CA Homeless Crisis: The Hidden Homeless

There was a time in the not so distant past that the term ‘mobile home’ referred to a form of inexpensive, prefab housing built on a steel chassis similar to that of automobiles and trucks and equipped with wheels. Once assembled these ‘mobile homes’ were towed to a location and set on a concrete foundation where they were primarily used for long term occupation. Of course because they had wheels they could be moved again to a new location by the owner if desired. The most common location of these homes were mobile home parks built specifically to accommodate mobile homes and travel trailers.

Although the term ‘mobile home’ still refers to a home on wheels, many of these ‘mobile homes’ have grown in size and are sometimes bigger than a regular house. They often take up two or three standard spaces in a mobile home park. These home are delivered in sections to the site, set up and put in place. Although they continue to be called ‘mobile homes’ these larger homes are no longer mobile.

homeless-familyToday the term ‘mobile home’ has taken on a new meaning. For the last decade, as the divide between the rich and poor continues to grow and what used to be called the middle class shrinks in size, more and more casualties of class warfare have lost their jobs, been forced to sell their homes or lost them to foreclosure and have taken to living on the road. I don’t mean that they’re living in motor homes, 5th wheels or travel trailers, I’m sure they’d love to be doing that, no this particular group of homeless people have been forced to live out of the back of their trucks, vans, SUV’s, station wagons or sedans. Why? Well there is a shortage of affordable housing and job opportunities, jobs that are available are low paying, rents are through the roof, and homeless shelters are overcrowded and usually very dirty. They have no other option. These people, who are being called the ‘hidden homeless’, have lost everything, everything but their dignity and their vehicles.

And the homeless today are not the homeless we may remember from our younger days, adult males who often by choice wandered the rails, highways and byways and were often referred to as hobos or bums. No this is a whole new breed of homeless that we began seeing back in the 80’s when their numbers exploded due to government cuts in low-income housing and assistance programs for low-income families. And their numbers have been growing ever since.

getImageWho are the homeless? Today they are families with children, single mothers and their children, military veterans, unemployed blue collar and professional people the mentally ill, hell they could be your next door neighbors! And they’re all in real economic trouble. To make matters worse government spending on housing assistance programs for low-income individuals and families is less than 50% of what it was in the late 70’s before the cuts began and it doesn’t appear that it’s going to get better any time soon.

So now we have this group of “hidden homeless” living in their vehicles wherever they can. The new American vagabonds moving from place to place, just trying to make it. Tough times. Especially here in Los Angeles. L.A. had a law on the books since 1983 making it illegal to live in your car but the law wasn’t enforced until 2010 when the situation began to escalate.The law forbids anyone from using their vehicle “as living quarters either overnight, day-by-day, or otherwise.” A 21 officer task force was put on the streets to enforce the law.

However the law was so broad that officers all interpreted it differently so enforcement was selective; officers were singling out the homeless and citing or arresting people for simply having personal belongings in their vehicles even when they were parked in private parking structures or lots, making an already difficult situation even worse. Fortunately in June of this year the Ninth Circuit Court saw fit to overturn the law saying it was “potentially discriminatory and unconstitutional” and that the law criminalized innocent behavior. Chalk one up for the poor guys!

Can you imagine losing your home and being forced to live out of your car? I remember as a teen I lived out of my VW for a week at the river while everyone else tented. Believe me it got old quick! at least my seats reclined which made sleeping a bit easier. And I didn’t have to worry about being forced to move my vehicle nightly or where my next meal was coming from. Still, it sucked. I can’t imagine having to live out of my vehicle on a full time basis.

Currently there is no accurate figure as to how many ‘hidden homeless’ there are in California. What makes it difficult is that many of the hidden homeless are embarrassed and try to keep their situation secret. Best guess estimates put the number at about 10% of the homeless family population and growing. So what can be done to remedy the situation of these ‘hidden homeless’? Some larger cities are already addressing the problem and have created or are in the process of creating large, secure parking areas for the hidden homeless which will certainly help, but what about those who live in the many smaller cities that still have ordinances that prohibit over night parking. What do the hidden homeless do there?

Although the parking lots and open street parking are a temporary answer to aid a particular group of homeless, I think the real answer is to address the homeless problem in its entirety. Sacramento holds the key. Law makers need to get down to business make things happen. Do you realize that there are laws on the books that if enacted could bring quick relief for the homeless. There is a major shortage of long term, year round homeless shelters and facilities for the growing homeless population in our state. At the state level all that has to be done is to declare a statewide shelter crisis.  Law makers should band together and call upon the Governor to declare such an emergency. But the legislators are reluctant to act. Even at the city level the mayor or board of Supervisors can declare a shelter emergency but few communities have.

What the hell is going on?  The number of homeless women and children has increased, shelters across California are at capacity, Something needs to be done! Come on Sacramento get it together! Homelessness isn’t going to go away quietly into the night. The time has come to act. Get Brown to declare a shelter emergency and do it soon so that the problem can be addressed correctly. No more band aids! You go home to a warm, safe home every night, these people are crowded into shelters, sleep in their cold vehicles, or under a bridge somewhere.

