Category Archives: homeless

No shame being poor, but might as well be

I heard a report recently on local public radio talking about the various tent cities that have been popping up around Baltimore, as more and more people slip through the economic cracks.  They profiled a man and woman, probably late 30’s / early 40’s, recently out of doors.  They’re living in the woods off of 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie, probably a few blocks away from where Reefercake and Monkey Woman saw G Love kickboxing behind his tour bus roughly 10 years ago.  But I digress…

A couple of things struck me about the interview.  For one, these people were still employed (at least the woman was).  She commutes to a job as a nurse’s assistant or some such thing in Columbia, MD, which is no small commute.  So they still have a car.  When asked how they came to be homeless, the dude said something to the effect that living in motels was too expensive.  They’re basically trying to save up enough money to get back on their feet, and maybe into an apartment.

Anyway, the reporter made a point of asking if they still considered themselves to be “middle class”. The question pissed me off.  After a brief instant of perplexion – probably thinking the same thing I was: “asshole!” – she replied that she did, though their current circumstance was one of poverty.  

God bless her for being gracious, but what was the point of that question?  Reasonable people can have different definitions of what constitutes middle class, but homelessness does not make the cut under any scenario.  Even people in the “lower” class still have a roof over their heads.  So what was the reporter asking?  Was he just taunting these people?  (“They so poor, they think they middle class!”)

Perhaps the reporter thinks “middle class” is just a state of mind.  If so, that’s good news for all these fools about to lose their homes in the next wave of home foreclosures:

The Wall Street Journal reports that estimates of people underwater on their homes (owing more than it is worth) are anywhere from 15-27 million homes.  In other words, the low end (15 mil) represents 1/5 of all owner-occupied homes.  Combine these numbers with continued job losses, and the prognosis for the next two years looks bleak.  That the Senate voted to kill the cramdown provision in the face of this crisis is unconscionable.  To quote Sen. Dick Durbin last week:

And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

At least somebody still owns something.  To get back to our homeless couple, I think what the reporter was really asking with the “middle class” question was, “do you still consider yourself to be respectable?”  The listener is meant to find their affirmative response to be surprising and ironic. The very premise of the question is offensive, really, and only illustrates Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that our culture affords no dignity to its poor.  

But hey, who needs dignity when you’ve got Tent City?

No matter what you do, it’s Tent City for you

Could California’s economic crisis be the shit sandwich that puts reefer back on the menu?

Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat recently elected to the state legislature, announced that he was introducing a bill that would “tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol” in the state of California. According to Mr. Ammiano, Assembly Bill 390, which would impose a tax of $50 per ounce on marijuana sales, “would generate $1 billion in new revenue” for the state if it is enacted — and that’s a big “if.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that there is some backing for Mr. Ammiano’s proposal from state officials whose duty it is to enforce the current laws against marijuana, as well as from those who must balance the state’s books:

Ammiano’s proposal has the support of San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, who said the idea “should be the subject of legislative and public debate.”

It also has the backing of Betty Yee, who chairs the state Board of Equalization, which collects taxes in California. An analysis by the agency concluded the state would collect $1.3 billion a year from tax revenues and a $50-an-ounce levy on retail sales if marijuana were legal.

Meanwhile, down by the river, tent city is thriving outside the state capitol:

Tent cities — much like the “Hoovervilles” of the Depression — have sprung up elsewhere around the country. But Sacramento, with one of the highest foreclosure rates, has one of the biggest, with a population of “easily 300,” said Rob Fong, a Sacramento city councilman, and it is “definitely growing.” “It’s an unfortunate sign of the times,” he said.

This tent city is in a place of great natural beauty, between two rivers, with birds and open sky and a relatively mild climate. Homeless people have lived there for years, largely unseen, but as more working class people move in, the tents are multiplying and becoming harder to ignore.

The official count of homeless people in Sacramento is 1,226 people, and they are spilling out to the tent city because the housing shelters are full; one of the shelters is turning away more than 200 women and children a day.

The same article states that 10% of Sacramento’s rental housing is vacant, along with 5% of owned homes. Despite this glut of available living space, the mayor is talking about making tent city a permanent settlement (in other words, adding toilets).  You can’t just put these people in proper homes, because, you know, “it’s private property”.