Sunday, January 26, 2014

Americans are deeply divided
over what causes poverty in the first place

The belief that people are poor more through their own lack of effort than their circumstances is widely held by large segments of the population, including 51% of Republicans, and 46% of people in the highest income group (which is not that high). If you fall into this category, then it clearly doesn't make sense for society to try to solve a problem that it had little hand in creating.

The Pew Research Center has a new survey which confirms what you may already suspect: Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to believe the government should try hard to reduce poverty and inequality.

Part of this gap is explained by basic differences of belief in what the government can do (never mind what it should do). If you don't believe Washington is very effective at a lot of what it tries to accomplish, then you're not likely to think it can pull many impoverished families into the middle class, or lift up the entire bottom end of the income spectrum.

Read The Atlantic report here.

Monday, January 20, 2014

“What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter
if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”

Over the years, Martin Luther King’s more controversial edges have been smoothed over. He was a strident critic of capitalism and materialistic society. Referring to the now iconic Greensboro Lunch Counter sit-ins, he asked, “What good is having the right to sit at a lunch counter if you can’t afford to buy a hamburger?”

King also explicitly linked the problem of capitalism with the problem of racism. “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered,” he argued in a speech at Riverside Church in 1967. He was very aware that this kind of challenge was even more dangerous than his work on segregation and civil rights. “You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums,” he warned his staff in 1966. “You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.”

Read "4 Ways Martin Luther King Was More Radical Than You Thought" here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Recently homeless older adults have different needs
than those who have been homeless for a long time

In addition to the lifelong elderly homeless population, there are now elderly people who are becoming homeless for the first time in their lives. Recently homeless older adults have different needs than those that have been homeless for a long time, according to the study "Living on the Margins: Older Homeless Adults in Toronto," published in Journal of Gerontological Social Work.

However, current homelessness services tend to treat them as if they had been homeless a long time. Recently homeless older adults lack experience finding support for their recent needs and have trouble navigating their way through complex social service programs. Once homeless, older adults have a difficult time improving their situations.

The researchers found that the biggest difference between the two groups was that recent older homeless people struggled with a lack of information about the homeless service system. Consequently, they used services that offered housing support, while the long-term homeless people tended to rely on temporary services like food banks and drop-ins.

Read a summary here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

As homelessness increases across Massachusetts,
downtown Boston feels the surge

Local, state, and federal officials have reported record numbers of homeless people in Massachusetts, especially families and youths. In late 2012, city officials counted 6,992 homeless men, women, and children in Boston, 5% more than the year before and 17% more than in 2001.

The increase has been highly visible in the city’s commercial heart.

Officials at the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District have reported a rise in calls about homeless people panhandling and sleeping in the area. As a result, this summer they began conducting monthly counts. In October, they found 40 people sleeping in the street around Macy’s.

With several shelters, soup kitchens, and a range of other services in the area, the homeless have long taken refuge in the alleys and alcoves from Boston Common to the Greenway. What’s changed are the expectations of new residents, business owners, and others who now frequent the neighborhood, said Rosemarie E. Sansone, president of the district.

“What’s happening is that property owners are seeing improvements in investments, and the area has become cleaner,” she said of an area that was once called the Combat Zone. “They’re seeing all these improvements and wondering why we haven’t made an impact with homelessness.”

Read the Boston Globe article here.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Florida can't drug test people simply because they’re poor

Citing the 4th Amendment's protections against unreasonable government searches, a federal District Court handed down a blistering decision in the final hours of 2013 that knocked down a Florida law mandating that all applicants for the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program submit to suspicionless drug tests.

In the order, Judge Mary Scriven of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida rejects the state’s arguments and evidence defending the constitutionality of the suspicionless search program, stating that the court “finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”

Governor Rick Scott campaigned hard for this law, making the dubious claim that applicants for public assistance are more likely than the general population to be drug users and therefore that they should be subjected to mandatory and suspicionless searches of their urine. It turned out that so few applicants for public assistance actually tested positive for drugs – during the short period of time during which this law was operational – that Florida ended up shelling out thousands more dollars reimbursing those who tested negative than it saved on public assistance payments to those who tested positive.

Read the post at the ACLU Blog of Rights here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"We are this close -- this close! -- to losing
our democracy to the mercenary class"

Award-winning journalist Bill Moyers says America's social contract has to cover everyone, not just the wealthy.

He quotes Justice William J. Brennan, who said:
"We do not yet have justice, equal and practical, for the poor, for the members of minority groups, for the criminally accused, for the displaced persons of the technological revolution, for alienated youth, for the urban masses .... Ugly inequities continue to mar the face of the nation. We are surely nearer the beginning than the end of the struggle."
Read the Brennan Center's full transcript of the speech here. A portion of it also appeared as an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

RIP Nelson Mandela

“Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.”

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Obama: Income gap a 'fundamental threat' to US

President Barack Obama put a spotlight on rising income inequality in a major economic speech, arguing that the disparity is poses a "fundamental threat" to the American dream.

Marshaling both the recent papal exhortation by Pope Francis and a flurry of statistics reflecting a growing income gap between the wealthiest Americans and most others, Obama urged Washington to adopt policies to address the economic divide.

"The combined trends of increased inequality and decreasing mobility pose a fundamental threat to the American dream, our way of life, and what we stand for around the globe," Obama said at a speech in Washington, D.C. hosted by the progressive think tank Center for American Progress.

Obama called for a litany of proposals -- a higher minimum wage, stronger labor laws and a budget which promotes both education and social safety programs -- that he said would provide better economic stability for families in the aftermath of the recession that took hold as he took office in 2009.

Read the NBC News report here.

Monday, December 02, 2013

New Mexico’s largest homeless shelter
challenges new HUD report on homelessness

HUD has released its national estimate of homelessness, reporting that the homeless population in New Mexico fell by 18% since 2010, to 2,819 persons in 2013.

"We know from first-hand experience that the number of homeless in Albuquerque continues to grow, and the need for meals and other services are on the rise," said Jeremy Reynalds, Joy Junction CEO.

"When you consider the impact these numbers can have on our community's concern, awareness and investment in solving homelessness, it's vital that we discuss these kinds of reports."

Read the Crossmap article here.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Church group ordered
to stop feeding homeless on Thanksgiving


Happy Thanksgiving to all, but apparently not for the homeless living at Palm Beach County’s John Prince Park in Lake Worth.

A dozen church members from Acts 2 Worship Center in Loxahatchee showed up with packaged Thanksgiving meals. "We brought our kids out here so they could see what it’s really like for people that are struggling,” said church member Brian Oakes.

A Palm Beach County park ranger came up to the church group and ordered them to stop and leave. The ranger said he was ordered to warn the church members that they were violating county ordinances. When he was asked to cite the specific law that gave him the authority to kick out church members from a public park, he couldn’t do it. So he called dispatch to ask for help.

Dispatch said that feeding the homeless was not a permitted activity by a large group.

Read the 12 News story here.