Perhaps the time has come for Governor Brown to forgo his super-sized ego and scrap his dreams for his super bullet train! The Brown Express is unnecessary and should be scrapped immediately! The billions would be better spent on the California Homeless Crisis. Come on Brown, leaving behind a legacy like a bullet train is small potatoes when you can leave behind a legacy of care and helpfulness. I’m quite sure going out as a legendary leader would be more fulfilling than leaving us a useless speed train.

Just Saying…

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Memorial Day Is About Heroes

 

Today is Memorial Day. For many, the three day Memorial Day holiday weekend marks the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, let the camping, vacations, barbecues and beach trips begin! Now there’s nothing wrong with having some fun this weekend, but Memorial Day is much more than just another day off.  For the last 42 years the Memorial Day national holiday has been celebrated on the last Monday of May. With the creation of this much heralded three day weekend the true meaning of Memorial Day seems to have gotten lost in the hype.

For countless Americans Memorial Day is perhaps the most important holiday celebrated in the United States and at least one of the top three along with Independence Day, and Veterans Day. I suppose it could be argued that the 4th of July is more important to our nation’s heritage, but I personally don’t think so, certainly winning our independence and forming a new nation founded on the rights and freedoms of the people are huge, but not as tremendous as the responsibility for protecting our country from threats both national and international. Simply put Memorial Day is a time to honor the men and woman who gave their lives defending our rights, liberties and freedom, in service to our country.

We owe our lives to these patriots who sacrificed their lives for the greater good. We are the country we are today because of them and we should not forget them, particularly today. So this afternoon while your outside relaxing, barbecuing and sipping your beer wine or cold ice tea in the warm California sun, don’t forget to take a moment or two to remember our fallen heroes. Today is about them, everything else is secondary. They died so that we could be free, they died for everyone of us. Make this Memorial Day truly memorable by spending at least a part of it as it was intended, honoring our dead heroes and ensuring that their sacrifices are never forgotten.

Just a Thought,

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Throwback Thursday: What the F#*@! Profanity Police?

“Free speech is the whole thing, the whole ball game. Free speech is life itself.”
Salman Rushie
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire

News Update:  Massachusetts Town Swears Off Swearing

“A Sign of Things to Come?”

Okay, you tell me, is the new anti-swearing law passed in Middleborough, Massachusetts this week a good thing or is it the beginning of the end of our first amendment rights to free speech? I’m sure the good people of Middleborough have their heart in the right place and are simply trying to make their town a better place,  but is fining people for public profanity really the answer? Sometimes a well intended policy that begins innocently enough, winds up opening the door for unintended change, the proverbial ‘Pandora’s Box’ Once opened all hell breaks lose.

It seems the good folks of Middleborough thought there was too much profanity on their city streets and decided to do something about it. They held a town hall meeting and voted in a new ordinance on public profanity that imposes a $20 fine for each infraction. It sounds like an expanded version of a family ‘swear jar’ where each time a family member curses money must be placed in the jar, only now it’s the law! Can you imagine walking down the street and entering a “No swearing Zone!”

So now the problems begin. First off, who gets to define profanity in Middleborough municipal code? Who gets to decide. Will it be the mayor and his city council or will the  chief of police get the job? Perhaps they’ll decide to form a special committee to handle it. They could be called ‘P.O.P.’ People Opposed to Profanity or how about “the Profanity Patrol or “Profanity Police?” Yeah, they could meet each Tuesday night and work on ‘The List’ of offensive words. For sure at least five of  George Carlin’s famous  “seven words you can’t say on TV” will make the list, “sh*t, c**t, f**k, mother-f***er and  c***sucker. Yeah they’ll be on the list but what other words will make the cut?  Will “damn” or “hell” be on the list, what about “ass”or ‘dickhead’? Oh I could go on and on.   It’s not as cut and dry as it first appears and definitely won’t be an easy task, because what one person deems profanity another may not. 

Profanity is a broad term. It’s not only swearing or cussing, but can also include gestures like “the finger” and other behaviors that are found to be insulting, rude, obscene or vulgar. Before long “the list” is a mile long!  Can you see how this simple move to ban swearing  on a small towns streets can spiral out of control and easily become a censorship issue? What would the Founding Fathers say? Would Jefferson be offended?

Now you may not think anything of this, but I have to tell you, it’s something to keep an eye on. Although the creators of this ordinance insist that the only reason they created the ordinance was because this so-called street profanity was affecting local businesses and their intent is not to censor private conversations or infringe on anyone’s rights, but intended only for loud verbal assaults  or unacceptable behavior on sidewalks in front of businesses. Again who will decide what is unacceptable or too loud? Already there are people across the nation monitoring how this new ordinance will play out. If it goes well for Middleborough perhaps other cities will follow suit and we’ll all be biting our tongues more often when on the streets.

I’m not sure about this one folks, it tip-toes the line on censorship and our right to free speech. I agree swearing has gotten out of hand and certain words have found there way to acceptability in normal conversation. I work at a high school, the place where every third word is the f-word, so believe me I know. Still this ordinance has me a bit worried, perhaps unnecessarily, but I cant help thinking about George Orwell’s 1984 and ‘Big Brother’ watching. I’m also reminded of Stephen King’s short story “The Library Police” in which those who have overdue books and fines are sought out by the Library Police.  Yeah a little far fetched I know, but hey, before this week the “Profanity Patrol was pretty far-fetched too!

Just Saying…

 

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