Yes, Virginia, There are Poorhouses, and Scrooge Would be Proud of Them

This is Naked Capitalism fundraising week. 355 donors have already invested in our efforts to shed light on the dark and seamy corners of finance. Join us and participate via our Tip Jar or WePay in the right column or read about why we’re doing this fundraiser and other ways to donate, such as by check, in our kickoff post or one discussing our current target.

Societies have a funny way of walling off undesirables. Lepers were secluded in lepers’ colonies. Japan is particularly uncomfortable with people who don’t fit cultural norms, such as the mentally ill and the destitute. It was really shocking the first time I saw someone begging in the subways in Tokyo in 1991 because it was so…unJapanese….at least then.

In America, which still is deeply invested in the myth that anyone who isn’t rich and successful just didn’t work hard enough, being unemployed is particularly stigmatized. This protracted recession has produced a new underclass that isn’t discussed much: the long term unemployed. Oh, sure, it’s acknowledged as a statistical phenomenon, and maybe you’ll see a sad story in the New York Times now and again, but for the most part, the desperation of people who once had work, and really might never again have paid work, or at least not for more than $10 an hour, is not as widely discussed as it should be. Even before the bust, if you were over 40 and lost a decent paying job, your odds of finding any work, let alone work that made reasonable use of your skills, were slim to zero.

It’s revealing that Gawker is now up to volume 15 of its weekly series of “Unemployment Stories” and we see nary a peep from the MSM along these line. When I was a kid, I recall how a documentary about poverty in Appalachia galvanized opinion that Something Needed to be Done. And my childhood reaction appears to have had some foundation; that show influenced President Johnson’s War on Poverty. So keeping unemployment an official but depersonalized problem takes the urgency out of addressing it.

And if you have a long enough run of unemployment and can’t afford to pay for shelter any more, and don’t have family or friends who will take you in, your choices are terrible. There are reasons most homeless in New York City live on the streets rather than go to shelters at night. One of Lambert’s readers recounts her experiences when she felt she had no choice other than go to a homeless shelter. And this wasn’t in New York; Lambert doesn’t know her story, but his impression is that she is from the South, say North Carolina, and worked in publishing or academia.

Hoisted from comments at Corrente, “There are poorhouses today. They’re called homeless shelters.”

They’re as punitive and pitiless as the old style ones.

In my late fifties, with no prospect of reemployment, I recently had my first experiences with two of these.

I’ve worked all my life and been my only support all my life. It was my preference to do this, rather than derive any part of my upkeep from the wages of the person I slept with. My “crime” was doing this while female. Since sex discrimination has become legal again, I was forced out of a profession that’s been redefined as historically male, and have not been hired for female entry level positions due to my age and “overqualified” background.

I did everything I could, including backpacking into legal sites in the state parks in the mountains here, to keep from going into a shelter, but in the end could not even afford the gas to drive the fifteen or so miles round trip to the park from where any prospect of work existed. (“Obamaville” tent villages are not possible the way Hoovervilles were – the times are so much more pitiless that almost every city has ordinances against such places, and where they’re allowed, they’re controlled to the point of being worse than the shelters. The infamous “tent in the woods” near any urban area is out of the question for a woman unless she attaches herself to a homeless male for protection).

The shelter itself was physically considered to be one of the best in the state. It administers most of the charitable and many of the government resources for five counties. It is new, the fixtures are more than adequate and the meals are very good. A major problem was precisely the punitive “poor house” attitude: the Calvinistic view the women who administered the shelter had towards those who needed its services (and those women’s freedom to spend their time this way depended on the high wages of the men -they- slept with). Residents must line up to take a breathalyser test in the common area when coming in in the late afternoon, everyone must be inside the shelter by 6:00 p.m., no one is allowed out after that time without written permission, and everyone is locked out of their rooms at 8:00 a.m. on weekdays and 9:00 a.m. on weekends. Women’s rooms had four permanent beds and lockers, but usually had two more folding beds crammed into the walkway at the foot of the beds. The men’s rooms were larger but had eight residents.

All the shelter’s maintenance, from cleaning to cooking (when that was not done by church or other charity groups) to grounds-keeping, was done by the residents through required “chores”. Every resident was required to “volunteer” for one or more such chores every day or be made to leave. I did not mind at all doing part of the upkeep, but did mind the indentured labor aspect of being made to do it. In addition, administering such requirements became part of the petty abuse the more vindictive of the regular staff considered one of the major perks of their job.

Residents were required to work on a “plan” towards permanent housing with one of the administrators. Such “plans” necessarily required a job. These women reproduced the sexism of the larger society: in addition to there being more beds for men than for women, living conditions were kept as much as possible from interfering with any man’s job who has one. Their “plans” for men were much more realistic as well, in that the men had more of a chance of finding work, even when they had, as the majority there did, a prison record. Their “plans” for women pretty much amounted to: you screwed up by not selecting a good enough (or any) husband, any job is better than no job at all, no matter how ill paid, discriminatory or demeaning, and your stay limit without a job is 30 days. Their ranking for women was below men in services, respect and resources and within that ranking, women with children came first and women without children were at the very bottom.

Uncontrolled aggression from other residents and uncontained illness were the primary factors that made living there not possible. There were decent, generous, responsible residents, but not unlike middle and high school, the lowest common denominator ruled. Due, again, to the sexist ranking of the administrators, I lost the job I had found after a great deal of effort on my part and no help at all on theirs. It was a suitably gender stereotyped job cleaning bathrooms from 5 pm until 2 to 4 am at the local university’s stadium after athletic events. Any man there who had a second or third shift job was allowed complete privacy to sleep during the day; the rule was emphasized in the obligatory “house meeting” held every evening. The administrators kept letting a woman with a baby into my dorm room for trivial reasons and allowed her to keep me awake to the point where I had less than five hours sleep in forty eight and could not work. Their justification was that women with children had priority for any reason, even though that was supposed to be only an adult women’s room. They had put a woman who had just had a miscarriage into the family room, where this woman should have gone, as “therapy” and because the other woman with children did not want to share the room with another child. They dismissed my need to sleep for my job as “just shared living” (always said with a smug little smirk by the administrator) and said I could leave if I had a problem with it. I was also attacked on other occasions by two women who were later expelled for being on illegal drugs; their initial unprovoked aggression towards me was dismissed, again with a smile, as “shared living”.

Women with dangerous mental problems were also put into the regular woman’s dorm. One had kept the other women in the room terrorized before I stayed there. She also kept them up all night because she alone was allowed to sleep there during the day (due to her mental illness!), while they had to be up and out on the streets or at their jobs, as one resident was, by eight. She had been committed before for cutting up residents’ clothes with a knife; she was recommitted again just after I got there.

The official policy towards aggression and threats among residents was zero tolerance. The actual policy was to let the rats eat the other rats and to shoot the ones that came running to the administrators. The administrators had their favorites, usually those that made the class divide most evident, and the less well off and less educated paid staff did as well, usually those most expert at currying favor and those with whom they identified. The atmosphere resembled a combination between what I imagine prison must be and the type of unskilled job where the boss just above entry level uses his or her position more for petty gratification than anything else.

The justification certainly resembled those types of jobs: “You can always leave if you don’ t like it”.

During the month I was there, I had maybe four days where I got a solid eight hours sleep. I was sleep deprived and hurting the days I could not make it up in my car. I was also, as the cold season hit in September, sick most days, as one or the other of the women in my room always had some virus and residents were almost never allowed, even when sick, to stay in bed during the day.

After a month, I went to a women’s only shelter in a larger city where I thought living conditions and job prospects would be better. I think I set the record for their shortest stay – less than twelve hours. The administrators, again educated professional level women, were great, but the regular and after hours staff were worse than the former shelter’s. Residents were required not only to be out of their rooms during the day, but to tell the desk attendant where they were going during every part of the day. They were required to sign in when they got back, and -this was the worst part- to take a urine drug test every day, or whenever the desk attendant, whose day job really was as a prison guard, felt like it. When she decided I needed to be tested at the end of my first day and insisted on remaining in the room where I was to do this, I refused and was told to leave. She and the other uneducated after-hours attendant took great pleasure in making me pack my clothes into the prototypical homeless black plastic bags, leaning against the wall watching me the whole time, telling me to get a move on and making the other residents jump, obey them and get a move on too with they tried to talk to me.

