Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 9 of 10): Freezing and burning

(In this photo, WPA workers are helping to clear the streets of Washington, D.C., after a blizzard in February 1936. Photo from Work: A Journal of Progress, a publication of the District of Columbia WPA, September 1936.)

(WPA workers clearing snow in Baltimore, Maryland, February 1936--perhaps from the same blizzard as noted in the photo above. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

As most of us are celebrating the holidays, some of us will die from exposure. Since there are not enough shelters for homeless Americans, and since some existing shelters do not open until the temperatures are well below freezing, it's inevitable that some homeless people are going to freeze to death. 

When the vice mayor of Sunnyvale, California recently looked into opening a new cold weather shelter, he received a lot of mail from people who were vehemently opposed to the idea: "It was disgusting. People saying it would bring crime, their children would be raped. I got 127 emails saying 'Don't let those people come here.' It was the same stuff people were saying in the 1960s about race."

In Kansas, a homeless shelter was recently closed to ensure continued tax breaks for the wealthy ("Budget Cuts Force Homeless Shelter To Close As Tax Breaks Go To Wealthy Kansans").

When the town of Shawnee, Oklahoma recently tried to build a second cold weather shelter, the plans were quashed because some of the town's wealthy residents were concerned about the effect of such a shelter on their property values. And, in an effort to get rid of the homeless altogether, a citizen's group was formed to drive them out of town. One resident complained that a homeless person freezing to death could inconvenience her, "we as tax payers have to pay to bury them. Plus it makes a town or city look bad for not doing enough, when one of these bums die.” (See "Welcome to Shawnee, Oklahoma: The worst city in America to be homeless")

But the resident's concern about having to pay for the burial of a homeless person may be unfounded. In some parts of the country, efforts are made to make sure that such burials are as costless as possible. For example, in Washington, D.C., where two homeless people froze to death a few miles from the White House last year, the homeless are routinely burned and then placed in unmarked graves. (See "What Happens To The Homeless When They Die")   

As the photos at the top of this blog post show, New Deal policymakers had more compassionate and productive ideas for the treatment of Americans in need. Unemployed workers could find jobs--and sometimes shelter--in various work and construction programs, e.g., the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and the Works Progress Administration. The New Deal set us on a path towards more care, and more rational thought, with respect to issues like poverty, unemployment, and homelessness. 

We have since strayed from the New Deal path, and have instead embraced economic philosophies (such as trickle-down economics, tax-breaks-for-the-wealthy, publicly-insured bank fraud, Ayn Rand) that cultivate feelings of outrage and violence towards people who are facing hard times, even when those hard times are through no fault of their own (e.g., layoffs, discrimination against the unemployed, health problems, economic recessions, corporate crime). Is that really the kind of culture we want? A culture that scolds the homeless, but provides insurance for financial fraud, bank gambling, and white collar crime? (Because, let's face it, that's the culture we're allowing to develop right now.)

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Freezing & burning the homeless, but telling financial fraudsters, "Sure, we'll insure your gambling & fraud with our tax dollars, no problem." 


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