The growing criminalization of homelessness – by Aaron Cantú July 18, 2014 6:00AM ET

As the number of homeless people in America’s major cities has increased, so have ordinances criminalizing homelessness and pushing homeless families and individuals into the criminal justice system. Criminalization has become a tactic with which politicians have reconfigured cities to serve wealthier citizens and tourists, at the considerable expense of the poor. These politicians are rarely challenged, and developers, businesses and city officials have partnered with police and private security forces to “cleanse” urban spaces by any means necessary.Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at Jul 23, 2014 2.09

A new report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty found the number of cities imposing penalties for camping, begging, sleeping, sitting or eating in public has risen sharply in the last two years. There are now laws against feeding the homeless in over 50 cities. Ordinances prohibiting sleeping in cars — specifically targeted at the destitute — have more than doubled nationwide since 2011. In Denver the City Council passed a controversial “urban camping ban” in 2012 to clear space for the continued development of its downtown into a “millennial playground,” complete with nightclubs, restaurants and a miniature-golf course. Honolulu’s mayor told The New York Times he had renewed a crackdown on the homeless because tourists “want to see their paradise … [not] homeless people sleeping.” And Phoenix announced the creation of “a new organization focused on downtown’s revitalization,” while at the same time launching an initiative to arrest street people with misdemeanor warrants.

This crackdown is happening without equally forceful measures to develop the nation’s supply of affordable housing, which has fallen by 12.8 percent since 2001 because of fewer subsidies for federal housing. The U.N. Human Rights Committee even condemned the trend as “cruel, inhuman, [and] degrading” in a recent report on the United States.

What’s behind these cruel laws? USA Today suggested that the trend toward criminalization was a result of “compassion fatigue,” a gradual receding of empathy for the poor. But there’s a more practical reason for it: As recession- and austerity-battered cities look for ways to revive their economies, they’re offering huge tax incentives for companies to build entertainment complexes, hotels and retail chains in their downtown districts in the hopes that the relocation will spur a renaissance. Statutes criminalizing homelessness have been outfitted specifically to clear out these areas. The New Yorker called this process “Manhattanization,” defined as “turning a city into a playground for the wealthiest inhabitants, even as [the city] forgets about the poorest.”

Cities haven’t quite forgotten about the poorest, though — they’re simply dealing with them in an entirely different way. 

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We must kill the McMansion! Good riddance to an American embarrassment – SATURDAY, JUL 12, 2014 10:30 AM UTC

We must kill the McMansion! Good riddance to an American embarrassment

In 2008, after a steady, six-decade climb, the total number of miles traveled by American cars dropped. Then it dropped again. Adjusted for population growth, the metric has fallen for nine straight years, since 2005.

Does this herald a new era of car-free life in the United States? Or is it merely a blip accentuated by recession-era thrift, high gas prices and unemployment?

Some version of that question has dogged a number of prominent statistics over the past few years. Each of these indicators, swerving away from its established curve, hints at new patterns in American life. Each seems to confirm the urban shift augured by anecdotes of bike lanes and farmer’s markets — the trading of personal space for public space, island counters for corner delis.

But the data may instead reflect the temporary correctional powers of the worst financial crisis in 80 years.

The size of our homes is one such figure. Since the Truman administration, the average American house has inflated with the runaway pace of a hot air balloon, floating from city to suburb to exurb in search of a lot that can hold it.

By 2007, our average crib had grown to 2,521 square feet — 50 percent larger than in 1973, and more than three times the size of the “little boxes” of Levittown, New York, the 1947 Long Island development that marked the dawn of the suburban era.

This surfeit of space is a potent symbol of the American way of life; it speaks to our priorities, our prosperity and our tendency to take more than we need. But the superlative size of our houses isn’t just a foam finger America can hold up to the world. It’s correlated with land use patterns and population density, which in turn determine the environmental impact and personal health of communities, and whether they can support a diverse range of businesses, facilities and transportation choices. It’s no coincidence that a modern American suburb like Weston, Florida, has just one-third the population density of Levittown.

