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Thursday, July 22, 2010

On Homelessness


When I was in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to walk through downtown early in the morning. Renowned as one of the most dangerous areas in LA, downtown and its infamous Skid Row, with its large population of homeless people, has become an area where people avoid venturing at all costs after dark and many simply refuse to visit. As I walked through this area, I couldn't help but feeling a sense of dread, although I was well aware that many of my perceptions were structured by media stereotypes. Later in the week, at the conference I was attending at UCLA on New Directions in the Humanities, I sat in on Dr David Wagner from the University of Southern Maine's presentation on the rise and fall of homelessness as a social issue in the US. There is little doubt that homelessness is related to the vast social inequalities that punctuate a country like the US, and also the trauma of being a nation at war (nearly a third of the homeless in the US are ex-veterans).

Wagner's presentation was particularly interesting as it charted the trajectory of the rise in the homeless population in the US, and also the way that people's perception had been shaped by its priority as an issue in the media. In the 1980s, homelessness became a big issue as the social effects of the deinstitutionalization of the Seventies kicked in. 3,500 shelters were built across the US, and the feeling under Reagan's America was that this was a social issue that could be solved. By the late 1980s, a backlash effect occurred and the emphasis shifted to cleaning the streets and cutting benefits. Wagner's presentation effectively traced how America had quite simply learned how to live with homelessness, to the extent that homeless people are a regular fixture outside many of my friends homes there.

While downtown Auckland is considerably different to the down and out streets of LA, thinking of the situation here, one can't help but wonder what will be the effect of the adoption of many social and economic policy stances in New Zealand that have led to the creation of vast inequalities in America. In many countries, homelessness becomes an issue when it infringes on the staging of international events, with states looking to clear homeless out from areas surrounding the cities where tourists visit, or shifting events to parts of the city where visitors can easily avoid the harsh realities of life, as in the recent Soccer World Cup in South Africa.

Homelessness is an issue in New Zealand. At the beginning of last year, it was estimated that homeless people may top 20,000, more than three times previously reported. The New Zealand Coalition to End Homelessness met this week in Wellington and have been calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the problem, a move that Labour has supported. With the 2011 Rugby World Cup coming up in Auckland, it is only a matter of time before we hear moves to clean up the streets again. Whether this equates to John Banks' plans to ban loitering and begging in the city or not, this hardly deals with the source of the problem. In a country where the social system is still quite good in terms of providing the unemployed with benefits, homelessness is often linked to social exclusion and addiction. Corrections Minister Judith Collins stated last month that drugs and alcohol were a major driver of our prison population, and constituted an influence in two-thirds of the cases of people in prison. Judith Collins has opened more addiction centres in prison, but it is important that this is followed up with help for people outside of prison as well. If National want to put such a hard stance on law and order at the same time as weakening employee rights, then they are morally obligated to put their money where their mouth is and deal more comprehensively with these sorts of social problems.

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26 Comments:

At 22/7/10 9:13 am, Blogger stoner said...

Bout time this issue was addressed

In Kilbirnie Wellington where I live- over the past year I have seen people sleeping in bus shelters by Saint patricks College.

There are people sleeping in the town belt in tents
There are people dossing down in cars on my street.

Something needs to be done

WCC is a disgrace.
WCC housing is a disgrace

Housing NZ is a disgrace

There should be NOONE living on the streets in any developed country anywhere in the world.

Get off your collective asses GOVT and WCC and solve this problem

 
At 22/7/10 9:22 am, Anonymous Gosman said...

What has the proposed employment law changes got to do with the issue of dealing with homelessness in NZ?

 
At 22/7/10 11:51 am, Blogger JEM said...

totally agree Phoebe! Anecdotally there seems to be more homelessness around - and more glue sniffing - although Auckland City Mission doesn't think so.

 
At 22/7/10 12:14 pm, Blogger dave said...

Pheobe: I noted the irony in "New Directions in Humanities". 20 years ago I went to a conference in the Bonaventure and it was surrounded by people living out of supermarket trolleys then.

Gosman: people who are forced to work by workfare for low paid jobs and recyled every 3 months cannot afford housing. I see what you mean tho why don't they do what the Japanese do and sleep on mortuary slabs to keep out of Hide's nose.

 
At 22/7/10 12:45 pm, Anonymous AAMC said...

Gosman, I would have thought it was pretty simple to see that policy which favors the rich and increases unemployment is going to effect homelessness. Where is homelessness most prevalent? Rich Western countrys with a neo-liberal dogma of small government and low tax! Anybody got any figures on homelessness in Scandinavia?

 
At 22/7/10 1:08 pm, Anonymous Gosman said...

How is a policy that is meant to make it more attractive for employers to employ somebody increase unemployment?

Do you have examples from other countries where they have a variation of the 90-Day trial where unemployment rate increases as a direct, or even indirect, result of the policy?

 
At 22/7/10 1:22 pm, Anonymous Gosman said...

dave: Where in the proposed changes does it lower wages for workers?

