Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Reverse New Deal - An all-out attack on the homeless (part 3 of 10): Violence

When it comes to violence against the homeless, we can do better. In fact, we have...

Above: There have been some horrendous acts of police brutality over the past few years, including the unbelievably brutal and deadly 2011 beating of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man in Fullerton, California. But it doesn't have to be that way, as the video above shows.

Above (when you click on the video above, click on "Watch on YouTube"): When the ABC television show Primetime had actors play out a scene of harassment against a homeless person--as an experiment--many people tried to stop the harassing youths. This indicates that there are many people who believe that the homeless should be treated properly. Whether or not this translates into larger progressive beliefs--such as raising tax rates on the ultra-wealthy to fund shelters and programs for the homeless--is unclear (although, see "Polls show longtime support for tax hikes on rich").

Above: At a cemetery on Roanoke Island, a memorial stone reads, "These are the graves of homeless men who died in work camps while employed in the Department of the Interior, National Park Service, on beach erosion control work in the counties of Dare, Hyde, and Currituck, 1936-1941." Local information indicates that these men probably lived at a work camp in or near what is now Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. The men buried at this cemetery died with food, with shelter, and with the dignity of a job and a paycheck. I'm sure they wanted more for their lives, but at least it was better than sleeping on the streets, always wary of being victimized. The New Deal gave them a basic level of security and, I'm sure, some degree of hope. Photo by Brent McKee.


According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, assaults against the homeless rose in 2013 from 2012. ThinkProgress journalist Scott Keyes reports that "(2012's) victims included Carl Simon, a 50-year-old homeless man living in Las Vegas, who was killed because he couldn’t enjoy the safety that a permanent home affords. On August 12th, Simon was beaten, stabbed, and tortured by three middle-aged men. According to the report, 'When he still wouldn’t die’ they stuffed him in his suitcase and then put the suitcase in a bathtub.' Another homeless man in Nashville narrowly escaped harm when two attackers poured gasoline on a tent he occupied and lit it on fire. In November, a 28-year-old man stomped on the head of a homeless woman seven times as she slept because he 'was annoyed by the scent in the area.'"

Currently, San Francisco police are looking for three suspects who beat a 67-year-old homeless man to death. The victim was 5'5", weighed less than 100lbs, and needed crutches to walk. He was found with $1,000 on his body, indicating that the attackers killed him simply because they received pleasure from doing so (see "Brutal Beating Of Disabled, Sleeping Homeless Man In SF Was A ‘Thrill Kill,’" CBS, December 4, 2014). 

Much of the violence against the homeless is perpetrated by teens and young adults. 


A recent research study conducted by the University of North Carolina Charlotte showed that housing the homeless can be less expensive than leaving them on the streets.

In Los Angeles, homeless veterans were provided housing in the Guy Gabaldon Apartment Complex ("Once homeless, veterans find refuge in Eastside housing complex," Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2014). One of the newly-housed veterans said, "People ask me how I feel, and you know what I tell them? Resurrected." Another said he had been living in a tent and had to watch his back every night. Another said, "I would be dead by now if I wasn't here."

We know, from both past and present experience, that providing stable shelter for people in need works. Harry Hopkins, in his book Spending to Save, wrote of the homeless young men who roamed the country during the Great Depression looking for work: "The Civilian Conservation Corps gave to restless and discouraged young men, whose only previous recourse had been the road, a chance to help themselves and their families by useful work" (a large portion of the CCC boys' paychecks went back home to their families, while the boys themselves enjoyed food, shelter, education & recreation programs, work experience, camaraderie, medical care, and a small amount of money).


So, given our past and present experiences, why are we not housing the homeless on a much larger scale, and thus protecting them from physical violence? Though the problem of homelessness is complex, I suggest that there are five main reasons for their neglect:

(a) Mean-spirited political rhetoric that divides people into so-called "makers" and "takers" (which facilitates animosity towards low-income Americans).

(b) Cultural insults towards the less fortunate that are, over time, internalized by youth, such as "parasites," "moochers," and "bums" (when young people attack the homeless it is sometimes called "bum bashing").

(c) Stereotyping the homeless, e.g., "They're all drug addicts," or "They all want to live like that."

(d) An Ayn Rand economic philosophy that belittles the idea of helping people in need.

(e) Tax breaks, tax loopholes, tax shelters, tax deductions, tax avoidance, and offshore tax evading bank accounts--disproportionately enjoyed & utilized by the super-wealthy--that are causing the U.S. government to lose hundreds of billions of dollars (perhaps even more than a trillion) in revenue, every single year (see, for example, "Tax Avoidance On the Rise: It's Twice the Amount of Social Security and Medicare").

Lately, we've made some progress in sheltering the homeless. To finish the job, though, it's going to take a tremendous amount of courage--because there's an army of angry people who have mobilized to stop us (see, e.g., "Budget Cuts Force Homeless Shelter To Close As Tax Breaks Go To Wealthy Kansans," ThinkProgress, July 7, 2014).

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