August 19, 2014

The end of chronic homelessness?

For a break away from my frustration about Ferguson, a note about my reinvention.  My networking resulted in an invitation to a stakeholder's meeting regarding homelessness in Norman, and my education continues.  I am learning so much about homelessness and about the effective (and no so effective) methods of fighting it.

Here in Norman, as in many communities, we have several different "shelter" agencies who all deal with aspects of the homeless population.  As one person put it this morning, they have effectively managed homelessness here, in that it is largely hidden from the population.  But that isn't solving the issue.  So, they formed the organization One Vision One Voice to combine forces and share information and resources.  Pretty cool stuff.

In addition, they are learning much about ways to address homelessness, and moving away from some of the older models.  That includes the idea of what was called "housing ready," where homeless people were given the possibility of getting housing if they completed some checkmarks.  Addicted people needed to prove their sobriety for ninety days, or the mentally ill needed to demonstrate some management of their symptoms.  This all worked for the short term homeless, but for the chronic and medically vulnerable population, this didn't work at all.  People living under a bridge have enough on their plate just living day to day to try to demonstrate some control of their demons.  It is basic Maslow's hierarchy of needs, if you think about it, but the model persisted because it had a logic to it.

But OVOV and The Homeless Alliance are following the new model of "housing first," where they put these chronic homeless people in housing of some sorts (with guidance and social workers helping them, of course).  The results are pretty startling.  In OKC, the retention rate was in the 90s after a year and a half, and only 2 of those were actually lost back to homelessness.

The other fascinating component here is that we may have been viewing the economics of fighting homelessness all wrong.  Most people agree that people should have housing, just as they think that people should have food.  But I can't tell you how many times I have heard the lament that we "just can't afford to feed or house everyone."

I am not sure about the economics of hunger (though I suspect it is quite similar) but the Homeless Alliance people have some great numbers on the cost of homelessness.  Turns out it is quite expensive to keep them on the streets.  I am not sure I wrote down all the numbers correctly, but here is one stat that I am sure of:  one individual chronically homeless individual in OKC cost the city's taxpayers $160,000 in one year.  He was arrested multiple times, or picked up for being in the wrong place or publicly intoxicated.  He was taken by ambulance several times to the emergency room, and spent time in the hospital for pneumonia.  All of that well before we look at any costs carried by the social workers or social organizations.

Turns out it is much cheaper to house people.  Here in Norman, they figure they can pay the annual rent and utilities for an individual for around $6,000.  Those who are housed are less likely to get arrested or harassed, and if you combine this with access to healthcare, the other costs plummet as well.

Several people made the point that economics should not be the only reason, but it is a compelling one for those who value fiscal conservatism.  If your value is to save money, then why wouldn't we jump on this effort of getting people into housing?  As I noted, I am guessing there is a similar economics to hunger and lack of healthcare--all the more reason to get people into Medicaid or get them fed.  Much cheaper to buy a meal than to pay for a night in the hospital, or for long-term chronic illness associated with poverty.

This fall, Norman's OVOV will undertake a comprehensive census of the homeless population.  Not just a count, but an assessment of where they are on the scale--temporary and unlikely to be homeless if they get their feet back under them to those who have enough mental illness that they would never be able to live completely unattended.  And many of those in that last category will simply die on the street.

I am hoping to get involved in this count and the entire effort to eradicate homelessness.  I am wondering about the response when people learn of this effort.  I fear that the "moral hazard" argument will overpower many who would otherwise want to help.

But we will see.

August 15, 2014

Another young black man shot by police

I am sure everyone knows about this recent event.  There is still much we don't really know about the shooting, but there are enough legitimate questions to question the police action in Ferguson, Missouri.  Vox.com has a nice rundown of the story here.  The Ferguson police released some images and video showing the dead youth robbing a convenience store, but then admitted that the officer who shot Michael Brown did not know of those allegations and was not stopping him for that reason.  The police say that the young man attacked the police officer and even reached for his gun, but several observers note that the young man was retreating from the cops and surrendering when he was shot.  One person live tweeted the shooting, and his account is chilling.

One of the problems with racial issues in this country, in my opinion, is the emphasis on denying the past or larger contexts.  We are told to accept the basic particulars in each individual case as if they occur in a vacuum.  This shooting is a great example.  Perhaps the police are telling the right story, and this young man threatened and attacked a police officer.  None of that matters if he was retreating--certainly not in my mind, but as I said, there is much for us to learn.

But this occurred in a context, and that context is not a good one for race relations.  For all the Supreme Court's conviction that racism is a thing of the past, Ferguson, Missouri is a largely black population run by an almost completely white police force and with only one black person on the city council.  Race, of course, tells us nothing about competence or ability, but this is horrible optics.  Those white police arrest black residents at a much higher rate (much higher) than whites.  The police department handled this badly by militarizing the city and treating those protesting as enemies.

