Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Trains, the ’Hood, Safety, and All That…

Underwater with work: shot off the latest Chinese math paper just as an indexing project came in. By yesterday afternoon, managed to mark up pages and create a five-inch-high stack of notecards. Entered an inch or so worth in the draft document.

Problem is, any given keyword recorded in this way may point to a topic that needs to be documented more carefully. So for about every fourth or fifth keyword, I end up having to run a “search” through the PDF. This is time-consuming and mind-numbing…but alas, it usually does unearth a few more indexable instances of the term. All of which means, put briefly, that it takes for-freaking-ever to type up the index terms, and then they have to be alphabetized and formatted to the publisher’s standard.

Alas, we don’t have forever: this thing has to go back to the publisher on August 2, but before that it has to be reviewed by not one but two authors and their changes entered. It will be a gold-plated miracle of we make the deadline at this rate.

Yes…it is true: I’m not working; I’m blogging. At 7 in the morning I get to do something other than work. For a minute or two, anyway.

Stupidly, I subscribed to Nextdoor, the social media site that puts neighbors in touch with each other. It’s interesting…but… Overall its effect is to reinforce one’s feeling that the neighborhood is being over-run with drug-using, potentially thieving derelicts. The other day on my way back from the fruitless effort to get the present stack of page proofs printed at the Metrocenter UPS store, I counted nine such folk — that’s just on the main drags, not in the alleys and on the neighborhood streets.

One of the neighbors was cleaning up the alley and found a fine bum encampment hidden behind a transformer. In it they found…

  • 11 cell phones (older Kyocera and Alltec models. Cases to newer ones present but no phone)
  • 30+ chargers and cables
  • A/V cables
  • License plate with current tags (97 Chevy)
  • Jewelry
  • Sports watches
  • Laptop
  • Credit/store cards (numerous different names)
  • Dismantled bike frames, parts, gears, broken locks
  • Personal items like keepsake pins and work anniversary memorabilia
  • Purses, backpacks, and makeup bags

Once a nice bike. Probably got more for the parts than he could for the whole thing.

The police responded that they weren’t interested in this loot because none of it constituted evidence of a crime. Right. Miscellaneous credit cards, a license plate hot enough to singe your fingers, a stash of expensive watches…clearly innocent stuff, hm?

Here’s our guy’s bed, cuddled up against the resident’s backyard. Doesn’t that look cozy?

The other day I had a long chat with a group of enthusiastic city bureaucrats in a teleconference about lightrail safety. This materialized, presumably, from some rant I put on Facebook or waypoints. No doubt I remarked online — truthfully — that I do not feel safe riding the lightrail because of the number of vagrants who use it as free air conditioning. All of these shady characters are dumped off at the corner of Conduit of Blight and Gangbanger’s Way, whence they osmose into our neighborhood. The city is accommodating them by installing a meth clinic around the corner and encouraging nonprofits to build homeless shelters. (Note that NarcAnon suggests there’s a fair amount of money to be made in the meth clinic business. Some investors seem to think so, too.)

The group members were very nice, and I’m impressed that someone in the City gives a damn whether some old lady feels safe riding the train. One of the speakers, who before acceding to her present position had a long and successful career as a police officer, pointed out that the city has increased patrols and enforcement along the train tracks where they run north from Camelback up Conduit of Blight. And it is true, arrest rates have skyrocketed along that stretch.

But: it doesn’t address the problems: homelessness, vagrancy, and drug addiction, deliberately brought into reasonably quiet neighborhoods by an ill-conceived, incredibly expensive trophy public-transit toy.

First, let us address the safety on the train issue: you can put as many officers on the street as you can spare, but it doesn’t put them on the train, where they need to be.

