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Microcosms of Mayhem & Humanity: Destroying Black & Brown Lives for High-Rises in the Nation’s Capital

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/10/2021 - 7:26am in

ADAMS MORGAN PLAZA, WASHINGTON — “Where that McDonald’s is right now,” he says pointing across the street. “That used to be a news stand where I’d buy comics as a kid.” Dumah Muhammad stands in Adams Morgan Plaza in Washington, D.C., a light drizzle misting a small crowd of supporters and press. A few people wrangle a tarp over the PA system and there’s a tent where folks can grab snacks, pamphlets, water and shelter. Five Metropolitan Police cars are parked alongside the plaza and just behind the plaza there’s a staging area stacked with fencing and mingling cops.

Despite literally being surrounded, the energy in the plaza is that familiar direct-action blend of defiance and celebration. Between speeches, music pumps out of the PA and folks dance alongside anti-gentrification artwork and handmade signs. A luxury condo looms up the street like a sterile square omen. There’ll be a similar behemoth where we’re all standing (and dancing) if Truist Bank gets its way: a seven-story luxury condo right here in the middle of what’s locally known as AdMo Plaza, a space won through grassroots organizing now hoping to be saved by the same.

Truist Bank is a banking conglomerate made up of several banks including BB&T and SunTrust, themselves products of bloated mergers and acquisitions that go back to the Savings and Loan debacle. Before it was devoured by this insatiable stream of mergers, Perpetual Federal Bank owned the lot that is now the plaza, having bought it in 1976 after the community won a fight to keep the empty lot from becoming a BP gas station. What followed marked an incredible shift in banking policy. As the AdMo Plaza site tells it:

Perpetual Federal agreed in the chartering of the Adams Morgan branch by the Home Loan Bank Board to redress its history of redlining and discriminatory lending, to provide specific changes to its banking practices, and to create a sizable community space for public use, covered in a ‘good neighbor’ agreement between the Adams Morgan Organization and the bank.

 

Truist’s lawyers and hardhats keep trying

Truist has no interest in upholding its small predecessor’s agreement, which might not be surprising when you consider the fact that in just the last 10 years they’ve “paid $1,300,000,000 to settle three Federal cases for fraud, abuse, and racist discriminatory banking practices against Black and Latino customers.” Now Truist claims there’s nothing legally binding in the deed to keep the plaza as is. Plaza protectors counter by pointing out that public-use spaces are rarely deeded as such. Vikram Surya Chiruvolu, co-facilitator with Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development, points to Columbia Rd. NW, one of the plaza’s cross-streets, as an example. “It was once the boundary line of a number of plantation properties, and the road was created through public use to access those properties,” he explains. “It was never deeded specifically to the city nor recorded on the deeds of those properties.”

The battle between Truist and community members has slogged on now for five years, and Chiruvolu gives me the Cliff Notes of this judicial morass, saying that the goal now is to keep Truist from taking over the plaza while legal proceedings are ongoing. Despite the ongoing litigation, Truist has already tried twice to fence off the plaza, on September 22 and 24. On the 22nd, they were shut down by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) for not having the appropriate permit. On the 24th, they returned with the same permit and attempted to block off the plaza again, this time with heavy machinery. “They had four semis filled with concrete barriers blocking the road and idling – spewing exhaust all over the place,” Chiruvolu explains. Once again, however, they were shut down, but not before they had a chance to assault a few people — including Chiruvolu, who stood in front of one of the semis with his service dog Reggie. Plaza protectors are in a holding pattern now as Truist gets to work on securing the correct permits. In the meantime, plaza protectors continue to get the word out and advocate for those living in the plaza.


A plaza protector holds a sign in defense of the anti-racist legacy of AdMo (Adams Morgan) at the rally on September 22nd, 2021. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

 

DC: a national champ in gentrification

The fight for AdMo plaza and those who live there is a connective thread in the history of grassroots organizing in what was once known as Chocolate City, where Black and Brown organizers resolutely asserted that Black lives are worth more than white property long before there were hashtags. And it’s this history of anti-racist and anti-gentrification organizing that’s at risk of being bulldozed along with the public spaces still enjoyed by residents today – residents who are increasingly white and well off.

“You can’t have a community with one type of people,” Muhammad says. The loss of community history represents a loss of present community and an imminent threat to the future. The deep roots of place that support a diverse and strong community are severed. In their place an arid topsoil blisters, supporting only the flimsy and splintered monocultures of gentrification.


Graphics by DC artist Divorce Culture pasted around AdMo plaza: Developers Burn in Hell, Gentrification Zone. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

As defined by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), gentrification is “a policy-driven process that begins with targeting low-income, urban communities for discrimination and neglect and ends with ‘improvements’ that exacerbate vulnerabilities that culminate in displacement.” In other words, white property over Black and Brown lives. For more than a decade, D.C. led the nation in gentrification, and is one of seven cities that together account for nearly half of all gentrification in the nation. According to a 2019 study by the NCRC, D.C. “was the most gentrified city by percentage of eligible neighborhoods that experienced gentrification” between 2000 and 2013, displacing an estimated 20,000 Black residents in that time period.

 

Diversity, lol

Unlike the tactics of old — like redlining and racial restrictive covenants (stipulations on deeds that, for instance, barred the sale or rental of property to “non-whites and people of Jewish descent”) — gentrification is more subtle. For instance, in Adams Morgan, you’ll see banners around the neighborhood that brag about diversity; the AdMo Business Improvement District (BID) touts AdMo as being the most “vibrant and eclectic” neighborhood in D.C. while unironically posting a picture of all-white members on their “History of the BID” page. It would seem that the History of the BID doesn’t include the history of Chocolate City.

The AdMo BID is one of 11 BIDs across the city, private-public partnerships that amount to joint ventures between business and property owners to do a wide variety of things – from power washing sidewalks to light installations and, of course, oiling the gentrification slip-n-slide. As Shannon Clark, co-founder of the unhoused support and advocacy group Remora House, put it: “It’s basically private governance over space where public money is funneled.”

In Northeast D.C., the NoMa (North of Massachusetts Ave.) BID has adopted a similar spin, reusing the word “vibrant” and throwing in descriptors like “hip” and “smart center of the nation’s capital.” It’s unclear whether they mean people who live there are supposedly more intelligent, or it’s a tech reference, or I’m just not hip or smart enough to get it. I know I’m certainly not “hip” enough to get behind the recent eviction of unhoused encampments at the foot of entire city blocks’ worth of new luxury real estate developments. But that’s probably because I don’t find racist capitalism hip either.


View from the M & 2nd St. NE underpass: more than a city block of new luxury real estate development. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

If you peruse the list of “What’s Next” on the NoMa BID site, they outline pretty clearly what all that new construction is for: swanky hotels, hundreds of new apartments, dozens of new condos, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of office and retail space — listed as Class A, a marker for the highest-quality, newly constructed, top-of-the-line spaces, which, as noted by commercial real estate experts SquareFoot, “command top rental rates” and attract “large financial institutions, ad agencies, law firms, and tech giants.” In other words, it sure as shit isn’t for the poor. In fact, it’s so off limits to the poor that they can not even be allowed to gaze upon it. Instead, they must be moved.

 

Clearing the brush

On October 4, city officials callously and violently removed unhoused people and their belongings from two underpasses in the NoMa area: L & 2nd St NE and M & 2nd St. NE. The official story was that it was a matter of public health and safety. This seems like an odd pitch when the CDC’s guidelines on encampments state:

[A]llow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread. 

According to D.C.’s Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services (DMHHS), their reasons for health and safety clean-ups are about garbage piling up, extreme weather in which unhoused would be at risk of injury or death, lack of running water, etc. These are indeed health and safety risks — the health and safety risks that go along with being unhoused. They can only really be solved by removing the unhoused element from the equation. Still, DMHHS’s own documentation explains that they will often do trash pickups from various encampments around the city and that after a full clean up, unhoused folks can and often do return to that same area, thus addressing health and safety concerns while simultaneously mitigating the risks highlighted in the CDC’s most recent guidelines. But see, the idea of returning to the same space doesn’t work within the paradigm of gentrification. So these most recent evictions in NoMa are part of a new cruelty — a new Pilot program that seeks to make more areas of D.C. permanent tent-free zones; in other words, to further criminalize poverty.

And while the goal of essentially outlawing homelessness can never be humane, it doesn’t even make logical sense unless you’re also eradicating the conditions that result in homelessness. If not, you’re just outlawing the effect without outlawing the cause, criminalizing poverty in a system that demands poverty as a foundation from which to extract, and on which to build, wealth.


