Nov 2012 13

by Lee Camp

It’s almost here. It’s almost time for that big shopping day each year when someone gets trampled to death as a thousand crazed zombie-like human beings scramble for the last few copies of the new zombie video game. And that’s the time when we all have to ask ourselves, “Are we progressing? Or is this a nation of children?”


Nov 2012 09

by Joanne Stocker, Kenneth Lipp and Dustin Slaughter

The baseball field behind Egbert Middle School is pitch black as our journalist team, led by Liam (who prefers his last name not be used), a Staten Island resident who swam flood waters to rescue neighbors as the nearby ocean swallowed his community, walk down an unlit street strewn with the detritus of Hurricane Sandy’s watery rage. Liam wants to show us what the neighborhood has been abuzz over: the site of what was a makeshift morgue, in the hopes that we might challenge what many here in Midland Beach see as an official orchestrated attempt to downplay Sandy’s death toll.

Midland Beach, a tight-knit working class neighborhood on the Island, has largely been washed away. What remains are uninhabitable homes and harsh utility floodlights that pierce the inky darkness to discourage looters, as unmarked police cars patrol the shells of former neighborhoods.

It is the closest to Hell any of us have ever been.

“It was in here,” he says as he beckons us to enter.

Taking just a few steps yields the stench of death. Like this smell, the truth of what happened here isn’t easily dismissed.

As with any story that spreads through a tight-knit community, especially in a disaster, there are inconsistencies and friends-of-friends third and fourth-hand accounts to rely on. Some say the flood victims, which rumor has it are to be found within the school, broke into the premises to seek shelter from the rising waters or the cold, only to meet with tragedy. Others claim that the bodies were found elsewhere and the school was used because the nearby Staten Island University Hospital’s morgue, with a capacity of no more than 50, could not handle the intake.

Rumors are natural, but this isn’t sensational gossip.

Earlier in the day, a New York City Housing Authority administrator [name withheld] at the South Beach housing development told us how her friend, a nurse, had been relocated to Midland after her hospital in Manhattan was evacuated. When we inquired specifically about the rumored school-cum-morgues, she said she could confirm that the school had been used as a morgue, and that the actual death toll was much higher. When we tracked down her friend, the nurse, she declined our request for comment. The NYC Housing Authority administrator later recanted her assertion over the phone, after telling us she had gone out to dinner with Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, and that she now accepted the official death toll of 18. However, the rumor was subsequently corroborated by an Egbert Middle School teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous. When questioned by us, she confirmed that the school wouldn’t open Monday morning because it was being used as a temporary morgue.

A sanitation worker and Staten Island local, holding his hands to his head in horror upon seeing the destruction on Cedar Grove Avenue for the first time, repeated again and again, “They’re lying,” – he was referring to the death toll. He told us of another New York Department of Sanitation employee, only 22 years old, who was part of a crew that “lifted 50 bodies into a front-end loader” in the Midland neighborhood just a day earlier. Workers from the Sanitation Department were a constant sight as they helped residents clean up debris.

The morgue rumor becomes even more disturbing when one takes into account the behavior of local press, such as the Staten Island Advance. In an early report, the Advance mentions a temporary morgue site off of Bedford and Mason Avenues – Egbert Middle School’s location – yet later Sandy reports in the paper make no mention of this. The Advance offered no retraction, but the makeshift morgue item was there…

And then vanished without explanation.

Contrast the reliable testimonies of Midland Beach residents with the strange behavior of the local press and adamant denials from local officials [see official statement] and one begins to see a narrative emerge: Regardless of whether Egbert Middle School was or is still being used as a makeshift morgue, the death toll in this forgotten borough that is a casualty of political expediency is likely much higher than officials would like the public to know.

We return the following day to volunteer where needed and talk to the people who call Midland Beach their home. It is the day of what was to be the 2012 New York Marathon.

“This is all Staten Island is to them – a starting line and a dump,” Chris Rich, a Staten Island firefighter tells us as he cleans up debris and mud from his gutted house. Throughout his neighborhood today, New York City marathon runners prance through decimated streets, leaping over piles of donations yet to be distributed, bringing severe congestion to a community just beginning to regain its senses after the catastrophe. To place it in even sharper relief, according to Rich, it was only that very morning that authorities had gotten around to removing three bodies floating in Bay Street Marina. One was tied to a pier to avoid it washing down shore. The person who reported the bodies was told that they would be left for the time being as efforts were to be exclusively “rescue” oriented, eschewing “recovery.” While the Staten Islanders were, and are, still counting their dead, they felt as if they were expected to indulge catastrophe tourism.