SDXB, recently back from Seattle, reports that their lightrail has a conductor on every car, and the person stays there and keeps the peace…as well as collecting fares, which are rarely collected here. You can jump on our train in north Phoenix and ride all the way to Mesa with a good chance that no one will ask to see your ticket. The cars are stupidly designed in that there’s no passway between them. So if you have four cars on a train, you have four separate pods. That means a single conductor cannot walk the length of the train collecting tickets and cannot see the length of the train to keep an eye on the goings-on.

It also means that if somebody who stinks or who is arguing with his voices or is shaking people down for change or shooting up or masturbating or pestering women gets into the car, you can’t get up and walk to another car: you have to get off the train and stand on the platform until another one comes along.

Next, let us consider the folly of the train project itself: the most efficient way to move traffic around a sprawling city like the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area is by bus, shuttle, and car. The infrastructure for those vehicles was already here. To build the light-rail system, which can only go where the rails are laid, the city has had to spend $70 million per mile! Think of that. That’s $1.4 billion for the first 20 miles.

Just imagine what $1.4 billion would have done for the homeless in this city. For the drug addiction problem. For our bottom-of-the-barrel K-12 system. Or how many electric buses and shuttles it could have bought.

Holy Sh!t.

In the folly department, our crew from the City reported that our city fathers and mothers intend to continue building the train tracks to Metrocenter, the ghost mall of which we have spoken in the past. For this to happen, the line will have to cross over Interstate 17. In the past, the Arizona Department of Transportation has stated that they will not allow that to happen, because sooner or later they intend to convert the I-17 along that stretch into a double-decker freeway. That plan seems to have been ditched…or at least, they’re not talking about it in any venue that ranks in a Google search. 😀

In terms of people-moving, doubling the freeway’s carrying capacity — even though that, too, will be quite the little horror — probably makes more sense than the train because within the next 10 or 20 years, most cars and many trucks will run on electricity. And probably a large number of those will be self-driving, cutting the accident rate and eliminating the Sunday drives up the wrong side of the freeway.

If we must put billions of dollars into transportation schemes, why not dedicate it to building an infrastructure for the inevitable self-driving electric cars?

Folly continued: The idea that developers are going to fall all over themselves to renovate the Ghost Mall or to build offices and apartments there is…well, a pipe dream that makes one wonder what who put into whose pipes. That whole district is dangerously blighted: it’s the sort of place where you reflexively check to be sure your car doors are locked when you drive through. There’s not enough customer base to support a middle-class shopping area there — that’s why Metrocenter crashed and burned. Right now they’re building a Walmart Supercenter amongst the ruins…not the kind of venue guaranteed to attract the young urbanites who ride from their pricey mid-town digs to their downtown or ASU jobs. About the best one could do is try to lure light industry or a big medical center. Most likely, though, the site will end up as a gigantic park-&-ride.

That alone is silly: why would you drive 40-plus minutes to Metrocenter from the westside or Anthem and then park your car in 110-degree heat in a high-theft area, walk through said high-crime area to stand in the heat, and climb into a vehicle that will put you elbow-to-elbow with folks who need a bath and a handout?

Finally, let us consider the question of whether, as the city asserts, the lightrail system really does jack up property values and does lead to upscale development.

It’s undoubtedly true for certain districts and certain demographics. Studies have shown that the effect is modest, and in some cases may be negative. In the Phoenix area, there’s a certain set of urbanites, most of them in well-paying jobs, who prefer to live in centrally located areas — first, because they dislike commuting long distances and second because they want to take advantage of downtown and mid-town cultural amenities. My ex-DH and I were among those: we lived in the centrally located historic district specifically for those reasons, and because we could afford to put our child in private schools. Those people will regard a lightrail or a trolley system as a convenient urban amenity and will ride it.

And certainly, mid-town and downtown Phoenix’s economic development has exploded.

But interestingly, that does not apply everywhere. The slum apartments across Conduit of Blight are still slum apartments, despite several years of shiny tooting and honking up that road. The abandoned golf course behind the slum apartments is still a derelict piece of property, one that houses a number of human derelicts. There’s no serious sign of fancy development up here.

