Criminalizing the Unhoused Is Inherently Cruel

Yves here. I am not keen about the term “unhoused’ as opposed to “homeless” or better yet, the British term “sleeping rough”. Describing this desperate condition in sanitized terms seems all wrong. this desperate condition. The article describes in passing programs in Houston and Chattanooga that have reduces homelessness. If you know more about these or other policies that have made a difference, please pipe up in comments.

By Farrah Hassen, J.D., a writer, policy analyst, and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Cal Poly Pomona. Originally published at Common Dreams

As the cost of housing has exploded, so has the number of people experiencing homelessness. And unfortunately, instead of trying to house people, more states and cities are criminalizing people simply for lacking a safe place to sleep.

According to the National Homelessness Law Center, almost every staterestricts the conduct of people experiencing homelessness. In Missouri, sleeping on state land is a crime. A new law in Florida bans people from sleeping on public property—and requires local governments without bed space for unhoused people to set up camps far away from public services.

Laura Gutowski, from Grants Pass, Oregon, lives in a tent near the home where she resided for 25 years. Soon after her husband unexpectedly passed away, she became unhoused. “It kind of all piled on at the same time,” she told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “Flipped my world upside down.”

The underlying issue is how we treat those who struggle to meet basic needs in the wealthiest nation in the world.

Grants Pass, like most cities today, lacks enough shelter beds to accommodate its unhoused population. It’s now the subject of a Supreme Court case: Grants Passv. Johnson, which started when Grants Pass began ticketing people for sleeping in public even when there weren’t enough shelter beds.

People can be fined hundreds of dollars and face criminal charges “simply for existing without access to shelter,” said Ed Johnson, an attorney for the unhoused residents of Grants Pass. The Supreme Court’s decision will have far-reaching ramifications as communities grapple with rising homelessness and housing costs.

If the court rules in favor of Grants Pass, local governments will get more authority to clear homeless encampments and penalize those who sleep on streets, only exacerbating the problem.

Alternatively, the court could prohibit these “camping” bans and remove criminalization as an option. Back in 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took that route in Martin v. City of Boise, which held that it is “cruel and unusual punishment” to criminalize homelessness when people have no other place to go.

According to the federal government, last year 653,100 people experienced homelessness on a single night in America—a 12% increase from 2022. Nearly half of these people sleep outside.

Researchers have found that homelessness is primarily linked to unaffordable housing, compounded by the lack of adequate healthcare and social safety net support. With half of all renter households now spending more than 30% of their income on housing, more people today are one emergency away from being vulnerable to homelessness.

Fining, arresting, and jailing people for a lack of housing is never the solution—and compounds existing housing inequities. Neither is displacing people without providing permanent alternative housing. Unpayable fines perpetuate the cycle of poverty, and a criminal record makes it even more difficult to secure employment and decent housing.

Moreover, the costs of criminalizing people for living unhoused are higher than housing them, both morally and financially. Instead of kicking them while they’re down, housing support combined with other voluntary services help to lift them back up.

Using a “Housing First” approach, Houston, Texas, reduced homelessnessby nearly two-thirds over a decade. Chattanooga, Tennessee, reduced homelessness by half in 2022-2023 by connecting more people to housing, increasing homelessness prevention efforts, and creating more affordable housing units.

Other helpful measures include expanding housing subsidies, rent control, a renter’s tax credit, and ensuring access to healthcare services.

The underlying issue is how we treat those who struggle to meet basic needs in the wealthiest nation in the world. Criminalizing people for involuntarily living unhoused and in poverty is inherently cruel.

For the U.S. to truly address this crisis, we must transform our approach and recognize that housing is a fundamental human right, not a commodity. All people deserve to live in a home in peace, security, and dignity.

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  1. Mikel

    “Fining, arresting, and jailing people for a lack of housing is never the solution…”
    Unless making money off people being in jail through cheap labor and other reasons is their demented idea of a functioning society.

    1. clarky90

      Look to Gaza for what is planned (workshopped), by our leaders, for us deplorables. Destroy housing, medical care, access to healthy food, access to uncontaminated water, communication, civil rights, fuel, electricity, free movement, the internet……

      “First they came for affordable housing, but I had a home, so I said nothing……

      Then they destroyed medical care…

      Then they took away…..”

    2. LawnDart

      Being in jail is enough: it keeps the guards employed.

      In 2009, I took on a full-time position funded by a federal grant that was intended to divert mentally-ill adults from Allegheny County Jail. It ended after a year, as the jail made next to no referrals to the program, even though statistics showed that our diversionary-program should have been running at full-capacity.

      You need not be a rocket-scientist to figure that one out.

  2. Yossarian

    Subsidizing homelessness is equally cruel. Maybe, just maybe, people should face the consequences of their choices, unless they’re determined to be mentally infirm. But instead of throwing more and wholly unaccounted-for public funds at NGOs who get paid absurd amounts of money to rearrange the Titantic’s deck chairs perhaps, after due process, society should commit the infirm to treatment.

    1. urdsama

      I feel like you didn’t even read the article.

      How is a woman losing her husband a “consequences of their choices”? And in any case, better to help these people than not as it leads to worse outcomes for society as a whole.