Every other shelter in this region (southeast) has the same demeaning requirements, and, I imagine, the same vindictive staff and the same pack behavior from the lowest common denominator among the residents. Even without money, without hope, without prospects, I have been physically better off living in my tiny car and camping where I can safely. I was well again two days after leaving the last shelter and have gotten a glorious eight hours sleep whenever I can be horizontal and warm enough.

Print Friendly
Tweet about this on Twitter0Digg thisShare on Reddit1Share on StumbleUpon64Share on Facebook82Share on LinkedIn0Share on Google+0Buffer this pageEmail this to someone


  1. katiebird

    What happened to us that we can ignore the devastation that is happening all around?

    I wonder if Occupy is working on some alternatives? Occupy jobs? Occupy home? (I’m not kidding — there seem to be some really great thinkers in that group)

  2. polistra

    Can’t work up any sympathy for the lady. If you’re in your 50’s, earning a professional-level salary, and independent-minded (as she claims) you should have been ready for a career-ending situation.

    I can sympathize with a waitress, or a steel worker with 5 kids, who gets thrown out of work.

    1. spartacus

      That’s what’s called making yourself part of the problem, polistra,

      The lady wasn’t asking for your sympathy, she was informing you about how “charity” works.

      1. Ruben (currently in work)

        Now, pws, that’s just nasty!

        I can sympathise with the lady, but still understand polistra’s statement. I worked for a company for over 20 years before being made redundant when it was taken over by a competitor.
        Whilst colleagues were spending their salaries (some much heftier than my own, and one or two arguably undeserving) on sports cars, hi-tech goodies and deposits on mortgages they couldn’t possibly afford, I reservedly bought a small car, house that I could afford, and “put a little away”… I am now on less than a third of the salary I once had, and have managed to pay my mortgage completely, ensuring that I have at least somewhere to rest my head.

        Whilst I have never had to sleep rough or share a hostel room, I have previously worked alongside people who have. It was possibly this that encouraged me to save something for a rainy day! Our whole social and commercial way of life appears to be “If ya got it, spend it; if ya haven’t, borrow…”, which is contradictory to the lessons I learned from my parents, grandparents, and school teachers who enjoyed Charles Dickens’ stories. Perhaps we need to roll back to the moral and economic rules of yesteryear.

        As I recall, Dickens wrote against unnecessarily vituperative comments, such as pws’…

        1. skippy

          As soon as I finish the – time machine – I would be more than *happy* to send YOU and ALL of – your stripe – right back… too that time.

          Skippy… BTW you have to go naked… no taking your personal stuff. Look forward to your[s up dates and how things are going!

      1. Klassy!

        Oh, I see that you might have had some sympathy if she had children. Good to know.
        You see, people like to point to the choice to bear children as a woman’s downfall.
        This allows them to ignore the fact that there is little social safety net (less, probably) for child free women.
        Mostly, I guess it is about people making excuses so that they aren’t guilted into ponying up a few dollars.

    2. EconCCX

      @spartacus @Klassy! @pws

      One can disagree with polistra without: 1) expecting him to restrict his comments to those specifically sought by the Corrente poster 2) putting words in his mouth, or 3) wishing him personal misfortune.

      1. Tiercelet

        “One can disagree with polistra without: 1) expecting him to restrict his comments to those specifically sought by the Corrente poster 2) putting words in his mouth, or 3) wishing him personal misfortune.”

        Sure, one can. But why would one? There’s nothing at all wrong with (2) pointing up the obvious half-stated implication in a comment. For (1, 3), online communities are self-policing. That’s the immune system that keeps them free of infection. Chasing away a concern troll’s off-topic victim-blaming by making it clear he’s unwelcome here is an eminently purposeful board activity.

      2. EconCCX


        One of our mods maintains a taxonomy of rhetorical fallacies, and there were three live specimens. Cultivating awareness of these is intended to sharpen the discussion so that it doesn’t devolve to Yahoo Messages.

        The commenter polistra merely withheld his sympathy, with a call for preparedness. That’s no basis for a personal attack. If you follow his link, you’ll find, among the blind spots, a well-supported case that ours is the era of the plutonomic Raw Deal. He should therefore recognize that reversals of fortune can happen to anyone, and that those finger-wagging, after-the-fact admonitions can really grate.

    3. craazyman

      yeah there’s something about this tale that doesn’t ring right.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to predict it’s a hoax, but it may be a work of animated fiction as much as reality.

      Sometimes that boundary is diffuse for certain personalities.

      1. Nell

        Its seems ‘not right’ because you can’t imagine behaving that way yourself. When I read this I immediately thought of Zimbardo’s prisoners experiment, the documented behaviour of guards in concentration camps and abu ghraib. Make no mistake we are all capable of behaving like petty tyrants given a certain confluence of circumstances.

      2. BobW

        Easy enough to verify, go to any Salvation Army or other homeless shelter for one night. I absolutely guarantee this lady is telling the truth. Especially about the staff attitude.

      3. Out in the cold & knowing how it feels

        I can believe it. I was laid offf by a company in New York in the 1990s, as the company was splitting its operations between a Southwestern state and a Southern state, leaving only the legal department in New York. I was in my fifties and overweight and not working for those departments relocating elsewhere in the U.S. The amount of discrimination I met with at temp agencies, from the hiring firms themselves, and at a major department store due to my age, and especially my weight, was palpable. I rushed downtown from the upper West side once in a driving rain to pitch hit for an absent temp at Morgan Bank, wasn’t asked to do any typing, but only a tiny copying job and to take telephone messages and I was told not to return the next day. All of the senior staff was missing from the department and there was a minority group secretary on duty. The reason given: I couldn’t type! I was told I was over qualified for so many jobs, it was amazing. The man at the department store told me the same: That I was over qualified for retail sales, he told me that I would be interviewed for one department however, asked me to wait, and no one ever showed up to interview me. Lovely, and quite demoralizing. I had quite a few really rotten experiences at the hands of younger males and females who were biased. I can’t tell you how many times that kind of thing has happened to me, yet at my actual jobs I received high praise for my work above and beyond my job description. I finally left New York due to a family death and had to return home to care for my mother, finally obtaining work at a Washington think tank, from which I retired.

        1. TK21

          I never understood why someone wouldn’t want to hire a person who had more qualifications than needed. “What’s that, Dr. Smith, you’re an expert on infectious diseases AND internal medicine? That’s more expertise than I want in a doctor!”

          There’s only one thing to do: lie on you resume.

          1. EconCCX


            The fear is that they’d be bored, cranky, resentful, flighty, careless, distracted. Dissatisfied with where they’d wound up, with no room to advance. Shelly Long portrayed that character in Cheers. But over-qualification is a state of mind, and in a fairer world would be discerned from the interview, not from the resume.

          2. JTFaraday

            I’ve dumbed down my resume and still gotten picked up as someone who could do stuff on the cheap.

            The truth is, after a while you do get tired of this. If I suspected I was hiring someone in that position, I already know what they’re thinking.

          3. JTFaraday

            All which is just to say, it’s sometimes easier and possibly better in the long run, to hire someone to whom you’re actually extending a plausible “opportunity” than to hire someone you may be actively deskilling.

            In addition, you can always imagine–especially if you’re naive about the job market–that the “overqualified” person will find a better fit down the road.

            Although, it’s getting harder lately, for people to be naive about the job market. So, we’ll just see, won’t we?

            That said, I also think a lot of corporate employers today like them “young and dumb” and unaware of what we used to consider our rights, for just that reason.

      4. craazyman

        Oh, I can imagine, believe me. I am amazed I’m still alive, given what I’ve been through. But I had a family to catch me when I fell. I was lucky.

        There are several tells in this narrative that make me highly suspicious. First, the author doesn’t specify her occupation. That is more than bizarre, since her failure to find work in it is the heart of the issue. And she is silent on details of how she was forced out — citing only the new legality of sexual discrimination. I don’t believe the laws on that have changed recently, in any industry. Second, the author doesn’t describe the steps taken to try to find work. Instead, she goes to the mountains and sleeps in a tent. Third, is the critique applied to the concept of marriage. Characterizing it as financial parasitism on a person she sleeps with and referencing her unattached status as a “crime” mixes delusion and victimization with a caustic venom. The entire narrative is redolent with a rage that transcends and likely precedes her (assuming it even is a she writng) cirumstances. Perhaps it even provoked them. Not everybody is mentally composed in a healthy way. Sometimes we create our own problems while the world watches.