“These aren’t Christmas lights,” Rich says, appalled by runners and the attendant onlookers taking in the destruction and pausing for photographs with shell-shocked locals. “People are looking for their wedding rings…These people should be shot,” he says, referring to the vast number of runners who arrived on the island to jog the marathon despite its cancellation.

The ultimate cancellation of the New York City Marathon on Sunday, which would have started on the Island, was an empty political gesture. Michael Bloomberg, NY’s billionaire Mayor, had fought tooth and nail to satiate corporate sponsors and have the Marathon commence on time. He was forced to cancel at the eleventh hour, not out of respect for the suffering of locals or for prudent administrative reasons, but because the public outcry over the issue forced his hand.

Time and time again, we speak to residents who are disgusted by the marathon runners, who seemingly use the Islanders’ misery as a photo opportunity. Yet his decision to return at least two generators slated for use during the marathon to New Jersey once the event was canceled was the last straw for Rich. It is widely reported that these generators could have powered 400 homes – something Staten Islanders desperately need. Already their walls and floors are spawning mold and creating hazardous conditions that will likely render their homes permanently uninhabitable.

It is a cruel sort of political maneuvering. Residents in and around Midland Beach are left to fend for themselves as the Red Cross – as of last weekend – were still rejecting volunteers. Meanwhile FEMA was merely handing out business cards on Friday as they distributed food that could barely nourish families of two or more. We would later learn that fully-furnished, non-toxic FEMA trailers – at the time of this article’s publication – sit less than two hours away in a Wilkes Barre, PA lot.

One local nurse, employed by Columbia University, was denied an opportunity to volunteer by the Red Cross, ostensibly because she, an educated professional, could pose an insurance liability. “People are going to die out there tonight,” she said. When she tried to drive supplies over the Verrazano bridge, she was ID’d and then denied entry.

There is more, however, that sheds light on Bloomberg’s disconnected and cruel countenance upon those in whom he does not see a personal economic or political interest. A borough firefighter who prefers to remain nameless relates the story of how two nights ago the mayor personally ordered police at the 122 Precinct to either arrest or otherwise disperse volunteers who refused to cease relief efforts on Father Capodanno Boulevard, which runs close to the Lower Bay and was slammed by Hurricane Sandy. We ask him what he thinks the mayor’s motive is for doing so: “They [Bloomberg and his administration] didn’t want cameras coming down here and seeing people helping people, they wanted it to look like FEMA or the Red Cross was helping. The fact of the matter is, it’s not. Down here, it’s people helping people,” he says.

The 122 Precinct commander refused to obey Bloomberg’s order, instead ushering people off of the street and into a parking lot, away from any network news cameras. The consistent answer from Staten Islanders to Bloomberg’s misprision was a defiant self-sufficiency and tirelessly persistent community-mindedness.

It was clear that the only ones willing to be responsible for helping Staten Island would be its inhabitants. Local groups such as the Hallowed Sons, a collective of former firefighters and police officers, were seen on Cedar Grove Avenue, in the nearby town New Dorp, giving out hot meals. They were also organizing roving bands of teenagers, who, armed with dust masks and shovels, were helping gut uninhabitable basements and garages.

In Midland Beach, we come across Kelly, who arrived from Boston with a raft and shovels to help his uncle Mike save his home. After just four days, the garage was beginning to mold. Mike’s wheelchair-bound neighbor had died in the flood, despite the best efforts of those trying to rescue him. One of Mike’s daughters was out delivering supplies to others who, in their words, had it much worse.

Kelly offers to put us up for the night. “We have a generator and heat,” he says, as the men pass beer around. Their hospitality and determination is characteristic of Island residents. “Come back in a year, you’ll see a new house!”

Images: Dustin Slaughter, Kenneth Lipp, Joanne Stocker, Joe Fionda and Lex Hortensia

Nov 2012 08

by Sandor Stern

Dear Republican Friends,

Regarding the Presidential Election…

I’m sure you are feeling depressed over your candidate’s defeat. I don’t mean to gloat but I must confess I am deliriously happy. There are so many reasons for my joy.

Obama’s election means that in 2014 the Affordable Care Act will fully kick in and allow the USA to join the rest of the world’s more developed nations in offering a national health plan. This is not to say that the ACA represents the best plan this nation can offer but it is a major step towards universal health care.

