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Homelessness in Urban Centers

BKM

Cyburbian
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6,464
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29
I thought the series which began yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle on homelessness was, if rather sensationalistic, also interesting and tragic. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2003/11/30/MNG263BHKR1.DTL

There are many people honestly "down on their luck." What do you do with the truly hard core minority described in this admittedly sensationalistic article. San Francisco does have a major problem-I've observed addicts hiking their skirts in the middle of the sidewalk and letting it flow.

I always tend to the libertarian when it comes to drug policy-but do people have the right to live like this? What do you do with people who refuse help-or is the newspaper merely soft-peddling the lack of services. I would honestly believe that both are true (hard core incorrigibility plus poorly funded services), but still-should a city "allow" people to live in this setting?

More personally-do you guys give money to beggars-or is that merely exacerbating the problem?
 

BKM

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6,464
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The follow-up article is also disturbing. This family scraping by in Vermont-a disabled man who can't work and a mother who purportedly can't work because she has asthma and a back problem (being 100 pounds overweight helps neither problem) suddenly decide, with no money saved up, no jobs skills, no contacts, and no clue (plus overweight, unhealthy kids), to load up the rattletrap truck and "move to California, where the jobs grow on trees and the weather is nice."

They are now stuck-refusing to check into any public housing projects that are available (too dangerous-as if living in a van near a bunch of drug addicts is safer) or enter any programs, begging on the street, picking up heroin needles, and living under an overpass. They are shocked, just shocked, that a Section 8 voucher was not IMMEDIATELY available for them when they showed up after their cross-country voyage.

I just don't know. On the one hand, I know we are being manipulated by the "liberal" media (there is a close election in SF between a more "moderate" supervisor and a radical "green" that the Chronicle doesn't like at all). Still-it reminds me of the clueless kid who showed up at the planning counter with a nonsense address and phone number, out of money, with half a tank of gas.
 

simulcra

Member
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127
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6
San Francisco does have a major problem-I've observed addicts hiking their skirts in the middle of the sidewalk and letting it flow.
People who live in the city and pay property taxes to do so have their rights, too, like the right to not have to walk down the street and watch people urinate in public...

I don't give money to beggars, I give them food. I've seen many who've refused the food and just want the money, and I don't really want to think about it too much.

There are a few that just need some extra change for bus fare and I will give them that or pay for it with my CTA card in some way, since I've had a few friends who've miscalculated how much cash they've had and actually had to beg for some cash since they had no other way to get back home.
 

Michele Zone

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I do sometimes give money to beggars. I haven't recently simply because I haven't been hit up. But I was a soft touch when I was in the LA basin summer of last year (I had just completed a class on homelessness).

Most of the money they get does, in fact, go for substance abuse. But, to quote my professor "I couldn't spend 48 hours sleeping on the sidewalk without drinking or doing drugs. The streets are really cold and hard." Also, sometimes folks on the street have a pet and they can't go to a shelter because the shelters don't allow pets and you can't buy dog food with food stamps. You also can't buy toilet paper, wash powder and a whole lot of things I consider essentials (probably to include "feminine hygiene" articles, to put it politely). I know that from when I used to send packages regularly to my in-laws, when they were on welfare.

I, personally, think that folks used to be more tolerant, in some ways, of people who couldn't make it completely on their own. And I know for a fact that there used to be "halfway measures" -- boarding houses were a lot more common and so were SRO's. Now the attitude seems to be that every last person over 18 should be able to afford an apartment or house of their own. Relatives are less inclined to "double up" or take in an elderly aunt or uncle or whomever. The well paid industrial jobs that used to allow an 18 or 20 year old male to make enough money to have a place of his own and even support a family have largely been shipped overseas. The service jobs that replaced them do not support that kind of independent lifestyle. It takes years of education to and/or experience to get a professional job that will support you in that style -- and, increasingly, such jobs are also not as stable as they used to be.

Additionally, it used to be a lot more common for a full time job to come with medical benefits for the entire family. These days, it is increasingly common for a job to only cover the employee. Medical bills are responsible for more than 50% of bankruptcies in this country -- and that statistics holds true whether the person or family in question has medical insurance or not. My sister and her husband are both professionals and are still suffering enormously from the $25,000+ in debts they were left from treating her cancer. And her husband had unusually good insurance, that covered 90% of expenses (after the deductible and co-pay, I think) and covered everything after they ran up more than $25,000 in medical bills in one year. A lot of insurance only covers 80% and some only cover 70%.

One of the best things we could do to alleviate homelessness would be to figure out a more humane way to cover the cost of the "miracles of modern medicine". I have read tragic stories of families that have to choose between paying the rent or taking the kid to the doctor and paying for medicine. Just like with the bankruptcies, the medical expense comes first -- and then they can end up homeless. I also imagine that if you chose to pay the rent instead, and did not seek medical attention for the child, you could be legally liable for child abuse or even manslaughter if it led to the death of the kid. I think they call that "between a rock and a hard place".
 

Zoning Goddess

Cyburbian
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13,853
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39
I have not encountered any "true" beggars where I live. It's usually the morons who approach me in the parking lot at work, explaining that they were on the way to take their kid to the doctor and ran out of gas, and could I give them a few bucks? So I always ask "Where's your sick kid? Leave him/her in the car?" and they scurry off.

