All posts by Site Administrator

When city and police fail to curb homeless problems, neighbors step up

This is something that is happening in several cities — sometimes in small ways, sometimes in larger more coordinated ways.  When city governments and/or police fail to protect neighborhoods from problems created by illegal homeless camps, including garbage and blight, drug dealing, crime, — sometimes neighbors will step up and try to solve some problems on their own.  This is certainly not ideal, and could be dangerous, as it puts both sides at risk — homeless are at risk from overreaching vigilante type actions, and neighbors are at risk from violent or criminal or mentally ill homeless.

However, given the amount of catastrophic failure by some cities to prevent serious problems caused by illegal homeless camps from eroding quality of life in many neighborhoods, it should come as no surprise that fed-up communities are organizing to try to attend to some of the problems themselves.

Two examples of this happening are in New Orleans, in the French Quarter area, where “gutter punks” are creating a great nuisance in commercial districts, as well as in Portland, in the Montavilla Park neighborhood.

homeless in nola

In New Orleans,

Sidney Torres IV is a property developer and reality television star with a fondness for making deals. But unlike a similar figure in the White House, Torres is not elected to any political office.

Instead, Torres, who was a millionaire by age 23, has used his money to start his own private police force in the historic French Quarter in New Orleans — one of several such “vigilante” groups bankrolled by businessmen to spring up in US cities in recent years.

The French Quarter Task Force uses off-duty uniformed police employed at premium wages. Residents and visitors report crime via an app.

“I started this out of need,” the 43-year-old says from his New Orleans office, where walls are adorned with framed newspaper clippings of his exploits.

In 2015, Torres — who is known for his real estate advice in the reality show The Deed — says his home in the French Quarter was robbed, and a friend of his mother’s was assaulted on the street. When the mayor did not return his call, he decided to take action.

“I did a commercial to put residents on air who were robbed and beat up to let people see them visually. I knew [the mayor] would see these and pick up the phone and call me.”
The French Quarter Task Force says it is a neighbourhood watch program, not a vigilante group. But its emergence speaks to a wider trend of private police forces maintained by wealthy individuals in cities across America, existing in grey areas of the law.

“Private police forces aren’t governed by the constitution — and that makes them in my opinion quite dangerous,” says constitutional lawyer and Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead.

“They get a free pass, and that’s a scary thing. The law is lagging far behind.”

The American Council for Civil Liberties says that private forces are not subject to Freedom of Information laws, meaning that they are not required to disclose information about their operations.

homeless man in tent portland

In Portland:

Police statistics show property crime has risen in the neighborhood in the last three years. In July, Portland Police Assn. President Daryl Turner called Portland a “cesspool” and criticized elected officials for their response to homelessness. Turner said Portland police are “catastrophically” understaffed.

Users write of taking justice in their own hands, or using drones with video capability to observe local camps — something two homeless interviewees said does occur.

tent by freeway portland

As the first article indicates, other “private security forces” are set up in Detroit and around the Facebook campus.

In 2010, businessman Dan Gilbert moved his company Quicken Loans to Detroit, where 80 per cent of the residents are black and 35 per cent live in poverty. As the city was sliding into bankruptcy as a result of the 2007 financial crisis, Mr Gilbert was installing his own security apparatus to protect his substantial investments in the city.

A man point at a red dot on a map of New Orleans.
crime on map detroit

PHOTO French Quarter Task Force operations manager Robert Simms points out crime locations on a map

In the 20-square-kilometre downtown area surrounding his company’s headquarters, Mr Gilbert has erected 500 high-powered telescopic cameras, employing private security contractors to monitor the streets and cross-coordinate with Detroit’s police databases.

Other cities around the country are following suit. Facebook recently paid for a police substation near its business campus in San Francisco, while one 2016 report said that in Washington DC, 120 private companies employed 16,580 law enforcement agents.

Other private security forces exist around the nation to deter crime, often crime related to the homeless and their camps. In Denver, this article indicated that for the private security force there, they estimated 60 to 70% of their work involved homeless related issues.

In Seattle too, as stated in this article, homeowners were fed up with “blatant lawlessness”, have hired their own security force.

For Angie Gerrald, crime in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood has reached a new low. From illegally parked RVs to open drug deals, the longtime resident sees piles of used needles on her routine runs, she said, and other problems she says police sometimes ignore.

“The blatant lawlessness has been a whole new era” this past year, Gerrald said. “There is so little response — so little they [police] can and will do about it.”

