Getting into arguments with people on the internet about who the homeless are, why they became homeless, and what we need to do about the problem

 

Got sucked into this long — and futile — argument about “the homeless” on this Facebook group page. The general attitude of the people in the group is that “99% of the homeless are drug addicts, alcoholics, or mental cases.” Which is far from the truth. I’ll point out the LARGE number of homeless college students among the homeless ranks. Or that the elderly are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population — mostly people on fixed incomes who were priced out of their rentals, but otherwise completely normal people. To give but two obvious examples of the kind of homeless that don’t conform to their stereotype.. But it just goes in one ear and out the other. They have their preconceptions about the homeless based entirely from the fuck-ups they see flopped out on our city sidewalks. Who I point out (again and again) actually make up a small percentage of the overall homeless population. And that they’re completely unaware of all the normal-looking and normal-acting homeless — who they would walk right by and never guess they were homeless, because they don’t conform to their stereotypical view of the homeless. But again it goes in one ear and out the other.

I point out that since 1970 here in California, the population has been growing at virtually twice the rate that we’ve been producing new housing. And that the homeless issue is primarily a “housing” issue and not a “behavioral” issue. But again, they can’t see the connection — the OBVIOUS connection — between our shortage of housing, and an ever-growing number of people who are without housing (PS: uh duh).

Their solution to the homeless problem — endlessly repeated — is that the homeless should just move somewhere else, they should just pack up and go away. . . If only the homeless problem were that simple — we could solve it tomorrow. I point out the many reasons that many homeless are unable to just pack and move to another state. But again, in one ear and out the other.

The funniest thing — they all profess to know so much about who the homeless are and how they became homeless. Even as most of them don’t seem to have ever known a single homeless person personally. I point out that I’ve been homeless off and on for 15 years since 1976. And have spent over 40 years deeply connected to the homeless/street scene — documenting their lives in my art and writing. And have known THOUSANDS of homeless people over the years — many of them intimately. But the idea that I might actually know a little more about the subject than them, is — needless to say — hard for them to fathom.

They’re concluded that I’m a “troll.” Among many, many other unflattering descriptions of my personage. Ha ha.

It’s a pretty conservative group. They’re fans of the Armstrong & Getty radio show (I’m a fan myself). And they’re sort of an over-reaction to the liberal idea that the homeless are all a bunch of innocent victims who deserve endless compassion and endless social services. They believe it’s all the homeless’s fault for being homeless because they’re all worthless bums who deserve a kick in the ass before they’re run out of town. That bit.
 
 I’m not sure which attitude is worse. Demonizing the homeless or idealizing the homeless. But it’s probably getting more and more prevalent. People being sick of the homeless and just wanting them to go away.
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The “behavioral” aspect is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the homeless issue. Is there a higher rate of mental illness and substance abuse in the homeless population than in the general population? Almost certainly (though it’s worth noting that a lot of the substance abuse isn’t the cause of them being homeless, but the result of being homeless — an attempt to self-medicate themselves from the miseries of homelessness).

Generally speaking, the homeless are weaker, slower, than the general population in most ways. They’re older, poorer, less educated, less competent, from more unstable backgrounds, more mentally and physically disabled, than the general population. But it’s like the game of Musical Chairs we used to play as kids. Where we had 5 kids competing for 4 chairs. With the slowest kid ending up chairless. But their slowness — they’re behavior — wasn’t the primary reason they ended up chairless. The primary reason was the 5-kids-to-4-chairs ratio.

Same too with our homeless crisis. Too many people, not enough housing. With the slower people ending up houseless.

And now what we desperately need to do is start building new housing as fast as we can. If we want to even slow down — let alone solve — our homeless crisis.

The last time I slept in a bed

 

I was trying to figure out how long it’s been since I spent the night inside sleeping on a bed. . . It was May of 2015. . . So, according to my calculations, I’ve gone 1,398 days in a row sleeping outside . . . I’ve been out here so long, the Steph Curry Golden State Warriors hadn’t even won their first championship the last time I slept in a bed.