        I do believe her descriptions of shelter life, however, whether these are works of fact or fiction I suppose is a personal choice the reader makes.

        Well, yesterday’s links show that Yves’ friend Mathbabe is now running an advice column. Maybe she could take this one on. What should this person do now?

        1. kareninca

          Yes, this person is starting from a position of loathing:
          1. men, because of discrimination on the basis of sex (as if men aren’t screwed, too, these days)

          2. women who are married, because of their purported parasitism
          3. women with children, because they get priority in the shelters. Good grief, I don’t have kids, but I know they need priority!!!!

          I do believe that plenty of shelters are state funded in a way that attracts sociopaths to a position of power. Yet I also believe the poster from Minneapolis, who has worked in a good shelter: you’d *have* to have rules in this situation. You’d *have* to have breathalyzer tests: a single drunk person is going to torment everyone.

          The writer does not seem to have the ability to empathize with the situation that other people are facing (men, women with kids, the decent shelter workers). It’s all about her. I’m not rejecting her as a human being!!! But the only thing that can help her is an economy that is good enough to employ people who are as critical as she is. No assistance system that requires human interaction will work.

          I don’t think that her economic situation is unusual, alas, but I do think that her mental life makes it a lot harder. Which is sad, since things are horrible enough for unemployed people who empathize and feel a connection with others.

          1. Klassy!

            and market based, I’ll add. It makes me sad in the way that men “voluntarily” eliminate themselves from the dating pool because their job prospects are poor.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            You really do not have any compassion. If you were treated to quasi prison life and were sleep deprived for a month, and hectored daily by staff about your single status, and put at the bottom of a crappy social order because of it, don’t you think you’d comment on it? Her comments re being single look to be in large measure because she was EXPLICITLY stigmatized for it. You are shooting the messenger.

            And yes, if you are expected to find a job during the day, and she suggests the woman with the baby was put in her room for “trivial” reasons, which suggests it was punitive but she can’t prove it. And if you’ve ever flown on a plane near a screaming child, people signal their discomfort and disapproval pretty clearly, the rolling eyes and tisk tisks. It is unpleasant, it is even more unpleasant when you can’t escape, but you are all over her for her attitude rather than having any compassion. I’d hate to have you as a prison guard in one of those sociological experiments.

          3. kareninca

            Well, I have plenty of compassion for her. It doesn’t sound like she has any compassion for anyone else, however – including all the other shelter residents who are stuck with the same misery; all that she sees is that she’s being gypped and that they are getting all the goodies. Maybe she’s right, and if she is, that is a bad thing. But Yves, you’re assuming that she really is being treated especially badly because she’s single. I’m not so sure I believe it, given, again, her not mentioning ANYONE else’s suffering – just her own. In “Down and Out in London and Paris,” Orwell suffers plenty, but he also notices the suffering of others. And, BTW, I know numerous single women in their 50s who are feminists and are VERY compassionate.

            But I’ve never spent time in the South. I’m willing to believe that that is a different world, and that single women are treated badly there. Where I’m from (New England), single women are more envied and respected than anything else, from what I see.

            Heh, I grew up in the 70s being told about repeatedly re the prison experiments by my dad, a social psychologist. I’m one of the few intervener-types I know, usually to my detriment.

            One thing I can’t figure out, and this will sound critical, but it isn’t actually meant to be, and it isn’t directed at the writer in particular. Isn’t there someone with whom she could trade house-cleaning or cooking or gardening, for a room? Isn’t there some elderly person with whom she could trade assistance, for a place to live???? We live in such a strange country – all these huge houses with one or two people in them, and competent people in homeless shelters.

          4. Patrick

            I don’t believe it has to be the case that the author was not sufficiently mentally/emotionally balanced in the first place, as some commenters have suggested. And even if so, for the purposes of this narrative, so what? Hardship is hardship. It’s difficult to empathize or feel a connection with others when you’re not successfully getting along in the world, especially when you’re alone. The cumulative weight of the daily humiliations she describes would challenge almost anyone’s ability to maintain a healthy outlook. Empathy is taken for granted by those whose needs are met. It is a luxury to those whose needs aren’t met.

          5. kareninca

            I think that another factor here is that almost anyone – male or female, gay or straight – who decides to spend their life without another person, and without kids, is a member of a self-selected group. Which in my experience, is the group of people who have a very, very powerful need for solitude, quiet, and time to themselves. And/or a very, very powerful need to have a LOT of control over their surroundings, and autonomy in their every action.

            Time in a homeless shelter would be even more horrible for a person with these needs, than for someone who has different personality traits. (But really, Yves, everyone is driven insane by children, including their parents.)

            I’ve asked my dad (social psychologist, and BTW the least sexist person I’ve ever known) WHY single moms don’t move in with single moms and share expenses. He says it is because they all want to be the boss. And similarly here – why can’t these single women in their 50s move into a shared house, for heaven’s sake!!! There are many of them; they could help each other out. I suppose that it is because many of them really, really want more quiet and solitude and control than that would allow. Which is why I wrote that I think that a really good economy is the only hope for this lady. But it isn’t coming.

        2. jake chase

          Anyone who thinks overqualification is not a problem has simply never faced it. The final irony of the free market employment nightmare is that a person wastes years of his life and incurs a mountain of debt credentializing himself for opportunities that exist only for a few lucky (and generally well connected) prima donnas. Then he is shut out of his imaginary employment paradise and ipso facto excluded from any work that is available. Most of today’s young would be better off avoiding the college trap, developing strong backs, manual dexterity and learning carpentry. The only job from which I ever learned anything useful was with an electrician during a summer vacation.

          1. Crazy Horse

            Actually the pattern of discrimination in hiring goes beyond the concept of over qualification. It has been my observation that managers who have the final decision power actively select for incompetence. It is simply a matter of self interest. By only hiring people who are demonstrably incompetent, supervisors eliminate the threat that they will be outshone in the workplace.

    4. leapfrog

      This could happen to anyone who has the “perfect storm” in a series of misfortunes. It doesn’t matter how well you have planned. It could even happen to YOU.

      1. Aquifer

        ISTM that it was only when the majority of folks felt this way – that it could happen to me or someone i love – that we, as a society, instituted a “safety net” decades ago, and the test of whether TPTB succeed in their Grand Betrayal now is whether enough of us have gotten to that point again, after several generations of identifying with the “affluent”; the last election, IMO, was not encouraging in that regard ….

        1. amateur socialist

          Yes it’s worth remembering that the existing safety net was crafted when involuntary idleness affected 25-35% of the available workforce. We may be on our way back to that scenario. Some parts of the country are probably already there. What was that thing about people who don’t learn history? Oh yeah…

    5. bluntobj

      I agree with Polistra. I think the other negative comments forget one thing: When you are an extreme feminist, and have structured your life to effectively be a man, then you have to accept the consequences just as men do. What is worse, is that poverty and the poorhouse don’t give a shit (pardon me for the expletive) about feminism, as it’s all about basic survival at that point.

      Which raises another point: feminism will not survive without modern capitalism, technology, social structure, etc. But that’s another can o’ worms.

      In short, this person had political views in which she chose to limit her survival options over the long term. Traditional long term survival strategies for women reduced to poverty have been excluded from her life story, and so we get this result.

      You all had better accept the idea that the reality from which we’ve been shielded from so long is quite compassionless, and the only tool we have with which to survive it is our brain and the choices we make when adapting to that reality.

      1. bluntobj

        Snipped from a reply of mine below, which made a heckuva lot more sense when I devoted some thinking to it:

        ” I’d certainly credit that the story is fundamentally true, but has been dramatized and slanted to enrage a certain political class to create mindshare for a needed public shelter system on a national scale.”

      2. amateur socialist

        Wow. So you double down on blaming the victim to indict a presumed political point of view. Impressive, really.

        1. bluntobj

          So, here’s the underlying reason for my evaluation of extreme feminist:

          “It was my preference to do this, rather than derive any part of my upkeep from the wages of the person I slept with.”