More than one SEattle neighborhood has organized a security patrol:

Magnolia launched its own patrol program in December, the latest Seattle neighborhood to organize and pay for extra security, and now some Queen Anne residents are making plans to start a program.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a plan on Tuesday to dedicate two parking areas for dozens of people living in RVs and other vehicles, a move that follows outcry from some Ballard residents over crime around the vehicles near their homes.

The problem often comes down to lack of police resources to keep up with all the service calls:

Brad Renton, president of the Whittier Heights Patrol Association, started his surveillance service about a year ago after repeatedly “hearing the same old lies” about the police department’s plans to boost manpower, he said.

“SPD is a wonderful group of guys. They’re just getting overwhelmed,” he said. “You’d like them to be there for you, and they are there, but they have to be there for the important stuff,” not necessarily nonviolent crimes.

The patrol project came into motion after Renton heard residents’ complaints over poor police-response times to nonviolent crimes — symptoms of an overworked department and lack of resources to keep pace with demand, Renton said.

Similarly in Longmont Colorado, concerns about nuisance and crime associated with homelessness led to a private security force put into action there.

I view all of this as tied to the political trends which, on the one hand, have led to de-valuation of the police, and on the other, have led to an increasing tolerance for serious blight and nuisance in neighborhoods caused by illegal homeless camps.
A few incidents of police brutality that have been heavily overemphasized, and the misguided perception that there is more police misconduct in relation to black and minority populations) has led to suspicions of the police, the desire to restrict police powers, and even the loss of understanding that police are simply community representatives, there to protect the safety and security of the community as a whole.
The way police are referred to in some quarters shows a growing seriously distorted and utlimately anti-social perception that police are more of a problem to communities than criminals are, or that police, rather than doing the will of the people as expressed in laws passed by the whole society, are more of a racist vigilante force in themselves, not interested in enforcing laws or keeping peace but in harassing and brutalizing black and Hispanic males.
When views of the police become so distorted, and when these distortions begin to make their way into city government and result in city leaders hamstringing their police force and preventing them from adequately enforcing the law, I think it should come as no surprise when citizens start taking it upon themselves to protect their own communities.

As well, a large number of cities have utterly failed to curb or even come up with any plan to reduce the nuisance and crime that stem from illegal homeless camps, and this is totally unacceptable to many communities, who not surprisingly, will start looking around for ways to solve the problem themselves if their city leaders fail to do so.

And again, because of the dangers involved both for the homeless and for the residents of communities, it’s imperative that city leaders take this problem seriously and do much better at protecting communities from the problems and crime invariably associated with illegal homeless camps.

Advertisements

The High Cost of Ending Homelessness — When One County Pays Disproportionately

One of the arguments I continually make in numerous articles, is that I believe the problem of homelessness must be solved at a state and/or national level, not city by city or even county by county.  To be sure, working on it county-wide is better than working on it at even smaller scale, but because the problem is in essence a national one — our country lacks a meaningful safety net for those who lose a job or an apartment, or become disabled or elderly and have insufficient income to make ends meet — it really should be solved at the national level.

Here’s an example of the difficulty of taking this on, at a county level.  A study was recently done, to determine how much it would cost to end homelessness in Alameda County, the East Bay area including cities of Berkeley, Oakland (which have the most homeless) and San Leandro and Hayward and a few other cities which have far fewer homeless.

This study says that the price tag for ending homelessness in ALameda County is $334 million a year, or triple what is currently being spent.  “More than 12,000 people are homeless at some point each year in Alameda County. On any given night, the figure is 5,600.”  To begin with, the cost of housing these people is inappropriately high.  $334 million divided by 12,000 people comes to $27,833.00 per person.  Even if we allowed for 2 dozen homeless service workers in the county, to carry out the work, paid $100k each, and an additional approximately $2 million in administrative costs, that would still leave $300 million…which divided among 12,000 people would come to $27,500 each per year.  That is enough to pay a rent of nearly $2300 per person, which is far more than would be needed to house these people in areas of the nation where housing is least expensive.  (An entire apartment can be had for $500 a month in some cities…the image at the top of this article shows a 3-bedroom apartment in Memphis TN available for $375 a month..that comes to less than $150 per person per month to house people).  As well, if these people live as roommates together in apartments, and particularly if they can be doubled up 2 to a bedroom, the cost to house them even in the Bay Area would only be $600 to $1100 a month, as this is what it costs to rent either a bedroom or shared bedroom.

