social stigma surrounding extremely poor people will take significantly more time and resources to change. Medical professionals who harbor an aversion to interacting with extremely poor people (homeless or housed) will continue to shun these individuals, provide substandard care or participate in abusing vulnerable populations for the same reasons that racists treat the objects of their hate in the same manner.

The cascading effects of hatred towards extremely poor (homeless) people will have to be addressed in another way.

Solving Homelessness: Legal Assistance and Reform

Legal problems can, and often do, force people into extreme poverty, homelessness included. A court case can take over a person’s life, draining time, resources and funds. Depending on the reasons behind the case, it can cost a person their reputation, job and family – justifiably or not. Any involvement with the legal system is costly and winning is often the result of simply having more resources to devote to the process. If the issue at stake is important enough, people will (and have) devote every last resource to the fight, leaving them financially destitute.

Surviving extreme poverty (homeless or housed) is a legal quagmire of vagrancy laws; restrictions based on lack of a permanent address; illegal evictions; and accusations of theft, fraud, trespassing and simply existing (e.g.: sleeping in public). Attempting to report violent attacks or rapes is practically impossible and police brutality is not uncommon.

Those are just the most commonly known legal issues facing people trying to escape extreme poverty.

Any form of legal entanglement is devastating to impoverished families. Criminal cases are common and many of them are based on racial profiling or ridiculous laws specifically designed (and selectively enforced) to criminalize the existence of poor people because those with power don’t like seeing extreme poverty in public spaces.

I wish I could say that last sentence was an exaggeration or an analogy or even representation of worst-case-scenarios that pop-up through the country. Sadly, it is the cold-hard-reality faced by people surviving extreme poverty everywhere in the United States.

There are free legal aid programs, but they are inundated with requests for help, run by a small staff of volunteers and universally refuse to even discuss anything that is considered criminal. Legal representation provided within the court system is also overloaded and poorly managed.

As the experts in mass incarceration have pointed out, simply being part of a targeted racial group almost guarantees problems with the criminal justice system, regardless of your commitment to living a good and honest life. The same can be said for people surviving poverty – particularly those faced with extreme poverty and homelessness.

Extreme poverty and homelessness will not be significantly reduced, much less solved, until prejudiced and predatory laws are eliminated, all people are provided access to quality legal assistance and addressing an issue through the court system does not require being either extremely wealthy or a willingness to face complete financial devastation.

There’s a lot of work to be done here.
I don’t have a clean or easy answer.
It must change.
Period.

Mass Incarceration and Vagrancy Law Resources:

Solving Homelessness: Living Wage Work

“Get a job!” is one for the most common insults screamed into the faces of homeless people and individuals begging for change. Extremely poor people are stereotyped as being lazy, unreliable and unwilling to hold down a regular job. In reality, a significant number of extremely poor (homeless and housed) people hold down multiple jobs, working between 40 and 80 hours a week, month-after-month and year-after-year. The problem is not the ability or willingness to work – it’s the extremely low wages being paid by the vast majority of available jobs.

All over the country, the struggle is the same. Good paying jobs are inundated with applicants and almost every other opportunity pays less than the cost of living. Simply paying rent on a full-time minimum wage paycheck is impossible. Add in other expenses and holding down 2-3 jobs may not bring in enough cash to simply live.

The irony of this is the fact that there is plenty of work to be done and plenty of resources to go around. Take a walk around your neighborhood. How much would the 2-3 blocks surrounding your home benefit from a crew of people dedicated to simply cleaning, maintaining and fixing things? Expand that to the entire town or city. How much work needs to be done? How much of it get’s pushed aside year after year?

Then consider the number of small family businesses and start-up companies that struggle to survive in a market where large corporation not only dominate but reduce prices to the point where it’s impossible to compete. Providing people to work at small, local, businesses at a reduced cost to the business while paying the worker a living wage could help boost the local business economy.

A very simple program that simply provided a living wage job to any and every person who applied would go a long way toward reducing poverty (extreme or otherwise), preventing homelessness, and providing homeless people a much-needed opportunity to move into long-term housing.

Couple this program with standard employment assistance services and people who have been out of work for a long time will be provided a much-needed opportunity to return to the workforce. Even if every person working is doing low-skill manual labor, the possibility of being hired for completely different work significantly increases because it’s always easier to get a job when you have a job.

Also, presenting yourself in an interview becomes both difficult and complicated when you are stressed about finding your next meal, a place to sleep, the possibility of being evicted, or the overall safety of your children. These are things that employers consider liabilities and reasons to remove a person from consideration – if they should find out. They are also things that make remaining cheerful and pleasant a challenge.

A significant number of the seemingly insurmountable hurdles faced by extremely poor people could be addressed by simply providing a job that pays enough to cover the cost of living to anyone who wants one, regardless of their work history, background, criminal history, skill set or age.

This program would have to provide opportunities for teenagers, including those who are trying to help their family pay the bills, trying to care for siblings on their own or simply surviving without the help of a family. An education is crucial, but being open to helping these kids cover the cost of living through a job (full or part-time) presents a multitude of opportunities to address things like obtaining a GED.