It means that Medicare will not be gutted by a voucher system designed to do just that. The problems of Medicare will be addressed in a responsible way.

It means that the problems with Social Security will be handled without privatizing.

It means that Roe vs Wade will not be overturned and the government will stay out of every woman’s uterus, every couple’s bedroom and every person’s right to marry whomever they choose.

It means that women will not be ranked as financial second class citizens and will receive equal pay for equal work.

It means that Obama’s executive order allowing illegal immigrant children to be granted certain rights will not be overthrown and that the Dream Act will have an administration with a conscience to move it along.

It means that the elite 1% in this country will have to give up some of their enormous financial gain over the past 10 years in order to bring down the national debt.

It means that shipping American jobs to foreign countries will not give American companies tax breaks and that keeping those jobs here will be rewarded.

It means that government regulation will protect consumers from the avarice of banks, insurance companies and Wall Street.

It means that global warming will not be perceived as junk science and will be addressed as the real and dangerous problem it poses to the world.

It means that alternative forms of energy will trump oil drilling as a direction for our future.

All of these positive actions would have been impossible given your party’s published platform. I am so relieved.

On a more personal note, Obama’s reelection means that Ted Nugent will be leaving the country as he promised. As a final act of patriotism I beg him to take with him – Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, Rove and Trump. Given his hatred of Obamacare his final destination will be the only country remaining in the civilized world without a national health plan – Turkey. I wish him luck with his fundamentalist Christian ideology in that country.

Your friend,


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Nov 2012 07

by Dell Cameron

Yesterday, American citizens from all walks of life gathered at polling locations throughout the United States with the hope of changing the course of their collective destiny. For over two hundred years, communities have been assembling in this fashion as participants in a great democratic experiment. For some, the polls are a responsibility, due to the lives they perceive have been sacrificed in order to protect their ability to cast their votes. Others vote out of conscious because it’s a privilege others throughout the world are denied. Yet, there are others who feel – with some justice – that no candidate is capable of accurately representing them and that abstaining from the vote is just as much their right.

Some Americans may still be unaware of the extreme transformations our democratic process has undergone in only a few recent years. The important changes to note revolve around the donation processes and the invention of external campaign committees that, in some cases, directly influence the outcome of political elections. In 2010, the Supreme Court arrived at the conclusion that the First Amendment clause, which provides all U.S. citizens with freedom of speech, also guaranteed that corporations had the right to make independent election expenditures. In a split 5-4 decision, laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, which had previously prohibited corporate and union political donations, were deemed unconstitutional.

On the Supreme Court decision, Noam Chomsky, MIT Professor of Linguistics and author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy wrote, “On that day the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government may not ban corporations from political spending on elections –– a decision that profoundly affects government policy, both domestic and international.” In Chomsky’s opinion, “Jan. 21, 2010, will go down as a dark day in the history of U.S. democracy, and its decline. “

What followed was an all out spending spree by corporations, unions and affluent individuals that dangerously altered the landscape of the American election system. During the 2012 cycle, spending by non-party affiliated organizations exploded. These organizations were often funded by only a handful of individuals and the number of individuals and organizations that were responsible for disclosing their donors dropped considerably in comparison to the previous election cycle. According to, a cycle-to-date spending analysis revealed that by the end of the first week of October, spending by these organizations was more than the previous 11 election cycles combined totaling $517 million.

So as we examine President Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney, the first question we should ask ourselves is who flipped the bill for his exorbitant $401 million campaign and what are their motives.

The top donor to Obama’s campaign was a man named Jeffrey Katzenberg, a Hollywood producer and chief executive of DreamWorks Animation. Katzenberg’s contributions to Obama’s campaign included a $2 million donation to the Priorities USA action super PAC, a committee formed by former White House advisors. Katzenberg is also a bundler for the Democratic party – someone who elicits major financial support for political purposes once reaching their own personal donation limitations. Katzenberg, like many Hollywood elites, was a proponent of the Stop Online Piracy Act, a widely unpopular bill introduced by Congressman Lamar Smith (D-TX) that was shelved in Congress in January 2012 after worldwide online protests erupted. Opponents of the bill claimed it threatened the integrity of the internet and was in essence an attack on online freedom of expression. Despite a number of threats from Hollywood elites, such as former Senator, now MPAA head Chris Dodd, after Obama withdrew support for the bill, Katzenberg remained a steadfast support of Obama’s campaign. The undeniably instrumental role Katzenberg played in the Obama 2012 campaign may foreshadow future support for a new SOPA-like bill on behalf of the White House.