Some people work in places where they can park for free or for a modest cost and so have no interest in rubbing shoulders with their fellow citizens twice daily on buses or trains.

Some have sporadic or contract work to which they have to drive, and whose customers provide parking.

Some prefer to live in the suburbs where there are more children for their kids to play with, more people like themselves, and at least a shot at usable public schools.

Some — make that “most of us” — can’t afford to live in those “value-improved” districts. Downtown and mid-town rental rates here rival Portland‘s and Seattle‘s…and believe me, Phoenix ain’t Portland and it ain’t Seattle.

What seems to be happening is that while the thing pushes property values up in some areas, it may push them down in others — areas where people have no vested interest in riding the lightrail to work and where the train serves mainly to transport derelicts into formerly placid neighborhoods. The City no doubt knows this. Clearly the strategy of building shelters and installing a meth clinic belies the claim that the lightrail merrily improves districts through which it moves. A population of drug addicts and mentally ill bums does nothing to increase property values.

Here in the ’hood, there’s not a thing we can do about the train: it’s already built. Unless we sell our homes and move a long way from Folly Central, we’re pretty much stuck with the result.

So…what can be done?

Well, to start with, take some of the funds planned to build still more miles of track — which as we can see must amount to billions of dollars — and apply the money to the problems of homelessness, untreated mental illness, drug addiction, and health care for the indigent. The Man Who Is Not Dog, for example, had pinkeye — no, not red eyes from drug use, but an itchy infection in one eye — that clearly was untreated. He didn’t even have a place to wash the sweat off, much less get his infected eye treated.

Provide SRO-type housing for single homeless men and women — not religion-based, a status that repels many non-believers.

Provide medical care targeted at specific issues common in that demographic.

Provide mental health care and counseling that does not substitute one addictive drug for another and is not thinly disguised preaching.

Engage neighborhoods in empathizing and working with the poor: possibly create grants to provide services that reliably get people off the streets, out of established neighborhoods and parks, and into SROs and off of drugs (alcohol included).

Provide grants to landlords to upgrade deteriorating apartments in return for dedicating some portion of the complex to homeless housing or space for service facilities caring for the homeless.

The point is this: Just driving a light-rail train along a route and adding a bunch of police officers is not going to increase property values or get the people whose neighborhoods are damaged to like it. Or persuade people who’d rather drive to ride it.


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Author: funny

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  1. Oh, wow! That “bum encampment” brings back memories of when I was living in a crappy little apartment building in another part of the city. I was the apartment manager for a year before the maintenance people ripped me off and I got the hell out of there. (long story)
    We had a very small grassy area in back of the building and homeless men would congregate back there. They never gave me any problems but I wasn’t crazy about them being there, either. Like I already mentioned, I was in more danger from the maintenance crew! ;o)
    Also, as I’ve mentioned before, a lot of mentally ill people, homeless or not, refuse to acknowledge that they need medical help. A hoarder neighbor of mine told me more than once that she took no medication of any kind, not even otc meds, because God told her not to. (long story) *sigh*

  2. Nice thing about being God is you don’t need an MD to dispense advice. 😉

    Most of the homeless are no more dangerous than your neighbors (which, of course, is why you keep a German shepherd around…). Maybe it’s unkind, but I dislike being panhandled — particularly when the applicant physically CHASES me around a parking lot. And when I know a person is high on some kind of drug and that around here odds are that drug is meth, I can’t help feeling uncomfortable.

    • I’ve disliked panhandlers ever since one grabbed me and kissed me about 10 years ago. I think he might have attempted rape but changed his mind when I lost my temper. (Most people seem shocked that I’m capable of anger. Go figure.) He was my height with a slight build and maybe decided that I was more trouble than I was worth. Anyway, I’ve been really wary of them since that incident.

      • Geez! That IS vile! Yes, it’s hard to escape the suspicion he figured he’d grab a quickie and was shocked to find it harder than he expected.

