Monday, February 1, 2010

Is Red Tape Keeping People Homeless?

And while the popular news is on the topics of real estate, government, and the ever growing jobless population turning into an ever growing homeless population.  During my search for a workspace for my fashion business I came across several lovely little apartments that had been deemed illegal to live in, some could only be used as storage not work.  It was strange, as the apartments seemed safe enough, no leaks or rotting floorboards, proper wiring etc, a couple even had good heating.

With so many people reportedly homeless because they can't afford market rent, why make it more of a problem by closing up viable cheap living spaces? How many illegal living units are sitting vacant or full of storage in San Francisco?  When it’s been raining for 5 days and nights and your sleeping bag is wet and  cold and you can’t afford $60 a night for a budget hotel, or don't have credit to lease a studio, where would you rather sleep, under a tree in wet sleeping bag or in an illegal living unit with a hot shower and a toilet? Which will put you in hospital faster and make you more of a burden on the government?

I know that one argument is that homeless drink, but which came first, the homelessness or the drink? In the Australian outback when temperatures drop to freezing at night, jackaroos (cowboys) will drink rum till they are drunk to numb themselves against the cold.  If we could keep folks out of the cold and weather and away from homeless peer pressure, would it not prevent them getting into drugs and drunkenness to numb out the weather and their situation(at least in part) in the first place?

I live in Haight Ashbury where we cohabitate with homeless in a gentrified neighborhood, and sometimes I ask the older regulars about their lives and being homeless. What I gleaned is that meth (speed) and alcohol are big problems. What I see is that if more cheap housing and solid laws programs were available to get folks into affordable housing before they hit the streets and mandatory no sleeping or loitering outside, the problem could begin to ease off.

Finland have it down pat, I spent two months there in 1989, it is illegal to sleep outdoors within city limits, and they make use of every bit of viable housing.  I think in San Francisco the resources and money are here to solve the homeless problem and prevent new homeless, but it is being mismanaged due to red tape and people being pedantic and scared instead of practicing common decency. We need to ignore the red tape and work together to heal the situation, because it's a society health thing, we are not children and it's not a government's job to heal a society, it's a government's job to keep the wheels turning, it's the people's job to heal society.

People need to take back their power to heal themselves and their neighbors and that heals society. People need people for that very reason, when we forget it we end up with a lot of displaced homeless people with serious issues sleeping on the streets and defecating on our doorsteps. All you folks who are retired or over 55 should be out volunteering and/or taking in your friends and family who are on hard times, it will keep your brain and health spry, and many hands make light work around the house and community.  Plus this is a problem caused by your generation because you gave everyone's power away, you didn't want the responsibility and now we have big problems, so now you can help us get our power of community back and heal society.

Why can’t low-income folks of sound mind, sign a waiver for the building codes so they can live in these spaces for say, a third of market value? Most of these spaces only need a small amount of fixing up to be safe, if not to code. There are as many if not more than 40,000 illegal living spaces in San Francisco, that’s a whole lot of people off the streets and increased revenue to the city in rent taxes. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s homeless report in 2009 stated there were 6,514 homeless in San Francisco. Judging from what I see on the street, that’s a lowball number but it is certainly lower than the housing that is available and not being used.

The homeless count could be feasibly zero if so-called “illegal” living spaces are made available and in turn funding raised from the rents to make them safe, if not totally to code, and sleeping outdoors withing city or county limits banned. It's common knowledge that people have a better chance of getting their lives on track and being law-abiding citizens when they have an affordable roof over their heads and a hot shower. It’s simple common sense.

I know you are going to say "red tape" - but even 2,000 folks homeless in one city is technically a state of emergency, SF has over 6,000.  And yes some are going to not want to sleep indoors, but if the law was that they couldn't withing city limits then they would either have to live indoors or leave town. It would also give much better odds of saving the children both the little ones with no choice, and the runaways. Eventually the deliberate homeless will get the message. And police would have a lot more time and funding freed up for more serious crimes than somebody urinating on a doorstep or sleeping off a bottle of wine in on a patio.

Home built attics in San Francisco today are luxury condos compared to what our friends in Haiti have, even before their big quake. Get some perspective and use the resources that are already here to give people affordable housing. The red tape needs to be thrown out the window and laws made to put real people’s basic needs at the forefront. They don’t need it to be pretty, they just need a warm dry place to sleep and a place to wash. They don’t need a full kitchen, but they do need a place to store food and boil water and maybe microwave a frozen meal.

My ancestors lived in home made rough-hewn log houses, before motor cars and without electricity or indoor pluming for years on end, and they were pillars of their communities. I’ve lived in places without running water or electricity for months on end in several different countries to see what it was like, I also lived in a tent with some girlfriends for 3 months on a beach and in grass huts in India and Thailand, and I am here to write about it without it.

Unemployment levels are still in a state of federal emergency; more good people and their children are living on the streets in our cities. Why can’t a "state of emergency for housing" be made to make the illegal living spaces available and ban sleeping outside in city limits, it would be a lot cheaper and better for the environment than building 40,000 new low income living spaces. It would at least get folks off the streets, registered and into programs until code abiding abodes are built. Who knows, they may even have jobs and a hair cuts by then; tis a better chance than none at all.

My personal feeling is F-bleep the red tape and over-zealous building codes, they haven’t made my landlord to fix my gassy heater or leaking windows. Why let them keep people on the streets and sleeping in their cars in the cold rain? The government needs to help people help themselves.

I am sick of people filibustering and creating laws to stop real good happening. I am sick of corporations having control of governments, and “out of touch” religious organizations having control of people’s moral and voting choices. It’s not working, it is hurting people, and it’s not Christian nor community.

We need to wake up and get practical and give our power back to ourselves as communities by rebuilding our own economies and utilizing readily available housing. Even if it is not to code, a crappy basement studio in Haight Ashbury is 1000 times better, safer, and healthier than a heap of rubble in Haiti, and cheap rents for micro businesses will mean more people with incomes and more taxes paid for better schools and health care.

My Vent

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