    2. LawnDart

      Yossarian, you must not be a republican or you are one with a short memory: Saint Reagan all but ended treatment for the mentally-ill his first year in office, forcing many from state institutions onto the streets.

      Ironically, this was followed by the coldest winter in decades, so there were a lot less homeless to trip over come the spring thaw– he lucked-out as far as optics go, I guess.

    3. The Rev Kev

      Let me tell you a tale then. Suppose that you had a family as neighbours. They had a nice home and you could see that they raised their kids right. Then one day there was a medical emergency with maybe the husband or maybe one of the kids seriously ill and they were suddenly faced with massive medical payments that forced them to leave their home as they could no longer afford it. Then one day a coupla months later as you are driving downtown, you glance out your window and who do suddenly see living in a tent beside a main road – minus one of their number.

      And this sort of thing happens every damn day of the week. You had better hope that it does not happen to you.

      ‘…never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’

      1. Paul Jurczak

        I see a lot of binary thinking here. In the real world, both scenarios are true. Some people get homeless as a consequence of their choices, others get homeless by accident, despite their best efforts. Each side of the political spectrum uses the narrative fitting their ideology.

        I think we should recognize these differences and offer treatment to mentally-ill, who are willing to accept it, offer financial support to working families, who are going through hard times and offer some basic shelter, e.g. tent or bed if available, to people who just don’t care.

        1. The Rev Kev

          Agreed. That should be the way that it would work out. And also build public housing to help get these people off the streets.

        2. Jake

          That last part can become a real problem that undermines all the work that people do to help the people who want help. When you let hard core drug addicts live on the street and provide them tents and other things, the community quickly becomes a living nightmare for everyone else. I just can’t explain the level of helplessness you feel when activists come from all over and give out tents, clothes, and food to people who refuse other assistance. Our city council member in Austin, Ryan Alter, loved to harp about how anytime they go to a meth camp and offer people housing, 93% accept it. It was also found that the majority of those people would only stay in housing for a week or two. And when there was finally a cleanup of one of the massive meth camps in south austin where the news was there and the public got to count who accepted housing, only about 8 of the 90+ people living there accepted housing, so we are always worried that the city never gave us real numbers about anything related to homelessness. Most of austin is now a meth camp. The city itself now admits there’s 10,000+ people living on the street there. I can point out to you the several dozen people who have lived for a decade or more in my old neighborhood getting handouts from the church, panhandling for meth, and getting a new free tent anytime they want one. If you want to know how Houston was so successful, get to know the homeless people in austin and you will find a lot from DFW, San Antonio, and Houston. Once a city’s leadership decides they are going to ‘end homelessness forever’ the other cities take note. When I hear the phrase “criminalizing homelessness,” I shudder and remember the homeless person that attacked me with a golf club, and the years that followed where the camp they were at got bigger and scarier. And I will always remember the guy from Homes Not Handcuffs that told me it’s good that I was attacked because now I’m more engaged in the situation. It was the sickest thing I’d heard from the criminalizing homelessness crowd. I wish it was just another meaningless phrase like ‘housing is a human right,’ but it’s much difference. “You can’t criminalize homelessness” in the real world to me means “We are going to let drug addicts take over your city and turn your home into a nightmare place that you will be forced to leave. And if you complain about it we will just say you hate homeless people.” Paul’s comment is exactly correct, I just have suffered quite a bit from the people who hand out tents so that drug addicts can more comfortably die of drug addiction in front of my home. Giving things to people who just don’t care ruins the opportunity to help those that do care.

          1. Jake

            To put it simply, when you declare a group of can’t be ‘criminalized,’ they are then above the law. So a meth addict, who’s family and friends had to cut ties for their own health and safety, can make their way to a place where homelessness has been decriminalized. People will say this person’s drug addiction is a symptom of their homeless… I sorry, being unhoused, and not the other way around. As more drug addicts flock to these places where they can live under the highway and do drug unimpeded, even receiving free items and being provided with drug dealers, the homeless people who were trying to get a little help can no longer stay in that area safely. The people who can be helped start to leave, and the people who can’t continue coming. Suddenly you have a situation like the city of austin where these is no hope the problem will ever get better. As the people who say “they just need a little help” keep doing handouts, everything keeps getting worse. And it all reinforces the right wing narrative (or actual truth) that the left doesn’t know how to govern.

          2. playon

            Since you’re talking about drug addictions, it’s worth noting that studies have shown that homelessness comes first, drug addiction second, in most cases. So less homelessness = less addicts.

            1. Lena

              Thank you for pointing this out. I have seen the same studies. Homelessness leads to many ills, including addiction and serious mental health problems. The homeless are also more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Preventing homelessness in the first place would stop this downward cycle.

          3. Paul Jurczak

            By the tent, I didn’t mean a right to pitch a tent or a pile of card boxes anywhere you like. I’ve seen what it does to big cities. There have to be place restrictions. Most cities own land, which can be repurposed for a large tent camp. Add to it basic sanitary facilities, soup kitchen and permanent police presence.

            The “defund the police” and “you can’t criminalize homelessness” crowd is free to offer tent space in their backyards or make a spare bedroom available for homeless. To be fair, a few people actually did that, but they constitute a minuscule minority.