Americans Have Spent Enough Money On A Broken Plane To Buy Every Homeless Person A Mansion By Hayes Brown July 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm Updated: July 9, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Americans Have Spent Enough Money On A Broken Plane To Buy Every Homeless Person A Mansion

An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in its natural habitat: on the ground

An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in its natural habitat: the ground

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lockheed Martin

Just days before its international debut at an airshow in the United Kingdom, the entire fleet of the Pentagon’s next generation fighter plane — known as the F-35 II Lightning, or the Joint Strike Fighter — has been grounded, highlighting just what a boondoggle the project has been. With the vast amounts spent so far on the aircraft, the United States could have worked wonders, including providing every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,000 home.

It’s hard to argue against the need to modernize aircraft used to defend the country and counter enemies overseas, especially if you’re a politician. But the Joint Strike Fighter program has been a mess almost since its inception, with massive cost overruns leading to its current acquisition price-tag of $398.6 billion — an increase of $7.4 billion since last year. That breaks down to costing about $49 billion per year since work began in 2006 and the project is seven years behind schedule. Over its life-cycle, estimated at about 55 years, operating and maintaining the F-35 fleet will cost the U.S. a little over $1 trillion. By contrast, the entirety of the Manhattan Project — which created the nuclear bomb from scratch — cost about $55 billion in today’s dollars.

“The political armor of the F-35 is as thick as the heads of the people who designed the airplane and its acquisition plan,” Winslow Wheeler, a former congressional staffer and outspoken critic of the F-35, recently told Foreign Policy about the longevity of the plane, despite the many setbacks it has endured. The support for the F-35 is so great in Congress that there’s actual a bipartisan Joint Strike Fighter Caucus dedicated to promoting it and keeping it alive. With that in mind, here are just a few of the other things that the insane amount spent on the troubled fighter could have gone towards instead, both at home and abroad:

Buying Every Homeless Person In The U.S. A Mansion

On any given night in 2013, the Department of Health and Human Services concluded, there were an estimated 600,000 homeless Americans living on the streets. Numerous studies, however, have showed that rather than putting money into temporary shelters or incarceration, communities have saved millions of dollars by investing in permanent homes for the homeless. A recent report showed that in one Florida community, it cost taxpayers an estimated $30,000 to take the homeless off the streets through traditional methods, but only around $10,000 per person to give them permanent housing and provide job training and other support. Expanding that concept to the Federal level, even taking into account things like varying real estate prices around the country, it’s possible that $7.4 billion would be more than enough to start a program nationwide. With the full amount spent on the F-35 at its disposal, the U.S. could afford to purchase every person on the streets a $664,000 home.

Unilaterally Funding Every Humanitarian Crisis

Overall, the United States less than one percent of its federal budget to foreign assistance. The State Department and USAID in Fiscal Year 2014 set aside about $31.1 billion in foreign aid funding, according to This includes $4.5 billion devoted towards funding the U.S. response to humanitarian crises around the world, including those in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and others. Millions of refugees and internally displaced people in these conflicts are struggling to survive, as the United Nations reports that each of these emergencies remain chronically underfunded. This year alone, the U.N. Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has raised only 35 percent of the funds it needs. In contrast, the $49 billion per year spent on the F-35 would singlehandedly fund not just UNOCHA’s $16.7 billion request, but also those of UNICEF and other emergency disaster relief bodies, saving countless lives.

In addition, U.N. officials want the situation at the U.S.’ southern border to be classified as a refugee crisis as well, as most of the thousands of children currently being detained fled their homes to escape a myriad number of life-threatening conditions. The Obama administration has requested $3.7 billion from Congress in emergency spending to help staunch the flow and provide for those who have already made it to the United States, but Republicans already appear to be lining up against the proposal. The F-35′s increased cost from last year alone would have easily covered that amount and then some.

Feeding Every Schoolchild In The Country

Earlier this year, President Obama signed into law an compromise version of the Farm Bill after months of deadlock saw the expiration of the former version. As part of the deal, House Republicans demanded huge cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), former known as food stamps, backing down only after a veto threat from the White House. The final bill, however, still included $8.7 billion worth of cuts, equaling about a $90 per month cut for recipients. The F-35′s excess costs for the last year by themselves could have nearly covered all of the losses, prevent state governors from having to scramble to provide families with the assistance they need.