A DC city worker operating a front-end loader crushes a person’s tent and belongings as another city worker pushes sweeps belongings to the side at the M & 2nd St. NE underpass. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

 

View from the front

By the time I get to NoMa around 9:30 a.m., caution tape has already been bandaged around each underpass. Advocates and volunteers hold space, helping folks move their belongings and speaking out against the city for its inhumane treatment of the predominantly Black unhoused residents.

Maurice Cook, part of D.C. Ward 6 Mutual Aid and the Executive Director / Lead Organizer of Serve Your City DC, holds a megaphone and points it at city workers waiting for the signal to move in. “It’s easy to put a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign in your yard,” he says. “But what good is it if you’re not willing to stand up for Black folks?” He addresses the Black city workers assembled on the other side of the street: “You could slip into this situation at any time. This country does not love us. It hates us.” He motions to the long block of new luxury buildings and then looks back to both the city workers and the unhoused residents: “Look at all the work going into making sure we get nothing.”

In the simmering chaos, a man cries as workers in white coveralls walk around him to sweep up crushed belongings — poor people paid to destroy the lives of other poor people. Another man ducks under the caution tape in order to pick up his dog, placing it in a bike basket. A woman picks through a pile, as if she’s looking for something lost. A man hurries through his tent as the lights from a front-end loader blaze across his face. Community members step in to ask the heavy-machinery operator to start somewhere else. And in case you’re wondering, a front-end loader is basically like a bulldozer but with wheels rather than tracks like a tank. It’s mainly used to pick things up, and in this case deposit them in a waiting garbage truck.

That being said, it’s very capable of doing the damage of a bulldozer — be it to tents or indeed to people. A man was transported to a hospital after a front-end loader rammed into his tent while he was still inside. In the ensuing madness, city officials including MPD and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Christopher Geldart tried to block advocates from reaching the man to see if he was ok. One advocate suffered multiple bruises from being grabbed and manhandled as she tried to squeeze through and check on the man, who was clearly in shock as well as being physically injured.

 

A big man, a little cosplay

Geldart in particular piqued my curiosity, as his bulky frame strode through the underpass wearing a shirt that identified him as part of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA). When I reached out to HSEMA to ask why Homeland Security needed to be involved in an encampment eviction, the HSEMA Office of Public Affairs told me that “no employees or representatives from D.C. HSEMA were present or otherwise involved” in the eviction. When I sent in a picture of Geldart, they replied: “That is not an HSEMA employee. The photo is Christopher Geldart. He is DC’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice. He has access to our apparel and wears it sometimes.”

Wait, what?! He has access to our apparel and wears it sometimes?! Who else has these closeted privileges? Can anyone just show up to official proceedings, start throwing their weight around while playing a shady game of dress up? I followed up, asking whether it was common practice to let people who aren’t affiliated with the agency wear agency clothing while on duty in other capacities, but received no reply. It’s worth noting as well that Geldart did at one point work for HSEMA but resigned in 2017 “following a report from the Office of the Inspector General that substantiated two ethics allegations.”

 

Bowser’s performative wokeness

He was appointed Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice this past January and pretty quickly embraced the irony of his title, dodging a question about racial justice (or lack thereof) in the district. This isn’t really that unusual for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office though. In 2016, Bowser appointed Peter Newsham as Chief of Police – a man with a history of racism and brutal crackdowns against protestors, who in 2019 penned a letter claiming “Stop and Frisk is essential.” But hey, Bowser also had ‘Black Lives Matter’ painted onto 16th St. NW outside the White House so she gets full points for performative wokeness.


Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Christopher Geldart wearing HSEMA
clothing while walking through the taped off underpass at M & 2nd St. NE. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

Also in the arena of performative wokeness is Bowser’s approach to ending homelessness. Back in 2015, Bowser announced “a plan to make homelessness, rare, brief and non-recurring by 2020.” Spoiler alert: it’s not rare, it’s not brief, and it is recurring. On October 1 of this year, her office released a statement outlining plans and monies for affordable housing and to once again “make homelessness, rare, brief and non-recurring” — but this time without a deadline. Just kicking the can down the street of luxury real estate developments. Interestingly enough, her office omitted any mention of violent encampment evictions as part of their strategy. There’s also no mention of how to actually facilitate outreach to unhoused folks, an issue that has already seen dozens of people fall through the gaping chasms in city policy.

 

Perpetual insecurity

I strike up a conversation with a man named Rick who tells me he used to live at the L & 2nd St. NE underpass in NoMa some eight years ago. Now his brother lives here. He would like to have his brother come stay with him but the affordable housing guidelines don’t allow it. So, he’s down there just to help his brother move and try to save some of his things.

Jeffrey Tsoi, from the Georgetown chapter of National Lawyers Guild, walks through the encampment with a colleague, talking to residents and taking pictures of their belongings. “The city is moving people out without a guarantee of housing,” he explains. “If property is thrown out, we’ll make a claim.” Some folks will head to another encampment and may have to redo this whole traumatic mess in a matter of weeks or months. One woman says she’s heard people talking about the city getting hotel rooms to house people temporarily but Rick shakes his head. “The city keeps saying that everyone’s taken care of but it’s not true,” he explains. “Sixty-six people need housing,” he says, moving his arm towards the underpass behind him and then down the block. “Only twelve people have gotten an apartment. And that’s temporary housing — it’s not even for good.” Shannon Clark echoes Rick’s sentiment. “There’s a perpetual feeling of insecurity,” she says. Of those who do get housing, they “know they might not have that voucher funded or renewed.” Amidst the confusion, one thing is clear: the city has done a terrible job on outreach and ensuring that those who need permanent housing have access to it.

Clark says that DMHHS’s approach has been one that betrays a foundational misunderstanding of the lived experience of being unhoused. Remora House does distribution to several encampments and Clark explains that “when we go out to them, we’re maybe seeing 20% of the people who live there. So if we know one person who isn’t on the list, there’s gotta be more.”

The list she’s referring to is the By-Name List (BNL), which is the city’s list of people currently in encampments who need housing. She says that if the city really wanted to compile a legitimate list like this, it would take a long time — not just a couple of weeks of people going out for a short walk-through of an encampment. People don’t just wait around for a city employee to come around and count them, and even if they did, that wait would be punctuated by disappointment. “DMHHS says they’re doing this work but they’re outsourcing it to NGOs and just posting up signs saying that people must have housing in two weeks,” Clark says. When she and other advocates confronted DMHHS in a recent digital meeting about the people who were falling through the cracks, the response was defensive, deflective and at times bizarre — with comments like this one from Deputy Mayor Wayne Turnage: “I don’t work for you, I’m a public servant.”

“They said ‘we will continue to do outreach in that area,’ but they’re not gonna be in that area anymore, you’re evicting them,” Clark says, sighing. “Then they said, ‘well, we do outreach all over the city.’ But that’s not how that works. People scatter and even advocates can’t find them again,” she says. This scattering of course represents another health and safety issue — the fact that the Pilot program aims to permanently clear several central D.C. encampments means that people will be farther away from help and services. It also poses a risk for those who end up in dangerous situations away from a place and people they’d gotten to know, a point to which I can personally relate, as someone who was unhoused in LA and skirted more than a few dangerous situations by having folks around me give me a lay of the land, and a rundown of everything from when cops roll by to which areas and people to avoid.

But very hypothetically, let’s say that DMHHS managed to properly count all the people who have now been scattered after the October 4 eviction, what’s the city-wide outreach plan look like now that the so-called eviction moratorium is ending? Back in July, D.C. Council voted to end the moratorium in stages — with Stage 2 hitting on October 12, when landlords can file for eviction for non-payment of rent. Considering the fact that D.C. has the third highest rental costs in the country — and that, already in October of last year, some 34,000 tenants were behind on rent — the outlook is grim.

 

Not rare, not brief, and very much recurring

Tenants who are behind on rent can apply to a program called Stay DC to cover what they owe but, as reported by one applicant, the application process is long and difficult, and the wait even more so. “My approval took 69 days, a very long time to wait for money intended to help neighbors who need emergency cash to keep roofs over their heads next month,” the author Gordon Chaffin writes. These hurdles come on top of pre-existing information gaps and barriers that I mentioned in a previous article on housing accessibility. In short, homelessness is about to be a lot less rare, brief and non-recurring. Even before the pandemic, homelessness was on the rise and unsheltered homelessness had risen particularly sharply — some 30% over the last five years.