    4. Joker

      People should face the consequences of their choices, in a game that is rigged. Top notch logic.

      Homelessness is a symptom of a sick society. Yeltsin’s Russia had high rates of homelessness, alcoholism, drug use, prostitution, and crimes of all sorts. Putin’s Russia, not so much. Bad choice making citizens remained there, and had better lives in spite of their bad choice making, by some miracle.

      I do agree with comparison of USA with the Titanic. It is way beyond fixing, but people still keep on hoping and trying to keep it afloat..

    5. playon

      Please explain how subsidizing homelessness is “equally cruel”. And also explain how homelessness is a choice.

  3. Morongobill

    California has spent $24 billion on the homeless resulting in an increase in the number of homeless people
    and a huge increase of a well paid bureaucracy.

    My solution is to take vacant land or abandoned business property, bulldoze it and put in tents. Have it run by ex military noncoms and officers, with help from the homeless themselves. Offer services to the population.
    Make it mandatory that the homeless reside their. Cleanse the streets so that businesses can come back.

    Some will probably end up living there forever. Some will end up in jails or in mental facilities.

    But quite a few will end up with jobs and getting some sort of shelter back in society,

    1. Del Monaco

      Why should California taxpayers foot the bill for 40% of America’s personal failures, dopers, alcoholics and mentally ill, mostly voluntary travelers from elsewhere? That’s $24 BILLION in Newsom’s regime as a recent audit revealed.

      The vast majority of which are not from areas where the homeless lodge and who are free to travel anywhere and yet choose to come to California? The nonprofits coach them to claim they have been here a long time, which is often a few years. People come and go from California constantly. “Homeless” people can go back where they came from and live off their charity.

      Of those crippled by the current administration’s policies, who are actually from here, as provable by say a decade’s utility bills, or SS payments, they should be offered work, rehabilitation and that paid for by religious institutions and concerned indivdiduals, not taxpayers.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Making Shit Up is a violation of our written site Policies. The majority of CA homeless are from within the state:

        It does not appear to be the case that large numbers of homeless people migrate to California from elsewhere. A representative survey of homeless adults in California found that 90% had been living in California at the time they became homeless (and 75% were currently living in the same county in which they had last had housing).

        And you misrepresent the cause:

        California, the most populous state with the highest overall number of unhoused people, helped drive the surge. Experts and advocates say the lack of available affordable housing is the primary cause of homelessness in the state, exacerbated by the expiration of pandemic programs that had expanded shelter and protected tenants from eviction.


        A 2022 study found that differences in per capita homelessness rates across the United States are not due to differing rates of mental illness, drug addiction, or poverty, but to differences in the cost of housing. West Coast cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego have homelessness rates five times as high as areas with much lower housing costs like Arkansas, West Virginia, and Detroit, even though the latter locations have high burdens of opioid addiction and poverty.[3][4][5][6] California has the second lowest number of housing units per capita, and an estimated shortage of one million homes affordable to the lowest income renters. Another 2022 study found that moderate decreases in rents would lead to significant declines in homelessness.[7] A 2023 study published by the University of California, San Francisco also found that the high cost of housing was the greatest obstacle to reducing homelessness.

        1. JBird4049

          Thank you. It is frustrating to keep hearing the same shibboleths used to poorly explain the growing number of the homeless during the past four decades.

        2. Joe Well

          One can infer that California is exporting homelessness to the rest of the country because of its anti-housing policies displacing people to other states.

      2. Albe Vado

        I would say you’re lying, but that would require you to have ever actually talked to a homeless person and asked them where they’re from.

    2. WG

      Good luck making it mandatory for someone to live somewhere. That’s back to criminalizing. There will always be a substantial number of people who prefer sleeping in a park to living in a tent city with a lot of people they also might not like or trust, including both other homeless and administrators of the site.

  4. juno mas

    For some homelessness is a free-fall from semi-prosperity. For others it’s a slow descent into despair. Providing the counsel, education, and housing to live in our complex culture is essential. The impact of homelessness on society is not indiscreet. We are in this together. We are not without funding (see Ukraine). We are not without will . . . and in the long run, we are all dead.

    1. Del Monico

      Homelessness, however you define it, could have been resolved for 20 Billion per HUD several years ago. Ten times that’s been sent to Ukraine, plus as much to Israel.

      Newsom with his unique talents and ineptitude has spent $24 billion and made the state an attractive magnet for even more homeless from not just America, but the world.

      1. jobs

        I don’t think Newsom is inept at all. He’s very good at abusing a housing affordability crisis his party created to funnel millions of dollars to NGOs and other third parties while successfully pretending to “do something” about the problem.

      2. Joe Well

        Please read Yves’s comment above. California is not a magnet for homelessness from other states, it is creating homelessness by refusing to build apartments and almost certainly exporting it to other states as well as people flee that cursed place. The state has seen a steady exodus of US citizens for years.

  5. Es s Ce Tera

    One thing I would say is this phenomenon is not new, I’ve visited historic jails where it was an interesting factoid that not having an address was a crime, in many cities an arrestable offense, and that a large percentage of any city jail population across the country in the 1800’s or early 1900’s was mainly due to vagrancy laws, it was even a crime to move from town to town.