In any event, I would not be predisposed to give any beggar any money.

I don't know how we disallow anyone from living on the streets, if they wish. I do think that we can curtail the problem of families thinking they can continue to reproduce because the government will pay for all the new kids. And I do think that the government has every right to take children from people who insist on living with them on the streets.

Unfortunately, there is no way to stop society from producing morons who can't think 3 steps into the future.
 

Cardinal

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There have been many good points made so far, and just a couple with which I would disagree. There is this persistent myth that sometime in the past there were all kinds of good, high-wage manufacturing jobs that have been lost. It simply isn't true. Manufacturing jobs have declined in most areas, some to overseas competition and some to technology. The remaining jobs tend to pay better because they require skills. In the past, manufacturing jobs were hard, dirty, and generally low-paying. Housing was cheaper, but consider also that it would not meet the standards we find acceptable today.

We've discussed homelessness before so it will be no surprise when I say that 1) I do not give money to individuals, and 2) I believe it is first and foremost, the responsibility of each individual person to take the steps necessary to ensure that they do not end up on the street. That means finishing school, getting a college degree or some specialized training, perhaps enlisting in the military, staying off drugs, being willing to start out at the entry level and working hard, handling money responsibly, etc. A vast majority of people do these things.

Some people will not make it, through no fault of their own. Perhaps they have medical problems, perhaps they are unfortunate enough to work for an Enron, or whatever. These are the people deserving of assistance. As for the others... Solipsa is right, the residents of a place have a reasonable expectation of safety and sanitation. If the homeless or any other group infringes on these rights, then they should be pursued by the legal system. Take them off the streets and sober them up, get them counseling or job training, or simply throw them in jail. A prison-like environment where they received appropriate health (including mental health) care, and a good place to sleepwould be much better for many of them.
 

H

Cyburbian
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24
BKM said:
There are many people honestly "down on their luck." (snip) San Francisco does have a major problem-I've observed addicts hiking their skirts in the middle of the sidewalk and letting it flow.

I always tend to the libertarian when it comes to drug policy-but do people have the right to live like this?

More personally-do you guys give money to beggars-or is that merely exacerbating the problem?
About a month ago I was ‘across’ at Miami Beach and a man was in the bus shelter going to the bathroom in a sock. In the winter month’s homelessness gets rampant here.

Do they have the right to be homeless? Sure. But they don’t have the right to be obscene. I think depositing in a sock in a public bus shelter is a criminal offense. The man should have been put in jail. Not only would it benefit society, it would benefit him.

I am a not very tolerant about this subject, because I don’t believe people have to be homeless on a permanent basis. Down on your luck, sure that is unfortunate. However you can be homeless and still have self-respect, get help and bounce back. I bet Jewel never left a deposit in her sock…:-|

And yes, giving beggars money perpetuates the problem. I have given money and time to charities and organizations that lend helping hands, but never give money to a person on the street, that just sets a bad trend like when you feed a stray cat.

I apologize if this post isn’t very kosher, but I don’t know how else to put it.
 
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Michele Zone

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Cardinal said:
There have been many good points made so far, and just a couple with which I would disagree. There is this persistent myth that sometime in the past there were all kinds of good, high-wage manufacturing jobs that have been lost. It simply isn't true. Manufacturing jobs have declined in most areas, some to overseas competition and some to technology. The remaining jobs tend to pay better because they require skills. In the past, manufacturing jobs were hard, dirty, and generally low-paying. Housing was cheaper, but consider also that it would not meet the standards we find acceptable today.
Well, you agree that manufacturing jobs have declined in most areas. But then you say the remaining jobs pay better -- when every study I can recall seeing states that average real wages for men have been dropping for decades and that is a big part of why so many moms with small kids have gone to work. The general consensus is that most folks can no longer raise a family on one income, as was common for a time. Granted, historically, the brief window of time when the nuclear family was viewed as "the norm" was actually an aberration. But I just don't understand how you can argue with the fact that jobs, generally, are not paying what they used to pay, in real terms. And job security and benefits are declining.

Yes, housing standards have improved and that does account for a large percentage of the real increase in cost. I can probably still quote some statistics on that. But my issue with housing is essentially that we have little in the way of options for folks who cannot afford the housing standards of today. Folks who, at one time, would have been in a shack with a dirt floor and an outhouse are now sleeping under bridges. We have raised the bar so high that many people are no longer able to meet it -- and we offer little in the way of effective assistance.
 

tsc

Cyburbian
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1,905
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23
very sad,,,
I give to charities that provide services to these people, but I do not give money to them directly.
 