To be fair to Ferguson, Missouri, however, the problem is much broader than this one community.  One only has to think of the different responses between the Bundy ranch in Nevada and this community.  At Cliven Bundy's side, white separatists pointed sniper rifles at federal troops.  That didn't end with tear gas or tanks rolling in.  On the contrary, the government backed off.  Contrast that with the police shooting an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, or the savage beating of a black grandmother on the side of an interstate.  Or that kid shot in Walmart holding a toy gun.

If that isn't bad enough, consider the difference between media portrayal of black victims to white suspects.  Right, not just between white suspects and black suspects, but even the portrayals of blacks shot in violent encounters.  There is plenty of room for criticism of individual criminal behavior, but that disparity suggests that the activists are not completely wrong when they say that the lives of black men count less than their white counterparts.




July 26, 2014

The Ghosts of Recurring Dreams

My career reinvention is still moving slowly.  I have reached out to several people in the non-profit world and have essentially offered my services pro-bono.  Of course, they all use volunteers, and I am willing to do that too, but am hoping that I can use some of my analytical skills as well.  My latest idea is to try to get on a few more boards.  My work on my current board has really given me a chance to use some chops.  To put it another way, when I volunteered for a session at the food bank, while it was a very worthwhile afternoon (and I need to go back), my contribution was no different than the teenage girl next to me on the assembly line.  Absolutely nothing wrong with that either, but I am hoping to do something for these orgs that she might not be able to.  Yet.

So, we will see.  I continue to talk to people in that world and the cool thing is that I am learning much about homelessness and hunger.  All of that is worthwhile, whatever comes of this tactic.

But back to the title.  I don't feel that stressed or depressed about my career right now, but I still cannot shake my recurring dream where I am, once again in the classroom.  The dreams always include the fact that my teaching is coming to an end.  I wake up depressed and it often takes me most of the day to shake the dream.

I am a little unsure why I keep having these dreams.  I have always understood dreams as part of unresolved business.  I used to have a dream every summer where I went to class unprepared.  That was my cue to get going on prep for the coming year.

Perhaps I am still unresolved about my career.  I find myself pretty angry at the state of higher education, and occasionally find myself annoyed with former colleagues when they complain about students or some university nonsense.  When I think of that world, I have to say that there is much I don't miss.  I don't miss the bored students.  I don't miss the texting and sleeping during class.  I don't miss the insipid questions about grades and exams.  I don't miss the consumer approach to learning.

But I do miss those moments with students when we connected on something cool.  I miss those connections with students outside class when they related how something from our class informed their life.  I know I made a connection with some of those students that may last for a lifetime.  I miss that.  Perhaps that is the source of these dreams.

July 24, 2014

Another botched execution

Though have no fear, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer assures us that he didn't suffer.  This, of course, following the Oklahoma botched execution and the Ohio botched execution.



But this much is also true.  Americans don't really care.  Certainly not enough to vote differently.  When it comes down to it, these are bad people dying, and if they suffer along the way, no conservative I know will stand up and say it is wrong.  And, of course, for the very same reason that they sat on their hands during the torture debate.  Bad people coming to bad ends is ok, even if the process makes us more like them than we would like to admit.


July 15, 2014

What would Jesus do, exactly? Surely not yell "go home" at immigrant child refugees, right?

The stories are amazingly gripping.  We read about the life expectancy in Central American countries and realize that parents there reasonably believe that sending unaccompanied minors on a long dangerous journey to the US is actually safer than just staying home.

Right.  As dangerous as it is to journey on their own to the Promised Land, it is less dangerous than just staying with their family.  It boggles the mind.

But as boggled as my mind is with that, I look at the conservative response to these children and find even less humanity and less reason.  We have border militia (thankfully, well protected by the NRA and 2nd Amendment groups) saying that we should shoot immigrant kids.  We have Republicans across the map suggesting every possibly conspiracy you could imagine--from Obama is doing this on purpose to bring in more Democratic voters (because poor illegals vote in such high numbers, right?), to Sarah Palin's brilliant suggestion that Obama is letting in all these kids to fundamentally transform America (because he isn't really American, of course, and hates it the way it is), or those who believe this is a plot to bankrupt the country (because illegals just go on welfare and commit crimes).  Now that I think about it, most of the conspiracies are that Obama is doing this on purpose for some reason or another.  And yes, the spelling skills that the Tea Party was so famous for (who can forget the famous "Get a brain, Morans" sign at one of their rallies?) has not disappeared.  We have seen all sorts of misspellings about illegals or immigrants, or whatever--though this one takes the cake--'No Illeagles' Graffiti Discovered On Proposed Shelter For Unaccompanied Children | ThinkProgress.

Then, of course, we had a prominent faith leader from Dallas (Southern Baptist, no less) who said that we should, of course, show compassion to the children, but first and foremost we should secure the borders.  He said this after noting that Christians were looking to people like him and Fox and Friends for the "right answer."