 
At 22/7/10 1:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough this is what John Banks said about the issue.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10537519

Obviously an indication of a hardline National stance on the issue.

 
At 22/7/10 2:55 pm, Anonymous AAMC said...

"How is a policy that is meant to make it more attractive for employers to employ somebody increase unemployment?"

But Gosman, you wrote this in another post on Tumeke, so which is it?

"National cannot use that report to state with any degree of confidence that more people are employed as a result. What they especially can't do is extrapolate a small sample and try and claim that it would mean an extra X number of jobs in the economy"

Will it encourage small business to employ, maybe? But it's big business that we need protection from. Anyway, it's the whole policy agenda of the failed neo-liberal experiment that leads to the inequality which in turn leads to homelessness. And in typical vote a banker in as PM at the very moment that bankers distroy the global economy fashion New Zealand often takes a while to catch on.

 
At 22/7/10 3:02 pm, Anonymous AAMC said...

"How is a policy that is meant to make it more attractive for employers to employ somebody increase unemployment?"

But Gosman, you wrote this in another post on Tumeke, so which is it?

"National cannot use that report to state with any degree of confidence that more people are employed as a result. What they especially can't do is extrapolate a small sample and try and claim that it would mean an extra X number of jobs in the economy"

Will it encourage small business to employ, maybe? But it's big business that we need protection from. Anyway, it's the whole policy agenda of the failed neo-liberal experiment that leads to the inequality which in turn leads to homelessness. And in typical vote a banker in as PM at the very moment that bankers distroy the global economy fashion New Zealand often takes a while to catch on.

 
At 22/7/10 4:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Homeless? Stop drinking and get a job.

 
At 22/7/10 4:43 pm, Blogger dave said...

Gosman to ask the question is to answer it: make jobs attractive for employers means...lower wages.

 
At 22/7/10 5:05 pm, Anonymous Gosman said...

Ummmmm.... AAMC I have never claimed that this policy WILL lead to more jobs. I have stated that it makes it more attractive for employers to take a risk on a new employee as they can get rid of them easier. This seems to me to be self evident.

My question was why Phoebe decided to link the issue of homelessness in New Zealand with the proposed changes to employment law. Noone has yet made and logical link on how the proposed changes leads to more homeless people.

 
At 22/7/10 7:09 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyway, it's the whole policy agenda of the failed neo-liberal experiment that leads to the inequality which in turn leads to homelessness.

What, and mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction are not also factors AAMC?

Many people on the street are there by choice.
In summer many people who are homeless are young kids from shitty homes, again homeless by choice.

Difficult to house people who don't want to be.

 
At 22/7/10 8:22 pm, Anonymous AAMC said...

"thinking of the situation here, one can't help but wonder what will be the effect of the adoption of many social and economic policy stances in New Zealand that have led to the creation of vast inequalities in America"

I read her to be talking about a trend in policy and the ideology it is attached to. There were only three words in her post relating to employment law and the crux of her argument wasn't based around the point you seem to be fixated on Gosman. Proofs in the pudding, rich Western countries attached to radical free market dogma specialize in homelessness.

 
At 22/7/10 9:06 pm, Anonymous Gosman said...

Really, other than America what evidence do you have of this AAMC?

 
At 22/7/10 10:03 pm, Anonymous AAMC said...

Well, I lived in London and Sydney and I regularly walk in Grey Lynn park, so there's some anecdotal evidence for a start.

 
At 23/7/10 12:33 am, Blogger Eure said...

The relationship between homelessness & neo-liberalism, go to http://www.communities.gov.uk/housing/homelessness/tacklingpreventing/ which is a bureacrats view of it in england.

Treat simple data sceptically as any bureacratic agency's use of statistics, even so, it shows homelessness increasing bigtime 4 englanders after start of Thatcherism, peaked in 2003/4 when labour government policies began to bite were reducing ever since.
Despite a recession simply because labour put some effort into permanent housing for at risk groups.
It will take a couple of years to build momentum, but the tory cuts to programs and services will guarantee that homelessness will rise in england again. Watch and see.
Why? Simple. NZ I grew up in had cheap food and shelter and the manufactured crap we are now overwhelmed with was expensive.
Median house prives in NZ now cost nearly 11 times the average annual income where once a house cost 4.5 years of average annual income. Same for that other necessity food, once everyone in NZ could afford to eat well now most working families struggle to afford good proteins and fresh veges & fruit.
Food is higher up the needs than shelter so housing is lost for some people as they struggle to eat.

I hate it and I dunno what lies Gen X & Y suck up but when reality bites 4 them it will be too late. With luck I won't have to watch them go thru the realisation my grandparent's generation went thru.
That rich people only get that way by making many others poor. For every rich kiwi there will be 20, 50, or 100 on the bones. There is a greater likelihood of them being poor than rich.

 
At 23/7/10 7:28 am, Anonymous Gosman said...