Another billionaire who reached deep into his pockets for the Obama campaign was Jon Stryker, stockholder and heir to the Stryker Corporation, a medical equipment company based out of Michigan. Stryker’s contribution exceeded $2 million during the 2012 election cycle and has previously generously donated to the Democratic Party. The Stryker Corporation has been involved in a number of controversies with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Drug Administration, which included failure to meet FDA regulations, the falsification of documents and unlawful kickbacks to physicians in exchange for the use of their products.

It’s important to note that while the Obama campaign has taken advantage of the support provided to them by big-spending, individual backers, these types of contributions were much more prominent throughout the Romney campaign. Romney’s largest backer, a Las Vegas Casino owner, dwarfed Obama’s supporters by providing him with financial support exceeding $34 million dollars. Romney, however, did not win the election.

In light of the enormous financial support campaigns receive from individual backers and political committees, it’s not difficult to understand why some voters felt so disenfranchised this election cycle – and that the act of voting seemed to be an exercise in futility. How could anyone expect to find a candidate to represent their voice in government when the issues affecting them most aren’t being presented to the candidates in the form of multimillion dollar campaign donations?

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence, which stated, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Forty-nine years later, in a letter to William Branch Giles, he expressed his concern over individuals that, in his words, had “nothing in them of the feelings or principles of ’76.” He criticized the men of his time for leaving the intentions of American democracy behind in exchange for a aristocracy founded on banking institutions and monied incorporations that cloaked themselves under the guise of industry.

The dream of a perfect Democracy seems to have been abandoned in an age where hostile advertisements and televised debates intentionally exclude poorly funded third party candidates. With the acceleration of new laws that chip away at the foundation of a truly representative government, it’s important we remember as a country what we once had and fight ferociously to reclaim it.

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Nov 2012 07

by Lee Camp

What did we learn about marriage equality, mari-ja-juana, and legitimate rape last night? Here’s a summary with more information and more curse words than you will ever find on the mainstream media!


Nov 2012 07

by ChrisSick

It’s 11:30PM EST.

The bar I’ve decamped in to watch election coverage has decided to turn off the television, now that CNN has declared for Obama. A very large, very drunk man is singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” quite badly. Every one is cheering madly.

Fox News’ homepage has this headline:

You can almost hear the sobbing behind it. Early reports say Dick Morris has hanged himself in the Fox News studio. Or maybe I just fantasized that. Romney Central is angrily tweeting that every one should just chill the fuck out because they’re disputing Ohio.

And reality.

Running through it, it was a very good night to be on this side of history. Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin lost the Missouri Senate race to Claire McCaskill. Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Tammy Baldwin will represent Wisconsin in the Senate and become the first openly gay Senator in history. Tim Kaine won over George “Macaca” Allen. Linda McMahon outspent Democrat Chris Murphy 4-to-1 in Connecticut and lost.

Same sex marriage ballots are being decided in Maine, Maryland, and Washington and early reports look good, but I can’t find any more information because someone is singing “Afternoon Delight” really loudly and the one earbud I have in to listen to Fox News is just sounding like torrents of weeping. Seriously, looks like same-sex marriage with be legal in Maine and Maryland and Colorado has legalized marijuana.

There’s a long week ahead, surely some races will be contested or recounted. At the moment only Ohio is being disputed by the Romney campaign, but the Electoral College math looks to be such that even if Ohio were to flip for Romney it would not be enough to overcome Obama’s lead. The New York Times is currently calling Ohio for Romney and still has Obama up 285 over Romney’s 200.

As of midnight, Election Day 2012, it’s clear that Barack Obama will be reelected President, the Democrats will continue to hold the Senate, the Republicans will continue to hold the House, and Colorado will be the new preferred vacation spot over California.

God bless America, I knew you wouldn’t let me down.

This is Tactical Animal, signing off.

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Nov 2012 06

by Julia C. Reinhart

While President Obama tried to improve the plight of the homeless, a President Romney wouldn’t even try. Without a major change in Congress, the fate of America’s homeless is unlikely to improve. States just don’t have money to deal with the problem.