          “My “crime” was doing this while female. ”

          “Since sex discrimination has become legal again,”

          “I was forced out of a profession that’s been redefined as historically male,”

          “and have not been hired for female entry level positions due to my age and “overqualified” background.” (On this point, guess what: my father-in-law faces the same problems when applying for any minimum wage job, “female” or not.)

          “the Calvinistic view the women who administered the shelter had towards those who needed its services (and those women’s freedom to spend their time this way depended on the high wages of the men -they- slept with).”

          ” I did not mind at all doing part of the upkeep, but did mind the indentured labor aspect of being made to do it.”

          “These women reproduced the sexism of the larger society: in addition to there being more beds for men than for women, living conditions were kept as much as possible from interfering with any man’s job who has one.”

          “Their “plans” for women pretty much amounted to: you screwed up by not selecting a good enough (or any) husband, any job is better than no job at all, no matter how ill paid, discriminatory or demeaning,”

          “Their ranking for women was below men in services, respect and resources”

          “Due, again, to the sexist ranking of the administrators,”

          ” It was a suitably gender stereotyped job cleaning bathrooms from 5 pm until 2 to 4 am at the local university’s stadium”

          “The administrators had their favorites, usually those that made the class divide most evident,”

          This use of language reminds me of reading essays from Naomi Wolf way back in Philosophy 301 in the nineties. All the desctiptives emphasize sexism, discrimination, and objectification. My reaction is not “knee-jerk”, but based on these comments.

          I guess my question now is: can you see now how other people would think that this is a slanted story? Or is the language here the exact same way you would describe the events if you had seen them personally? Not been told or read them, but seen them?

          1. bluntobj

            As a last thought:

            Gawker posts these stories to drive traffic. Outrage and anger driven by specific memes target the audience and drive traffic. Traffic means revenue. In this aspect, this piece is a success.

            Strip out the feminist language, and you have a story that is quite common, but no less heartbreaking. It inspires compassion, sadness, and hope that it doesn’t happen to you. Those emotions don’t drive traffic to the site. People tend not to want to read depressing stuff after awhile.

            Anger, however, is much more useful.

            So all the rage poured out here in these comments shows exactly how successful this story is in raising interest, passion, anger, and rage, and people in those emotional states will look for more stories or sites that stoke that fire. Why? It’s a hell of a lot more satisfying to be enraged than depressed.

            And guess what? Anyone who has posted here with contempt for those of us who see the blatant slant and inflammitory language has given in to emotional manipulation for profit. It’s great advertizing, and just like the political process, all the fans are cheering in the stadium while the owener’s are both in the same box counting gate receipts.

            And there’s a last challenge: strip out the feminist language and replace with common descriptors. The story is still sad, but it does not drive nearly the same amount of rage.

          2. Lambert Strether

            Actually, I know several women that have undergone experiences just like the poster’s. YMMV and, apparently, does. I mean, just because Naomi Wolf wrote in the 70s doesn’t mean she was wrong. It wasn’t all leisure suits back then.

    6. Yves Smith Post author

      You really are insane, and mean spirited too. You and Scrooge are cut from the same cloth.

      1. As someone in my 50s, I can tell you that my cohort got educated and made foundational job choices (as in what you did right after college, which sets you on a track it is very hard to get off, or more important improve upon) where job stability was high. Look, I had three jobs in 8 years in the 1980s. That in the world of long job tenures, was seen by a lot of employers as a sign I was difficult, disloyal, or maybe had been fired (NC readers know the first is true!). 10+ year job tenures were the norm. And if you lost your job, you’d be unemployed absolute max, six months, if you were organized about looking, and would be able to get a job at the worst at 75-80% of your old pay. So you didn’t need much of a buffer in the way of savings relative to now.

      2 The job market deteriorated gradually. I would say it wasn’t clear until the mid 1990s to early 2000s that it had changed permanently, depending on what line of work you were in. When you are 15-20 years into your career, it is damned hard to build up a bigger savings buffer in a short period of time. Try being pretty much entirely unemployed, or intermittently making $10 an hour for 3-4 years, and see how well you do.

      3. I suspect her bitter comments re marriage have a lot to do with the way she was treated in shelters for being a middle aged single woman, ESPECIALLY if she is in the South. Single women are tolerated socially only in a few major cities, like New York, Sydney, San Francisco (which also, interestingly, have large gay populations, I suspect there is a correlation).

      4. Being married would not necessarily have been a protection. She would have had to STAY married. Go look at divorce rates. And divorce is also a major cause of bankruptcy (see Elizabeth Warren).

      5. Being in a white collar job hardly means she was in a position to accumulate a lot of savings. There are a lot of badly paid white collar jobs. Publishing and journalism are high on the list. Architecture is another (although I doubt she was in that line of work, that’s always been male dominated, she indicates it had become woman friendly but in the downturn men were holding ground better).

      6. A lot of people my age are protective re their identities on the Web. And most people would be very ashamed of admitting they’d been in a shelter. If you had any hope still of getting back on a normal footing, you’d avoid leaving identifiers so the remark could be traced to you. Attitudes are very different than the Facebook generation cohort.

      1. shtove

        Poor Scrooge.

        He too chose a life of isolation, but used his time to save. After his supernatural insight into the course of his life, he chose to give back.

        Maybe the lesson of Dickens’ story is that it is only if you choose to accumulate that you can expect to give back. It is only if there are savings that society can expect to receive.

        The western middle-class didn’t take that lesson. Spooky.

        1. athena1

          Authoritarians aren’t very smart.
          They also seem to be confused about why sexism is ineffective at persuading the anti-classim left of the truth of their bigotry-based arguments. They probably feel much more at home in the freeper echo chamber.

    7. Patrick

      Forbes commenter on the AG investigation into price gouging in New York city after Hurricane Sandy:

      “I fully support “price gouging.” If one prepares for disaster, let them reap the rewards of it. If you did not prepare for it then you’re going to pay dearly. Be lucky they are selling to you at all.”

      Is that you?

  3. homealone

    In Naples, FL, the local sheriff and immigrations “authorities” deport the fifth-highest number of vagrants (hispanic “illegals”) of any county in the country.

    In Columbus, Ohio, the executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless draws pay from the local redevelopment companies….

    For the most desperate “rapid rehousing” (the modern, “humane” way to address homelessness) is, as Yves’ post describes, a policy of rapid relocation, anywhere, out-of-sight.

    1. Stephen Blackpool

      Yes, and that self-same Coalition “for” the Homeless is now shutting down Street Speech, the Columbus street newspaper that has been the sole local voice advocating for a just housing policy. All so OSU can gentrify its student housing. One wonders where OSU will find its janitors after the poor have all been relocated. This appears to be a common theme across the nation.

      1. Klassy!

        Yes, word in the mouth is bad.
        I suppose I used this as an opportunity to take some real world people I know to task.

      1. RedSquareBear

        If those houses are far from public transit (hint: they probably are) and the homeless lack reliable personal transportation (hint: they probably do) then all the rotting homes in all the subdivisions in all the states don’t really mean anything.

  4. amateur socialist

    Reading this reminds me of my recent rereading of Dickens and my fascination with his work. How did he understand so much of the modern world over 150 years ago?

    But Little Dorritt was probably a romanticized version.

    1. Wat Tyler

      The fictional Little Dorritt lived with her Father in debtor prison because he was unable to make good on a defaulted loan he had co-signed.


    2. LAS

      Maybe more to the point is why we so quickly conclude that we must have improved as human beings since … back then. Timeless truths are timeless because our human nature never improves.

      1. amateur socialist

        Yes. Dickens understood so much of the modern world because in so many ways it’s really more of the same. The things he satirized – the tragic consequence of inherited and speculative wealth, the pitiful distractions of the upper classes, the corruption of the professional ethics… Still right there embedded in every headline.

  5. amateur socialist

    I can’t help thinking this post is of a piece of this incredibly bad 60 minutes story on ‘open jobs” in the US.;cbsCarousel

    The usual diatribe against public education (including higher ed) is deployed ad nauseum to get to the real point: Skilled workers need to be grateful to earn $12 an hour after years of vocational training. Thanks for nothing CBS.