    Once in my youth I was visiting a bar in New York with friends, we had left the premises and were just outside the doors saying our goodbyes when we were threatened and forcefully and physically disbanded and dispersed by a group of NY policemen under pretext of arresting us for loitering. I was very shocked and surprised by this, being a Canadian I had never experienced such a thing as not being allowed to stand where I am for my own reasons, disturbing nobody, and my reasons being nobody’s business but my own, not to mention whatever happened to the right of freedom of association, was this not a right in the US, what about the constitution, etc.? I was informed by my NY friends (who had the presence of mind ot push me along) that this was normal, that the US Constitution is toilet paper, that the first amendment is generally ignored, police do whatever they want…

    I was so appalled and incensed that in the following weeks went on a learning spree. I learned that in many cities loitering is simply being somewhere, moving or standing still, with no apparent or acceptable purpose and was identifical to or an extension of city vagrancy laws, often used together. These laws were also brought to North America from England. Canadians inherited the same sorts of laws but apparently, somehow, we’re more accepting of free association, (used to be) more forgiving of vagrancy.

    However, it does come down to these laws being weaponized and used extensively by the slave patrols especially in the US south, then becoming so prevalent across the US that despite Civil Rights became the fabric of American society, and is likely a key development in the US becoming a police state.

    My friends were Black, so there’s also that. This was around the time South Africa was in the news and Mandela was condemned as a terrorist by both the Canadian and US governments. And as you know, in Apartheid SA it was a crime for whites to interact with blacks, so I’ve drawn my own conclusions around that as well.

    1. JBird4049

      In the apartheid American South, it was illegal, either by fact of law or the desire of the local plantations and business owners, to have blacks especially slaves and whites especially the poor to congregate together. IIRC, this was normal until the 1960s in places. I know that at least into the late 1970s, some cities such as Chicago and Detroit also had unwritten rules for the poorest citizens and/or suspected gang members from being together. Since it even then illegal for the police to do so, the police would give extra special, aggressive “policing” until the meetings trying to create reforms stopped. After all, you might beat the charge, you will not beat the ride.

      It’s about class and the exploitation of the most vulnerable.

  6. Amateur Socialist

    Here in VT the war on the homeless continues in the capable hands of our strangely popular governor Phil Scott. He keeps trying to throw thousands of people out of vouchered motel rooms and the democratic supermajority in the state Senate keep trying to help him. John Walters at the Vermont Political Observer has provided excellent coverage. Here’s his latest

    In an earlier attempt, his administration proposed moving them into 4 shabbily cobbled together “shelters” which turned out to cost more than the motel vouchers. And nobody accepted.

    There is a small but vocal minority here in Brattleboro who keep trying to outlaw panhandling. I don’t spare much patience with those neighbors.

    This is what amounts to low income housing policy in one of the bluest states in the country. Sigh.

    1. VTDigger

      When our ‘rising star’ progressives like Kesha Hinsdale are landlords with 100+ units under their belt things look bleak indeed

      1. zim

        Vermont is bleak for anyone but the white and affluent and Walters just pretends to care.

        Walters’ coverage is some of the best in the state but that isn’t saying much. Digger is now nothing more a shell of its former self, corporate shill like the rest of the rats who shill for the upper classes. Walters is an old school lib and cast himself as the lead roll in the classic liberal middle class morality play about white do gooding and never about addressing the underlying causes- its an old liberal tactic to focus on extreme ills while ignoring the much larger and systemic ones that feed the ills. Of course, he defends the genocide in Gaza and war against the RF, probably China too. Never questions military spending or who get control over the resources of the state. He never really goes to the roots of any issue, steers clear of the real drivers of affordability, lack of housing and the extreme income inequality that defines the US. This is, of course, because he would find that he and his class peers are the ones who benefit from the arrangement. So he just blows smoke…

  7. Tommy S

    There have been many excellent links on this site. I immediately remember the university study about how one million units priced under $1,400 have disappeared/been jacked up in CA in just ten years. That is massive. And also plenty of articles and commentary on NC that there needs to be ‘socialized’ housing, as in city owned housing, with rents at 25% percent of income, never allowed for sale, etc. That is so true. But if you look at the massive CA budget, you will find a tiny fraction, maybe 20% of that money, going to actually building long term society owned housing. The majority goes to warehousing, and subsidies to private landlords, which of course keeps the rents rising. This is a bi partisan corruption problem, not a ‘liberal city permissive problem’……both parties are owned by property developers. The democrats are filthy with large institutional property speculators, here in CA. And SF has NEVER elected a mayor that was against the high end developers. I think LA has been the same. So the good land trusts (Meda, or SF trust) we have here, or such as Mercy housing, do some good, but they are all operating on mostly BANK financing, with added gov’t money. You do not get the city or fed grants, unless the banks are in on it, and give the ok.

  8. Vicky Cookies

    Homelessness exists because we have a housing market; the homeless and the landlords are two sides of the same coin.

    These unproductive rent-extractors, imposing a tax for the right to sleep indoors, are parasites, and public attention and pressure ought to be brought to the connection. From a policy standpoint, in the short-term, we can either continue subsidies to bribe landlords so that they won’t throw more people onto the streets – this was the effect of the emergency pandemic relief funds, and is the essence of most policy in this area – or we can enact rent control policies.