As a backup when food subsidies are cut, low-income families often find themselves turning towards schools to provide meals during the day for their children. The National School Lunch Program feeds approximately 31 million students every year, at the cost of about $16.3 billion in both cash and commodity payments. The full cost of the plane so far would have funded this program as it stands for 24 years. If the amount being dispersed to schools was doubled, allowing the program to reach all 55 million students enrolled in K-12, the F-35 still would be able to cover that for the next decade.

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The Homeless Coder and America’s Cult of Entrepreneurship – By Benjamin Wallace-Wells

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Last summer, a 23-year-old computer programmer named Patrick McConlogue undertook a modern version of the Pygmalion project. He decided to take a homeless man under his wing, teach the man to write computer code, and see whether his subject’s lot improved. McConlogue found a willing pupil in a man named Leo Grand, who was then living by the West Side Highway, and who proved to be a remarkably fast learner. By December, Grand had produced an app called Trees for Cars. The duo were covered warmly by the Today Show, and not always so warmly by the blogosphere. Soon Grand had enthusiasts from around the world and $10,000 in sales. But recently the story has taken a dark turn, or at least a human one. 

Business Insider caught up with Grand and McConlogue this week and discovered that Grand never picked up the $10,000, which sits in a bank account under McConlogue’s stewardship. Something having to do with the formality of banking or the idea of possessing that much money seems to make him uncomfortable. Several times the two men have headed to the bank to set up an account for Grand so that the money can be transferred to him, but “they never made it more than a few blocks before Grand insisted on turning around.” Grand is apparently still sleeping outside. McConlogue’s view seems to be that the homeless man has a psychological block, which is almost certainly true. No doubt this has been a complicated experience for Grand. But because McConlogue approached this experiment with such explicit philosophical talk, with such explicit layering-on of the social import, it also became a kind of test for a proposition: that despite the country’s background inequality crisis, at least in the world of tech entrepreneurship, true talent can still win out. Here, at least, the meritocracy stood.

From the beginning the Homeless Coder Experiment was highly contested ground, ethically speaking. There was a lot about McConlogue that seemed naïvely romantic — he seemed to cast Grand as a modern Noble Savage. The mass-culture land of morning television fell for it. The middlebrow combat zone of web commentary despised it: “The homeless are not bit players in your imaginary entrepreneurial novella,” The New York Observer’s Betabeat blogscolded McConlogue, and they had a point. What had a 23-year-old computer programmer accomplished to allow him to condescend to another adult human being like this? “It’s up to him,” McConlogue once wrote, after describing Grand’s vivid intelligence, “if dedication is also his gift” — as if the whole messy matter of getting ahead in American life boiled down to moral sufficiency.

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In Confronting Poverty, ‘Harvest Of Shame’ Reaped Praise And Criticism – by ELIZABETH BLAIR May 31, 2014 5:22 AM ET





Harvest of Shame first aired in 1960, the day after Thanksgiving.

Fifty years ago this year, President Lyndon Johnson launched his war on poverty; But just a few years before that, CBS gave millions of Americans a close look at what it means to live in poverty.

In the world of journalism, CBS’ Peabody Award-winning documentaryHarvest of Shame is considered a milestone for its unflinching examination of the plight of migrant farmworkers in the United States. The CBS investigative report was the first time millions of Americans were given a close look at what it means to live in poverty. The producers — Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow and David Lowe — made no secret of their goal: They wanted to shock Americans into action. To maximize its impact, CBS aired the documentary — about the people who pick fruits and vegetables — the day after Thanksgiving. Murrow, perhaps the most recognized journalist of the day, delivered their message with a sense of urgency. “We present this report on Thanksgiving because, were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials,” he said in his narration.

Harvest of Shame begins in an open lot, crowded with men and women looking for jobs. It’s what’s called a “shape-up” for migrant workers. Crew leaders yell out the going rate for that day’s pay and men and women pack onto the backs of large trucks that drive them to the fields. One farmer told CBS, “We used to own our slaves. Now we just rent them.”

