One of the biggest stumbling blocks to dealing with the homeless issue in America are the stereotypes surrounding people on the streets. Often, these stereotypes are divided by political ideology. Right wingers are the people that see the homeless as nothing more than dangerous, filthy perverts who are a threat to their life and neighborhood.  Lefties like myself tend to see homeless people as just being down on their luck in a cruel, neoliberal society that's made the world safe for billionaires only. They're no different from you or me. The trouble with these stereotypes is that they're both right!

What's evolving in the treatment of the homeless is that we're gradually moving towards a World War III method of dealing with the people sleeping rough. (I'll explain that later.)Temporary shelters staffed by local volunteers and shelter providers are heated tents now. This is the most modern thinking. Up until now, there's been an emphasis on housing first, which is all very well and good if you live in a rich socialist democracy where the government funds all services at a 100% level.

Unfortunately, this is a totally unrealistic goal given the pitiful inadequacies of services for the homeless and overall demand. Housing vouchers, for example have as much as five year wait times.  And rising rents make as much as 40% of the population vulnerable to being homeless. The cheapest method of housing a homeless person is $5,000 or more to build in this country. So until such time as Uncle Sam is much closer to Sweden, real housing is a worthy goal, but extremely difficult to implement.

And that's why we've seen an evolution towards WW III provisions of taking care of the homeless. A regular homeless shelter locally would cost $1.6M, but a temporary shelter with a heated tent and staff can be operating for $250,000. Think of the cost effective shelter as being kind of like a MASH unit. The tent system also has the advantages of being portable -- moving where the action is. And this type of facility is more or less what is identical to national disaster response. A modern shelter would be used by FEMA for a disaster response.

Of course, there are downsides to operating any kind of shelter.  First, shelters have rules and they are controlled environments.  Privacy is limited by regulations. No drugs or alcohol is to be used in a shelter usually, and there is enforcement that can very quickly evict someone from a shelter.  A shelter is not a jail, but it's much more restrictive than a school classroom by its very nature. People incapable of being in shelters --  like runaways, substance abusers, and people with mental and physical health problems --  often have no other alternative than to sleep outside. Shelter life, by its definition limits an individual's civil rights, and it imposes a one size fits all solution. This is why many homeless people choose not to use shelters.

And now I want to tell you the story of the Highway 99 camp that the city allowed to happen.  First, it's about as horrible a living situation as you can possibly imagine in America.  It's worse than many Third World countries, as those countries have the United Nations and international groups assisting with services. But why do 100 people choose to live in such a muddy hellhole? The answer is -- because a camp is infinitely better than sleeping alone or even in a small group.

If you are homeless -- your are prey. Pure and simple. There are people who will burn you inside your tent. There are people who will rape you and stab you. And people who steal everything you have are some of the nicer people you'll meet in the wilderness.

And here we get to the negative stereotypes surrounding the homeless. And these stereotypes are true. The local governments established the 99 camp as a means of attempting to meet the real needs of people who have nothing.  Many expensive government contracts have gone in to supporting the 99 camp. But the 99 camp (no matter how well run) has the same problems with every other informal homeless camp that's ever been set up.

Even though they "live by the rules," there is a nasty element at the 99 camp. Anywhere from 10% to 30% could be made up of a bad element.  In Eugene, OR the two main groups are bike thieves and meth freaks. They are in a symbiotic relationship because they feed off of each other. Bike theives are petty crooks supporting themselves, and often they take their proceeds to buy drugs to sell to the rubes at a higher price. 

An extremely disturbing minority of bad guys are sex traffickers. Boys and girls are living with their parents in the camp, and they can fall prey to the perverts. The I-5 corridor from Mexico to Canada is a great way to engage in sex trafficking, and Oregon has a reputation as a leader in this field.

Mind you, I've included good people who just happen to be substance abusers and people with mental health problems.  This must make up 40% of the total population.  You put all these elements into a homeless camp mix, and you can see why camps are by their very nature unstable.  Sooner or later, there will be enough of a bad element showing up in the camp that there will be problems in the neighborhood, and some old biddy will call the cops. And then the camp needs to be dissolved.

The most heartbreaking thing  about the homeless issue is that good, innocent people are caught up in this living nightmare of what America has become. The most cruel fact of the stereotypes is not that they're true. If there was a perfect system to easily identify the"good" people from the "bad" people, the homeless situation might be cured. But that would probably be a system like Nazi Germany where "bad" homeless people would be forced to wear a yellow star. 