Providing people with a criminal record or a less-than-perfect background with work that covers the cost living – guaranteed – helps to reduce criminal activity because it makes crime less necessary. When people have the ability to choose to live a good honest life, then making the decision to pursue criminal activity is more complicated because they really and truly do not have to break the law just to survive.

Making work available to anyone who needs it, at all times, also acts as a safety net for individuals who:

  • Lose their job due to cutbacks or a large corporation shutting down.
  • Quit a job due to a hostile work environment.
  • Leave their spouse due to abuse or a crumbling relationship.
  • Were forced to close a small business.
  • Are faced with the loss of work and/or income for any reason.
  • Many more…

The bottom line is simply this, providing a living-wage-job to anyone both willing and able to work benefits everyone in a specific geographic region and goes a long way toward reducing homelessness overall.

History: French Canadian Immigration

I am going to tell you as well as I can the story of the French Canadian textile worker; what brought him here; how he came, lived, worked, played and suffered until he was recognized as a patriotic, useful and respected citizen, no longer a ‘frog’ and ‘pea soup eater,’ a despised Canuck. And it’s the story of all the French Canadians who settled in New England mill towns. The picture of one French Canadian textile worker and the picture of another are just as much alike as deux gouttes d’eau, or, as we have learned to say in English, like two peas in a pod.

French Canadian Textile Worker, U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project, Library of Congress, a Narrative by Lemay, Philippe (Author) and Pare, Louis (Reporter), series: Folklore Project, Life Histories, 1936-39, MSS55715: BOX A718

Missouri: Minimum Wage Needed for Rent

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#36 Missouri

In Missouri, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $815. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities — without paying more than 30% of
income on housing — a household must earn $2,716 monthly or $32,588 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into
an hourly Housing Wage of: $15.67

Out of Reach 2017, National Low Housing Coalition (NLIHC)

Poverty and The Law of Compounding Exploitation

As a security professional within a corporate environment, I am tasked with identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities or threats. Information Security (InfoSec) effectively comes down to this: 1) know what you have (valuables), where it’s located and who has access to it, 2) identify potential vulnerabilities/weaknesses coming from both inside and outside the company (or DMZ), and 3) eliminate/reduce all vulnerabilities and weaknesses to the fullest extent possible, while carefully monitoring those that you choose to allow to remain unaddressed (there are many reasons for making this decision).

Take this process and apply it to a community of people. For the sake of argument:

  • Make 10% of that population homeless.
  • Create an economic structure wherein people are constantly flowing in and out of homelessness. The population keeps changing.
  • The total % of people who are homeless increases, slowly, over time.
  • 25% of the people who experience homelessness spend the rest of their lives living with a mental or physical illness (disability?) acquired as a direct result of being homeless.
  • 75% of the people experiencing homelessness, at any point in time, are children.
  • The protection afforded to housed people is not provided to homeless, making them perfect targets for criminals, predators and ‘recruiters’ of all kinds.
  • Surviving homelessness requires surviving violence.

If this community has 100,000 people, then a minimum of 10,000 people are being forced to live underground at any given moment in time. 7500 of these individuals are children whose education is being interrupted and/or negatively impacted by the experience. There are also a minimum of 2500 people who are dealing with illnesses and disabilities as a direct result of being forced to live underground while surviving extreme poverty.

Those 7500 children and 2500 permanently injured/disabled adults (we’ll assume they are all adults) are (re)entering society with training, experience, perspective and skills that may or may not positively contribute to the safety, security and positive function of society.

As a security professional, I shake my head in disgust because those 7500 unknowns (at this point, they are not officially threats) were completely avoidable. I did not have to be concerned about them at all. It is a situation that could (should) be eliminated through housing, access to basic resources/necessities, respectful and effective assistance from police forces and safe, quality, reliable and free education.

Now, let’s introduce some known threats.

All of these threats could consist of a grand total of 10,000 people due to overlap (read: the highest number listed above), but it also could consist of a total threat base of 16,200 people – assuming no overlap. So my known threat base ranges from 10,000 to 16,000 people in the total population. Assuming %s remain consistent and all known threats are adults, then it can be assumed 250–400 experienced homelessness at some point.

I’m guessing that you are looking at that relatively low number of homeless predators and wondering: how does this illustrate compounding vulnerability exploitation? Allow me to illustrate…

Compounding force #1: One vulnerability leads to a strengthening of a threat which, in turn, creates another vulnerability.

10,000 perpetrators/threats (10% of the total population) are committing crimes against 10,000 vulnerable (homeless) people (10% of the total population) either by preference or as a form of practice. The homeless are not provided police protection and they cannot defend themselves due to extreme poverty and social stigma. Therefore, a potential criminal who has not crossed the line into full-blown criminal activity, is provided a ‘sandbox’ where these behaviors can be acted out and perfected before perpetrating them against people who ‘matter.’

Compounding force #2: The purposeful allowance of an exploitation, and the refusal to take proper action in response, increases both the threat and the vulnerability.