@ AAMC

Anecdotal evidence is hardly persuassive.

I could equally point to the mass poverty in places like Cuba, North Korea, and Zimbabwe and claim Socialism causes starvation

@ Eure

I read those reports you linked to. Funnily enough the one titled "Preventing Homelessness: A Strategy Health Check" didn't mention anything about trying to avoid a neo-liberal economic policy as a viable option in dealing with Homelessness.

 
At 23/7/10 7:54 am, Blogger Bomber said...

I tend to not bother with Gosman AAMC, I'm not really sure a bitter Kiwibank worker is going to have anything other than a very warped view of the neo-liberal agenda and homelessness.

The neo-liberal agenda just crashed the global economy in 2008, the collapse that has caused a vast drop in wealth and of course sees more homeless people on the street.

Gosman is unable to connect the 2008 crash to neo-liberal policy in the same way he cant see it impact on homelessness.

How's your arse kicking going on over at Hot Topic Gosman?

 
At 23/7/10 9:08 am, Anonymous Gosman said...

Is this the sum total of your contribution to this discussion Mr Bradbury - An ad hominim attack on myself which is full of misrepresentations and untruths?

No wonder you ran away from Hot topic when I asked you some straight forward questions.

As this is someone else's thread on Tumeke and Tim has advised me that you have only decided to censor my postings on your own ones it will be interesting if you let this through. I'd be surprised if you do though given your predilection for stifling freedom of expression.

 
At 23/7/10 9:40 am, Blogger Bomber said...

Is this the sum total of your contribution to this discussion Mr Bradbury - An ad hominim attack on myself which is full of misrepresentations and untruths?
LOL - well you obviously didn't read my post then did you love? The neo-liberal agenda just crashed the global economy in 2008, the collapse that has caused a vast drop in wealth and of course sees more homeless people on the street.

No wonder you ran away from Hot topic when I asked you some straight forward questions.
GRIN - I adore your sense of the absurd if that is really your view of what happened Gosman, how is the arse kicking going over there by the way? Climate Denial is a bit of a dying artform, what's your next hobby?

As this is someone else's thread on Tumeke and Tim has advised me that you have only decided to censor my postings on your own ones it will be interesting if you let this through. I'd be surprised if you do though given your predilection for stifling freedom of expression.
Yep - I normally don't bother with your pointless points Gosman, but today is Friday and I'm in a wonderfully good mood and am more than happy to give the baby its bottle.

 
At 23/7/10 11:04 am, Anonymous AAMC said...

I guess for a banker the "free market" is an addiction, and as we are all likely to have anecdotes of people with addiction, we all know it's generally the one with the problem who finds it hardest to see.
Unfortunately right now Gosman I don't have the time to link you to specific evidence, but don't underestimate personal experience, do you have any anecdotes Gosman? You strike me as someone who may live in a bit of a void?
And I don't know many collectivists who would site North Korea or Zimbabwe as examples of Socialism, and Cuba is at the mercy of a megalomaniac neighbor.
You're argument hinges around stating the extreme examples, mine around the status quo and the ideology which currently governs our country's thinking, from both of the major political parties. The pity for Humanity is that thousands of years of civilization has left us so uncivilized, surely the way we organize ourselves and distribute our resources can evolve past The Washington Consensus vs Stalin, neither extreme serves us well and neither is a useful example of it's original idea.
Once the failings in your addiction loom too large to ignore I hope you gain some clarity.

 
At 23/7/10 11:21 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AAMC/Bomber.

There was/is homelessness under National, as well as under Labour.

There is homelessness in China, as well as India.

There was homelessness 10 years ago, 100 years ago, 150 years ago...

...homelessness is found in every country regardless of political leaning, and in every era.

To paint it as a result of neo-liberalism is ridiculous.

 
At 23/7/10 11:25 am, Blogger Bomber said...

I'm not suggesting for one second that homelessness is all the fault of a neo-liberal agenda, I'm saying homelessness has been exacerbated by the neo-liberal agenda.

 
At 23/7/10 12:06 pm, Anonymous AAMC said...

Ditto, policy which favors very few and pushes the rest down can only force more off the edge. The homelessness in India is devastating, I found the experience of having to step over people in India to get to dinner very disturbing, but they have an enormous population to deal with which skews that example. I've only been to Shanghai in China but have spent time on a few occasions in the Old City, which is being replaced by apartment buildings. As much as the living conditions were squalid (not compared to India) there wasn't any homelessness evident, although I'm sure it exists.
I found it much more difficult to reconcile the U.S., Australia and the U.K. These are countries in which a fortunate few enjoy unimaginable wealth and it seems unreasonable that in countries which consume the majority of the worlds resources we allow people into this situation. Perhaps it happened 100 years ago, but shouldn't we strive to make society better and shouldn't we be trending away from this problem. I believe making a connection between the neo-liberal doctrine and extremes of poverty is legitimate.

 

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