    1. Klassy!

      Turned that one off before I vomited– it was preceded a week ago by a story about how some town in NC was weathering the recession. Let’s see how many tropes did that contain: the factory that had to relocate much of its production to Honduras to save some jobs at home (just inevitable,you know), the laid off stockbroker who has found her passion– pickles!– and is working like the devil to make her business succeed. Why, she’s even selling them is China! Yes, Mr. Friedman the world truly is flat. Maybe there was something about remaking the downtown to attract the right people.
      This the network that brough us Harvest of Shame and the above mentioned program.
      Shame is a non starter now.

  6. JTFaraday

    “The atmosphere resembled a combination between what I imagine prison must be and–”

    right here I’m thinking “my last job,” and then she says it for me.

    Clearly, having a job that enables one to not be technically homeless is, generally speaking, better than actually being homeless. Nevertheless, it is interesting, is it not, that someone who experienced a shelter likened it to the ubiquitous toxic work environment.

    Of course, I don’t understand how people who have minimum wage “jobs” are not homeless anyway, but I’ll leave that eternal mystery to my public policymaking betters to explain to me.

    1. Lambert Strether

      The people at Wal-Mart who have minimum wage jobs are not homeless because of public assistance (that is, Walmart gets a subsidy whereby taxpapers make up the difference between what Walmart pays and what is required to live).

      If these subsidies are slashed as part of Obama’s Grand Bargain, no doubt some solution will be found that’s more humane than living in the woods (which some Walmart woroers actually do) — I imagine “dorms” a la the Chinese model.

      1. Lord Koos

        Isn’t this the whole point of how our economy is being “managed” — to bring the western worker’s expectations down to a level where they are happy to have any job at all, for whatever money they can get? Parity with China is the goal.

        1. lambert strether

          No, parity with Myanmar is the goal. The Chinese are pricing themselves out of the market.

          * * *

          I think this is the answer on gutting social insurance, too. Anything that shoves risk onto the shoulders of working people makes them likely to accept a lower wage.

      2. JTFaraday

        Well, in that case this former professional who prefers to sleep in the woods is going to be triple double pissed when she takes her minimum wage job only to end up in the camps anyway.

        1. sierra7

          Incoming Reagan administration had a white paper on the future goals of the Reagan presidence. One of the goals was (is):
          “Reduce American labor to a world level playing field in order for American corporations to compete globally”
          And, as they say:
          “The rest is history”

  7. Carla

    And Simpson-Bowles, abetted by our President and Congress, is about to make sure this fate awaits more and more senior citizens.

    I just heard on NPR yesterday that food stamp benefits have been cut in Ohio (and I believe other states) because utility bills have been lower due to depressed prices for natural gas. Huh?

    So, if you’re not quite as cold, you don’t need as much food? Is that the logic?

    1. Aquifer

      I think we should refer to it as Bowles-Simpson for the simple reason that its shortcut is BS which, of course, brings a more accurate associative image to mind …

  8. charles sereno

    I’ll share a story as best I know about lepers. At the beginning of the last century, my great-grandmother was diagnosed a leper and sent off to the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. In those days, many of the leper’s partners elected to accompany their wives/husbands. So it was with my great-grandfather. Their children were grown and it was a good choice. Together they scratched out a living for a number of years, raising a few pigs. When one died, the other followed almost immediately, no doubt of hearbreak. We’ve since recovered their death certificates but are still searching for their graves.

    1. TK21

      It’s fascinating to me how thin our modern veneer of progress is. I mean, from literally the beginning of humankind to your great-grandparents’ time, we treated sick people like that. Only very, very recently have we developed alternatives.

      I wish more people had your great-grandfather’s compassion!

  9. JTFaraday

    “It’s revealing that Gawker is now up to volume 15 of its weekly series of “Unemployment Stories” and we see nary a peep from the MSM along these line.”

    Initially, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Gawker was pro-OWS. But then I remembered reading an article about Gawker that emphasized how it was composed of former entry level NYC media employees who discovered that there were few real career paths available to them. This was not at all an unusual experience for a whole generation now. Lots of young people have landed entry level jobs and then gone elsewhere in order to have plausible “careers.” Media consolidation earlier in the late 1980s-early 1990s, followed by the internet didn’t help.

    So, in retrospect, I suppose it is not so surprising to me that Gawker has a one-off perspective on questions of employment and even radical politics.

    1. amateur socialist

      If Gawker’s readers (and advertisers!) get bored with the compilation of additional volumes of Unemployment Stories, maybe they can get started on Employed Without A Living Wage Stories.

      Today’s most recent story pitches can include poor poor pitiful Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter ( a name Dickens would be proud of) explaining how many employees he will be firing to save .14 a pizza it will cost him to conform to the ACA. Another can include Apple Store employees creating record value for their employer while being subject to the same games. Anything’s possible.

      But then Gawker’s employees might end up writing about their own employer and inserting themselves into the story, a real no-no there. Ask the NYT Writers about the coverage of their dispute in the Paper of Record.

      1. JTFaraday

        So, are we speculating that if the actually existing working public felt free to talk back, it would indicate that the would-be “progressive” bumper sticker policy manual sh*twork dictate is no answer to their collective silent prayers?

        Color me impressed.

  10. YouDon'tSay?

    Land of the wealthy free and the re-possessed home of the debt slaves. Welcome to the new normal. With above ground realities like this, we non-Christians will be lining up to die and go serve time in hell.

  11. off_leash

    While I sympathize with what is said in the article, and don’t doubt that much of what is described actually happens, I suspect that like Dickens’ writing this is a work of fiction. What homeless person would take the time and effort to write this story up in such detail, with good grammar, and be in a position to respond to comments (to the original article)?

    1. amateur socialist

      No matter how cynical I get I continue to get surprised by questions like this. Congratulations I guess.

    2. Lambert Strether

      I can see you have little experience. I personally know people who have been homeless who are intelligent, fine writers, and professionals — and had access to the Internet throughout their homelessness.

      I myself was near homelessness after the dot com implosion in the early 2000s. I had at that time discovered the blogging world, and used library terminals and newly-free WiFi at coffee shops around the city to keep on blogging. After the electricity was cut off and the heat was gone, I might add.

      So I will put down your remarks to lack of knowledge and the sort of innocence that believes “It can never happen to me,” rather than heartlessness or sociopathic lack of empathy, as with our elites.

    3. BobW

      OK. Brag: I was in the 98th percentile (missed 99th by one question – that durned math) of SAT in the 60s. That’s Mensa level. Don’t have a college degree but don’t need many credits to get one…a Poli-Sci bachelor’s would not pay the rent anyway. I have my laptop from volunteering at FreeGeek Arkansas. I am sitting in the public library using wi-fi, after getting out of my frost covered tent in the woods this morning. Of course this cannot be true, I must be imagining it.

    4. TK21

      “What homeless person would take the time and effort”

      At the risk of sounding glib, what else does a homeless and unemployed person have to occupy their time?

  12. George Blesi

    Living in Minneapolis, I have been an overnight volunteer, summer intern, and oncall staff at a shelter very similar to the one(s) described in this story. The problem I see here is that the author describes bad motives to every person, every rule, and every exception to rules made in these shelters. This is rarely the case and certainly isn’t in this field. No one works in a homeless shelter for the money.

    The people that work in these shelters are rarely uneducated and often care more about the plight of the poor than nearly everone in this country. They dedicate their lives to helping for very low pay and rarely get thanked for what they do. There job is tough. They deal every day with people with serious mental health issues, drug problems, and the general problems that come with long term poverty. Is it possible that these people enjoyed the negative aspects of their job? Certainly, but I have never seen it. What I have seen is staff crying after kicking a person out, watching them fill their black plastic bags knowing what they will face outside.
    The rules in place seem draconian to those not involved, but they are in place for good reasons. In our shelter, 69 people must live together in relative harmony. We breathalize at night as well, because everyone suffers if we let someone in who is drunk and beligerant. We have cleaning staff, but I can understand why other shelters would require “volunteer” chores. There is no money in this field. If they cannot pay for people to clean, then who will do it if not the residents? Shelter life is hard, but the author brushes aside too quickly the need of these rules to make shelter life as bearable as possible.

    I completely agree that shelters should not happen in a society as rich as ours. Generally, I also see comparisons with Poorhouses as accurate. With that said, this is an accurate depection of shelter life from a person with a lack of perspective and vindictive motives. Living in a shelter is very difficult, but nearly everyone working in these places are doing the best they can with the limited resources they have available to them. The author’s depiction of the people working in this system are not only unfair, but also simply untrue from my experience.