    A main difficulty in attempting this is that landlords make significant contributions to political campaigns, and also to local, state, and federal revenues by the payment of property tax. It stands to reason that when local politicians tout their successes lowering property tax, the main beneficiaries to whom they are signaling their support are not homeowners and the middle class, who own their own home and pay one tax, but landlords who own multiple large properties, many costing in the millions. This presents difficulties in trying to relieve the pressure of rents on poor and working people, not only in that the political power of landlords has to be faced, opposed, and beaten, but because of market effects on policies which would aim at forcing landlords to pay more, or earn less, which are in effect the same to him, to try to disincentivize landlordism. If a landlord is taxed at a higher rate, he will increase the rent to make up for his losses; that he will pass on his losses to the renters has to be taken into account in any responsible approach to the problem. Multiple avenues of escape have to be cut off.

    Are there examples of markets which do not tend towards monopoly? “Markets concentrate” seems like an axiom in the same way as “dogs bark”. Putting the essentials of life in the hands of Mr. Market – how’s that working out with the water in the UK, or with the medical system in the US? Increased homelessness is one of the first visible symptoms of the terminal direction our economic system is headed in; the ultimate destination is feudalism.

    1. JBird4049

      On paper, policies that would end homelessness, safely reduced the prison population, and improve the health of the majority of Americans would reduce taxes and improve the quality of life for everyone, it might even raise both income and the tax-base. However, there are extremely powerful interests that as it is. Corporations, politicians, NGOs, police unions, power brokers, activists, landlords, and others.

      Federal funding in issues such as homelessness, if it does not go directly to the county and cities, goes to the states, which distributes it while often adding their own. The incentive has become to not solve anything because that would end the flow of money to whoever benefits to it continuing. The money often ends in the campaign funds of politicians and the slush funds of power brokers some of whom are in NGOs, not the government. I am going to study again an example in San Francisco where the efforts on the homeless has been hijacked by a few people who use donations and government funds to either create (or taken over like a parasitic fungus) nonprofits and government agencies; they do not want to end their cushy positions or lose their slush funds. I see signs of the same in Marin County, the East Bay, and in Los Angeles.

      Even when there is money available (and it is not enough) it is mostly diverted. It is a corrupt cesspit. California has always had problems with corruption, but it has increased to where the state has become mostly incompetent as grifting has supplanted governing.

      Meanwhile, the people suffer. Maybe, they need to get a job or learn to code.

    2. Tom Doak

      It’s the same in my town, a summer resort area; all of the available affordable housing has been snapped up for short-term rentals.

      What if localities taxed real estate developers to help solve the problem? Our local homeless shelter is a charitable organization, but I don’t think they get much of any funds from the city. To some extent, all homeowners should pay a subsidy because we are all part of the problem, but new developers [or new buyers!] could pay extra if they want to supply the upper end of the market.

      Also – famously – our huge old state mental hospital was redeveloped over the past 10 years into luxury real estate, with big tax credits to the developers.

      1. JBird4049

        I keep seeing luxury apartments being built in the Bay Area, and from the little I know in Los Angeles, but developers seem to have a hate for even middle income apartments.

        I am assuming that much of the housing is being used either for the storage of wealth, like much of the world’s art, or for AirBnB.

        It is not profitable enough for housing to be built for anyone below the upper-upper middle class, which means all the SROs (single resident occupancy), basic apartments, family apartments, and town or row houses are not built. Even smaller houses like that built before the 70s with the small front and back yards are not. Cheaply built, but overpriced, houses in large developments in the boonies, luxury apartments or condos, and baronial mansions seem to be the only things built, which only leaves out eighty percent of the American nation.

  9. Not moses

    In NYC, since the late Ed Koch was Mayor, rent control laws have been allowed to expire, or relax. Koch’s goal was to help his community “prosper”. That the did, and continue. Michael Bloomberg relaxed zoning laws in midtown Manhattan for the same purpose. That was the beginning of the new kind of NYC mogul real estate developers, who now own the city. Tax abatements abounded for these new luxury housing builders who set aside a few so-called rent control apartments to qualify, but then are turned them into luxury apartments – the abatements, however continued. Working families aren’t their concern. They might as well be Gazans.

    Given the glut of empty office space across the country, wouldn’t it be a practical option to convert them to affordable housing for those most in need? Solutions abound, but greed impedes it.

    Instead of sending the $14B to rich Israel, wouldn’t it be a better, and practical solution to solve the homeless catastrophe?

    1. JBird4049

      The layout of those offices makes it both difficult and expensive to.

      Aside from the empty office spaces, a reason for many empty storefronts is the refusal of the property owners to reduce the leases because their loans are based on the book values, which are based on the lease amounts to be charged for the empty spaces.

      When you add the housing crisis, it seems like the entire property market is bonkers. People are making money, but the people who need to buy or rent anything are having problems with the possible exception of some few businesses needing office space or the wealthy who can buy and rent at almost any price.

