Monday, August 10, 2009

The Unbearable Visibility of the Poor...

When the homeless become the subject of an article in the WSJ, poverty is an issue that is getting greater attention these days.

"Cities tolerate homeless camps," is the headline of the WSJ story, and it offers a glimpse into life at tent cities in Nashville, Tampa, Sacramento and other urban areas:

"Last summer, police [in Nashville] responding to complaints about campfires under a highway overpass found dozens of homeless people living on public land along the Cumberland River.

Eviction notices went up -- and then were suspended by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, who said housing for the homeless should be found first.

A year later, little has been found -- and Nashville, with help from local nonprofits, is now servicing a tent city, arranging for portable toilets, trash pickup, a mobile medical van and visits from social workers. Volunteers bring in firewood for the camp's 60 or so dwellers."

According to the story, vagrancy is developing an aura of permanence in today's America, thus the need for these homeless camps:

"A church in Lacey, Wash., near the state capital of Olympia, recently started a homeless camp in its parking lot after the city changed local ordinances to permit it. The City Council in Ventura, Calif., last month revised its laws to permit sleeping in cars overnight in some areas. City Manager Rick Cole said most of the car campers are temporarily unemployed, "and in this economy, temporary can go on a long time."

Clearly, people have lost more than their credit rating as a result of the mortgage crisis.

And not every city is as nice as Nashville.

Over in the NY Times, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed and other non-fiction books, asks the question: is it now a crime to be poor?

Ehrenreich points to a new study that lists cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco that have initiated bans on begging, food sharing and other "crimes" linked with poverty:

"The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, and several members of the group were arrested. A federal judge just overturned the anti-sharing law in Orlando, Fla., but the city is appealing. And now Middletown, Conn., is cracking down on food sharing."

Food sharing is a crime; granting mortgages to people who cannot afford them, just a big oops that comes also with a sizable commission for the unscrupulous mortgage broker.

These are strange times in America. Strange times.

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