A DC city worker moves belongings past the caution tape as a weathered sign next to him reads “For every choice there is a consequence. Choose wisely.” Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

These numbers might make it seem that eradicating homelessness is nearly impossible. It’s not a way to do it that’s lacking, however; it’s a will. Chiruvolu has been helping folks living in AdMo Plaza navigate bureaucratic abysses and get things like ID’s that will allow them to access housing and services, something at which the city has completely failed. “[D.C. Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne] Nadeau claims she’s been working very hard for the plaza folks,” he says. “But she basically just shifted case management to [local NGO] Miriam’s Kitchen. After six months of ‘work,’ she couldn’t seem to get the people in the plaza an ID,” he explains, shaking his head.

On October 5, a two-week stay at a local Motel 6 was up for residents of the plaza, and I met a few as they came back, more frustrated than ever. Incidentally, it wasn’t even the city that paid for their stay. Truist Bank paid Miriam’s Kitchen to house the plaza residents, clearly hoping that the plaza would be fenced off and ‘secured’ by the time the stay was up. As it stands, the plaza still stands, but it’s small consolation for those who aren’t sure where and how they’ll be living in the coming days and weeks.

 

“This is what they offer me”

“I’m caught between,” Larry Richardson says. A Vietnam veteran, Richardson grew up in Adams Morgan and Southeast D.C. and has lived in AdMo Plaza for two and a half years. “I want an apartment. I don’t wanna live like this. I’m 74 years old.” Chiruvolu and other advocates are currently working to untangle an identity mess that Richardson finds himself in with the VA, who has confused him with a deceased Larry Richardson and therefore claims he isn’t eligible for benefits.

“The things that I’ve been through for this country,” he says, bowing his head. “And this is what they offer me. And I’ve tried to pick myself up — it’s hard. The government makes it hard. The city hasn’t helped at all,” he explains. “I tried staying in a shelter but I couldn’t deal with it — the bugs, the whole thing. Inhumane. And I’m human, I can only take so much. I got feelings, just like everyone else.” His story isn’t uncommon. Many people avoid shelters for any number of reasons — from unsanitary conditions, to accessibility, to violence, to being split up from partners.

Meanwhile, I call Muhsin Boe Luther Umar, Resident Council President at Garfield Terrace and D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B03 Member, to ask if he has any suggestions on how to get Richardson housed. Garfield Terrace is a senior living building in D.C.’s Ward 1. Umar sighs and says, “We’ve got 220 units at GT, and only 120 apartments filled. I’d love to get him here but the only way I know to do it is their way.” Much like Rick, who can’t have his brother come stay with him, housing advocates and even ANC members can’t fill empty apartments with people who need them.

 

“A political and economic racket”

Chiruvolu says he’s run into similar hurdles with regards to saving the plaza. “There have been five ANC resolutions against re-privatizing the plaza — including one that suggests turning the building into a public library while keeping the plaza as is,” he explains. “ANC resolutions aren’t law but they’re supposed to hold a lot of weight before the mayor. Clearly, that’s not the case here. It’s a political and economic racket.”

Instead of addressing these completely illogical and corrupt webs of gentrified inhumanity, politicians and city employees put their full attention and literal weight behind tangling them further. They partner with big businesses and real estate developers rather than community members and organizers. They lean into gentrification rather than revitalization, evicting people rather than making sure they can stay in their homes or find a home. Meanwhile, the big banks and business development organizations hide behind vibrant and eclectic PR campaigns as they whitewash history, gut communities, and exile the diversity they so boldly claim to uphold.


Vietnam vet and Plaza resident Larry Richardson. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

“People used to care,” Richardson says, looking down and shaking his head. “People used to say ‘good morning.’ There used to be unity, forgiveness and heart.” Richardson and I sit in AdMo Plaza in a couple of chairs overlooking the old redline crossroads of 18th St. NW & Columbia Rd. NW. “I’m living in a time period I don’t recognize. We’re all living on this earth, we should work together,” he says. “I grew up in a good family where we helped each other. This is not my way. The way I came into this world — that’s how I wanna go out.”

 

One street corner and sea to shining sea

This is a D.C. story — but it is also a microcosm of mayhem. It may seem small to focus energy or even a whole article on a single plaza, a couple of underpasses — but these are the literal frames of our daily lives, the spaces in which we exist, the ground where we may sink or thrive. What radical histories are being bulldozed in your town, your city? How many of your neighbors are caught in the jaws of gentrification, literally and figuratively shoved aside in the quest for more profit, more property? What spaces are being overtaken by this creeping death?

It’s a stark and gloomy consideration, but alongside these microcosms of mayhem are the microcosms of humanity: the people who refuse to accept that white property matters more than Black and Brown lives, the people who refuse to accept hundreds of empty homes when hundreds are unhoused. The battle against gentrification is just as national as it is local. The battle waged on one street corner echoes across redlined borders from coast to coast. These are our local frontlines and in naming them, in uplifting them and the communities and history they hold, we build not only resistance but active solidarity. We uncover buried and bulldozed histories — we sow seeds of community in that arid topsoil.

“You gotta believe in something,” Richardson says as the sun dips down behind the plaza. “I choose to believe in goodness. I refuse to surrender. I can’t give up.”


Co-facilitator with Adams Morgan for Reasonable Development Vikram Surya Chiruvolu sits in AdMo plaza with filmmaker and activist Kristin Adair and plaza dog Reggie. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

For more on the fight to save AdMo Plaza and advocate for the folks living there, visit Admoplaza.com  

For more on Shannon Clark’s advocacy work via Remora House, visit linktr.ee/remorahousedc

Eleanor Goldfield is a creative radical, journalist, and filmmaker. Her work focuses on radical and censored issues via photo, video, and written journalism, as well as artistic mediums including music, poetry, and visual art. She is the host of the podcast, Act Out, co-host of the podcast Common Censored along with Lee Camp, and co-host of the podcast Silver Threads along with Carla Bergman. Her award-winning documentary film, “Hard Road Of Hope” is about West Virginia as both resource colony and radical inspiration. She also assists in frontline action organizing and training. See more of Eleanor’s work @ ArtKillingApathy.com | HardRoadofHope.com

The post Microcosms of Mayhem & Humanity: Destroying Black & Brown Lives for High-Rises in the Nation’s Capital appeared first on MintPress News.

Aboriginal people hit hard by homelessness crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/09/2021 - 11:07am in

Recent weeks have seen a series of homeless people die on the streets of Perth. Last year there were at least 56 deaths.

Research by the University of Western Australia (UWA) released in August found that of the people who died homeless in 2020, 28 per cent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Indigenous people make up just 3.1 per cent of the state’s population.

The head of UWA’s Home 2 Health research team, Dr Lisa Wood, said the WA State Government needed to start providing accurate data on homeless deaths to the public.

“It’s a terrible stat but it’s not surprising, because we know that homelessness is hugely overrepresented among Aboriginal people … I think the issue of homeless death is hidden around the country, there just isn’t the data.” 

As there is no consistent data being collected or recorded on the deaths of people experiencing homelessness across Australia, this already vulnerable group is rendered largely “invisible” to governments. That means the numbers of deaths on the streets could be even higher than that reported.

Overheated

WA’s overheated housing market is adding to the problem. In the first two months since the end of a rental moratorium in March, landlords lodged hundreds of termination notices in court and 200 people found themselves without a home.

The state government has promised more than $80 million towards community bed-based solutions and is in the process of building two “common ground” facilities and a lodge with room for 100 people.

Advocates for the homeless, however, say that it doesn’t go far enough and more investment in public housing is needed.

There are currently 17,000 families waiting for a social home, 3220 of whom are considered priority housing. At the end of the moratorium only 235 units were under construction and 50 others under contract to be built across the state.

WA Communities Minister Simone McGurk conceded as much, saying: “Even if we doubled or tripled the amount of funding that was available, we cannot get those properties built in the short term.”

This is despite WA being on track to post a record surplus, fuelled by a surge in the iron ore price, when the budget is handed down in September.

The former coordinator of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, Gerry Georgatos, has said that WA in particular could solve homelessness if the political will was there, noting that building a home for every homeless person in Australia would cost significantly less than the Federal Government’s submarine program.

Fed up

Homeless people are fed up with the lack of progress. On 13 August angry protesters blocked traffic in Perth following the death of another homeless woman on the city’s streets.

About a dozen people gathered outside Perth train station, where a 34-year-old woman was found dead overnight. The 34-year-old woman had been found unconscious near the station and could not be revived.