Cardinal

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34
Michele Zone said:
Well, you agree that manufacturing jobs have declined in most areas. But then you say the remaining jobs pay better -- when every study I can recall seeing states that average real wages for men have been dropping for decades and that is a big part of why so many moms with small kids have gone to work. The general consensus is that most folks can no longer raise a family on one income, as was common for a time. Granted, historically, the brief window of time when the nuclear family was viewed as "the norm" was actually an aberration. But I just don't understand how you can argue with the fact that jobs, generally, are not paying what they used to pay, in real terms. And job security and benefits are declining.
What is the historical context in which you are looking at manufacturing wages? If you compare to the twenty-year window from the 1950's to the 1970's, when American manufacturing dominated the world, I would agree that the opportunities for a high-wage manufacturing job with security have diminished. If you look more broadly, manufacturing jobs have typically been low income. Steelworkers did not get good wages until becoming organized in the 1940's. Miners in the 1800's took their dangerous and back-breaking jobs for the 25-cent wage.

While it is true that most households now have two workers, I think you are making a big mistake to suggest that it is because of low wages. That may be true for some, but let's not forget that women have fought a difficult struggle over the last half century to be able to enter a male-dominated workplace. They actually want to work. Other two-worker households have chosen to both work not out of a question of the affordability of a basic living standard, but to be able to enjoy home ownership, an SUV, and plasma TV's.

My point was not to argue that anybody could still go to work for GM at twenty, make a good living and retire at fifty with a full pension. It was to suggest that the view of the past workplace is tainted with nostalgia, there are good jobs available not just in manufacturing but in services as well (I left this comment out of my earlier statements), and that it is the responsibility of individuals to get the skills and put in the honest work necessary to get these jobs.
 

Richmond Jake

You can't fight in here. This is the War Room!
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18,309
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44
I've never given individuals money. Guess I'm a heartless beast.
 

BKM

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29
OT: (Response to Cardinale): I agree more with Michelle. My skepticism regarding your point: there ain't a single "skilled" white collar "professional" job in the United States today that can't be done cheaper by often better educated professionals in India, China Romania (#3 in software development, I read somewhere) or elsewhere. In the recent SF Chronicle jobs section, there was a brief column that basically said EVERYTHING can be quickly off-shored, and the only hope is government work. We all know what budgetary situations mean for that "answer :)

Watch for the devastating impact on the high income jobs of the Richard Florida knowledge worker class. Maybe Karl Marx was right, and the brief period where workers did share somewhat in the fruits of the system is over-and its nothing but a rapid rush to the bottom (in wages, environmental standards, social health) from now on. Glory to neoliberalist turbo-capitalism!

Michelle also brought up some other good points: In our rush to redevleop cities, we often destroy exactly the type of, admittedly substandard, housing that the down on their luck used to rely on. San Francisco basically destroyed a significant part of its skid row to build a glitzy cultural center (two museums, a very tightly privately policed park, and an urban entertainment center (Metreon) that is largely failing. Its rather hypocritical to then complain that there is no affordable housing. Especially because new housing units built to today's building codes cost over $100K per unit to build.

As for beggars, I just feel torn both ways. I hate contributing to addictions, I hate giving money to people (I recognize) who have been begging for 12 years. Still, what employer would take a chance on most of the hard core? They do appear "stuck" in a bad situation. As many of them may have weak impulse control and no skills, can we legitimately expect them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Still-defecating against a storefront window is a health hazard and a crime. If you are reduced to that level, putting you in jail would not be evil but a good thing-for you and the City.
 

SkeLeton

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I never give money to homeless people or poor people that come and ask to my house... I give them food, specially fruits, since they never eat any fruit (though I never give them oranges, because they leave the peel in your lawn and/or street)
Giving them money is like subsiding their drug abuse problems.
 
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My first exposure to the homeless was when I was 16 yrs old and on a week-long trip with classmates in D.C. A group of us were eating at Burger King when we were approached and subsequently harrassed by a homeless individual. He demanded that we give him either money or food. The manager had him removed, but we were visibly affected by the incident. Prior to that, I knew homelessness existed but I had no idea of its extent, especially in the nation's capital. I was saddened and disappointed by what I had experienced and what I had seen while I was there. However, that experience didn't propell me to give money to beggars on the street. While I have some sympathy for those who are truly down on their luck, I can't feel the same for those who made the choices that eventually led them to their current fate.
 

Chet

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And what about those that CHOOSE to be homeless?

I side with Cardinal and dont have much else to add. However:

I realize this is not the majority of the homeless population, but there are some homeless that prefer the lifestyle. Especially if you can make it to an environment like So. Cal., Florida, or my favorite -- Hawaii.

I was in Mauii a few years back and, to the chagrine of my family, I struck up a conversation over breakfast with a homeless woman that was wandering down the beach. She had a college degree in biology and a masters in chemistry. She burned out at an early age (about 40 I would guess) picked up and moved to Mauii. Lives out of a Toyota. Bathes at the free de-sanding showers at the beach. Never worries about being cold. Plenty of public restrooms around. She was amazed at how many tourists walk down the streets or beaches coming from dinner, and they offer her their doggie bag left overs - usually fine seafood or steaks, etc - so shes never hungry.

Is this really that bad?
 

ludes98

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I support groups not individuals like so many others have said here. With our warm climate, we have a lot of homeless folks here. It was worse when I lived in Tucson. I have had several incidents with homeless people. They just don't act rationally (drugs?) and they don't listen. Anyone seen them fornicating? It is just as disgusting as the public urination. Yuck!
 