With the US Presidential elections upon us, much is still talked about the economy, foreign policy, and ‚yes, whether Barack Obama is actually a naturally born citizen, and thus eligible to be president – never mind it’s the job he has held for the past four years. Conservative Republicans trip over themselves in making offensive statements about abortion and rape, scaring women voters with a sense of self-determination. Liberal pundits meanwhile try to outbid themselves in doomsday scenarios on how the world would end should Mitt Romney be elected. None of these realize that there is a group of Americans who will be losers, no matter who wins the race for the White House: Middle and lower class Americans, from a high school teacher all the way down to the homeless man on the street.

The big white elephant in the room that rarely gets discussed during American electoral politics is the systematic neglect of the country’s infrastructure, and the policy consequences that have sprung from that, especially in the area of affordable housing and combating homelessness. According to a white paper published by the Political Research Institute at Brown University, non-military infrastructure spending in the United States from school buildings to highways and affordable housing has declined from 3.8% to 1.8% of all government held assets between 1951 and 2011. Since then, the country has seen six Republican and six Democratic presidents, hence this is hardly a partisan issue. Core elements of the infrastructure, such as electricity grids and phone systems, have been economized, meaning that profitability aspects drive availability and maintenance rather than need.

In rural areas as well as in low income neighborhoods in large cities, electrical grids are regularly delivered via overhead lines, as there are fewer customers and those that buy the services can’t afford the added value services that drive corporate profits. Meanwhile in areas of high density and high income, electrical wires tend to run underground, protecting them from falling trees, swirling tornados, and heavy snowfalls brought on by America’s often harsh weather patterns. Power outages in New York City brought on by Hurricanes Irene and Sandy are an illustrative example: While Irene brought on heavy rains over the five boroughs of the world’s financial capital, Manhattan suffered some flooding but little lasting consequence once the storm passed. Long Island and low lying areas of Brooklyn and Queens however, which are more exposed to cross-winds from the sea, and also subjected to the storm surge brought on by the Hurricane suffered measurable structural damage, downed trees and power lines, and about 4 feet of flood waters covering the lowest parts of Long Island’s southern shore and Staten Island, bringing on substantial beach erosion, but no deaths.

If Irene was a dry run, it did not prepare New York City’s infrastructure for a storm the size and power of Hurricane Sandy. While government officials went through the same preparation proceedings that helped them safeguard the city’s 8.5 million population during Irene, little was done to improve or protect the power grid from flooding. For days, weather forecasters announced that the storm surge with Sandy could be significant, and sandbags were duly deployed around lower Manhattan – rows of them 1-2 feet high leaning against doors and entranceways of buildings. Yet the South Ferry subway tunnel remained open towards the sea, and many of the transformer stations run by Con Edison, the local utility company, that were underground did not receive sufficient flood proofing.

So, when the storm surge came, transformer stations blew out as electric equipment, under high voltage at the time, was introduced to salt water, an explosive and corrosive mixture that left half of Manhattan and significant parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island in the dark. Subway tunnels flooded from above when the East and Hudson Rivers jumped their embankments and from below once water pushed into the South Ferry Tunnel and from there all the way up through the system. This time, the infrastructure shortages were hard to ignore, because they also significantly affected Manhattan. Weather damages in the outer boroughs, while having a significant impact on the local communities, go largely ignored in the public discourse of the city. Government officials, most of them Governor Andrew Cuomo are now loudly calling for infrastructure improvements in light of changing weather patterns.

While a good part of Manhattan’s intellectual elite, who live in areas like SoHo, Chelsea, and other Lower Manhattan neighborhoods, had to survive several days without power and water, leaving fresh food, drinking water and cell phone coverage in short supply, the worst impact of the storm disproportionally affected blue-collar and low income communities. Affordable housing in New York City is in short supply, and the housing projects and affordable single family homes that do exist are built on relatively cheap land, low lying areas and landfills that no high-level real estate developer would touch or use. Also, much of the lower priced single family homes were build before 1970, making for an aging housing stock build from cheap materials, which have a harder time resisting high winds and rising waters. Gas and waterlines tend to be old, cell phone coverage spotty even at the best of times, and power lines more often than not run tangled above ground. With the power out for as much as two weeks, and temperatures falling to the freezing mark, elderly residents of affordable housing units have already started to die from exposure. As the freeze and the power outage in the outer boroughs continues, many more may follow.