    1. AvgJohn

      If you work at a shelter then you should know that this woman is confused, frightened, angry, has been stripped of her dignity and sense of who she is. From her perspective she lives in a world that just doesn’t care and she’s understandably lashing out.

      I understand that the shelters are full of people with drug and alcohol problems, but there are also homeless people that just didn’t have family their to catch them when circumstances turned against them.

      Do I agree with all of her opinions and political views? No. But quite possibly, her perspectives on life and the relationships with the people around her would be entirely different if she knew her basic needs would be met in the future. She probably no longer has a car, doesn’t have a phone, and very few clothes. When she fills out a resume, where does she say she lives? How confident do you think she will be in job interviews?

      Wow, some of the above comments just blow me away. Talk about the callous attitude of the elites and the 1 % for the middle class. Maybe the middle class needs to do a little gut checking of their own regarding the plight of those setting lower in the pecking order.

      Come on, we can do better than this as a nation. Until we all start caring about each other at least a little bit, things are only going to get worse. That’s just a law of the Universe.

      1. George Blesi

        I agree with you on everything that you said. My point is only that the picture she paints of homeless shelters is in my experience unnecessarily negative. It is without question that she attributed negative motives and attitudes to nearly everyone she came into contact with. This is almost never the case.

        1. AvgJohn

          Thanks for your services, George. I know your heart is in the right place. I was just pointing out we should consider the circumstances that are surrounding the lady when we analyze her behavior.

          My rant at the end wasn’t directed at you, but at some of the callous remarks others on the site were making.

  13. Chris Rogers

    I’m somewhat bemused why some posters seem ignorant to the fact that the educated and middle-class can fall upon hard times.

    Given the extreme growth of inequality both side of the pond since the late 1980’s and fact that wages for the vast majority have stagnated, what is surprising is that not more individuals have found themselves pauperised.

    I usually remind people that the majority remain one months salary away from being destitute – this being worse in the USA due to private medical care costs that have bankrupted numerous individuals.

    Once people wake up to basic facts, that is the majority of individuals who reside in the States and UK are ‘working class’ rather than middle class, you may see some change – indeed, I’m confident that once the effects of the ‘Great Betrayal’ become known and play out in your society, its quite possible people may consider who they actually elect to represent them – until then, the ransacking and looting by our masters will continue and they will continue to blame the victims of said policies for their misfortune – obviously, responsibility means nothing to these folks.

    1. Aquifer

      “once the effects of the ‘Great Betrayal’ become known and play out in your society, its quite possible people may consider who they actually elect to represent them”

      This is only the latest chapter in the Great Betrayal – the part of the book I first became familiar with was written several chapters ago – “Clinton’s Free Trade BS” – I think it was, or should nave been, titled. So I have been waiting since ’96 for folks to “consider who they actually elect to represent them.” I used to hold my breath, but though blue is my favorite color, blue face, let alone blue blood, really isn’t good for one, let alone a whole society …

      1. Chris Rogers

        The more onerous conditions become, the more our supposed Left-of-Centre political parties embrace rightwing economic orthodoxy and effectively disenfranchise those they are supposed to represent.

        However, it took me quite a number of years to abandon hope that the UK Labour Party would return to its roots – I know support actual left-of-centre political groupings that are not infused with neoliberal claptrap – hopefully theres hope for a red/green alliance in the US, particularly given the ‘Great Betrayal’ and lovefest over shale oil and gas, not to mention tar sands – soon no corner of the USA will remain unblemished.

  14. acuteobserver

    As someone who worked in a homeless shelter much like the ones described in the post, I can say this is most likely genuine. We had residents who lost everything and didn’t come from nothing. But my experience was that the administrators were absolute evil and the hourly “orderlies” such as myself were dedicated to our residents and helping them with getting a hand up. This woman’s shelter experience sounds more like an institution than the “community NGO” model we have in my New York county.

    My boss, the shelter manager, was pure sociopathic evil. She wasn’t book smart (she hated me because I was) but she certainly knew how to game any system to her advantage. She enjoyed weilding power over the residents, who were mostly women and children who ran from abusive ex’s and/or were evicted. A resident was 3 minutes late for curfew and my boss then refused to let her attend her family reunion the next day. I was alone with her in the shelter house one day, walking up and down the basement stairs carrying linens and somehow toy cars appeared on the stairs that weren’t there before. I quit right after that much to the protest of the residents who I had grown very close to.

    Such homeless shelters are usually “non-profit” county contractors with social services, since yunno, the privatization era. Their executives siphon the state and county money for exorbitant salaries and perks and pay their hourly employees minimum wage, near-nonexistant benefits, and only 2 weeks paid vacation a year. In fact my former employer got into hot water over the Executive Director’s bonuses and his $250,000 car. Pfft.

    The comment about “having a back up plan” is outrageous. You can plan and plan all you want but you have no control over when you’ll actually land a new job. And getting re-trained for another career is often a total waste since all industries can fluctuate or deflate at a moment’s notice these days. Thank you, Globalization!

    1. acuteobserver

      My paid vacation comment was misleading actually. We were only allowed to take 2 weeks vacation a year. But you needed to first find someone to cover you on all those days.
      Now, I’m not excusing the meanspirited actions of the shelter employees but it’s a f*cking terrible job. Made me decide to leave social work for good.

  15. Aussie F

    I suspect the real numbers are staggering. How many people sleep in their cars or vans, sofa surf, or otherwise live in precarious housing? How many women live with abusive partners and do not have a safe place to stay? How many people are working part time in precarious jobs for poor pay and could lose it all overnight?

    1. amateur socialist

      How many families are keeping un- and under-employed members from living in their cars via periodic and continuous intra-family bailouts? How many of the subsidized family members are subject to unexpected homelessness once the next downturn hits the remaining employed?

      (I don’t mean to imply these are comparable to the examples you cite Aussie, just that precarious comes in more variations and… That iceberg is getting rather close isn’t it? )

  16. Stratos

    Thanks Yves and Lambert for posting this woman’s story. I found it compelling for two reasons:

    1. A lot of media sources, print and electronic, tend to push powerful first person narratives into the background. There seems to be a preference for “analysis” and opinion on important issues. A lot of the time, A and O reporting is tinged with narcissism and disdain. To me, first person narratives should be the meat in the media stirfry—they should always be present to add substance and texture to the vegetables (facts and figures) of the story.

    2. This story reminds me why I give to individuals and self-governing homeless groups instead of the big homeless shelters here in my western city. I’d heard about the maze of rules and regulations that these “shelters” impose upon their “inmates”. This story gave more chilling detail than those hints and rumors.

    I also liked the writers assessment of the staff in these shelters “…those women’s freedom to spend their time this way depended on the high wages of the men they slept with…”.

    P.S. Is there any way for readers to contribute to this person directly?

    1. Aquifer

      Stratos – i think your desire to give to this person is admirable, but ISTM that for every person to whom one gives because one hears his/her story, there are 10, 100, 1000? whose story is never heard – so it seems to me the best “policy” for us all, in addition, of course, to direct giving when the need crosses our path, is to create a society where, as much as possible, this sort of need for individual giving is not necessary …

      That, ISTM, is harder to do because it means we will have to agree to be “taxed” or obliged in some sense to provide a means for all – the ones we don’t know, can’t see or hear, may not be “sympathetic” or “deserving” in our estimation – a practice much more likely, IME, to keep more folks from falling through the cracks than depending on hit or miss “charity” which, though it warms our hearts for the one, leaves too many others out in the cold …

      1. amateur socialist

        Personal (true) anecdote: A friend here in Austin woke up on Christmas day a few years ago to find their house burning down. Smoke detectors helped everyone including pets get out safely but their home and contents were a total loss.

        Another friend organized a pay-pal account to aggregate donations which eventually totalled well into 5 digits. This was important to their ability to rebuild their home, my friend had just gotten hired after over 18 months of fruitless job searching.

        At dinner one night celebrating the ground breaking on their rebuild, the pay-pal organizer remarked on his surprise at people’s generosity. The recovery fund ended up being much larger than anybody expected, involving many far flung well wishers across the country and he made a comment along the lines of how it was “almost like socialism”.