Cardinal

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BKM said:
OT: (Response to Cardinale): I agree more with Michelle. My skepticism regarding your point: there ain't a single "skilled" white collar "professional" job in the United States today that can't be done cheaper by often better educated professionals in India, China Romania (#3 in software development, I read somewhere) or elsewhere. In the recent SF Chronicle jobs section, there was a brief column that basically said EVERYTHING can be quickly off-shored, and the only hope is government work. We all know what budgetary situations mean for that "answer :)
Economics is not so simplistic. Location is determined by many other variables besides labor. Some jobs will be more susceptible to relocating overseas, while others will remain firmly entrenched domestically. Let's not forget that the economy is continually evolving. What are the jobs of tomorrow and where will they locate?

[OT]Richard Florida should not be read so literally as to assume that the "creative class" is software engineers. It is people who use knowledge to make a product (which may be knowledge itself). They are inventors and entrepreneurs more so than workers in any given occupation.[/OT]
 

Michele Zone

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Okay, Cardinal -- I think you and I basically agree on some of the "facts," even though it doesn't initially sound like it.

I did note that the brief era of the "nuclear family" was a historical aberration. However, I think this recent history is relevant to current perceptions because most folks' "memories" do not really go back farther than when they were kids and daddy worked and mom had the luxury of staying home (where she put in around 60 hours per week of labor). So, when most people complain about such things, they have some fantasy that their childhood was "the norm" and there is something terribly wrong with what is going on today.

Also, I would like to point out that I specifically said "that is why moms of young kids are working" (according to many things I have read). I fully agree that *women* want to work -- hell, I want to work in spite of the attitudes of a lot of people I meet that I should take to my bed and make my health problems the entire focus of my existence. Sorry, I don't consider that to be a very high quality of life. I imagine it would dramatically shorten my lifespan -- if only because I would commit suicide. Going to college while so dreadfully ill has helped to make the last 2 1/2 years "the best of times" as well as "the worst of times".

Uh, back to my real point: although women want to work, moms of small kids usually feel tortured by having to choose and many of them would choose to be home while the kids are small -- or to only work part-time if there were more options for doing that without gutting their career. Women are between a rock and a hard place on such topics and government policies tend to be biased towards supporting a woman working and tend to actively discourage her staying home.

Last, but not least, there is a lot of evidence that it is much harder these days to find the kind of income, benefits, and job security that our parents generally had. I have read quite a few articles about the trend towards hiring more Temp workers and fewer full time workers with benefits, working fewer employees longer hours rather than pay the benefits and hiring costs of finding additional workers, etc. There is an ugly trend that people who have jobs tend to work more hours -- I believe the last statistic I saw was up above 50 hours per week -- while, simultaneously, unempleyment figures rise. Those two trends are linked.

Okay, I will grant you that WWII had a lot to do with the strong economy and the general prosperity of individuals in the 50's, 60's and 70's. World War II forced many couples to have a two income household, no possibility of concieving a child (what with hubby off at war), and no way to spend all their money given that things were rationed, people were encouraged to grow Victory Gardens, they even stopped making cars at one point. During the war, personal savings were phenomenally high due to people having 2 incomes, no kids, and no way to spend it all.

But most folks do not realize that and I don't have any easy answers as to how to convince folks to be celibate in their 20's, while married with two incomes, and socking away up to 50% of their income for 4 years straight so they can buy a house and let mommy go home and cook after the first baby is born.
 

Michele Zone

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ludes98 said:
They just don't act rationally (drugs?) and they don't listen.
A lot of them are crazy (to use a technical term). It has to do with an enlightened policy that decided that we were imprisoning people for being mentally ill by keeping them in mental hospitals for years and years. So a law was passed to set all these folks Free -- Free, free, free at last!

Only, all the good intentions (with which they paved this road to hell) and big plans to train these people (some of whom had been institutionalized their whole lives) to live "on the outside" and to give them help finding apartments, etc, never materialized. Many folks who had been institutionalized for many years were given a suitcase, helped to pack, and shown the front door. Gee, I wonder where some of these folks ended up?

Well, to answer my own question, thousands ended up on the street -- and never got off of it. And "new" crazies end up on the street every year because the government never went back to its policy of paying for long term institutionalization for so many folks. So, if you are crazy, have no insurance, have no family, etc -- ultimately, your time at some institution runs out or you don't qualify to begin with.
 

BKM

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Economics is not so simplistic. Location is determined by many other variables besides labor. Some jobs will be more susceptible to relocating overseas, while others will remain firmly entrenched domestically. Let's not forget that the economy is continually evolving. What are the jobs of tomorrow and where will they locate?
Of course, I realize that. Heck, we still have manufacturing plants in the United States (although I read in the Wall Street Journal that 1/3, yes 1/3 of American tool and die shops-these are skilled people-have closed down over the past five years). And, I never claimed that Florida's knowledge workers were just software people. In previous rants, I've pointed out how easily off-sourced other knowledge industries are. Architects, engineers, product designers, etc. For $250, you can have a trained Romanian architect who grew up in a classical city prepare plans for your custom dream house.