Many residents of public housing projects live on welfare and food stamps, a government allowance of $200 / month for a single person or $367 / month for a family of two. This amount often barely covers their basic needs for feeding their families, and leaves them ill-prepared to carry the extra burden of stocking up on food reserves when storms approach. The Rockaways, a particularly hard hit, and also very poor part of Queens located on a barrier island in the Long Island sound, saw survivors of Hurricane Sandy scrounge for food when emergency relief aid was slow to arrive. All the power lines to the island were cut, the bridge for cars was closed, and the subway tracks were flooded. Residents of the Rockaways were trapped on their island with little ability to go search or receive aid supplies, leaving them both cold and hungry for days before government relief services ramped up.

The lack of affordable housing combined with an outdated attitude towards the causes of homelessness is also one of the key drivers behind the city’s rising homeless population. In the early 1970s, as scores of veterans returned from Vietnam and struggled to re-integrate into society, many of the ideas shaping today’s governmental policy towards poverty and homelessness were formulated, operating on what then were perceived to be the key factors for homelessness: Drug or alcohol abuse, and mental illness. Unemployment, while existent, was less perceived to play a role. Fatima Shad‚ a Red Cross worker focusing on homeless outreach explains: “They thought, you choose to be homeless, and yes, they basically assume that it’s your fault that you’re homeless, you had to be a druggie, a drunk, crazy, or all three.”

The mentally ill have formed a large group among the homeless population, ever since the US government started to shutter mental health institutions in the 1950s, leaving many in need of serious long-term care without a support network that could keep them in a home. Many of the Vietnam veterans who wound up homeless did have mental and substance abuse issues, as did many other homeless who followed.

However, as Shad points out, the face of homelessness is changing dramatically: A long-standing trend of redevelopment and gentrification started in the 1960s, where entire poor neighborhoods are condemned and leveled to make room for real estate development projects that promise higher tax revenues to city and state governments. Due to a lack of funding for alternative low income housing and the recent flood of foreclosures brought about by the 2008 financial crisis, this gentrification process has given rise to a new form of homeless population: Those who simply can no longer afford to pay the rent or mortgage, because they’re either underpaid or underemployed. If you go into the housing courts, they’re packed, and everybody is two seconds away from an eviction: Shad explains: “It doesn’t stop. Monday morning through Friday night, case after case, people are begging marshals for mercy, and the court system, depending on the borough you’re in, might be a little more lenient, giving you another week or two before you’re being evicted. But once people go to shelters, if they don’t go to somebody’s sofa, they’re entering a very challenging world.”

It is also important to note that homeless statistics provided by the New York City government only count those actually housed in shelters. They don’t count people living on somebody’s couch, those living in subways, or those on the street who are not in a shelter environment. The official number of shelter beds in New York City is 46,000, which is the number of homeless Mayor Bloomberg keeps quoting. However, the number of people actually without a permanent home of their own is a high multiple of that. Most that do enter the shelter system are either part-time or fulltime workers, and get assigned to so-called “working shelters” where every resident is working.

Once homeless, keeping down a job becomes incredibly difficult. The New York City shelter system – still operating on the assessment that anyone homeless must have mental and substance or alcohol abuse issues – requires residents to attend a rigorous schedule of meetings and assessments in order to comply with requirements that allow them to stay. The appointments range from medical and psychological assessments, to workplace trainings. If a homeless person still has a full-time job, keeping these appointments is extremely difficult, as they’re usually set during business hours. This way a homeless person is trapped in a catch-22: On the one hand they have to go to work to earn a living that may be able to get them back on their feet and back to permanent housing, on the other hand, if they don’t keep the appointments requested by the shelter system, they get thrown back out into the streets. Once inside the shelter system many homeless do wind up losing their jobs, as employers tend to be unsympathetic with regards to the absences required by the shelter system. As Shad puts it, the homeless are being put on a hamster wheel with little chance of ever getting anywhere meaningful – and she thinks that is entirely by design.

Homeless shelters in New York City are private enterprises, which are reimbursed by the city for each bed and service they provide. For every mandatory meeting and assessment, the shelter receives a fee from the city in addition to the fees billed for the beds they provide. Furthermore, a homeless person that qualifies for food stamps gets their allowances confiscated by the shelter system, on the basis that they are being provided with three meals a day. A single person, who would normally receive $200 a month, is left with only $16.50 a month in food stamps for personal use. However, many in the shelter system are either on appointments or at work when the meals are served, so they miss out on them and are forced to find alternate sources for food.