Given that each homeless person could be housed elsewhere in the nation for 25% of the $2300 per person that the $334 million cost represents, not only do we not need to spend that much to house people, this indicates that our present spending on homelessness is already too high, as it is currently 30% of the $334 million, rather than the 25% of that which is all that’s needed to house all these people in places like Detroit, Memphis, Tucson, Las Vegas, or a hundred other cities with lower monthly rents than are found in the Bay Area.  Memphis apartment (2)

Of course, this doesn’t account for paying for substance abuse treatment facilities or stays in such, or for psychiatric facilities and stays in those for the seriously mentally ill.  But counties should not be footing the bill for all substance abusers or seriously mentally ill who happen to end up in their region, often migrating from elsewhere.  This does need to be state funded or federally funded.

Some of those interviewed for the study, said that they felt jobs were more important than housing for the homeless:

Jose Ramirez, who has been homeless for three years. He and his dog, Judah, were sitting near Jack London Square and the Interstate 880 overpass in Oakland, right across the street from a shuttered store where he used to work.

Ramirez, 50, agreed that East Bay agencies need to be putting far more funding into homelessness but disagreed with the “housing-first” goal, in which local governments put getting people housed over services. He said finding a job is more important to him than getting shelter.

 

Some of the homeless have been offered shelter, but reject it, as they view it as coming with “too many rules.”  One wonders if they’d have the same objections to life in a standard apartment, where you have to follow rules, or can be evicted.  At some point, people unable to follow basic rules, are just not going to be able to retain any housing that is given to them.

Many people living in encampments, including 55-year-old William Ewing, criticized Mayor Libby Schaaf’s Tuff Sheds — one of the most visible city programs seeking to address homelessness. The sheds are not close to meeting the scale of the problem, and come with too many rules, said Ewing, who has been homeless for five years.

Belligerent, Abusive Homeless Activists Harass Berkeley Police

We hear a lot of stories about alleged “police brutality’ throughout the nation, including in Berkeley, which is often viewed as the most progressive, liberal city in the nation. Of course, police brutality does sometimes occur, but too many people are unaware of the other side of the problem — the abuse and harassment of police by people who it sometimes seems have made it almost their primary purpose in life to provoke police officers.

The videos I’m sharing here demonstrate that rather than abusive police in the city of Berkeley, what we often have are abusive “homeless” persons, who scream at, berate, lecture, insult and abuse police officers who are doing something as simple as politely responding to a service call. Seeing this kind of behavior can help people understand what police have to put up with in the daily course of doing their job with “poor, vulnerable, homeless people.”

In this first video, you’ll see  some shockingly belligerent and abusive behavior directed towards police who do nothing but ask one man for his name and birthdate, and then simply stand passively by while being yelled at.  Including yelled at through a megaphone. I’ve observed a number of interactions of this particular homeless individual with police, and it’s become clear that in order to maximize his obnoxiousness and escalate his ability to harass police, he frequently yells at police through a megaphone or bullhorn when they come to speak to him when they’ve received a complaint about him.  As you’ll see in this video, his language is foul and highly provocational.
One of these homeless men tells the officer that he should shoot and kill himself.

As is stated in the description accompanying this video:

On December 11 2018, police responded to a service call and approached individuals illegally camped on a street median at Ashby and Adeline streets in Berkeley.

This video points to much that is wrong with the interactions between police and the homeless in some Left Coast cities such as Berkeley.

Notice how the police in this video are the ones being berated, insulted, lectured to and told what they may or may not do. While the individuals who are illegally camped in a street median, a spot which the city of Berkeley has made very clear is not an acceptable place to camp (they’ve repeatedly evicted people camped on street medians) are insisting on their right to be there, telling the police to go away, and using foul and abusive language in reference to other individuals in the vincinity.

As the officer simply responds to a service call, he’s lectured to by one man, having to listen to foul language from two of them, one of whom has a megaphone, circling around in the background is Osha Neumann, the enabling attorney for the homeless, as well as Barbara Brust, the woman who parks in the car in a throughway and initially refuses to move when police direct her to move her car.

Notice how the homeless individuals camping right in front of a business, ceaselessly mock and insult the business owner, repeatedly calling her “dumb bitch” yelling right over the head of the police officer, and yelling that it’s their “first amendment right” to ceaselessly scream at someone like this.

. If this is how these men behave when a police officer is right there, imagine how things will go badly south between these aggressive individuals and the business owner after the police depart. No good comes from cities or police allowing people who imagine they have a constitutional right to camp on a street median in front of commerical businesses, to linger there, taunting,  provoking and abusing those all around them. This appalling nuisance needs to be ended and fast.