And, if we have no manufacturing and our population has no intimate knowledge of actually making things, how can you believe that OUR engineers and designers will be able to compete effectively with, say, Chinese engineers who have first-hand knowledge and access to the industrial economy (as well as working for 1/5 the price)? I am skeptical. We are just hoping that American Exceptionalism will continue to apply.

The trends are seriously negative. Everybody in a country of 300 million can't be an "entrepeneur," especially when our economy continues its rapid consolidation in almost every sphere of economic activity. There will of course always be niches-smart people will do fine. But, not everyone is a genius entrepeneur. Does the average joe just have to accept being relegated to a cardboard box in a suburban Bushville?
 

Big Easy King

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Sometimes I give, sometimes I don't...just depends on how I feel at that particular moment. However, despite my generosity and willingness to open my heart, it's difficult to convince me that the homeless aren't capable of improving their living arrangements by obtaining some type of paying job. It's my opinion that there's someone out there who'll hire, because labor is needed.
 

jordanb

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If I had a dime for every time someone's asked me for a quarter, I'd have a good stash right now. So no, I don't give beggars money.
 

Cardinal

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BKM said:
Of course, I realize that. Heck, we still have manufacturing plants in the United States (although I read in the Wall Street Journal that 1/3, yes 1/3 of American tool and die shops-these are skilled people-have closed down over the past five years). And, I never claimed that Florida's knowledge workers were just software people. In previous rants, I've pointed out how easily off-sourced other knowledge industries are. Architects, engineers, product designers, etc. For $250, you can have a trained Romanian architect who grew up in a classical city prepare plans for your custom dream house.

And, if we have no manufacturing and our population has no intimate knowledge of actually making things, how can you believe that OUR engineers and designers will be able to compete effectively with, say, Chinese engineers who have first-hand knowledge and access to the industrial economy (as well as working for 1/5 the price)? I am skeptical. We are just hoping that American Exceptionalism will continue to apply.

The trends are seriously negative. Everybody in a country of 300 million can't be an "entrepeneur," especially when our economy continues its rapid consolidation in almost every sphere of economic activity. There will of course always be niches-smart people will do fine. But, not everyone is a genius entrepeneur. Does the average joe just have to accept being relegated to a cardboard box in a suburban Bushville?
We could pick at individual comments all day. Many tool and die shops are closing simply because the workers are aging - over 40% of the tool and die workers in Wisconsin will be retiring in the next ten years. Manufacturing employment decrease while manufacturing output increases. Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur to benefit from an entrepreneurs business ventures.

The point I really dispute is your claim that America is losing all of its manufacturing jobs and soon everything will be produced elsewhere. It is simply not true. We do compete very effectively in many sectors, especially when our competitors are not artificially manipulating the markets, as countires like Japan and China will do.
 

Michele Zone

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Cardinal said:
The point I really dispute is your claim that America is losing all of its manufacturing jobs and soon everything will be produced elsewhere. It is simply not true. We do compete very effectively in many sectors, especially when our competitors are not artificially manipulating the markets, as countires like Japan and China will do.
On that point, I have to agree with Cardinal. (Somebody please pray for my soul -- I am not terribly religious, so I can't do it for myself. ;) ) I really cannot remember the details of some of what I read, but I am thinking that the fact that the steel industry in America aged, became "out of date," and declined became an opportunity for the latest technology to move here. Too many countries overseas were too heavily invested in the old technology and could not afford the transition. The dearth of "current" steel factories here was fertile ground when new processes became the next wave. It is similar to the idea that in places like China, cell phones are rampant because it is easier to leap-frog to that than to build the massive infrastructure required to put in phone cables for 'traditional' phones.

It is my understanding that when you ship a lot of these jobs overseas to be done by someone getting starvating wages and sleeping in a hut with a mud floor (and I know that is a stereotype, so let's not nitpick that comment) you generally lower the quality of the product. If you want a high quality product, you have to have high quality workers. Companies that are loyal to their workers tend to be more successful in the long run. They have lower employee turnover and that represents both a cost savings as well as growth of human capital -- ie. expertise and experience that gives them an edge over other companies. A lot of companies that ship jobs overseas find they have shot themselves in the foot.
 

BKM

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I hope so. But, I tend to be doom and gloom too much. As I see no "solutions" to a "problem" that is inherent in the way markets work (no socialist here), I can only hope that employment does provide livable wages. I fear not, but what do I know?
 

Michele Zone

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Well, if I were totally focused on "employment providing a living wage" I am sure I would be just as depressed as you are about such issues. I think that, just as the cause of the problems are not that simplistic, the solutions are not all on one thing either. American policies and, yes, culture and values have to change in response to trends that are not stoppable. I am certainly not praying for another world war as a means to 'fix' the economy.

There are systemic things that need fixing (or, at least, improving). But I am a die hard optimist and, well, I just do not see these things in any kind of simple terms. Quality of life is not something you buy off the shelf -- it grows out of a thousand choices and is not directly dependent solely upon income. Drug dealers often have fairly substantial incomes. But drug dealers also, oh, get shot at as part of their profession, cannot claim pride in their work, and have a whole raft of other issues that fail to give them a quality of life that I care to aspire to.