Advocates say the woman was an Aboriginal person and homeless.

Protesters vented their anger at police but were eventually moved off Wellington Street, where traffic had been brought to a standstill.

The protest follows a vigil held outside state parliament earlier this month for a Noongar mother of six who died on the streets in June.

Rough sleepers and their supporters have also camped outside parliament and placed 56 black crosses in front of the Premier’s Office in protest at the government’s inaction to prevent deaths on Perth’s streets.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said he wasn’t aware of the vigil or the homeless camp but he said tent cities, like the one which sprung up in Fremantle last year, created “lawlessness and trouble”.

“Obviously now that I’m aware that it’s there I’ll talk to the police about it,” he told reporters.

McGowan’s cynical dismissal of the problem is an insult to all those caught up in the homelessness crisis. The answer is simple: build more houses now.

By Jake Connolly

The post Aboriginal people hit hard by homelessness crisis appeared first on Solidarity Online.

There’s Never Been A Better Time To Crush Capitalism: Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/08/2021 - 9:21am in

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/01d108443075e746d4a21b469b374ff1/href

The US is on the brink of a massive eviction crisis and the ecosystem is dying and the world order is maintained by endless violence and we’re being rapidly transformed into a brainwashed slave class, but it was a small price to pay for some billionaires to pretend to be astronauts for a bit.

There’s nothing more enraging than a system which treats the homeless like the problem rather than homelessness.

There would be a lot more opposition to the emerging use of police robots if they called them “robotic cops” instead of “robotic dogs”.

Every ruler since the dawn of history has been acutely aware that there are a lot more of us than there are of them, and that even their own forces could turn against them at any time. That’s what makes robot technologies so appealing to the oligarchic rulers of our age.

Millions of highly traumatized men came home from the World Wars and started families and poured all their trauma into the minds of their children. That trauma has been passed down through subsequent generations. That’s the real lasting legacy of those wars, not the stuff in the movies.

The only way to believe lesser-evil strategizing works is to believe the “two” evils in question are actually two separate and distinct power structures operating in opposition to one another.

It’s cool how US progressives are learning that the Democratic Party is a narrative management op designed to continually derail the possibility of economic justice in America, and it’s sad that this lesson will be completely forgotten in the next partisan politics news cycle.

We were always headed toward more and more inequality, impoverishment and authoritarianism, whether you want to call the next step in that direction “the Great Reset” or some other name. We will necessarily continue along that trajectory until we replace our dominant systems.

There has never been a better time to crush capitalism.

The theory: The individual is prime, everyone gets total financial freedom, and the government is kept from becoming a tyrannical dictatorship.

The practice: Billionaires become tyrannical dictators who turn people into uniform consumers and machine cogs with no financial freedom.

“I am an individual!” yelled the faceless indoctrinated cog in the corporate machine while churning out products for other faceless indoctrinated cogs to help them escape the feeling of futility brought on by the meaninglessness of their predicament.

Societies which purport to prioritize the rights of the individual do so only up until the point where individuals start talking about maybe not not wanting to be ruled by billionaires and secretive government agencies anymore, then suddenly the rights of those individuals get a lot less important.

I might actually end up moving away from using words like “capitalism” and “socialism”, because they have completely different meanings to people from different ideologies. Leftists understand what I mean by those words, but those to the right of me consistently misunderstand what I’m saying because of the way those words are used in their ideological circles. I could just use other words to describe the same stuff I’ve been talking about.

I run into people who think socialism is when the government does something authoritarian, or when the government does anything at all. I’ve been told that capitalism is when people do what they want to do (someone once literally told me hugs are capitalism), and that capitalism is anything that’s good. You can’t get around communication barriers that thick if you want to convey ideas to large numbers of people, and there’s not necessarily any reason to try to do it that way when I can instead just talk about economic injustice, how everyone should have enough, how systems where mass-scale human behavior is driven by profit-chasing will always lead to imperialism and ecocide, and how greatly people’s lives would be improved if there was democratic control in areas like the workplace.

I might stop using -ist and -ism words altogether, or use them sparingly, and just talk about the actual concepts without having to rely on any label which tries to capture them all. I already kind of do this, but I can do a much better job of it. I’ve never had a stimulating conversation with anyone who uses a lot of -ists and -isms anyway; mostly they just use it as a crutch to hide the fact that they don’t understand the individual components of the concepts being discussed.

If you mentally mute the ideological worldviews, partisan bickering and sectarian spats and just look at humanity as a whole, what you see is a species on a trajectory toward its own extinction. We are collectively deciding right now whether we continue on that trajectory or not.

Because change is inevitable and life is inseparable from its ecosystemic context, every species eventually hits a juncture where it has to either adapt to changing conditions or perish. Our juncture just came along faster than most. We either adapt or go extinct.

Because our adapt-or-die juncture came about as the result of our unwholesome relationship with our newly evolved capacity for abstract thought, our adaptation will necessarily need to take the form of moving from an unwholesome relationship with thought to a wholesome one.

The good news is that we already know such a move is possible. The bad news is that up until now it’s been fairly rare. A movement from a dysfunctional relationship with thought to a healthy one is what the phenomenon commonly referred to as spiritual enlightenment is. What’s changed is that we are now being squeezed toward adaptation by the same kinds of pressures that other species have come under which caused them to attain flight, camouflage, prehensile tails, etc.

And we just might make it.

Just throw sand in the gears of the machine and try to wake people up in whatever way you can. No one person can win this, but we can each shine a bit more light on things for others and make life a bit harder for the bastards. You can’t do everything, but you can do your bit.

____________________________

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Entrevista a Xuân Rayne: Vietnamita, anarquista, trabajadora sexual

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/07/2021 - 7:56am in

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Entrevistamos a Xuân Rayne, una anarquista vietnamita y trabajadora sexual no binaria afincada en Estados Unidos, para que nos explique la intersección de sus identidades, los caminos de la solidaridad internacional entre los trabajadores del sexo y cómo los trabajadores en general pueden estar con los trabajadores del sexo.
Xuân utiliza cualquier/todos los pronombres.
A translation of our interview with Xuân Rayne into Spanish. Translated by Grupo Anarquista Aurora.

Es necesario comprender que el Estado es la fuente clave de la explotación. No puede ser la solución a la misma.

Xuân Rayne

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Phỏng vấn Xuân Rayne: người lao động tình dục vô trị người Việt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/07/2021 - 4:46am in

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Nhân ngày Quốc tế Người Lao động Tình dục 2/6, Mèo Mun đã phỏng vấn Xuân Rayne — một người vô trị và lao động tình dục phi nhị nguyên giới (non-binary) gốc Việt hiện đang sống tại Mỹ. Qua bài phỏng vấn này, chúng mình muốn tìm hiểu góc nhìn của Xuân về sự giao thoa của những danh tính này, về con đường cho tình đoàn kết giữa những người lao động tình dục trên toàn thế giới, và cách người lao động trong các ngành nghề khác có thể đấu tranh cùng người lao động tình dục. Xuân dùng mọi đại từ nhân xưng (anh ấy/cô ấy/bạn ấy). (English original).

Mọi người cần nhận thức được rằng: chính phủ là nguồn gốc của sự bóc lột chứ không thể trở thành giải pháp cho sự bóc lột.

Xuân Rayne

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Book Review: How Ten Global Cities Take On Homelessness: Innovations That Work by Linda Gibbs, Jay Bainbridge, Muzzy Rosenblatt and Tamiru Mammo

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 05/07/2021 - 8:12pm in

In How Ten Global Cities Take On Homelessness: Innovations That WorkLinda Gibbs, Jay Bainbridge, Muzzy Rosenblatt and Tamiru Mammo explore some of the key challenges faced by urban spaces in tackling homelessness and outline the successes of ten global cities when it comes to addressing its causes and consequences. This book is a valuable resource that not only identifies the multiple governance and practical issues involved in solving homelessness, but also provides specific examples and evidence from many different settings about what can be done to overcome it, writes Gerald Koessl

How Ten Global Cities Take On Homelessness: Innovations That Work. Linda Gibbs, Jay Bainbridge, Muzzy Rosenblatt and Tamiru Mammo. University of California Press. 2021.

Book cover of How Ten Global Cities Take on Homelessness‘Homelessness as an issue is itself homeless.’ This statement in Linda Gibbs et al’s exploration of How Ten Global Cities Take on Homelessness neatly sums up some of the key challenges addressed in the book, which are the many levels of governance between which homelessness sits. Policies which aim to tackle homelessness range from eviction prevention and landlord mediation to the provision of homeless shelters and mental health support. In addition, the definitions and causes of homelessness are extremely diverse.