“We’re anarchists….” the homeless man says, “And you’re overseers“, he says to the police officer, “And your badge used to say ‘slave patrol‘. ….”and you’re not going to patrol me.” The two homeless men call the police officer a “bitch” and taunt him to pull his gun out and shoot them, joking about suicide by cop. This extremely provocational and highly disrespectful behavior, in is a result of political shifts that have enabled people to engage in harassment of police with impunity.

At one point the most belligerent homeless character in this video says this to the police officer, “Pull your gun out, put it to your head, and pull the trigger.”  Yes, that is rightHe actually says this to a police officer.  This is what respect for the law has devolved into, in liberal Berkeley, among some of the “poor homeless.”

At one point, one of the men speaks to the police using the megaphone. saying things like “fuck the cops.” The other says, “we will kick back and we bite too.” He accuses the police officer of “carrying weapons of mass destruction.”

Consider how upside down, abusive and toxic this situation is. It demonstrates why the city of Berkeley is experiencing attrition from its police department, as well as an increase in problems with homeless camping.  Berkeley has been struggling to attract officers to hire.

As well, this video demonstrates clearly the fiction of “police brutality” in Berkeley, and shows who it is who’s really abusing who — the aggressive homeless activists abusing police.

POlice officers in the City of Berkeley have stated that they spend 75% of their time responding to service calls related to homelessness. Considering the homeless population is less than 1% of the population in the city, 1000 people out of a total population of 110,000, this implies that some homeless individuals are engaging in an absolutely astronomical sized disruption to the city.

See more about the overwhelming amount of time police spend effectively trying to babysit out of control homeless individuals: https://homelessquandary.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/impact-of-homeless-on-police-bart-system-bpd-75-of-our-time-spent-on-homeless/

In this next video, these same two belligerent homeless individuals are taunting and provoking the police in another city in the area, Walnut Creek. It seems that they have a mission in life to travel from one city to another harassing the police.

In this next one the same two men argue with Albany Police, claiming a right to stand in the middle of the street and panhandle. One of the men refuses to acknowledge city laws which prohibit standing in the middle of the street. Other videos show him being cited for the same offense in other cities.

Note that the photo at the top of this article shows Berkeley police officers at the Old City Hall in Berkeley, after tne 2nd fire at a homeless camp which had been formed on the lawn of City Hall. This 2nd fire was started by someone allegedly dealing methamphetamine out of the camp. The homeless camp had been there for some months. It’s appalling that a city would allow a homeless camp to exist right on the lawn of city hall, when it had created two fires, and there was illegal drug activity at the camp.

Oakland Opens More Tuff Shed Camps, RV Parking Areas in the Works

Oakland is doing quite a lot — more than Berkeley— to set up shelters for its homeless, including setting up more Tuff-Shed sites.  These Tuff-Shed villages use small sheds, originally designed as garden sheds, which are outfitted with electrical power, and have doors that lock, in order to house homeless until more permanent housing can be found for them.  Two cots are placed in each shed and each thus houses two people.

Some homeless advocates are arguing that these dont’ work for everyone, and so some people should be permitted to stay in their tent camps and not be forced to move into the tuff sheds.  Thus far, the city has not forced anyone to stay in a Tuff Shed village, and I doubt they could do that.  They invite people to stay there.  But the city does also shut down tent camps, and this gives homeless campers more incentive to accept a spot in the Tuff Shed villages.

The movement from shutting down illegal camping to  making shelter available  in Tuff Shed or other official shelter, definitely is the way to go.  As I see it, this is really the direction every city or government agency should be going, large-scale.  You open up more and more shelters and shelter-villages offering temporary housing, an array of types of shelter which can accomodate people with different needs, for instance, some for individuals, some for couples, some for people with pets, some for people with substance abuse, some for people with serious mental illness, some for people with disabilities.  And then you gradually shut down ALL illegal homeless camps in the city.

Oakland is also planning to set up “RV Parks”, by which I believe it means, RV parking areas where those living in vehicles can stay.  Hopefully  — if the city councilmembers have any common sense — these places will allow temporary parking, rather than the option of lifelong parking.  All shelters and parking areas should allow temporary stays only, to emphasize the point that we are absolutely not going to support those who are choosing homelessness or living in a vehicle within the city, as a permanent lifestyle  — because there are other places more appropriate for that, such as an RV park, or Quartzsite Arizona, which is the RV Boondocking capital of the world: 

An article in the East Bay Times indicates that the number of homeless in the Bay Area and in the nation as a whole, is much higher than originally was thought.