I would like to see more options in housing because I think that just because it doesn't meet "American" expectations for 'decent' housing does not mean it is not an improvement over being homeless. Which is not to say I want to promote slums -- not at all.

I was in West Germany when the Berlin wall came down and the two Germanies reunited. An aunt of mine who was East German traveled to West Germany to visit relatives there, and then came to the U.S. to visit relatives here, including my mother. She told my mother that "When you go from East Germany to West Germany, everyone in West Germany looks rich. And then you come to America and everyone looks like on Dallas" (the night time soap opera, where everyone was stinking rich).

Much of the world (me included, what with my immigrant mom and Depression Era dad) sees the American "norm" as "living in Palaces". So I think it is erroneous to tear down SRO's and do away with boarding houses, etc, because middle class Americans turn their noses up at them. Homeless people might be thrilled to live in such modest housing situations. And if we had more options available, a lot of these people might never become homeless -- they might just move to more modest accomodations instead. I think modest accommodations can be done in a way that it is not simply a slum -- unless one has the biased view that anything less than a 3 bedroom, 2 bath house in the 'burbs is a "slum".

Just rambling, BKM. I know you basically agree with me about the housing stuff.
 

BKM

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Maybe, as horrifying as it to my midwestern Baptist roots, this is a solution to another asect of the problem outlined in the first Chronicle article:

From an article on diverging social mores in Canada and the United States (regarding Vancouver):

"The city opened a publicly financed and supervised injection site for heroin users in September. The federal government, meanwhile, is preparing to start an experimental heroin distribution program for addicts in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver in 2004."

Horrible, but given that we will always have addicts, isn't it better to ensure that they not die of superating wounds? Still, the idea of government programs to "encourage" destructive behavior. I just don't know.
 

Cardinal

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I am fortunate that in my job, I am frequently given the opportunity to tour the businesses with which I work. Many of these are manufacturers, and about half of these projects involve the development or application of new technology. It is a great way to see how and why labor is becoming both less important (need for fewer workers) and more important (need for greater skills) at the same time.

The technology ranges from something as simple as a piece of robotics that picks up a product, does some simple milling, and stacks the product on a pallet. Instead of needing three people to do the task, the company now needs only one. In another factory, a 100-foot long, fully-automated line produces printed circuitry at the rate of a piece every few seconds. This work was once all done by hand. In still another factory, a casting from Canada is milled out to within 0.003 mm tolerance and fitted with various valves and controls before being shipped back to Canada for more assembly, before then getting shipped to Germany to be installed in a car.

K and L are still an economist's favorite letters. They can be substituted for each other to a surprising degree. That is what is going on in American manufacturing. Factory automation means that fewer workers are needed for greater output. The cost of automation is high, and as a result, there is consolidation within industries as smaller firms or products lines are purchased. Overall, these are signs of health.

We have really gotten off-topic. On the question of housing standards, I think you right, MZ. Our standards may need some re-thinking. Maybe we don't need to go back to the SRO's like I went through yesterday, but what about efficiency apartments? I actually lived in one my last year of college, but I can't think of anyplace I have seen one since then. Co-housing is another idea I find attractive.
 
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BKM said:
Horrible, but given that we will always have addicts, isn't it better to ensure that they not die of superating wounds? Still, the idea of government programs to "encourage" destructive behavior. I just don't know.
…but the idea of safe areas is age old; brothels flowed from the same thoughts.

Today there is quite a bit of research out there on the concept of Harm Reduction, which is predicated on the fact that certain destructive behaviours, like (but not limited to) drug use, will probably always exist in our society. By focussing on informing individuals at risk, harm reduction techniques seek to minimize the risks taken. By no means do they want to encourage destructive behaviour, they just want to make sure that bad things don’t get worse. A parent could practice harm reduction by getting solid facts about pregnancy and STDs instead of demanding abstinence…most kids I know would freak out if they knew the details and end up celibate for a while. Here’s an article that deals with the concept in the context of drug use.
http://forward-thinking-on-drugs.org/review2.html

I am all for the idea of safe places because they treat people like individuals…each in his or her own stage of denial, acceptance or bewilderment. The mental image of Tommy Rettig stabbing at his open wound of a leg cries out that a harm reduction site close by might very well have saved his life. Man, I am glad to be Canadian when I read stories like ‘the island’…we have homelessness for sure but our problems are still manageable if we can just get people to wake up. I have no friggin’ clue where to start in San Fran.

One thing that I don’t think anyone has mentioned is the high prevalence of illiteracy among out homeless citizens. The literacy rate for Canada and the States is 97%, according to the CIA World Fact book but I bet that’s not what you’ll find on any of your cities’ streets.

I would also like to add that if I have change on me, I give it away. If I don’t, I sort of lift my hands a bit and say ‘sorry’…not because I should be, but because I am. No one ends up a failure without first being failed. And I am truly sorry that they have been failed, whether by an institution or an individual. I realize that some of us have made it through tough times but none of us are at the end and we really can’t say where we’ll be, can we?

I don’t want to live with homeless people either but should I leave this legacy to my successors or should I battle my society to stop ‘sweeping’ the streets and start ‘picking up’ the people that live there?
 