        I stared at him sharply over our appetizers and said “No. Not like socialism. In socialism, this happens to a *stranger*.” I further pointed out that this model of socialism is arguably more consistent with christian doctrine than many of its advocates readily admit, at least in my experience.

        It turned out to be one of those Teachable Moments.

      2. Klassy!

        I understand what you are saying, and yes that is the moa just society is the most important thing but I also feel like sharing some of what you have serves to remind yourself of your luck and fortune. Even the noble and much vaunted middle class can suffer from the sort of entitlement mentality that they may accuse the wealthy of.

      3. Stratos

        Aquifer, I don’t see this as either/or. I see it as both/and. While I want to extend a hand to the woman in this narrative, I also support taxes and government policy to help the millions of women and men she represents.

        I’ve always felt that our nation’s resources were better used when all of the people benefited from a sturdy safety net. To me, that is a better use of our collective resources than spending on Wall Street bailouts for irresponsible bankers and military spending for avarice driven war profiteers.

        I don’t buy the American myth that people are poor because they are lazy. I personally know poor people who work more than one job and still struggle to feed, house and clothe themselves. Medical care is a luxury and vacations are the stuff of fairy tales. The poor of this country didn’t let America down—America let them down.

  17. LAS

    This topic is a bit like rape; no one wants to talk about it candidly. I held my breath for years about a close relative who lived part of the 1980’s homeless out of their car, thinking if anything was said they’d get upset and crash down to the bottom again or I’d be calling attention to a situation to generate a stigma. Today this person owns a home and I no longer worry about them compared to myself. They did fine with time and steady employment that suited them.

    The trouble with homeless shelters and indeed all captive situations, is the control person who has no other merit than their controlling role, which they are extremely reluctant to give up. The controlling person is more addicted to the situation than the recipient. Often the recipient is the first person out the door and on their way given an even break. The control person invents all kind of rules to keep them defensive and down.

  18. Elizabeth Cook

    Capitalism is the poison, jobs for all rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and massive production and development of clean energy technology would go a long way to creating a cure…short of revolution.

  19. timotheus

    Amazing how many comments here question whether the story is true. I guess it’s just tough to contemplate that we don’t live in a just or fair society with an adequate safety net.

    Alas, it must be something about our biped race. Just saw the film The Flat last night, which focuses on a German woman’s discomfort at finding out that her father was a high-level aide to Goebbels. (After the war, he was a top corporate guy for Coca-Cola/Germany.) “But he had Jewish friends!” Translation: That doesn’t fit with my world-view, so it can’t be so.

    1. bluntobj

      It’s the extremely inflammatory, PC language riddled, and contemptuous tone. I’d certainly credit that the story is fundamentally true, but has been dramatized and slanted to enrage a certain political class to create mindshare for a needed public shelter system on a national scale.

      Which will be far worse in so many small but meaningful ways.

      1. amateur socialist

        Yes yes. Let the victims be suitably shamed by their obvious inadequacies! Then we can let the bountiful mercy pour out, once we have ascertained their proper due of meek gratitude.

        Have you never considered how your judgmental tone justifies hers? Really?

      2. athena1

        “to create mindshare for a needed public shelter system on a national scale.”

        LOL. Yeah. That is exactly what the author was clearly going for there. MOAR homeless shelters. Nothing at all to do with, oh, unemployment or anything. LOL.

      3. athena1

        “needed public shelter system on a national scale.

        Which will be far worse”

        Needed, or worse?

        Oh, you silly authoritarians. Opinion A will never meet opinion B will it? (Everyone who hasn’t read the free ebook “the authoritarians” needs to.) This comment is very QED.

  20. SadButTrue

    The uncomfortable reality here is that this woman probably could have sold sex to some man, in one form or another (prostitution, long term living arrangements, marriage, etc), to survive more comfortably, and didn’t. Choice was involved. She might have hated being forced into that choice, but many hate the choices that force them into their current jobs, and many women go this route and make the required compromises. My sympathy here is fairly limited.

        1. JTFaraday

          Please. What’s next?

          “She could have slept with her boss to keep her job but she didn’t, so she deserves what she gets”?

          “She could have ripped the faces off muppets but she didn’t, so she deserves what she gets”?

          You’re only reinforcing all those women hunkered down over at RH Reality Check, terrorized into the D-Party veal pen by what they’re still calling “the patriarchy” and its newly emergent “legitimate rape” discourse.

          “We could make this socio-economic problem disappear by rolling the clock back to 1950 and condemning women for not cynically securing themselves a meal ticket by putting their plumbing to its proper use.”

          Right. Got ya. No integrity in their personal lives for anyone, ever.

          1. athena1

            Also, the patriarchy is real. but that doesn’t mean we feminists aren’t being played like a fiddle by the neoliberals.

          2. JTFaraday

            No, I think they’re completely serious. She’s a “privileged” woman with a “man’s,”– ie., a career– job, which she lost, only she failed to back herself up with a plumbing job, which they believe she should have done for cynical purposes of self preservation.

            People think this way all the time. It’s why women don’t need full civil rights, and it’s why a lot of women vote D–because the D-Party is at least smart enough not to say, outright, stuff that you can only believe is a joke.

          3. athena1

            I hope you’re wrong here. But if you’re right, All Hail the Market State. It’s going to be a blast. I actually have an IRL friend who had to work the corner to feed her kids. Fun stuff! Does foster care exist in libertopia? Can foster care be privatized?

          4. JTFaraday

            I don’t want to speculate about how they’ll profit off the children. But if Jerry Sandusky is out on parole soon, take it as a sign.

      1. SadButTrue

        What amazes me is the faux self rigtheous outrage in these comments. In case you haven’t noticed, the most common economic method for wealth extraction is called “marriage” and the extraction process is usually practiced by females. Having a holy man perform a ritual or adopt doesn’t change the economics of the agreement. Neither does the putative emotional state of the participants.

        Prostitution or long term arrangements are simply variations on a theme. Practiced even by chimps and baboons and certainly us. Reality does not change, even if it doesn’t fit the mythos of our culture.

        1. reprobate

          Now the truth comes out. A man who sees marriage as “wealth extraction.” Looks like you hate women and aren’t getting laid much as a result, so you blame it on money (as in your probable lack thereof, or general stinginess).

          1. athena1

            Notice that the concept of love was completely missing there. This might not be anti-woman bigotry. This really might be “does not experience normal human bonds and attachments.” I’m honestly curious what this person’s childhood was like.

        2. athena1

          So, sociopaths operate on the assumption that everyone else is a sociopath, too. Interesting. I guess that actually explains a lot.

      2. athena1

        I’m getting an excellent lesson in psychology here. Because I went through a libertarian phase but bailed once I saw what the whole enchilada really was, I assumed that most libertarians are just going through a phase, too.

        Likewise, sociopaths assume that everyone else is secretly a sociopath, it appears. This is all so fascinating, I’ve completely stopped being offended. I’m thinking, “Yes…go on, SadButTrue.”

        Also, I don’t but the “sad” part of the username one iota.

        1. SadButTrue

          Your viewpoints astonish and your ad hominems, somewhat funny. I love and feel love. I’ve been in a steady relationship with a woman for 15 years. She has her own job, and financially, neither of us needs the other at all. This doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize other aspects of reality, or other circumstances other than my own. Athena, you might actually try taking other points of view. Narrowness of thought is ultimately counterproductive. You sound like you’ve bought your culture, hook, line and sinker with a mind completely programmed from popular media. Sorry, reality is not as presented in romance novels and Oprah. Try reading some college texts on cultural anthropology, world history and evolutionary psychology and see where the conclusions lead you.

          Pop-psych is candy for the mind, but it soon nauseates.

  21. OMF

    Social welfare payments would probably cost the public exchequer less than these less than useless shelters.

    1. Klassy!

      Yes, and direct payments and housing would be cheaper than a whole host of mental health programs and medical care that arises from poverty and homelessness.

    2. athena1

      But private prisons are huge GDP bonuses. We do still have one area of “economic growth”. (Yes, there really is a silent movement to criminalize homelessness)

  22. athena1

    I’m increasingly unable to work up sympathy for neoliberalism enablers.

    Okey dokey.

    Gonna go barf now.

  23. bluntobj

    I have this proposal:

    It is evident to me that the reactions to this story demonstrate the requirement to have a system National Residence Challenged Assistance Centers (NRCAC) established by the Obama Administration under the Department of Health and Human Services to alleviate this widespread calamity. Such a system will have in its core mission the full compassion and realization of human dignity as its fundamental driver.