By life probably seems a little odd to some people.. . .

You ever notice how “homelessness” is a non-issue to the politicians in Washington DC?

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Donald Trump made his first big fortune taking rent-controlled, low-income apartments, throwing out all the tenants, and turning them into luxury condos.

Nancy Pelosi has spent her career representing the city of San Francisco, and watching haplessly as the homeless crisis grew to epidemic proportions during her watch.

In other words: Don’t expect much from DC.

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A few random thoughts on the “behavioral” aspect of the Homeless issue

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The homeless encampment down by my storage locker in the Berkeley flats keeps growing. It’s unbelievable. Every month when I go down there to pay my rent, it’s bigger than the month before. This photo doesn’t do it justice. It stretches for an entire city block. With plenty more down the road.

Today a Facebook friend of mine asked me: “Do you think that mental illness is more a cause of, or a result of homelessness? Because it seems obvious to me that both of those are happening.”

My response:

Living on the streets can certainly drive a person crazy. Its a painful and agonizing way to live for many people. . . The drug and alcohol abuse is also often a RESULT of being homeless, a way to medicate themselves from their miserable circumstances. Rather than a CAUSE of their homelessness. The “behavioral” aspect of the homeless issue is widely misunderstood.
I often use the analogy of the children’s game of Musical Chairs. You had 5 people competing for 4 chairs. With the slowest person ending up without a chair. . . Now you could say it was because of his behavior — his slowness — that he ended up chairless. But that’s a secondary factor. The primary factor is the 4-chairs-to-5-people ratio.
Another one of my Facebook friends added this comment: In NYC last year there were more homeless people then at the height of the depression. I read that the majority have some form of mental illness or addictions.”
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My response:
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Take what you read about the homeless in the media with a big grain of salt. They’ve been perpetuating this simplistic stereotype about “the homeless” for decades. Most of them don’t have a clue as to who the homeless actually are. The homeless street scene is very much an underground society. What mainstream people see is just the surface of it. The tip of the iceberg.
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This friend of mine came up to me today and said: “Well, Ace, I’m out here now, too. I’m homeless, too. I just gave up my apartment and moved into my vehicle.”

The guy is in his 60s, a couple years older than me. He’s been part of the Berkeley community for decades, contributing a lot of political activism. He’s a hard-working guy who’s held jobs all of his life, and has been quite affluent at times. Was actually a manager of an apartment building for several years. An intelligent and attractive guy with all sorts of talents. The very definition of a solid, respectable citizen. And now he’s homeless.

42 years ago when I first hit the homeless street scene, most of the homeless were fuck-ups. That’s not the case anymore. Those of you who think our homeless crisis is primarily a “behavior” issue couldn’t be more wrong. And the sooner we get past that notion, the sooner we’ll have a chance to get a grip on this crisis.
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Are you ready for 50 million people living in the state of California?

(Originally published September 29, 2004)

There was something in the paper that horrified me. “California’s population is expected to reach 50 million within the next 20 years,” says the author of “Paradise Lost: California’s Experience, America’s Future.” Now for YEARS I’ve been railing about our exploding population, almost all of it which is attributable to our insane level of Mass Immigration. For years I’ve been linking the Mass Immigration issue to our Housing Shortage/Homeless issue. To overwhelming silence from virtually everyone I broach the subject to. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that 18 million new immigrants will come flooding into California over the next 20 years. Dig. This is the equivalent of TWENTY CITIES THE SIZE OF SAN FRANCISCO springing up over the next 20 years. And, as is my wont, I raised what seemed to be a fairly logical question. Namely: WHERE THE FUCK ARE THE 18 MILLION NEW HOMES WHERE THESE PEOPLE ARE GOING TO LIVE???????????”

And yet none of the so-called “homeless activists” ever deign to answer this simple question.