The film is full of vivid, black and white images reminiscent of Depression-era photographers Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. In it, African-Americans and whites; weary mothers, fathers and their children recount their stories to producer Lowe. Sitting with her nine children, one woman tells Lowe that an average dinner is a pot of beans or potatoes. As for milk, she reluctantly admits the children might have it once a week, when she draws a paycheck.

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Turning Our Backs – Jordan Weissmann – MAY 16 2014 4:17 PM

How the American safety net shrank for the poorest of the poor.

Bill Clinton signing Welfare to Work.

President Bill Clinton signs welfare reform legislation into law on Aug. 22, 1996.

Photo by Stephen Jaffe/Reuters

Here’s a policy riddle for you: Over the past several decades, the American safety net—that vast web of benefit programs aimed at helping low-income households in the U.S.—grew briskly. And yet, by at least one economist’s measure, our spending on the very poorest families dwindled. What happened?

Bill Clinton happened, for one. Earlier this month, Johns Hopkins University professor Robert Moffitt presented new research showing how Washington has gradually shifted its anti-poverty dollars away from the most destitute Americans and toward people whom voters tend to think of as “the deserving poor”—which is to say, working parents. He found that families living far below the poverty line, who are often unemployed, now receive less money from the government than they did in 1983; meanwhile, families living just above the threshold receive significantly more. Clinton’s1996 welfare reform legislation, Moffitt argues, is a major reason why.

Looked at as a whole, the entire safety net has clearly gotten wider, even when you remove programs like Social Security retirement benefits, Medicare, and Medicaid from the equation. Moffitt shows that per-capita spending on means-tested programs, such as food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, increased 89 percent between 1986 and 2007.  

But Moffitt shows how that overall expansion masks key changes that have cut benefits for families with incomes that amount to less than 50 percent of the poverty line. Most important was the end of welfare as America knew it. In order to encourage more single mothers to enter the workforce, the Clinton administration eliminated the old Aid to Families With Dependent Children, which had served as an open-ended federal commitment to help poor parents. Its replacement, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, includes work requirements, and only gives states annual grants that don’t grow with inflation. As a result, welfare spending, which traditionally reached the poorest of America’s poor, has plummeted, and has been redirected to mothers who are employed.

Much of the safety net’s growth, meanwhile, was concentrated in tax credits, which tend to benefit working families right under or right over the poverty line. As Moffitt notes, the Earned Income Tax Credit, which was expanded by both the Reagan and Clinton administrations, gives its biggest benefits to households that make between $10,000 and $20,000 per year. Because it isn’t refundable, the Child Tax Credit doesn’t help families at all unless they have an IRS bill.

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US storm triggers deadly tornadoes – 28 April 2014 Last updated at 02:51 ET

At least 12 people have been killed by tornadoes as a huge storm system swept across the central and southern United States.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at Apr 28, 2014 12.46

Eleven of the victims were in several suburbs of Little Rock in Arkansas, a state official said.

One other person was killed in the town of Quapaw in the north-east of Oklahoma where officials said many buildings were badly damaged.

Tornadoes also struck in Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri.

Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, said eleven people had been killed in several suburbs west and north of Little Rock – five in Faulkner County, five in Pulaski County and one in White County.

Congressman Tim Griffin told Reuters news agency an “entire neighbourhood of 50 homes or so” in Faulkner County had been destroyed, with many “completely gone except the foundation”.

First reports from Oklahoma said two people had died in Quapaw but officials later revised the figure down to one. Another six people were injured.

Quapaw, which has a population of about 900, was badly hit by the tornado, Ottawa County Emergency Management director Joe Dan Morgan said.

“Looks like about half of town got extensive damage as well as the fire department,” he said.

The tornado then headed northwards into the state of Kansas where it struck Baxter Springs, injuring several people and causing further damage

The Arkansas tornado touched down about 10 miles (16km) west of the city of Little Rock and left a 40 mile (65km) path of destruction.

It is said to have passed through several northern suburbs – including the town of Mayflower where it destroyed several buildings.

A witness in Mayflower reported a tornado half a mile wide crossing Interstate 40 on Sunday evening, the National Weather Service said.