I know many people of faith who are dedicated to making the world a better place.  They volunteer and feed and house the homeless.  They work tirelessly for the disabled or the elderly or the immigrant.

But it is time to recognize that many American Christians are causing more harm than good.  The Reverend Jeffries comes to mind, but there is a long list of people who are so tribally conservative that they can't see the problem with yelling at immigrant children.  But then again, they don't seem to have a problem with their party actively discouraging people from getting health insurance.


July 4, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Decision: A Summary & Explanation

Nice to read that I am not the only one who questions aspects of this decision.  Good point in here is that the court decided that facts are irrelevant even when the belief in question is a factual issue.  Had they said that their religious conviction was that abortion is immoral, that would have been an understandable response.











Again, this analysis by the majority empowers people to claim anything violates their religious beliefs, and the Court will not even put them to the proof. At this point, it seems that the “substantial burden” analysis is an empty shell. You can simply assert that anything is a burden on your religious belief, and the Court is just going to let you jump immediately to the next step, the strict scrutiny analysis.


The Hobby Lobby Decision: A Summary & Explanation

July 3, 2014

I think this gets to part of my issue with the idea that Hobby Lobby (the corporation) has "religious convictions"

MoJo has a good take on the difference between the corporation as a legal entity and the individuals who own that corporation.

That separation is what legal and business scholars call the "corporate veil," and it's fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it's in question. By letting Hobby Lobby's owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.
"If religious shareholders can do it, why can’t creditors and government regulators pierce the corporate veil in the other direction?" Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, asked in an email.
Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants?  If in seeking some kind of religious freedom angle, Hobby Lobby actually exposed corporate owners to the very liability they form corporations to avoid?  

July 1, 2014

Religious freedom

I started to write a post on religious freedom yesterday morning.  In that instance, I was referring to this example from Huntsville, Alabama, where locals suddenly realized that the right to have openly religious prayers start their city council meetings might also include people praying who weren't Christian.  Religious liberty for me, but not for you.

As I have noted before, I think this is one of the least understood freedoms in American history.  Skewed because Christians mistakenly held priority status (and not all Christians, just certain versions depending on the region) in the public square.  That has led many to cry "persecution" when that priority status changed to being just "one of the religious influences."  Hence the hue and cry about the Ten Commandments.

But yesterday, we learned that religious liberty applies also to corporations.  Evidently (and I missed this in Sunday School), corporations can be Christian.  I am not sure how that happens, of course.  Most traditions have an idea of how someone declares their faith, and many want that to be public and even followed by baptism.  I have no idea how a corporation becomes a Christian.  Perhaps through a press release.

The dust has not settled on the SCOTUS ruling on the Hobby Lobby case.  For one thing, there is a possibility that this ruling does not mean that HL employees don't get contraceptives--but that the contraceptive coverage might come directly from the government.  Kennedy suggested that there was, in fact, a state interest in providing contraceptives, but that the corporation should not be required to do so.  So what does that mean?  One of my friends noted that the government is unlikely to want to provide Plan B to women--we can only imagine the outcry from conservatives on this one.

But regardless of that outcome--we have a really weird ruling.  The court was explicit that this didn't apply to other religious objections (blood transfusions, vaccines, doctors), but as many have noted, there doesn't seem to be a clear reason as to why those other religiously held objections are not valid.  Why did the court decide that this particular corporation's particular religious objection to this particular healthcare issue was worthy of court sanction?

I think we are seeing the violent gasps of conservative Christians seeing their power and privilege fade away.  I am unsure how this will unfold, of course, but I do think that the law of unintended consequences might play a big role here.

June 12, 2014

Gun Culture in one perfect headline

"'Your Dead Kids Don't Trump My Constitutional Rights' To Have Guns"

Just tired of the gun people. Tired of school shootings. Tired.




And then I saw this:


I think what gets to me is that the "constitutional right" here seems to be incredibly muddy.  It has become the right to have whatever gun you want, when you want it, and in the amounts you want, without question.  It has become the right to own what are absolutely anti-personnel weapons that you need because government is coming for you.  And no dead children or teachers or just people on the street can possibly infringe on your entertainment.  That is what this is for most people.  Their constitutional right is to be entertained owning and shooting guns. 

Never mind that a good bunch of the gun rights people are rabidly anti-government.  And nevermind that the loudest mouthpiece for guns is a torture-endorsing GOP machine.  We will not possibly infringe on your right to be a crazy, anti-government nutjob for one instance.  Because your convenience and your right to play army is your constitutional right, and any other rights are beneath that.  Including the right to life, it seems.  

We should never mind that a good part of this is anti-tax conservatism trying to privatize security.  You want to be safe in your home?  Better buy a gun, because we aren't going to pay for good police, or for good community.  Better move to a gated community where your gun safe can keep you from the undesirables.