Saturday, February 19, 2011

Just Give It

From an article in the Economist.

WHEN the workers in the City of London head home each evening, a hidden legion of homeless people shuffles out of the shadows to reclaim their territory. The Square Mile has more rough sleepers than any other London borough except Westminster: 338 were identified by Broadway, a charity, over the past year, most of whom had spent more than a year on the streets. Policymakers have long struggled to find ways to shift such people, some of whom take deluded pride in their chaotic circumstances, resist offers to come in from the cold and suffer from severe drug, drink or mental-health problems (sometimes all three).

Broadway tried a brave and novel approach: giving each homeless person hundreds of pounds to be spent as they wished. According to a new report on the project by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a think-tank, it worked—a success that might offer broader lessons for public-service reform and efficiency.

The charity targeted the longest-term rough sleepers in the City, who had been on the streets for between four and 45 years (no mean achievement when average life expectancy for the long-term homeless is 42). Instead of the usual offers of hostel places, they were simply asked what they needed to change their lives.

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One asked for a new pair of trainers and a television; another for a caravan on a travellers’ site in Suffolk, which was duly bought for him. Of the 13 people who engaged with the scheme, 11 have moved off the streets. The outlay averaged £794 ($1,277) per person (on top of the project’s staff costs). None wanted their money spent on drink, drugs or bets. Several said they co-operated because they were offered control over their lives rather than being “bullied” into hostels. Howard Sinclair of Broadway explains: “We just said, ‘It’s your life and up to you to do what you want with it, but we are here to help if you want.’”

This was only a small-scale pilot project—though its results have been echoed by others elsewhere in Britain—but it underlines the importance of risk-taking in the provision of public services. In this case, although finance directors (and many voters) might balk at buying the homeless caravans, the savings should outweigh the costs. Some estimates suggest the state spends £26,000 annually on each homeless person in health, police and prison bills.

The scheme also reinforces the view that handing control to the users of public services, even in unlikely circumstances, can yield better results. It is perhaps the most radical application yet of “personalised budgets”, increasingly used in Britain for the disabled and chronically ill. That is itself in keeping with an emerging international trend to use “conditional cash transfers” to solve intractable social problems.

Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist, has invested more than $6m to test the proposition that paying pupils can improve poor schools. The most successful method was the simplest, in which children in Dallas were rewarded for reading books. Similar schemes are proliferating in the developing world. In Malawi, the World Bank recently gave a trial to the idea of paying adolescent girls to stay in school. That worked, too. Researchers also found that rates of HIV infection were much lower among girls paid to stay in classrooms: one more lesson in the power of responsibility and self-control.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nashville Rescue Mission Fundraiser

Big goings on with this fundraiser. The group putting it together is one of the best youth/community involvement organizations I've seen. The people in charge know how to get things done. 1/2 of the funds raised will go to the rescue mission, the other 1/2 will go to other homeless service providers in the area.

For more information, go to

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How much do you spend on magazines, books, newspapers? This blog offers nearly ten years worth of writing, all first hand experiences of homelessness. Certainly what I have created here is of some benefit, it has a worth. If anyone reading this blog finds it to be of value, and is willing, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Hiring The Homeless

A friend recently asked,
"'s a topic for you to blog about. Ticket scalpers that hire the homeless to camp out overnight and hold a place in line for them to get tickets for high demand shows. (Like Taylor Swift, which is happening downstairs.) Good thing or bad thing?"

My reply:
I am 100% against ticket scalping. And I'm surprised that Nashville of all places allows it to happen. No doubt there are those in the powerful music industry that are benefiting from it. Hiring the homeless to do the standing in line, well it all depends on how much they are paying the homeless person. A fair wage is a fair wage, regardless. The problem always comes when someone takes advantage of a homeless person and pays them less for the work because they know the homeless person is desperate. If you spend 12 hours in a line and get paid only 10 dollars for it, well, that is just plain wrong. But, I don't know how much they are being paid. I seriously doubt they are getting paid much.

I once worked at the Titan's Stadium as part of the clean up crew after a game. There were MANY homeless people gathered just outside one of the gates to the stadium the entire game, all waiting for a chance to be picked for the job of cleaning up after the fans.

I have to tell you, it's not easy work. Fans get drunk and messy, and they don't think about what people will have to go through to clean up after them. It seems like part of the celebration is to throw your cheese nachos face down on the ground for everyone else to walk on. Now imagine forty thousand people doing the same thing with their beer and peanuts and coke and hotdogs and snot rags, and chewing tobacco, etc. And think about how the seats are arranged closely together without much room for maneuvering to get under and around the seats. Anyway.

At the end of the game some representative of the company contracted to do the clean up comes out to the huddled mass of homeless people waiting for work. He gives them a good looking over. Then he chooses about half of those for the job. Then he announces how much they are going to pay. On the night I went, the said "$30" for the job.

They don't pay people according to the work that needs to be done, but solely on the size of the labor pool they have to choose from, and how little they can get away with paying for the work. And, they don't "hire" anyone, and don't offer an hourly wage. What they do is contract your labor at a set rate. If anyone in the group they picked for the work complains about the amount being paid, the company representative goes back to the group of not picked homeless and asks, "anyone want to do the job for 30 bucks?" Someone always says yes, and so the complainer is dismissed and the new guy is taken on. Of those who took the job, I'd say about half of them were crack heads and alcoholics, willing to do just about anything for their next high.

It took us over 10 hours to complete the job, which came to making less than 3 dollars and hour for the back breaking work.

Since I'd heard other homeless talking about the job, I thought I'd check it out. Well, I learned my lesson. I won't be going back to work there again.

Ya know, it's not like the multi-million dollar pro football industry can't afford to pay a fair wage for this work. But Tennessee is a "right to work" state, which means unions have almost no power here to help people when employees are mistreated by unfair wages.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Couple More Images

Like all my recent work, these were made by manipulating the settings of Second Life, a three dimensional virtual reality MMO.
(Click on the images to enbiggen)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Coffee Weather

I urge all my homeless friends in Nashville to make the most of this McD offering, especially when there is weather coming that looks like this:

Odd Turn Of Events

I usually hate this place. Now I'm not much for leaving it.

This morning I had my yearly recertification meeting with MDHA, the government agency that supervises my housing, and so I'm good to live in my place for another year.

I've been wanting to move out of here for some time, mostly because of my neighbors. My apartment is very small, but I can live with it because the convenient location more than makes up for the size of it. Yet in the past month or so, two of the worst neighbors have gone. One died and the other is wanted by the police, so he won't be coming back any time soon. I lost one other neighbor from the building, but he was extremely quiet, I'm sorry to see him go. So, with the exception of one noisy neighbor who occasionally argues loudly with imaginary foes, my place is very do-able. Hopefully, whoever they move in, to the empty units, will be respectful if not completely quiet neighbors. Right now, it's not so bad being here.

I was told that no new applications for housing vouchers were being accepted at this time, so it would be near impossible for me to move out of here for another apartment building any time soon anyway. So, here I am, and here I'll be, for the foreseeable future.