The main concern of Gibbs et al’s book is street homelessness: that is, people who have nowhere else to live and sleep than the street. Whilst this is one of the key challenges many cities face today, the book makes clear that street homelessness is just the tip of the iceberg in the wider context of the housing crisis, including inequalities in neighbourhoods and discrimination against ethnic minority populations.

Homelessness services have gone a long way by shifting from hot meals and a bed only (‘Three hots and a cot’) to providing integrated services, which aim to address the underlying causes of homelessness. Crucially, it is not only homelessness services that have changed but also the nature of homelessness and the people affected by it. More recently, for example, homelessness is increasingly affecting ‘the working poor’: people in low-paid work or underemployment. In previous years homelessness has been on the rise across the globe, with a few notable exceptions. The issue has become particularly pressing in urban areas, including some of the major (global) cities discussed in this book. The book, however, takes a solution-oriented approach and effectively illustrates the challenges and, in particular, the successes of ten global cities in their fight against homelessness. These ten global cities are Bogotá, Colombia; Mexico City, Mexico; the US cities of Los Angeles, Houston, Nashville, New York City and Baltimore; Edmonton, Canada; Paris, France; and Athens, Greece.

Image Credit: Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Apart from the availability of affordable and suitable accommodation, a key concern in the fight against homelessness has been the question of how to get people off the street, in particular the chronically homeless. With many homeless persons having experienced mental health issues, trauma or other psychological issues, a move away from the street is often experienced as a ‘disruption’ rather than as a solution.

Continuous outreach work, relationship-building and the development of trust are therefore key in overcoming such obstacles. As the authors put it: ‘Outreach workers’ job is not to clear the streets of homeless people. Their job is to help homeless people leave the streets.’ One successful example of how chronic homelessness can be overcome are Safe Havens, found in cities like New York and Los Angeles. Safe Havens provide low threshold, (semi-) private rooms with additional services and less conditions compared to traditional homeless shelters. After having piloted in 2006, Safe Havens have proven successful in achieving positive outcomes, such as moving people to residential rehab, to a skilled-nursing facility or another place where they can get treatment to meet the client’s needs. Almost half of the people served achieved a positive outcome, which is significantly higher than in traditional shelters.

In addition to services that address the acute need for shelter and aim to get people off the street, other, more permanent solutions are of course needed to tackle homelessness. The authors make clear that while affordable housing strategies are key to tackling wider issues in the housing market, more chronic forms of homelessness require permanent supportive housing solutions.

A key milestone for supportive housing in the US – five of the studied cities are located there – was certainly the 1987 McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act, which provided the basis for more than 1 billion US dollars in funding for long-term services and facilities. The McKinney Act was also instrumental in the transformation of homelessness services in the US more widely. Instead of relying on volunteers and faith-based organisations, homelessness was increasingly regarded as a public policy issue, to be tackled via government-funded services. However, whilst publicly funded, the provision or administration of homelessness services often lies in the hands of non-profit organisations (at least in the examples given in the US and Canada).

The last decades have, however, not only seen a shift in the organisations providing supportive housing but also the people targeted by it. While the initial focus of supportive housing was on the chronic homeless, it is increasingly reaching out to other groups that are at risk of becoming homeless. Despite these changes, the main ambition of supportive housing remains the same: to provide affordable permanent housing with additional services. Housing First is a particular type of supportive housing for homelessness in that it makes permanent affordable housing available unconditionally: that is, without deeming people to be ‘housing ready’. One of the largest studies to assess the effectiveness of Housing First was undertaken in Canada. The project ‘At Home/Chez Soi’ demonstrated that people accessing Housing First schemes showed a higher rate of housing stability than in traditional (temporary) homelessness services.

However, the key to tackling homelessness in the long term, according to Gibbs et al, lies in a combination of preventative work, proper coordination of the various actors involved and determination to address the underlying factors that produce homelessness, including the (lack of a) welfare system, the shortage of affordable housing, domestic violence and (mental) health issues. The authors assign a critical role to evidence and an integrated use of data to combat homelessness, especially in terms of taking the right preventative measures and in targeting the right people.

Another key element to successfully tackling homelessness is systems-level thinking and a focus on coordinated strategic responses. Instead of thinking in silos, non-traditional partnerships between different actors and services are needed. Systems-level thinking, according to the authors, involves a set of principles ranging from effective leadership, having a shared vision and plan as well as the right governance structure and data-informed decision-making processes.

In terms of evidence and data, many cities do not even know the number of people sleeping rough. In order to address this shortcoming, Paris, for example, has started its first citywide street count in 2018, which was greatly supported by the community. Following a campaign, many volunteers participated in the count and helped gather valuable information about the state of homelessness in the French capital. In fact, the campaign was so successful that the city launched the ‘Factory of Solidarity’ (La Fabrique de la Solidarité) to harness public solidarity on the issue. The Factory of Solidarity has become an established resource centre where citizens can contribute to a wide array of activities to address homelessness, ranging from educational programmes for volunteers to participatory workshops or organising charitable acts (feeding stations, distributing blankets, etc). The Factory of Solidarity has helped steer citizen engagement in a direction that is aligned with the city’s community plan and steer them away from actions that may be well-intended but do not help to reduce homelessness.

In How Ten Cities Take on Homelessness, Gibbs et al provide a comprehensive picture of the multiple (often conflicting) governance and practical issues when it comes to tackling homelessness. The authors demonstrate that homelessness is not a problem that can be solved solely by providing shelter to those affected. What is instead needed is a rethink of the institutional setup and the systems and social structures that produce homelessness, including the welfare and juridical system, affordable housing policies and issues of domestic violence and discrimination. The book is a valuable resource for those interested in how cities have succeeded in tackling some of the causes and consequences of homelessness. It is surprising that the internationally recognised Housing First model is not given more space in the book. Despite this, it offers a refreshing hands-on contribution that not only identifies the problems around homelessness but, crucially, provides specific examples and evidence from many different settings about what can be done to overcome it.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

 


Entretien avec Xuân Rayne, travailleur du sexe vietnamien et anarchiste

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 13/06/2021 - 3:50am in

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Nous avons interviewé Xuân Rayne, un anarchiste vietnamien et un travailleur du sexe non binaire basé aux États-Unis, pour connaître leurs points de vue sur l'intersection de leurs identités, les voies de la solidarité internationale entre les travailleurs du sexe et la façon dont les travailleurs en général peuvent se tenir aux côtés des travailleurs du sexe. Xuân utilise tous les pronoms.
A translation of our interview with Xuân Rayne into French. Translated by Al Raven.

Il faut comprendre que l'État est la principale source d'exploitation. Il ne peut pas être la solution à ce problème.

Xuân Rayne

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Interview with Xuân Rayne: Vietnamese, Anarchist, Sex Worker

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/06/2021 - 3:39pm in

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We interviewed Xuân Rayne, a Vietnamese anarchist and non-binary sex worker based in the United States for their insights into the intersection of their identities, the paths for international solidarity among sex workers, and how workers in general can stand with sex workers. Xuân uses any/all pronouns. 

There needs to be an understanding that the state is the key source of exploitation. It cannot be the solution to it.

Xuân Rayne

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Dealing with crucial issues must triumph over the bogus ‘need’ to balance the books.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

Kneeling statues of two humans holding up the Earth in spaceImage by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

 

 

Whilst faith in the ideologically driven orthodoxy, expressed as supreme trust in the market to provide economic stability, might appear to be on the rocks as capitalism’s global structures start to wobble in the growing uncertainty, it still has the power to dictate its orthodoxy as economists grapple, not only with this vastly different world in which we find ourselves, but also challenges to the destructive economic narratives which have been hitherto their bread and butter.

The high levels of public spending, whilst vital to the economy, have created a world full of cognitive dissonance for those still stuck in the old neoliberal narratives of ‘free markets’ and ‘balanced budgets’, even if the discourse has shifted ever so slightly. Whilst vast sums of public money find their way into private profit with no public accountability, our public and social infrastructure have fallen into decay and the scourge of poverty grows; driven by decades of neoliberally inspired policy, focused on financial affordability, the consequences of which continue to exact a heavy toll.

Even as the media pundits, politicians and other experts spin the headlines on the future prospects for economic growth, they increasingly cannot ignore that we are living in very uncertain times.  That the consequences of decades of market-oriented policies and the spending decisions that reflect them, and which have been highlighted over the past year, are coming to a head.