    All applicants to enter the NRCAC system will be means tested, with preferential admission of disadvantaged groups. Residents of the NRCAC will have access to full medical treatment, medications, housing that is clean, heated, and secure, income support in the form of direct assistance payments without job requirements, and education and entertainment opportunities. Mental health and job skills counseling will be readily available, and publicly funded jobs will be available to support the dignity of work. Aging with dignity will be supported, as well as end of life choices for those to whom it is a concern.

    We will all be better off when this system is implemented. This heartbreaking story startlingly highlights the need for the state to replace the so-called compassion of the theologically intolerant, inefficent, and discriminatory private systems, and to mitigate the effect of the cruel world on those who could not help it.

    1. Klassy!

      I still like direct cash and housing assistance better. This woman does not need all encompassing management of her life– she could probably do with some privacy though.

      1. lambert strether

        The 12 Word Platform
        1. Medicare for All
        2. End the Wars
        3. Tax the Rich
        4. A Jobs Guarantee

        This woman’s problem could be solved by #1 and #4. Most civilzed countries have implemented a version of #1.

        1. Klassy!

          It won’t be twelve words, but I would have to add end corporate control of our media and educational system.

  24. Beppo

    Guarantee $100k a year and shelter for every American citizen, problem solved. It’s almost as if our politicians belong to a disgusting few subsets of the hateful ideology of the super rich. It’s beyond awful that this can happen in what’s supposed to be the richest country in the world. Money isn’t real, money isn’t real, sliding some to someone with no place to live does not make your money pile less giant and self multiplying.

    1. RedSquareBear

      This can’t be a real comment. I’m not generally a fan of the conservative lies about the minimum wage, but that’s because the low elasticity of demand for low wage labor means there is quite a lot of rent being extracted by the owners that could be returned to the workers (that is to say, an extra dollar or two an hour isn’t going to do anything to the business, barring a capital strike/going galt type of thing).

      But 100,000 a person? Can you begin to calculate the inflationary results of such a policy?

      Just because it isn’t a concern at the margin doesn’t mean there won’t be a result from shifting the curve radically.

      Fucking hell.

  25. athena1

    An observation:
    The term “gender wars” is a great tool to divide the left. It implies that we feminists are irrational manhaters when we’re not. Swear to god, we’re not. But yeah, lots of smart skeptical leftie feminists would just rather not hang out in circles where we’re accused of such things.
    If you want to kick the smart leftie girls OUT of the right side of the class war, diss feminism and, like, advocate that impoverished women take up free market prostitution.
    It’s better than socialist regulated prostitution after all!

        1. lambert strether

          No reason she couldn’t combine all three approaches, of course.

          I am constantly amazed by the willful refusal of the lower cases to display adaptability. Try as I might, I can work up no sympathy for them.

    1. SadButTrue

      No, it implies your stuck in a 1970s worldview which itself derived from influences like the early women’s Christian temperance movements. Why don’t you go talk to some women who actually do this for a living and hear their stories? They are not, in the main, victims (though some are). Most are adults who made choices that you did not. They do not deserve contempt or condescension from anybody.

  26. Stephen Zielinski

    Prisons are also poorhouses. They exist mostly to warehouse individuals who serve no social function — i.e. surplus persons. Prisoners, the homeless, the working poor, etc. — they are more like stateless persons — Gitmo detainees — than with common American citizens.

    I once rode the 7 Train with friends. We watched an ill homeless person while he died. One friend had seen a lot of death and dying in his life. Brute compassion compelled him to want to act. I asked him what he thought we could do to save the dying man’s life? I also asked him if he believed we would do the dying man a great favor if we actually saved his life?

    He could not answer these questions.

    Eventually, we exited the train, leaving the dying man behind. What, one might ask, had the dying man done that merritted his fate? Anything?

    1. Beppo

      That’s some real wisdom. If anyone is interested in reading the philosophical implications of this new misery, I strongly recommend reading “Homo Sacer” and “State of Exception” by Giorgio Agamben. Basically we’ve all been stripped of anything but “bare life,:” the possibility of anything else is denied completely. It’s the magic trick that lets the whole neoliberal order exist without being questioned and despised openly by everyone

      1. athena1

        I think these people see human suffering as the biggest commodity of them all.

        Off to look up your book recommendations on Amazon.

      2. Stephen Zielinski

        The work of Loïc Wacquant also provides a useful introduction to the literature on the relationship between poverty, prison and capitalism:

        Punishing the Poor

        Prisons of Poverty

        Urban Outcasts

        We should always remember that ‘they’ came first for Keynesian demand management and a full employment economy; then welfare; then unions; then the schools; then Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, then….

        Until recently, Uncle Sam has had more than enough money to build prisons, spy on his citizens, create armies to molest the world, etc.

        Uncle Sam has crazy vicious priorities.

  27. cripes

    Prisons exist to make money for guards and corps and shelters to keep money flowing to non-profits. Yes it’s cheaper to house people in actual housing than shelters, hospitals and jails, but hey, we need to get them motivated by suffering. Something must be done to reduce the privilege of the underprivileged.

    1. Crazy Horse

      Everybody should stop whining about the USA no longer having viable industries. We are the world leaders in the ones that really matter.

      1- The prison business: No other industrialized country has perfected this highly profitable business model to the level we have. The War on Drugs is a brilliant mechanism to keep the industry humming along at maximum capacity, incarcerating a higher percentage of its citizens than any competitor.

      2- The weapons business: Our success in this industry dwarfs the efforts of the rest of the world. During the four short years of the Obama administration our world market share has climbed from a ranking in the 30% range to nearly 80%. Talk about a growth industry!

      3- The imperial army business: After many years of impressive technological progress this industry has achieved a position of social importance that rivals the energy business. It is well on the way to complete automation and privatization, thus eliminating the conflict caused by a draft and paring its staffing down to a select number of computer operators manning remote controlled weapons of assassination and surveillance from the comfort of their underground bunkers. The US military budget is as large as the entire rest of the world combined. And it has cleverly evolved a system characterized by pure waste– the ultimate capitalist business model. By never attaining victory in any conflict, it achieves the social equivalent of a perpetual motion machine.

  28. Peter T

    May I respectfully recommend a return to substandard housing, a.k.a. flop houses, to shelter people down on their luck for a little penny? Everybody would get his own few square feet, isn’t allowed to make noise, but is otherwise left alone to figure out how to continue with his or her life. The gap between standard housing with section 8 support and homeless shelter is too big and the barrier too large to surpass without a more than minimum paying job.

  29. cripes

    @Peter T

    Great, a return to flophouses. NYC used them years ago and put up entire families in single room occupancy hotels as “Temporary” accommodation, waiting for permanent housing that never materialized. Little kids fell to their deaths down elevator shafts, passed drunks, dopefiends and prostitutes on their way to school and the landlords reaped huge fees from the taxpayers (l mean huge) for renting these despicable hovels. Famously, a South Vietnamese exile general was one of the slumlords making millions from this scheme, using seed money no doubt from the CIA drug trade to start his “bootstraps” immigrant “American” dream.

    Non-profits in Chicago collect (in grants I have seen) 1.2 million to house 16 homeless persons in congregate housing for 120 days. 80,000 per bed per year. They could buy them condos for that.

    Don’t buy the austerian propaganda, and don’t buy the criminalization of poverty and homelessness. This situation is more dire than you imagine, and not because we “don’t have the money.”

  30. swendr

    One huge difference I see between hard times of old and what we’re experiencing now is the visibility of extreme poverty. Where once there were hobo camps and lines around the block for soup kitchens, we now have shelters with controlled access and debit cards for food at the local grocery store. Sure there might still be people sleeping in doorways or camping in the green belts, but those are the people, we tell ourselves maybe drug addicts, alcoholics or the proud, that opted out of the aid that is available. An unintended consequence of our natural desire to remove some of the public shame of being poor has been to cause the problem to be invisible. Of course now that we can no longer witness the suffering right around us, we tend to think of it as an abstraction, and abstracted problems lead to ambivalent political solutions at best. I certainly don’t desire to return to the past, but how else would we be able to be reminded daily of how widespread poverty really is?

Comments are closed.