The widespread acceptance surrounding the degradation, marginalization and violent treatment of poverty survivors (homeless people in particular), creates a pervading social construct (culture) that is less able (unable?) to identify and address these same behaviors perpetrated against the general population. The community has become ‘numb’ to criminal activity and lost a significant (important) portion of it’s willingness and/or ability to properly address these actions.

The culture of a community/environment must be such that threats can be identified and addressed, promptly, properly and effectively. If the culture is negatively affected in one circumstance, allowing a known threat/criminal act to go unaddressed (unpunished), then that same threat will not only continue, but will grow stronger and begin to expand (aggressively).

Compounding force #3: Threats that are mitigated ad-hoc and separate from the whole often generate more vulnerabilities and create new categories of threats.

The widespread refusal to treat poverty survivors (homeless in particular) with the basic respect due to any human being, combined with an aggressively enforced caste system that forces people into permanent association with a ‘lesser-than’ category, directly and negatively affects all poverty survivor’s ability to improve their lives both financially and socially. They are placed between the proverbial ‘rock and a hard place.’

Desperation and lack of options can force people to find creative solutions (this is good), but it can also push them into making alliances and decisions that place them into the community threat category (this is bad).

The homeless are the absolute bottom, they are not the entire community of poverty survivors. Those who are surviving poverty while remaining housed (however tenuous that situation may be) will see what is happening to those trying to survive homelessness. The actions taken against the homeless will directly and profoundly effect the decisions made by those who are ‘merely poor.’

The two communities combined are placed in a state of desperation, trying to improve their situation. This makes them all particularly vulnerable to everything from relatively light criminal activity (e.g.: shoplifting) to criminal association (e.g.: joining a gang or a criminal network) and radicalization (e.g.: joining terrorist organizations like the KKK or ISIL and participating in hate crimes or terrorist attacks).

By isolating and ignoring the safety and welfare of one segment of the community, the threat level is increased for another segment of the community. Due to the ostracism and marginalization of poverty survivors, the actions taken by poverty survivors, in reaction to their situation, are separate from the actions taken by the police and similar organizations in protections of the community as a whole. This disconnect creates an increased number of threats seeking to exploit vulnerabilities found throughout the community.

Compounding force #4: The creation of exploitable vulnerabilities increases with the acceptance of those exploitations.

When the only thing separating those vulnerable to degradation, vicious social behavior and open violence is financial standing, moving a targeted individual into a state of absolute vulnerability hinges on destroying their financial standing.

In other words, everyone is vulnerable, because anyone can have a financial crisis at any moment.

It’s easy to assume that you are immune to such experiences. But it is even easier to examine the life and habits of any individual or family and identify that ways in which they could go from housed and financially secure to living out of shelter – in a stunningly short period of time.

For criminals and predators, this is an important loophole. It permanently establishes a vulnerability within every single household, that can be exploited to reduce or eliminate a threat to criminal operations. Because the vulnerability is entirely financial, exploiting it presents minimal risk to criminals and predators. After all, arranging for a family member for come down with a mysterious illness that requires a lengthy hospital stay, or simply ensuring the primary breadwinner looses his or her job, is relatively easy.

Conclusion

There is no such thing as an isolated threat. Every ecology or environment (e.g.: computer systems, the environment, human social networks, towns and cities, etc.) operates within the push-and-pull of threats-vs-vulnerabilities. Every threat has the potential to grow strong and every vulnerability has the potential to grow larger. Both have the ability to spread to other systems, ecological environments, communities, etc.

Dividing the world into absolute, unchanging, categories of US and THEM is a dangerous habit. A truly effective system of threat identification and mitigation recognizes that there is no them – there is only us.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

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Amazon.com

Nonetheless, their ambivalence about recognizing privilege suggests a deep tension at the heart of the idea of American dream. While pursuing wealth is unequivocally desirable, having wealth is not simple and straightforward. Our ideas about egalitarianism make even the beneficiaries of inequality uncomfortable with it. And it is hard to know what they, as individuals, can do to change things.

In response to these tensions, silence allows for a kind of “see no evil, hear no evil” stance. By not mentioning money, my interviewees follow a seemingly neutral social norm that frowns on such talk. But this norm is one of the ways in which privileged people can obscure both their advantages and their conflicts about these advantages.

What the Rich Won’t Tell You, Opinion, New York Times, written by Rachel Sherman

Amazon.com

Kansas: Minimum Wage Needed for Rent

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#37 Kansas

In Kansas, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $811. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities — without paying more than 30% of income on housing — a household must earn $2,703 monthly or $32,434 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into
an hourly Housing Wage of: $15.56

Out of Reach 2017, National Low Housing Coalition (NLIHC)

Ohio: Minimum Wage Needed for Rent

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#41 Ohio

In Ohio, the Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a two-bedroom apartment is $780. In order to afford this level of rent and utilities — without paying more than 30% of income on
housing — a household must earn $2,600 monthly or $31,194 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into an hourly Housing Wage of: $15.00

Out of Reach 2017, National Low Housing Coalition (NLIHC)