Friday, December 5, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 2 of 10): Evicting the homeless; class warfare at its most ruthless

Above: A homeless encampment is bulldozed in Camden, New Jersey, May, 2014.

Above: In this video, a resident of The Jungle, a homeless encampment in San Jose, California, watches her home get dismantled by the city on December 4, 2014. "We're not animals. We're not here by choice. We're here because we don't have a choice....We're looked at as animals, as lazy people. We're not even human to them." 

Unfortunately, she's 100% correct. Many people in America have completely bought into the philosophy that says "every bad thing that happens to you is a consequence of the bad decisions you've made in your life; your lack of personal responsibility." These mean-spirited critics do not believe in the existence of market failure, job outsourcing, layoffs, medical tragedies, stagnant wages, or corporate crime that runs an economy into the ground. To them, it is always the individual who is to blame. 

Yet, even when bad decisions are a part of a homeless person's background--which is admittedly true for many--why are we so intolerant? Big financial institutions have made numerous bad decisions, some criminal, and still maintain their great power. Why is it that the mistakes of a non-wealthy person have such damning consequences? Only the rich get to make mistakes? (See Robert Reich's op-ed "Why Donald Trump and Big Corporations Get Breaks that Ordinary People Don't: People with lots of money can avoid consequences of bad bets—not you and me.") 

With respect to the homeless lady's observation that society does not view her as a human being, she's right about that too. A Republican Lt. Governor in South Carolina said we shouldn't feed low-income children because they might breed, a Republican official in Arizona called low-income Americans "lazy pigs," and an army of Internet comment-makers routinely refer to the poor as "parasites." Just as Heirich Himmler did with the Jews, many people today try to subhumanize the poor; because, once you reduce a person to a subhuman level, it's easier to justify cruel policies and actions.

 Above: An interesting, longer look into the lives of the residents of The Jungle. This video was made about a year and a half ago. Since then, The Jungle has grown in size. Also, The Jungle is just one of about 100+ tent cities across the United States. And tent cities, of course, are just one type of refuge for homeless Americans; they also reside in alleys, abandoned store fronts, under bridges, in homeless shelters, and wherever else they can survive without freezing to death or being beaten by the people who get a thrill out of physically attacking them (see tomorrow's blog).

Pails of excrement!

In an Associated Press article on the eviction of homeless people from The Jungle, we read things like, "muddy souls," "treacherous community," "squalor," "rotten food," "pails of excrement," "dirty plastic bags," "filthy site," "ankle-deep sludge," "the slum," "Rats hopped through the muck," "polluted and dangerous," "tons of waste and debris," and "trash heap" (the journalist seems too have been very eager to utilize as many "mud" and "muck" descriptive words as possible). Of course, one person's "slum" is another person's "home," especially when you have no money. And one person's "debris" is another person's treasured belongings. As one resident of The Jungle said, "It's just junk to everyone else but to us, that's home. That's our stuff."

During the eviction of The Jungle's residents, and as their property was being destroyed or confiscated (a homeless person's Fourth Amendment rights are, well, less-than-clear), passing motorists rubber-necked the scene. A homeless person cried and said, "People drive by and look at us like we're circus animals."

Make things happy again!

One of the reasons given for the mass eviction was that The Jungle was dirty and dangerous. But, by that standard, shouldn't we start disassembling cities and towns all across the country? Well, we know that the "dirty and dangerous" excuse was just a subterfuge. The real reason that these people were evicted is because society just wants them to go away. Society wants the homeless out of sight, so it's not forced to ask itself serious questions. Society wants to gawk at Kim Kardashian's rear end without troubling distractions. Society wants to embrace happy words, like "innovation!" and "entrepreneurship!"--it does NOT want to see what happens when those happy words fail. So, an army of workers--some in hazmat suits, some driving tractors, some with guns--went into The Jungle to make things happy again, to make the problems go away.

Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!

In another article on the eviction, we learn that "The city is setting (a resident) up with a studio or one-bedroom unit that it has said would be paid for as long as she is working." Here, we see the harebrained "personal responsibility" philosophy pop up again--the idea that, as long she isn't lazy, he/she can have a place to stay. Again and again we see this ludicrous belief that the individual is completely responsible for their life situation; the ludicrous belief that layoffs, outsourcing, stagnant wages, medical problems, recessions, and economic downturns have utterly no impact on our lives--zero, zip, zilch. It's all on us, everything. We can simply pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, jump into the next job, and become a millionaire--if we just apply ourselves! 

Of course, the reality is quite different from the harebrained fantasy (a fantasy derived, by the way, from an immature fascination with "free markets" and "job creators"). As a community service worker in the area said, "If you don't have nonstop good income, it's a very fast fall from a two-bedroom apartment to a tent in the Jungle."

So, if the lady loses her job, and can't find another one because the "job creators" are too busy soaking in 24-karat gold bathtubs to worry about creating jobs, she's back on the streets.   

The New Deal did it differently

New Deal policymakers didn't treat the homeless like circus animals. They created common sense programs for them, and the programs worked. As Harry Hopkins noted in his book Spending to Save, "...some transients who stubbornly resisted the casework approach to rehabilitation emerged, under the more normal conditions of a work project, from sullen discouragement and inertia into highly effective workmen." And of the transient work camps set up during the early part of the New Deal, Hopkins wrote " pulled men and women by the hundreds of thousands from the despair of aimless wandering, misery, and the complete neglect of health, back into self-respect and their place in the world as working people."

Sadly, we have very few New Deal-type policymakers today. So, instead of work camps, or a WPA, or a CCC, we have bulldozers, guns, and eviction notices--evictions for people who don't even have a permanent residence. That's how low we've stooped. Yes, our solution to homelessness today is arresting World War II veterans (see yesterday's blog post) and telling the poorest of the poor, "Get out of here, or we're taking your stuff!"

Welcome to the Reverse New Deal: Class warfare at its most ruthless.

Above: New Deal policymakers thought that a stable, affordable home was important for children. Today, the number of homeless children in America is at a record high. WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

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