    2. Dan

      This was in large part an effort to increase the tax base as well as appease the rich donors. Higher rents > higher property values > more tax revenue

      Unfortunately commercial buildings are very expensive to convert to residential

  10. Lena

    This week, I finally have an affordable place to live after losing my former apartment because of very steep rental increases. I found it by telling everyone I knew that I was in need of an affordable place to live. I also contacted churches and got on prayer lists. I did this for several months.

    Soon I was being helped by people I didn’t even know. About a week ago, a friend of a friend of a friend, someone I have never met, called me about an affordable apartment that was available. He said he didn’t want me to “ever worry about being homeless again”. It was like a miracle.

    As I have written on NC before, I have a serious incurable disease that has recently gotten worse. I am receiving “comfort measures only”. I do not want to die in a hospice or nursing home. I want to spend the remainder of my life in a safe place of my own, where I can go peacefully. I have that now.

    I don’t have the answers to the immense problem of homelessness across the country. I wish I did. I would urge anyone experiencing homelessness or the threat of homelessness as I did to reach out to as many sources of help as possible. In my case, it came from very kind people outside official agencies. As Lambert says, look for the helpers.

      1. Lena

        Retired Carpenter, you have a kind soul as well as good taste in music! Thank you for caring.

    1. griffen

      Thank you for filing a good report and update on your highly personal circumstances. Yes it’s an encouraging thought to know that helpers are out there.

    2. Lena

      It is very concerning that stereotypes about the homeless are so prevalent. A commenter above called them “America’s personal failures”. How cruel is that? Every homeless person has a unique story about how and why they became homeless. From studies I have read, most homeless people in the US lost their housing because it became unaffordable for them. In other words, the rents are too high! Especially if a person loses a job or a spouse, gets seriously ill or has a family member who is sick, high rents become insurmountable and lead to homelessness. These are situations that can happen to almost anyone. They are not “personal failures”.

      We are a sick society indeed when we judge our fellow human beings as “failures” for being homeless and then treat them as criminals. Homelessness is higher now than at any other time in our history. It is a national crisis that must be solved on a national level, not locally or state by state in a patchwork manner. I have yet to hear Biden speak on the subject at all. He’s too busy building better genocide with his business partner Bibi.

    3. Cassandra

      Thank you, Lena, for the good news. It is so nice to hear about some Helpers amidst the bleakness.

  11. upstater

    When I was a teen, my hobby was railroading in Buffalo and similar environs. Too young to drive, we took the city bus or bicycles everywhere to the seediest parts of town. Later I got a motorcycle and was in New Orleans, Dayton, Cincinnati, Syracuse and other such garden spots. We also took freight trains, riding in the relative comfort of the second or third locomotive. There were plenty of railroad cops, but their primary concern was organized theft, not railfans. We saw occasional “hoboes” that hopped freights.

    During this entire time, 1968-1975 I do not remember panhandlers, homeless or tent cities. Keep in mind, where freight trains ran; these were not the nice parts of town. In the worst sections of towns I never saw the throngs of homeless that began appearing in the 80s and 80s. There was no such thing as “gated communities”. Neighborhoods occupied by the elites in Buffalo or New Orleans were accessible to teens on bicycles, private security was rare.

    Public housing was not wonderful but available for those in need. The changes came from deindustrialization and deinstitutionalization. Yes warehousing mentally ill was criminal, but community services have never been adequately funded. We import immigrant labor pay them subminimimum wages and have abundant supplies of meth and fentanyl for homeless natives.

    The root of these ills are late stage capitalism and neoliberalism. Those two factors weren’t a thing 50 years ago. Now they’re on steroids. Yes, homeless is criminalized; but what is to be done, short of revolution? Nothing described in the article is anything more than quarter or half measures.

  12. Jamie

    Olden days was first come, first served w/ first, last and damage deposit. Now it’s competitive and invasive.. Common to check credit score, recent rental history, employment and wages, misdemeanors, felonies, incarceration, god knows what else..

    Even with a decent job, a recent medical bankruptcy or unpaid parking tickets will cause problems acquiring an apartment.

    I see $40-$100 non-refundable application fees in my neck of the woods.There are a couple landlords with dilapidated buildings for felons, people with no/low credit, no recent work history and sex offenders. One bedroom $2500. That’s where all the dope is sold. . .

    1. Lena

      When I was looking for affordable housing, I discovered that the non-refundable application fees of $50 to $100 have to be paid over and over again because applications are honored for only a limited time, then one must reapply with the same non-refundable application fees every time. I’d call it a racket, because that’s what it is.

      1. Jamie

        That’s absolutely pathetic. And ALSO inherently cruel.
        I like reading your comments. Admire your resilience. Special . .

  13. David in Friday Harbor

    Genocide-Joe and Teflon-Don say that you need to drop all of this damp socialist hand-wringing get with the program: The Cruelty is the Point.

    1. Adam Eran

      It’s called “Labor Discipline” (by Michal Kalecki). That’s the message that you had better take whatever crappy job is on offer, or suffer the indignities of poverty (and we’ll make sure the public realm available even to the poor is defunded), even homelessness or starvation…and if you’re rebellious, we’ll put you in a cage.

      The US is currently the world champion at caging people at five times the world’s per-capita rate, seven times more than Canada. So…is Canadian crime worse than US crime? No…actually a little better.