Whilst there is recognition that the huge level of public spending was essential to see the economy through the pandemic, this is still being repetitively framed with concerns about rising public debt. And over recent weeks the spectre of inflation, or even hyperinflation, has been hanging in the air like a bad smell; always erroneously linked to governments spending too much.

The world is such an uncertain place, and the behaviour of consumers so unpredictable, that even on the subject of inflation, members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee cannot agree about what will happen next.  This week, the Governor Andrew Bailey rejected the outgoing Chief Economist Andy Haldane’s warning that they might have to take action to prevent the ‘inflation genie’ from wreaking havoc on the economy. Haldane had suggested that the economy could overheat as a result of businesses struggling to hire enough staff, that consumers with large amounts of cash to spare could inflict price pressures on goods and services as a result. Therefore, he said, the Central Bank should rein in its plans to inject cash into the economy at the end of the year.  The Governor, on the other hand, suggested that such price increases were more likely to be of a temporary nature and manageable.

Yes, inflationary pressure as a result of price rises caused by such supply issues is a possibility, but this will be determined by how consumers react in the coming months as we break out of lockdown. It will also be influenced by the economic conditions which preceded the pandemic, which have continued to affect the economy as a result of decades of neoliberal economic policies. The very policies which have kept the economy suppressed in recent years compared to pre-GFC levels (which were built on private debt) and caused unemployment, underemployment, and allowed insecure working practices to become normal.

The world of prediction is not a hard and fast science, as the Global Financial Crash attests to. Combining this with the unpredictable nature of human behaviour, the future seems less certain than ever, as government financial support dries up, potentially driving further increases in unemployment and leading to more economic instability. Indeed, as Professor Bill Mitchell was clear in a blog in April, ‘There will be no core inflationary pressures until wages growth starts to outstrip productivity growth and that doesn’t look like happening anytime soon.’

The economy is a bit like the weather recently, predictable in its unpredictability. Human beings are not the ‘homo economicus’ of mainstream economic literature.

Even if some individuals are sitting on piles of cash, that does not necessarily translate into higher levels of private spending; and whether people will spend or not will depend on many variables, including the confidence to do so.  That confidence can only be led by, and is dependent on, government, which can invest in the public purpose by creating the public and social infrastructure for a healthy economy, assuming it has the political will to do so.

At the other end of the wealth scale, many have been left behind over decades, plunging them into deprivation and poverty which has been accentuated over the last year.  Economic growth driven by private spending has its limitations – even large pots of money run out in the end. And to rely on private spending as a mechanism to stimulate the economy would be misplaced, indeed disastrous, at a moment of existential crisis; a moment of questioning the rationality of continuing as we are.

A sustainable economic cycle relies on a government which is responsive to changing economic conditions and spending sufficiently to keep the economy functioning in both good and bad economic times. A government that recognises the real resource limitations, which both force it to define its spending priorities to keep expenditure within the productive capacity of the nation to avoid inflationary pressures, and to ensure that its spending delivers its agenda, which of course will differ according to its political objectives. From the perspective of a currency-issuing country like the UK, the question of whether it can afford to deliver its agenda is a red herring. If nothing else the last year has proved the point.

Furthermore, and as the economist John T Harvey suggested in an article in Forbes this week, let us not get inflation out of perspective. In an article entitled ‘Four Reasons to stop panicking over inflation’, he was clear that it isn’t always the bad phenomenon we are led to believe, and concerns about it are based on the poor understanding engendered by decades of mainstream economic orthodoxy, which has claimed essentially that it is driven by excessive levels of government spending (Zimbabwe and the Weimar Republic being the poster examples normally used to frighten the pants off people).

And yet, even in the midst of the biggest challenge the planet has faced in 250 million years, the old paradigms seem comforting to some, as we saw this week when the newly appointed Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves began a speech saying that the party needed to rebuild its reputation for economic competence, and that the key test for her would be whether taxpayers trusted her to look after their money.  What has changed in 9 years?

One cannot help being reminded of Liam Byrne’s damaging note left in the Treasury in 2010, claiming that there was no money left, and upon which the Conservatives have dined out ever since.  One might have to conclude that dealing with the truly crucial issues, i.e., the climate emergency which threatens the planet’s life support systems, the entrenched wealth inequalities, and unequal access to real resources, will always take a back seat to balancing the public accounts. Unless something gives.

In 2012, in a speech to the IPPR Reeves said, ‘Sound public finances will always be the indispensable platform for delivering better jobs, better services and a strong, growing economy’ suggesting that ‘the nation’s finances, and building a stronger, fairer Britain, are imperatives that are not only compatible; they are also inseparable.’

Reeves was as right to suggest this week that a future government should introduce measures to tackle low pay, the gig economy, and remove the ability of companies to fire workers and then rehire, as she was to point out that the current government had left the public sector underfunded and unprepared for the pandemic. But to suggest that one was dependent on the other demonstrated either a depressing ignorance of monetary reality or an unwillingness to challenge the damaging orthodoxy which prevails.

By hitching herself once again to the notion that government actions are limited by fiscal concerns, and that the public finances can be compared to a household budget, Reeves shows that such entrenched thinking will limit the capacity of not only this government, but governments in the future around the world, to address the climate and resource crisis, the shadow of which menaces existence.

As the build-up to COP26 begins to play out in the public arena, without a complete reversal of economic ideas the political will to act will always be hampered by budgetary concerns, when, for the sake of us all, politicians must really face up to the very real threat that the climate and real resource use pose.

One has to ask how long it will be before Reeves is parroting her words from 2012, when she suggested that fiscal prudence, balanced budgets, and a lower national debt were vital components of the nation’s economic health. If she were to choose that route, Labour would be committing to repeat the same mistakes of the last but one Shadow Chancellor, who being guided by his orthodox economic advisers, determined to put fiscal competence over real economic health and the lives of citizens.

On such a basis, a progressive agenda, if there were one, would be reduced to taxing the rich to pay for it, as if somehow public well-being were dependent on some sort of philanthropic gestures by those with vast amounts of wealth.  Taxing the rich? Why not? But let us not kid ourselves that it is paying for anything, least of all our public and social infrastructure or indeed addressing the climate emergency. Taxing the rich should be about equity and redistribution of real resources and not least to remove the vast influence and power they wield in the corridors of power.

Whilst the media continues to witter on about high public debt and the threat of inflation, the very real consequences of government policies and spending cuts continue to play out.

This week, the Trussell Trust published its report, ‘State of Hunger: Building the Evidence of Poverty, Destitution and Food Insecurity in the UK.’  The Executive Summary makes for a depressing read. Its recommendations are that government should commit to ending the need for food banks, and measures should include ‘ensuring our UK Social Security System provides everyone with enough to afford the essentials’.

 Whilst we do indeed need a commitment to end the need for food banks through increased social security payments for those who need it, the solution starts with the government, which has regrettably bowed down to the neoliberal tenets of faith, as have governments for decades. Tenets which focus on deregulation and employment policies that allow businesses to compete on the backs of employees, through driving down wages. This has miserably failed working people and given huge power to big business to dictate the terms of employment. In turn, this has created employment insecurity, left people struggling on low incomes or consigned them to the scrap heap of unemployment, with all the waste of human potential that that incurs.

This could be addressed easily by the introduction of a government-backed Job Guarantee, which would set the price for labour and ensure that businesses could no longer use low wages and poor terms and conditions as means to compete in global or domestic markets.  Increasing social security payments, essential as it is, without addressing the core problems of low pay and insecure employment, would only prove to be yet another sticking plaster for a rotten, toxic economic system. A system based on exploitation to keep profits flowing, and the endless cycle of growth going.

Whatever one’s politics, surely employment security and good wages, along with a functioning public infrastructure, are vital foundations for a healthy, sustainable economy in which citizens can flourish?

And once one knows the facts about how governments spend, it brings home starkly that poverty, inequality, hunger, and homelessness are political choices, for which there can be no excuse.

The content of the Trussell Trust Report was illustrated on Thursday by a truly shocking Channel 4 News Report on poverty, hunger, and homelessness in Cornwall.  The distress experienced by those who had the misfortune to find themselves unemployed or homeless was unmistakable. People who had never imagined that they could find themselves without work or somewhere to live, struggling just to provide the basics, or completely overwhelmed by the hardship they were experiencing, with no hope for a better future.