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2018/12/11/homelessness-in-the-bay-area-its-worse-than-we-thought/

Shopping Cart Races in North Vancouver

In North Vancouver, an independent filmmaker came upon an intriguing street culture — a group of homeless recycling scavengers who do shopping cart racing, flying down steep Vancouver streets, with shopping carts full of cans, bottles and perhaps also a 60 lb rock to keep the cart stable during the ride which can get up to 60 or 70km/hr.

The filmmaker, Murray Siple, is a man who used to be a snowboarder, until a car accident injury put him into a wheelchair.  He found himself excited by the outlaw culture of the shopping cart racers, which rekindled the excitement he’d felt while snowboarding, and immersed himself in their community in order to make the film.  He met intriguing characters, each with life challenges that had led to homelessness.

Al, in downhill shopping cart slalom:
Carts of Darkness photo

I found this story funny and intriguing, as well as sad at times.

Fergie, playing guitar:

Fergie

Homeless in Alaska: America’s Coldest City

As winter approaches here in California, and I think of homeless people living in tents in cold, rainy weather in this state of relatively mild weather, my thoughts go towards those living outdoors in a much more hostile environment, such as the Northern states, or Canada or Alaska.

I found this YouTube video about people who are homeless in Anchorage, Alaska, and who live outdoors in tents, in weather that goes at times to 40 degrees below zero.

Many of those interviewed for this film, have been homeless for several years.  Several got into the situation they are in now because of drug convictions.  Some experienced having their tents and camps wrecked or burned, apparently by someone who didn’t want them there.  Tent and man in snow

As is described by one outreach worker in the film, those who are down and out in Anchorage, have no place else to go.  There aren’t any other cities close by.  Many homeless die of exposure each year.  One woman says that the homeless population in Anchorage is alarmingly high — between 6000 and 10,000, out of a total city population of 300,000.  Compared to Berkeley, which has about 1000 homeless out of a total population of 110,000, the homeless population in Anchorage is twice to three times as high as that in Berkeley.

Anchorage has 223 parks, covering 10,000 acres, which ends up being space for dozens of homeless camps.

The police in Anchorage do not evict campers in the winter, they are more concerned with people being safe from the weather.

The police point out that the homeless camps are full of discarded cans and bottles of alcohol, and that the homeless tend to mostly be chronic inebriates who camp within a few minute’s walk of a liquor store.  The police point out that camps are never located miles away in the woods far from liquor stores.

This film makes it clear that in Anchorage at least, the homeless issue is very heavily connected to substance abuse.

Goodbye Gutter Punks

New Orleans is proving itself an admirable model for Left Coast cities who haven’t yet figured out how to do this simple thing:  distinguish between “legitimate” homeless persons, who are sincerely in search of shelter and/or housing, and “gutter punks” or “travelers” who are too often found plopped down –with their pitbulls —  in front of storefronts and spare-changing in commerical districts, creating nuisance for everyone.

This article describes how NOLA has swept its French Quarter clean of such trouble:
https://www.bigeasymagazine.com/2018/11/29/happening-now-homeless-round-up-in-the-french-quarter/

It should not be difficult for cities to learn to make such distinctions and enact laws/policies which, while allowing space for and providing services for the homeless who truly seek help, do not support the ability of gutter punks to ruin public places.

I mean all it would really take is just asking people if they want help, services, shelter, or assistance finding housing, and if they say “no”, then you get on their behind and stay on their heinie until you get them in jail or out of town, or at least to a part of town where their ability to cause nuisance and engage in crime is minimized.   As I wrote in another article on the history of homelessness, there have always been “travelers” and vagrants in the US, but historically, (before city leadership grew spineless) they have understood that they would not just be permitted to “hang out” in the center of a city and cause nuisance.  So they stayed in “hobo jungles” or other areas where police didn’t hassle them.

The actions taken by New Orleans to keep their French Quarter free of those who could cause a lot of nuisance and trouble for visitors as well as ordinary residents, should be imitated by Berkeley, San Francisco and Oakland, Portland and Seattle, all of which are experiencing serious problems with “gutter punks” taking over downtown areas, even to the point where people are afraid to shop in these areas in their own city.  aggressive panhandlingAggressive beggar pullsAggressive beggar 2 (2)