      This stuff is the whip in the hands of the plutocrats.

  14. Patrick Donnelly

    Colonization becomes more obvious when it becomes more oppressive. Inviting in strangers to balkanize and remove employment opportunities will accelerate trends that even the flow of Fentanyl, the new ‘Spice’ or Soma, cannot stop.

    The heat is building and Boyle’s Law shows what happens after a while.

  15. Dan Oudshoorn

    Regarding language, the neoliberal bureaucrats in Canadian-occupied territories prefer the term “people experiencing homelessness.” This is taken to be an affirmation of the human dignity of those people (whereas speaking of “homeless people” purportedly makes homelessness something more ontological and therefore dehumanizing). The shift to “unhoused” has been taking place because some folks have been emphasizing that not having a house or apartment does not mean a person does not have a “home.”

    What all this language masks is the active element of oppression, dispossession, and impoverishment that accompanies the loss of house and home. These terms are chosen precisely because they (a) appear to be humanitarian; and (b) depoliticize what is a politically-manufactured situation (studies of how the passive voice is used in relation to domestic violence are, mutatis mutandis, quite relevant here; cf., for example,

    It is more honest to say that people property owners, real estate developers, social service managers, police officers, private security guards, and municipal bureaucrats, forcibly depriving people of housing and shelter. There are empty buildings, empty apartments, even (sometimes) empty shelter beds (or other “overflow” spaces that are only opened during cold/hot weather alerts), but people are forcibly prevented from accessing those spaces. If I try to sleep in a doorway of an empty building, a security guard chases me away. If I try to go into a shelter that has banned me (perhaps because I slept in after 9:30am), they will call the police to remove me. If I try to move into an empty condo, I will be arrested.

    Regarding criminalization, and the cruelty of how we approach people who are forcibly deprived of housing and shelter (and, in fact, build up entire extractive economies around people who are treated as waste to be managed), I believe certain core ideologies around how we assess “need” are fundamental to justifying and naturalizing cruelty. I wrote about this recently. See here:

  16. HH

    The housing problem is a difficult one. Surely much can and should be done to house the “deserving poor.” But what is to be done with the dysfunctionally homeless? A significant fraction of the homeless are mentally ill and/or drug addicted. They can’t be put directly into publicly funded housing without that housing becoming squalid and dangerous. Residential treatment programs should be established, but this runs into the liberal political opposition that there can be no involuntary treatment of individuals. What right does a mentally ill person have to decline treatment? Until this question is answered, U.S. cities will continue to suffer from the presence of the walking wounded. Take a ride in the NYC subway system to see what “freedom” for mentally damaged individuals looks like. The current U.S. liberal consensus on the rights of the homeless brings to mind the famous headline from the “Onion” – “No Way To Prevent This,” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

    1. WG

      Forcing people is a dangerous slope. Of course some people need mandated treatment but as soon as it shows any success, it will be expanded for both profit and to those who do not belong in institutions. But more likely it won’t be successful at all, except to get some people out of sight. Most places don’t have the competence to run these programs. And if they do have housing for these people, and supplies to feed them, and health care for their mental issues, then why don’t they just open it up to them now? No need to mandate.

      People should have rights. I have a friend I have coffee with a couple times a week. Recently became homeless again. He is not mentally ill, is sober and despises the criminal element, but has Parkinson’s. He clearly can’t work. Any time anyone tries to tell him about further disability funds or Section 8 housing he refuses to discuss because his experience with the state and city officials has been so negative he won’t listen. And, while he is wrong about what benefits he could obtains, he is likely right about those officials not being capable of running a larger institution.

  17. Lena

    It seems that some people haven’t actually read the Common Dreams article that Yves posted. The article states, “instead of trying to house people, more states and cities are criminalizing people simply for lacking a safe place to sleep”.

    Nowhere in the article posted do I see anything about issues like “defunding the police” nor do I see the author saying that actual criminal behavior should be tolerated. Homeless people who commit criminal acts should be arrested if the offense warrants, as should “housed” people. But making homelessness itself a crime is cruel and wrong.