Michele Zone

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Cardinal, I don't think you are off topic at all. At its root, homelessness is an issue of "people problems" -- not housing problems per se and not employment problems per se, although those get "blamed" a lot and those are certainly important factors. So, if you want to find real solutions, you have to address all variables in this complex formula -- your economic development focus is no less valid than my housing focus. They are each pieces of the puzzle and are also areas of personal interest that can be added together to get a synergistic answer better than either of us could come up with. (Which is sort of the whole point of having such a discussion in a forum like this, right?)

As I understand it, the last time that techonological innovation gave us a "bonus" of time by substituting machines for people -- exactly what you are describing -- it began the exact same trend I noted: higher unemployment generally and no less time on the job for those remaining in jobs. Society's response to that was to push for the 40 hour work week. And I have read some stuff that suggests that part of the solution to the situation we have now is to push for an even shorter work week as a means to more fairly distribute the work that is available while freeing all of us from "the daily grind" so we can have a higher quality of life overall.

One example I remember from a book I read (I think called "Timelock") was that one company that reduced the hours its employees worked reaped quantifiable benefits in terms of productivity. That fits very well with my personal experience: due to my health problems, if I take a "punch the clock and put in the hours" approach, I don't get much done. I just get sick. If I take care of myself FIRST and then work when I have good mental focus and physical energy, I produce real results in a fairly short period of time and I enjoy the experience. I have no real choice but to adapt to such a lifestyle and plan my life around it. But, having experienced it -- as well as witnessed it in my homeschooled kids, one of whom also has health problems -- I think it is a system that produces better quality work with fewer "hands on" hours invested. The time for an idea to, um, simmer on the back burner is often a good investment in quality but is not time during which one is 'imprisoned' by the job.

Co-housing and other stuff like that is having serious problems in this country due to the entire infrastructure -- policy, lending practices, etc -- being geared towards single family homes. So you can't get it financed -- unless you are rich enough and creative enough and energetic enough to incorporate and self-finance, etc. I have saved some interesting stuff over the years. I will try to find one article in particular -- about an architect (I think) who began buying up "slum" properties in Louisiana (again: I think, not sure) and building tiny little homes with a lot of character. They were largely occupied by college students when the article was written, probably some years ago. I also remember seeing it on 60 minutes. But it is an excellent example of non-standard, physically small and economically affordable housing that is NOT slum housing. Off the top of my head, I can think of several examples of alternatives that would work beautifully -- if it weren't for running up against housing laws (or zoning laws or whatever). But I don't think I could describe them adequately "off the top of my head". I will think on it. See if I can come up with some good, solid info.
 
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BKM

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Cardinal: Some interesting points (and not that far off topic). I realize you just can't stop the clock. The days where three generations worked in manual labor in the same unionized steel mill are indeed gone forever. My fear is that the pressures of the international marketplace, which are so fast moving and relentless, mean that labor will be even more at a disadvantage than before-and that the rush to the bottom in conditions will continue for all but a few. Derf, one of my favorite cartoonists, had a cartoon a few months back featuring "Megalomart" with a counter showing falling prices. On the other side of the counter it showed workforce wages and unemployment rates.

Michelle: I also agree with you. France, those evil socialist pansies, tried a few years back to mandate 35 hour weeks for the very reason you state. I understand Jeremy Rifkin also advocated job sharing (as did that "classic" movie 9-5 :) )

CityGrrl: Harm reduction has always made a lot of sense. If we accept that there will always be addicts, public health policy suggests we act to reduce the harm to both the individuals AND to the society in which they live. Unfortunately, I fear that many of these individuals, for whatever reason,. are no longer able to be fully responsible for themselves. Some of the harm reduction programs may have to be somewhat coercive.

On a side note, "addiction" takes many forms-and many of these are almost as harmful to long term social health. Only drug use has been criminalized. Note that some drugs are so pathological (pcp) that they should remain criminal, but marijuana at least should be decriminalized.
 

jresta

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i'm getting thread deja-vu here . . .

I never give money to people on the street. In fact, there's an ad campaign here - "The more you give change, the more things stay the same" and it's the same picture in 5 frames with the days of the work week written over them.

The more cofortable someones life on the street is the less likely they are to seek help. Anyone bringing in $15-$20 a day in a change cup with free dinner at the soup trucks isn't going anywhere . . . and they don't .

That's not to say i think pushing people into shelters and drug treatment centers is going to make the problem go away. Part of it is because the mental hospitals were shut down with no good substitute. Part of it is because there are too many people in need of work and not enough jobs and there's no real safety net to make up for it. While we don't really have an affordable housing problem in this city right now we are working on it. Plenty of other cities do have that problem.

I'll side with Bookchin here and say that municipal government is the last vestige of real democracy in this country and that it's up to local governments to solve these problems because state and federal governements are unwilling and/or unable to deal with it. . . cities all over europe, france and spain in particular, serve as excellent models. Unemployment maybe much tougher to deal with if you're relying on the TINA model of economics but there are plenty of creative solutions being implemented all over the world.
 

jresta

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BKM said:

Michelle: I also agree with you. France, those evil socialist pansies, tried a few years back to mandate 35 hour weeks for the very reason you state. I understand Jeremy Rifkin also advocated job sharing (as did that "classic" movie 9-5 :) )
They didn't TRY to mandate the 35 hour work week. They DID mandate it. They also mandated that employers still had to pay the same as they did for the 37.5 hr. week.