An idyllic postcard environment it might be, but it masks the huge suffering which has resulted from a decade of government policies, including spending cuts and the loss of EU economic grants, which have as yet to be replaced even though, as the currency issuer, the government could have ensured sufficient funding to all those regions that needed it. It alone can act to undo the ideologically driven poverty and deprivation which has hitherto been justified on the back of the false premise of getting the public accounts in balance.

Cornwall, like other regions in the UK, has suffered high levels of poverty and homelessness, with many people working in already poorly paid hospitality or other service-led jobs linked to tourism, a sector that has been hugely affected over the past year. Houses are in short supply as second homeowners, in normal times, rent out their properties in the summer, thus reducing housing stock. And this has now been compounded by wealthier professionals moving out of cities into Cornwall to escape Covid-19.

The solution to rising poverty and homelessness is not private business investment as the first port of call, as was suggested at the end of the Trussell Trust’s report, but instead a government-directed strategic plan to make the words ‘levelling up’ a reality, rather than just handy rhetoric to keep the public on side but which goes nowhere and ends up filling the pockets of big business. Not only do we need adequate public spending, investing in public infrastructure, housing, and public sector employment, which in turn drives confidence for businesses to invest in their local communities and people to spend, we also need a vast stimulus to drive a just transition towards a sustainable, steady-state economy.

Since the launch of GIMMS in 2018, climate change has regularly featured in GIMMS’ blogs. The climate ‘fire’ is still burning, and the warnings should by now be resonating and driving a public conversation, as the UK prepares to open up after a difficult year, with still no certainties on any front.

We can no longer ignore the warnings. We have to grapple with them in the knowledge that no matter what we are told by self-serving politicians or those economists advising them, it is never money that constrains action, whether it is tackling climate change or the vast inequalities that exist in the rotten economic system in which we live, a system that has created the climate ‘inferno’. The only constraints are political will and those created by the finite resources which the planet gifts us, and which we have sorely misused and abused.

This week, Alok Sharma, the president of the COP26 climate summit, gave an urgent plea: that coal should be ‘consigned to history’ as the world faces its ‘last hope’ of preventing further climate breakdown.

In April, scientists reported that the climate crisis had shifted the Earth’s axis as melting glaciers redistribute weight across the globe. And a new study published this week demonstrated that the huge amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted as a result of human activity are shrinking the stratosphere, which has already decreased by 400 metres since the 1980s, and could contract by a further kilometre by 2080; potentially affecting satellite operations, GPS systems and radio communications.

Another report also published this week in the One Earth journal, indicates that climate change risks pushing one-third of global food production outside the safe climatic space. According to the study, the most vulnerable areas are South and Southeast Asia and Africa’s Sudano-Sahelian Zone, which have low resilience to cope with the changes. The results underpin the rising importance of delivering the low-emissions targets to avoid facing food shortages, starvation, and vast human migrations.  There is only one world.

At the same time, while the US President Joe Biden is promising huge investment in addressing climate change, his plans to reduce emissions through agricultural carbon markets will benefit large scale agribusiness, potentially locking in harmful monoculture crop systems and the industrial-scale animal operations that damage the environment, and will make it harder for the smaller farms which employ regenerative practices in food production to compete. Once again, climate action seems to be about favouring big business and its destructive environmental practices over the smaller businesses that are aiming to farm in tune with nature.

Whilst the political greenwashing continues to promise much, but so far has delivered little in terms of real climate action, and technological solutions propose that we can continue to grow our economies whilst we offset our carbon emissions by, for example, growing more trees to absorb them, the reality is that we are blindly fooling ourselves into believing that we are indestructible gods. In terms of understanding the complexity of the planet which sustains us, we are still in the beginner’s class.

Bonnie Waring, who is a Senior Lecturer in Climate Change and Environment at the Grantham Institute, Imperial College London, wrote an article entitled ‘There aren’t enough trees in the world to offset carbon emissions and there never will be’, in which she said:

‘supporting natural ecosystems is an important tool in the arsenal of strategies we will need to combat climate change. But land ecosystems will never be able to absorb the quantity of carbon released by fossil fuel burning. Rather than be lulled into false complacency by tree planting schemes we need to cut off emissions at their source and search for additional strategies to remove the carbon that has already accumulated in the atmosphere.

Does this mean that current campaigns to protect and expand forest are a poor idea? Emphatically not. The protection and expansion of natural habitat, particularly forests, is absolutely vital to ensure the health of our planet.

Forests are so much more than just carbon stores. They are the unknowably complex green webs that bind together the fates of millions of known species, with millions more still waiting to be discovered. To survive and thrive in a future of dramatic global change, we will have to respect that tangled web and our place in it.

This is our challenge: to learn to live and flourish within the boundaries set by the planet’s finite resources. We can make a start by understanding how we can deliver that through the lens of MMT.

 

 

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The post Dealing with crucial issues must triumph over the bogus ‘need’ to balance the books. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

How a Tent City Controversy Became a Community’s Epiphany

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/05/2021 - 6:00pm in

It was early May, and officials in this Northern California city known for its farm-to-table dining culture and pumped-up housing prices were frantically debating how to keep Covid-19 from infiltrating the homeless camps proliferating in the region’s celebrated parks and trails. For years, the number of people living homeless in Santa Rosa and the verdant hills and valleys of broader Sonoma County had crept downward — and then surged, exacerbated by three punishing wildfire seasons that destroyed thousands of homes in four years.

Seemingly overnight, the city’s homeless crisis had burst into view. And with the onset of Covid, it posed a devastating health threat to the hundreds of people living in shelters, tents and makeshift shanties, as well as the service providers and emergency responders trying to help them.

In the preceding weeks, as Covid made its first advance through California, Governor Gavin Newsom had called on cities and counties to persuade hotel operators to open their doors to people living on the streets whose age and health made them vulnerable. But in Santa Rosa, a town that thrives on tourist dollars, city leaders knew they would never find enough owners to volunteer their establishments.

City Council member Tom Schwedhelm, then serving as mayor, settled on an idea to pitch dozens of tents in the parking lot of a gleaming community center in an affluent neighborhood known as Finley Park, a couple of miles west of Santa Rosa’s central business district.

Neighborhood residents weren’t keen on the idea of accepting homeless people into their enclave of tree-lined streets and sleepy cul-de-sacs. Yet in short order, thousands of residents and businesses received letters notifying them of the city’s plans to erect 70 tents that could shelter as many as 140 people at the Finley Community Center, a neighborhood jewel that draws scores of families and fitness enthusiasts to its manicured picnic grounds, sparkling pool and tennis courts.

tent cityFrom May to November, Santa Rosa spent $680,000 to supply and manage a tent city at a popular neighborhood community center. Credit: Angela Hart / KHN

The backlash was fierce. For three hours on a Thursday evening in mid-May, Santa Rosa officials defended their plans as hundreds of residents flooded the phone lines to register their discontent.

“Will there be a list of everybody who decided to do this to us and our park, in case we want to vote them out?” one resident barked.

“This is a family neighborhood,” another fumed.

“How can we feel safe using our park?” others pleaded.

In Santa Rosa, like so many other communities, strenuous neighborhood objections typically would drive a stake through a proposal for homeless housing and services. Not this time. Elected officials were not asking; they were telling. The project would move ahead.

“Go ahead and vote me out,” says Schwedhelm, recounting his mindset at the time. “You want to shout at me and get angry? Go ahead. It’s important for government to listen, but the reality is these are our neighbors, so let’s help them.”

Within days, the spacious parking lot at the Finley Community Center was cordoned off with green mesh fencing. Inside, spaced 12 feet apart, were 68 blue tents, each equipped with sleeping bags and storage bins. A neat row of portable toilets lined one side of the encampment, and it was fitted throughout with hand-washing stations and misters for the summer heat.

The city contracted with Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa to manage the camp, and social workers fanned out to the city shelters and unsanctioned encampments, where they found dozens of takers. The first dozen residents were in their tents four days after the site was approved, and the population quickly swelled to nearly 70. In exchange for shelter, showers and three daily meals, camp residents agreed to an 8 p.m. curfew and a contract pledging to honor mask and physical-distancing requirements and act as good neighbors.

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Santa Rosa’s tent city opened May 18. And, not too long after, something remarkable happened. Finley Park residents stopped protesting and started dropping off donations of goods — food, clothing, hand sanitizer. The tennis and pickleball courts, an afternoon favorite for retirees, were bustling again. Parents and kids once more crowded the nearby playground.

And inside that towering green perimeter, people started getting their lives together.