  18. cousinAdam

    I regret being so late to this discussion- I missed its posting yesterday after reading Links early in the morning. Lena has my admiration and best wishes and prayers for her days ahead- out of all the commenters here she seems to be the only one who has actually experienced homelessness (and brought on by an unexpected tragic loss of spouse). I too became unexpectedly homeless (or unhoused as I preferred to say) in Humboldt Co (NorCal) after losing a well paying cash job – excessive alcohol and regrettable choices got me booted and evicted from the farm without warning- I became a security liability so I don’t harbor a grudge. But the money and the rental car filled with my belongings didn’t last very long so out of desperation to find a safe haven for my stuff I made a deal with a group of young hustlers who had a rental home normally occupied by college students who were yet to return from winter break. I made myself useful cooking and housecleaning and parted with some possessions (new cellphone, spiffy hat, my NY ID, whatever they took a fancy to – I was not in a position to negotiate much). Once I found out that they were not the regular tenants and we all had to leave there was some “hard feelings”- cops got called and their story (“I was a no-good squatter”) beat mine (“I made a deal with them and they totally ripped me off”) so my belongings were impounded by the local cops and I got a ride to the county jail in Eureka where I spent the next three days with a charge of trespassing. Upon release I was pointed to the Eureka Men’s Rescue Mission – breakfast and dinner, mandatory shower, and a mat with pillowcase, sheet and blanket. After breakfast you were on the street until 5:30 to sign up for the night- oftentimes being required to pass a breathalyzer test – then 30 minutes of preaching before getting fed. It wasn’t long before I elected to spend the night on the street- packed like sardines on floor mats was a bit creepy and prone to getting pilfered. I made the best of it- you learn it’s safer to sleep in broad daylight unless you’re part of a street “family” – the elder or “wisest “ being designated ‘uncle’ or ‘auntie’. Sadly that bit of social cohesion was wiped out by the arrival of fentanyl (~2017?) – heroin and meth users more or less managed their habits but once they were subjected to adulterated goods all bets were off- meth heads (“tweakers”) acquired an opioid habit before they knew it and junkies just got pulled in deeper (if they didn’t OD in a hurry) By this point I was off the street- fell in love with a gal with a cute, funky apartment, two cats in the yard (just like the song) – life was pretty good for the next five years even though I was diagnosed with prostate cancer (stage III – ultimately fixed with radiation) and she was terminally alcoholic (probably cirrhosis) but we loved and cared for each other with only an occasional rough patch. Ultimately, the stresses of wildfires, ( her grown daughter had to evacuate several times), power shutdowns and then Covid lockdowns got the better of her and she kicked me out (with a court order) rather than admit she had a drinking problem. I managed to get my stuff into storage and back to the street life I went. By now I was collecting Social Security ( as a self employed for the last 30 yrs or so it was a very modest sum) so I was somewhat better off than before but also marked as easy prey for shakedowns and ripoffs. The street was now a dog eat dog environment- junkies will rip off friends and family before strangers- ( it’s safer) and “fennie” had become the drug of choice for the opioid users- stronger and cleaner than the brown tar Mexican heroin. I endured nearly two years of the “scene” and was making some tentative headway with the girlfriend when I became hospitalized after an assault that damaged my neck bones and became progressively paralyzed and in a found wheelchair before I finally was admitted into a skilled nursing facility 5 hrs south of Eureka. I was here less than a month when I learned that the girlfriend had passed on after a brief hospitalization – so much for closure :^( That was a year and a half ago- a quite successful surgery at UCSF saved my spinal cord from any lasting damage and the rehab process of re- learning to walk and dress myself, play guitar again etc. goes well- maybe I’ll be done here by summertime. With somewhat improved resources I’m hopeful I can find a viable housing solution- I’m quite fond of California sunshine but a return to my NY roots is on the table as well. They say, “what don’t kill you makes ya stronger” – sounds good – but we’ll see what happens ;^\ ! (IMHO, NO ONE is completely safe from becoming “unhoused” – so count your blessings and remember a “hand up” is way better than a “hand out” – but any charity is a blessing! Go well!

    1. cousinAdam

      Lena –
      I must offer a profound and sincere apology for stating that you lost a spouse to sudden illness. Upon re-reading your comments after posting mine I realized I had combined a few of your sentences in my brain when in fact you lost your apartment after an intolerable rent increase. Losing a dwelling is nearly as distressing as losing a spouse. I watched my dad become completely unraveled when he sold our house six years after Mom’s passing – many suppressed memories. Again, my best wishes and prayers be with you.

  19. Adam Eran

    I’ve read about successful “housing first” programs in Boulder, CO and Nevada (Vegas?), and the Finns reduced their homeless population significantly with such a policy.

    The US story might start with the New Deal–which made poor housing for the poor…but hey, they deserve it!

    Nixon actually stopped the federal government from building affordable housing, and, as he was cutting taxes for the wealthy roughly in half, Reagan cut HUD’s affordable housing budget by 75%.

    One commenter notes Reagan evicted the mentally ill from California’s large asylums, but omits mentioning that this actually began in the Kennedy administration. The plan was to close the large, “one flew over the cuckoo’s nest” asylums and provide housing that re-integrated the mentally ill into the community in smaller assisted living places. The feds shut down the asylums, but didn’t fund the smaller substitutes in what Daniel Patrick Moynihan described as one of the most shameful public policy decisions in his long career of public service.

    Recent studies show rent rises, not mental illness or drug addiction, are responsible for most homelessness–although apparently after becoming homeless, people are more likely to take up drugs. In truth most of us are really only a bad disease or a mugging away from sleeping in a refrigerator box. As for “deserving”….how many of us deserved not to be born in, say, Somalia? Even Warren Buffett humbly confesses he “won the genetic lottery” by being born in the US.

    There are housing subsidy programs that allow poor people to buy houses–e.g. Farm Home loans, from the USDA–but these are seldom fully funded, and the housing they will subsidize is so restrictively designed, it practically must be purpose-built for just that loan and no other. No second bathroom for you, poor people!

    Michael Hudson also notes that real estate taxes restrict how much banks can lend on housing, and those house prices increase to whatever the banks allow…and the bigger the loan, the more banks profit. Naturally, California with Proposition 13’s limitation on real estate taxes has astronomical house prices, which, in turn, makes housing unaffordable.

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