If a homeless person works, the money that could be saved up for the security deposit on an apartment must so be used to buy food instead. Also, the meals that are served in the shelter system are highly dubious in nutritional value. No consideration is given to vegetarians, or those in need of a heart-healthy diets or ones for other specialist medical needs. Shad calls it “straight-up slop.”

One way to address the shortage of funds for food is to apply for public assistance, which results in more meetings and appointments for the shelter resident to attend, making it even more difficult for the person to keep down a fulltime job while conducting all the appointments and meetings imposed by the public assistance and housing authorities. In this day and age, and particularly in this economy it’s impossible for a person to do all these appointment and keep down a job. Shad elaborates, “More and more people come crying to me saying ‘I just lost my job.’ And when I ask why, they say, ‘I had to go to my public assistance meeting or I’d be kicked out of my shelter.’”

To make matters worse, Shad contends that shelter officials often schedule competing appointments with the public assistance authorities to compound the complications. Remember, they think it’s your fault you’re homeless, so you’re not supposed to succeed, because in their eyes you can’t.

Another side effect of a shelter resident applying for public assistance is that the shelter will receive a rent allowance in addition to the government subsidy these shelters receive for offering beds to homeless. Shad continues, “From there it just goes on and on, this is a money making enterprise. It’s human warehousing at its finest.”

The shelter system is incentivized to see its residents fail at re-integration. And how’s it even possible if there’s no affordable housing. Lack of investment in new stock has ensured that waiting lists for the homes that do exist are several years long. Voucher systems, which subsidized 70% of a person’s rent in the first year with an option of 50% subsidy in a second year, called Advantage systems, were introduced under President Clinton as a stop-gap measure to help reintegrate homeless shelter residents into the regular rental market. However, in the meantime, only very few new affordable housing units where built, and many landlords, especially in New York City, abused the system, by charging 30% above regular rates. With increasing budget pressures brought on by the 2008 financial crisis on federal, state, and city budgets, funding for these vouchers was finally cut completely in mid 2012. According to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress prepared by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), 40% of homeless today are families, usually a single mother and children. Many of these families had Advantage housing vouchers that allowed them to transition out of a shelter into regular apartments. With the end of the Advantage voucher payments many of these families are now moving back into an already overcrowded shelter system.

Adding to the problem is the waves of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, many of whom are suffering from PTSD. While President Obama has talked on occasion about addressing homelessness amongst veterans, recently saying at a campaign event that “nobody who serves, nobody who fights for this country should have to fight for a job or a roof over their heads when they come back home,” little has been done in terms of tangible policy achievements. While his 2009 stimulus package did include allocations for affordable housing, his primary focus in this area was on mortgage owners under threat of foreclosure to refinance. However, Obama’s Affordable Refinance Program wound up helping only a small number of the targeted recipients, leading the Republican controlled house to kill the foreclosure relief program in 2011, calling it a waste of money, since the program only helped about 750,000 distressed homeowners, instead of the targeted 7 million. According to a Congressional Panel that studied the program before it ended, a major reason for the program’s failure was that “loan servicers, who act as middlemen between the distressed homeowners and the investors who own the mortgage, often find it more profitable to foreclose than to modify.” In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama announced revisions to the program aimed at simplifying the process, but the plan is still awaiting Congressional action.

In 2010, Obama announced a plan, called “Opening Doors” that would, as he claimed, end homelessness in American by 2020. Lauded by advocates of homelessness issues as a major breakthrough, the initiative ultimately went nowhere as Congress declined to provide the $1 billion in funding it required.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, meanwhile, when touring Louisiana in September for his campaign, told victims of Hurricane Isaac, who became homeless after the storm to “Go home and call 211” – the number that provides information about health and human service programs to Louisiana residents. According to his campaign website, Romney’s housing plan consists primarily of making the government sell the roughly 200,000 homes currently vacant due to foreclosure and an easing of bank regulations to “restore a functioning marketplace and restart lending to creditworthy borrowers.” This plan also calls for an end to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government agencies who underwrite most mortgages issued to middle and low-income homebuyers. Those already without a home are not mentioned in Romney’s policy papers at all.

While President Obama tried, but failed, to improve the plight of the homeless, a President Romney wouldn’t even attempt to alleviate their plight. Without a major change of heart in Congress, the fate of America’s poor and homeless is unlikely to improve, no matter who wins the election today.

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