Over the weekend, storms struck the eastern part of the US, killing a child in North Carolina.

States, Lawmakers Want Feds To Use New Math For FEMA Calculations – by CHERYL CORLEY April 09, 2014 3:37 AM ET

It’s no question the weather’s been brutal for some communities, including Washington, Ill., a town of 15,000 in the central part of the state. When a tornado ripped through the area last November three people died and more than a thousand homes were damaged. About 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by a tornado in Washington, Ill., last November. Some senators are pushing for a better disaster formula for communities to get financial help.

About 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by a tornado in Washington, Ill., last November. Some senators are pushing for a better disaster formula for communities to get financial help.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Displaced residents recently filled the pews at a local church for a town meeting. Some wore t-shirts with the slogan “Washington Strong.” Linda and Jim Deaton say that just before the winter tornado destroyed their home, they scooped up their two small dogs and ran for the basement.

“You could hear the glass breaking, the boards, the big two-by-fours breaking, you could feel the impact,” Jim says. Linda adds, “When we came up from the basement and I looked out and just saw the devastation in my neighborhood, I honestly thought all my neighbors were gone.”

It’s up to a state’s governor to ask for disaster declarations and President Obama did declare nine Illinois counties ravaged by this tornado a federal disaster area. FEMA has given grants to individuals and families, but when it comes to federal money for reimbursing local governments, much of the cost for debris removal or repairing damaged roads, for example, the answer for this tornado has been, “No.”

“When you look at a document and they say there’s not enough devastation, my thing is, were you here?” Washington Mayor Gary Manier says. “Over 800 homes were inhabitable, 596 totally destroyed. It was pretty devastating.”

FEMA has provided public assistance funds for Illinois municipalities in the past, most recently in the spring of 2013 when there was extensive flooding in about half of the state. The agency’s decisions are based, in part, on a formula FEMA uses to determine whether states and local governments can handle a disaster on their own, says Patti Thompson, a spokewoman for the state’s emergency management agency. It’s a simple equation: a state’s population, for example nearly 13 million in Illinois, is multiplied by a number the agency figures a state can pay for every resident before it needs the federal government to step in.

This year, that number is $1.39 per resident. If you do the math the sum is typically a cost of damages threshold a state must first meet, Thompson says. For the state of Illinois, that currently is a little more than $17.8 million.

When it appealed its first rejection, Illinois officials told FEMA they expected the damage expenses for the state would reach $21 million.

“I thought it was a slam dunk,” Manier says. “I thought it was a done deal.”

But FEMA’s assessment was much lower, just $7 million and nowhere near the threshold.

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7 Questions for Tish James – Laura Flanders February 5, 2014

New York City’s new public advocate on homeless children, the former mayor and her office’s shrunken budget.

Letitia James, right, with Bill de Blasio, November 5, 2013 (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

First in line of succession after the mayor, Letitia “Tish” James is New York City’s new public advocate—the city’s watchdog and ombudsman. (This was Bill de Blasio’s job before he became mayor.) A former public defender, elected to the City Council in 2003, James was a founding member of the Progressive Caucus and the first Council member to run solely on the Working Families Party line. —Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders: None of the major papers endorsed you, and The New York Times gave you quite a trashing after your inauguration, accusing you of making “a prop” of homeless 12-year-old Dasani Coates. Do you think it was media bias?

Letitia James: My inauguration, where a number of newspapers blasted me for my critique of the city, ended with hope, but they left that out. The fact is, we have 52,000 individuals who are going to sleep in our homeless shelters tonight. Most of them are families with children, and most of those children look like me: a woman of color. Bloomberg’s done good things, but he failed to listen, which is why it was important that I gave that speech at the inauguration—because I knew he could not leave. My frame of reference was the thousands of people I’ve met who feel a sense of loss in this city and want to believe that the city will once again embrace them. That’s why I held the hand of Dasani.

LF: When you were Dasani’s age, was this your vision of where you’d be now?

LJ: I had no idea I’d be the first woman of color in a citywide position. As someone who was born on assistance, whose family was once evicted, who remembers growing up living on food stamps, I wanted to make a difference. I thought I could do it in the courts, and then I decided to lean toward politics.

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