From May to late November, Santa Rosa would spend $680,000 to supply and manage the site, a six-month experiment that would chart a new course for the city’s approach to homeless services. As cities across California wrestle with a crisis of homelessness that has drawn international condemnation, the Santa Rosa experience suggests a way forward. Rather than engage in months of paralyzing discussion with neighborhood opponents before committing to a housing or shelter project, city officials decided their role was to lead and inform. They would identify project sites and drive forward, using neighborhood feedback to tailor improvements to a plan — but not to kill it.

It was a watershed moment of action that would echo across Sonoma County.

“We know we’re pissing off a lot of people — they’re rising up and saying, ‘Hell, no!’” says county Supervisor James Gore, president of the California State Association of Counties. “But we can’t just keep saying no. That’s been the failed housing policy of the last 30 to 40 years. Everybody wants a solution, but they don’t want to see that solution in their neighborhoods.”

‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’

About a quarter of the nation’s homeless reside in California, nearly 160,000 people living in cars, on borrowed couches, in temporary shelters or on the streets. The pandemic has exacerbated the crisis for a host of reasons, including Covid-related job loss and prison releases and new capacity limits at homeless shelters.

From Los Angeles and Fresno to San Francisco and Sacramento, homeless encampments have multiplied. And without toilets or trash bins, unsanctioned encampments have become magnets for neighborhood complaints about seedy, unsanitary conditions. That leads to regular law enforcement sweeps that raze an encampment only to see it rise elsewhere.

An estimated 6,000 people are homeless in Sacramento. The city razed this encampment on Stockton Boulevard in December in response to neighborhood complaints. Credit: Angela Hart / KHN

California’s capital city offers a telling example of the dynamic. An estimated 6,000 people are living homeless in Sacramento, a population that has grown more visible since Covid brought office life to a standstill. Tents and tarps crowd freeway underpasses throughout the downtown grid, accompanied by wafting piles of trash and clutter.

The mayor, Darrell Steinberg, is known as a champion on homelessness issues. During his years in the state legislature, he pushed through measures that exponentially increased funding to address homelessness and mental illness. But in more than four years as mayor he has struggled to muscle through a cohesive policy for moving people off the streets and into supportive housing.

“The problem with our approach,” Steinberg said earlier this year, “is that every time we seek to build a project, there is a neighborhood controversy. Our own constituents say, ‘Solve it, but please don’t solve it here,’ and we end up experiencing death by a thousand cuts.”

With community uproar building, he is leading the charge on a new initiative to build a continuum of city-sanctioned housing, including triage shelters, sanctioned campgrounds and permanent housing with social services. The city has allocated up to $1 million in an initial outlay for tiny homes and safe camping, but as of March had gotten consensus on just one site: a parking lot beneath a busy freeway where the city will install toilets and hand-washing stations and allow up to 150 people to set up camp.

homeless sacramentoDonta Williams is part of a lawsuit calling for an end to city sweeps of unsanctioned camps. “We’ve got nowhere to go,” Williams says. Credit: Angela Hart / KHN

Donta Williams, homeless the past five years, shakes his head at how long it’s taken the city to sanction a campsite. Priced out of the South Sacramento neighborhood he considers home, Williams has subsisted in a series of squalid lots, regularly packing up and moving from one to the next in response to law enforcement sweeps.

“We’ve got nowhere to go,” says Williams, 40, who is a plaintiff in a legal battle with the city over encampment sweeps. “We need housing. We need services like bathrooms and hand-washing stations. Or how about just some dumpsters so we can pick up the trash?”

A Real Job, a New Beginning

Like Sacramento, Sonoma County has battled unruly homeless encampments for years. Before the fires, the crisis was more hidden, with people sheltering in creek beds and wooded glens abutting hiking and biking trails. The wildfires of 2017, 2019 and 2020 brought many out of the backcountry. And the 5,300 homes decimated by flames meant even more people displaced.

Politicians in Sonoma County described their soul-searching over how to cut through the community gridlock when it comes to finding locations to provide housing and services.

“It’s fear and anger that you’re going to take something away from me if you build this housing — that’s a big part of it, and I saw that anger directed at me, too,” says Shirlee Zane, a vocal backer of homeless services who lost her reelection bid last year after 12 years on the county board of supervisors. “It’s a psychology we see here too often, a sense of entitlement from white middle-class people.”

tent cityMatt Roberts says that having access to shelter, showers and laundry service at the Finley Park tent city provided enough stability that he has since landed a job as a retail clerk. Credit: Angela Hart / KHN

In creating the Finley Park model, Santa Rosa leaders drew on a few basic tenets. Neighbors were worried about crime and drug use, so the city deployed police officers and security guards for 24/7 patrols. Neighbors worried about trash and disease; the city brought in hand-washing stations, showers and toilets. Catholic Charities enrolled dozens of camp residents in neighborhood beautification projects, giving them gift cards to stores like Target and Starbucks in exchange for picking up trash — usually $50 for a couple of hours of work.

A few times a week, a mobile clinic serviced the camp, dispensing basic health care and medications. Residents had access to virtual mental health treatment and were screened regularly for Covid symptoms; only one person tested positive for the coronavirus during the 256 days the site was in operation.

“We were serious about providing access to care,” says Jennifer Ammons, a nurse practitioner who led the mobile clinic. “You can get them inhalers, take care of their cellulitis with antibiotics, get rid of their pneumonia or skin infections.”

Rosa Newman was among those who turned their lives around. Newman, 56, said she had sunk into homelessness and addiction after leaving an abusive partner years before. She moved into her designated tent in September and in a matter of days was enrolled in California’s version of Medicaid, connected to a doctor and receiving treatment for a painful bladder infection. After two months in the camp, she was able to get into subsidized housing and landed a job at a Catholic Charities homeless drop-in center.

“Before, I was so sick I didn’t have any hope. I didn’t have to show up for anything,” she says. “But now I have a real job, and it’s just the beginning.”

James Carver, 50, who for years slept in the doorway of a downtown Santa Rosa business with his wife, says he felt happy just to have a tent over his head. Channeling his energy into cleanup projects and odd jobs around camp, Carver says, his morale began to improve.

“It’s such a comfort; I’m looking for work again,” Carver, an unemployed construction worker, said in November while cleaning stacks of storage totes handed out to camp residents. “I don’t have to sleep with one eye open.”

tent cityJames Carver, an out-of-work construction worker who channeled his energy into cleanup projects at the Finley Park tent city, says his time there helped restore some dignity. Credit: Angela Hart / KHN

Jennielynn Holmes, who runs Catholic Charities’ homeless services in Northern California, says the Finley Park experiment helped in ways she didn’t expect.

“This taught us valuable lessons on how to keep the unsheltered population safe, but also we were able to get people signed up for health care and ready for housing faster because we knew where they were,” Holmes says. Of the 208 people served at the site, she said, 12 were moved into permanent housing and nearly five dozen placed in shelters while they await openings.

When Santa Rosa officials conceived of the Finley site, they sold it to the community as temporary, believing Covid would run its course by winter. And though Covid still raged, they kept that promise and closed the site Nov. 30, then held a community meeting to get feedback. “Only three or four people called in, and they all had positive things to say,” says David Gouin, who has since retired as director of housing and community services.

Several area residents said they changed their mind about the project because of the way the site was managed.

“I was amazed I never saw anything negative at all,” says Boyd Edwards, who plays pickleball at the Finley Community Center a few times a week.

“I thought they were going to be noisy and have crap all over the place. Now, they can have it all year round for all I care,” says his friend Joseph Gernhardt.

Of the 108 calls for police service, almost all were in response to other homeless people wanting to sleep at the site when it was at capacity, records show. And there was no violent behavior, says Police Chief Rainer Navarro.

With the Finley encampment closed, Santa Rosa has expanded its primary shelter while drafting plans to set up year-round managed camps in several neighborhoods, this time with hardened structures. County supervisors, meanwhile, are using $16 million in state grants to purchase and convert two hotels into housing, and have stood their ground in pushing through two Finley Park-style managed encampments, one on county property, the other at a mountain retreat center.

The time has come, they say, to stop debating and embrace solutions.

“We have estates that sell for $20 million, and then you walk by people sleeping in tents with no access to hot food or running water,” says Lynda Hopkins, chair of the county board of supervisors. “These tiny villages — they’re not perfect, but we’re trying to provide some dignity.”

This story originally appeared in Kaiser Health News. It is part of the SoJo Exchange from the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rigorous reporting about responses to social problems.

The post How a Tent City Controversy Became a Community’s Epiphany appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

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