I don't know why but i get weekly emails from some group pushing to preserve the 35 hour week. A lot of industrialists are blaming it for france's flagging economy but i don't buy it.
The whole world is in a slump right now, and the euro is trading at over $1.15. Germany's economy is in worse shape than France and they have a longer work week.

*
Plan sociaux, stagnation du chômage : + 0,2% sur octobre,
licenciements, à la récession et aux menaces sur l'emploi,
face à la remise en cause des 35 heures,
défendez vos droits (motifs, préavis, indemnités, ..) grâce à votre convention collective mise à jour (novembre 2003)
http://www.conventioncollective.com/
*

Which says:
Social plans, unemployment stagnation: + 0.2% in October, dismissals, recession and the threats of employment, facing the question of the 35 hour [week],
defend your rights (motives, notices, compensation,..)
courtesy of the convention collective
updated (November 2003)
http://www.conventioncollective.com/
 

BKM

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By "try" jresta, I meant that France is trying to fight against those relentless downward pressures of globalization-and that the employers have certainly fought against the mandate. Sorry for my sloppiness in phrasing.

As for giving change to beggars, I again have to turn to the beggars I see in Berkeley that have been doing it for at least 12 years (as long as I've lived in California). I understand the problems of choice and housing supply and jobs, but dammit, its not a legitimate career choice to sit on your ass and drone out "spare change" for 8 hours a day.

See, I wobble back and forth on the issue of beggars.
 

Michele Zone

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Not that I am thrilled to pieces with the idea of a heroin injection site, but as I noted earlier, many homeless people are suffering from untreated mental illness. For that and other reasons, I do generally view the addictions of "street people" (which seems to be the real topic here but they hardly constitute the sum total of all homeless individuals) as "self medicating" for legitimate problems that they have no other means to treat. So, while you will not find me working towards nor working for an injection site, you also will not find me opposing such a thing (unless I find research that says it is a bad idea). I think the real issue here is largely the lack of available treatment for mental illness.
 
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BKM

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Plus, to get philosophical, modern society in itself may encourage/foster "mental illness." Life is so high pressure, with constant change and instability that, when combined with anonymous socities, loss of extended families and kinship networks, and the like, a significant minority can't handle it.

I am just speculating here-I've done no research or anything on this topic. There just seems to be a difference between today's vast urban warrens and their lost souls and the village with its "village drunk" or "village idiot" that 1. could still eke out a basic living and 2. everyone kinda looked out for.
 

Michele Zone

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BKM said:
Plus, to get philosophical, modern society in itself may encourage/foster "mental illness."
That is just the tip of the iceberg. I just read an article the other day about research into the infectious component of mental illness. Mental illness tends to "move around" the map in clumps, similar to physical infections, and there are infections known to cause mental illness. When Penicillin was invented, thousands of schizophrenics were released from asylums when their syphilis infections were cured. So, just how much of mental illness is organic in origin is now being looked at.

On top of that, the degree to which we have poisoned our own environment on a global level amounts to treating ourselves like guinea pigs. As one example: as I understand it, there is nowhere on planet earth that you cannot find traces of DDT, something that was banned many years ago. As another: My husband has a rare eye condition and one doctor told him this appears to be a new disorder, not something that has always been around but never before identified. The reason they believe it is new is because they are finding it in people around his age but not people that are older. If it were an existing condition that had just been discovered, they should be seeing more advanced stages of it in even older individuals. But they aren't.

Additionally, one consequence of the environmental issues we have is the spread of disease in a multitude of ways. Organisms that were harmless to humans are jumping species due to the endangered status of their usual host. Infections spread by mosquitoes are being increasingly found in climates that used to be too cool for mosquitoes. I believe it is the Kinshasa Highway that runs through the heart of some jungle and has some nickname along the lines of "Plague Highway". It is generally thought that ebola and some other diseases traveled out of the heart of the jungle due to this road and other "urban" development. (And I could go on.)

So, adding all that together, I can readily surmise that some of the crazies on the street are suffering from undiagnosed physical illness that makes them mentally ill. Somatopsychic (physical problems which cause psychological symptoms) diseases have been around for ages. Then layer on the societal trends you noted, and it is a situation ripe for exactly the kind of crisis we are having.

Like you: I am sort of "just speculating" here. But I have done some research. So it isn't completely off the cuff.
 

BKM

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This has been a very interesting and illuminating discussion. I wish we could magically solve these problems.
 

Cardinal

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GityGrrl, my compliments on a thoughtful first post to Cyburbia. Introduce yourself and keep posting. Don't worry, it's not addictive. ;)

I find that I am really not that opposed to the approach you mention. While I have not studied it, I wonder how Amsterdam and other places have managed with legalized drugs and prostitution, besides having a booming tourist industry.
 
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