Understanding  the differences between camps and shelters highlights the complex realities of dealing with our national problem. Unfortunately under the current political and economic climate it's almost impossible to do the right thing for those of us in America who have nothing.

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Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on January 11, 2019 at 7:49am


Comment by Robert B. James on January 11, 2019 at 7:58am

Steinbeck.  But not so. The dustbowl was also a man made nightmare. This one is different but also man made. State supervised humans...not nurtured, parented, or even wanted, born any way.  Starting from’s all down hill, and some. We are the state...the state is us. The state is controlled by special interests who claim expertise and moral superiority...we bow. We bow to mass incarceration, we bow to opioids...we bow to consumerism. 

    The data is in. We the people have been had. The thieves have not just taken over the prisons, they have taken over hearts, minds and the state. Steinbeck, on paxil. 

Comment by Tom Cordle on January 11, 2019 at 8:39am

Lefty!  Good to see ya! I'll be back to read later.

Comment by alsoknownas on January 11, 2019 at 9:35am

A friend of mine who does know you visited Portland not long ago.

His take on matters was that Portland far exceeds Eugene in the total degradation of community which leads to and is exacerbated by the "camps".

I got worn down by it and have nearly completed moving.

I returned last week for 48 hours. It took less than an hour, while I was shoveling fallen leaves into a recycling bin as part of the process of keeping the house for sale tidy enough to not bother a buyer, before I was physically threatened by a "camper" who had seen me see him peaking into parked cars. My car had been broken into and the interior trashed two weeks prior to this. I stepped back to let him pass but he challenged me saying "I don't like your mug. You're ugly."

While I paused to chuckle at the grade B movie line, he advanced. I was holding a shovel. How nuts is that? He wasn't hurt, but soon saw me as persuasive in my admonition and advice to leave me alone

Nobody knows what to do. People of modest means are setting up camera systems to capture photos of night prowlers raiding their back yards and porches. They turn the videos over to the police who cannot use them.

Effective infrastructure to deal with the combination of opioid and meth addicted and those with untreated mental health issues living on the street does not exist. The down trodden on the street victimize each other repeatedly. Among those are the truly needy who have been lost in the crowd.

It's frightening to see.

Comment by Maui Surfer on January 11, 2019 at 10:58am

Steinbeck redux indeed. Joseph Stalin tried to use The Grapes of Wrath as propaganda, ("They say we're Red, what's that?" h. fonda)

Finally the trend back towards Hygienic Camps has begun. What a disgrace it took this long. Yes, they are not for everyone, but they protect those who are capable but temporarily in trouble, and those who are unable to defend themselves or survive on their own. Finally.

Portland somehow simply attracted a disproportionate percentage of absolute vermin. What they are allowed to get away with is, by definition, criminal.

The cold weather there does not help. Oahu's North Shore is a warm weather home to literally hundreds of every type of human, all living in caves and trees. Also a tragedy, but at least they won't freeze to death.

When the Hawaiian people who had lived on the Beach at Waikiki for a thousand years were finally kicked off post WW II, a good amount of them simply moved down to the cliffs of Diamond Head, which still today is "home" to hundreds of those to whom the idea of a 2000 per month studio apartment is seemingly forever out of reach.

Auwe (Alas)


Comment by Tom Cordle on January 11, 2019 at 11:43am

When I lived in Orlando, winter would bring the homeless from the North to sunny Florida, that influx was predictable, but nothing was done by govt agencies to compensate for it. Many of the homeless were veterans, veterans who had been drafted to fight in a dubious war in Vietnam, veterans who had been promised their government would take care of them after they'd done their duty. But they weren't taken care of, and many of them were forced to sleep outdoors; and even in Orlando, winters could be very cold, sometimes dropping down into the teens. Meanwhile, wealthy citrus grove owners were well-compensated when freezing cold weather resulted in crop damage.

I don't know what the solution is the problem of homelessness, but I do know millions of Americans are only a paycheck or two away from living in their cars or in the streets. This shouldn't happen in the richest nation on Earth. I also know a lot of the homeless could be taken care of with that $25-50 billion Hairball wants to spend on a useless wall.

Comment by koshersalaami on January 11, 2019 at 6:57pm

Good post. Nothing to add. Good to see you


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