  3. Very interesting, thought provoking article Miss Funny. It reminds one of the challenges man has faced since before dirt was invented. What do we do with the misfits? Your ideas make sense. I wonder, though, if there are enough people who give a shit who could help clean up our current mess.
    Also, I have ridden on the light rail many times. But I lived a block away from the thing. The neighborhood was already inundated with homeless, drug addicts, and homeless drug addicts so it made little difference in that regard.
    BUT, I can see how it would really screw up an otherwise comfortably middle class neighborhood. How awful!!

    • Yes, I used to live within walking distance of your place. And yeah, the Encanto District at the time had a MUCH worse vagrancy problem than the fringes of North Central do today. It’s better now than it was back in the day, when literally you could not poke your nose out the front door without seeing a bum shuffling down the street.

      There was a reason for that: when the City decided to clean out and revive the downtown district, they tore down all the SROs that housed indigent people, mostly male drug addicts, alcoholics, and untreated mentally ill. These folks were turned out onto the street.

      Social service agencies opened shelters and aid centers just to the south of Willo — closer to your area than where we were living, but within easy walking distance. The shelters would take people in at night but turn them out at the crack of dawn. Having no place to go, these souls would park themselves in the library or ride the city buses to soak up the air conditioning, or they would just walk. They would walk all day long…generally through the Encanto area. They would use our side yards and alleys as toilets, and if they could get into your car, they’d use your car’s back seat as a place to sleep. You could not leave _anything_ out in the front yard, not even a plant in a pot, because it would quickly be stolen. Side and backyards needed to be fenced and protected by a large dog. Children could not be allowed to play in front yards, and really needed to be watched every minute no matter where they were playing outside.

      That was the specific reason we moved: our son could not play outdoors with his pal unless either I or our neighbor’s housekeeper stood out there _every minute_ and kept an eye on them. At some point, a boy child does not want and should not need to have his mommy watching him every living breathing minute.

      I think that’s likely to be the case here, too, as evidenced by the episode where one of the transients jumped a high back wall to molest two small girls playing inside their backyard. As more incidents of that nature occur, the affluent young adults looking to start families here will realize that Anthem and the White Tanks don’t look so bourgeois after all…

  4. Here is a distressing….troubling…..”mean” thought….I was speaking to a cop a while back and he shared that they all just had to go thru training for the new drug that saves folks from overdoses. What he found troubling was when the folks were revived MANY times they were angry that they were saved and he couldn’t count the times they spit in his face….AND the drug is EXPENSIVE…..And he says these folks don’t want help…don’t want drug treatment…they just want more dope…So his thought was/is …. why save them?….Burn out? Common sense? Mean? And as he points out it has become “an industry” unto itself where the few that do survive and get straight….become “counselors” as they “know the challenges” and try to justify the dopers actions. He couldn’t name one addict that he saved that got straight and got a job in the mainstream. This problem is getting worse IMHO as the local “meth clinic” in our local “Richestan” has just had to double it’s parking lot…And I’m told many of these fine folks take the meth because it allows them to not need as much REAL dope that they have to pay for to get thru the day….Sad….

    • Most people who go around high on dope all the time have mental problems. Many, if not most, of the men wandering around our alleys are untreated or inadequately treated sufferers of mental illness.

      I’ve never known a person who was schizophrenic well enough to talk about the illness, but I have had two bipolar friends. They were able to keep the symptoms more or less under control with medications, but the meds themselves had very unpleasant side effects. And even on meds, over the long run neither was able to hold down a job.

      Consider how difficult and depressing that would be. What would you do? Probably the same thing I’d do: pour yourself a stiff drink…and then another…and then another. The drug addiction has the same effect: numbs you to an uncontrollable and intolerable reality. Ultimately, getting heavy into drugs is suicidal. And y’know, it’s just possible that suicidal IS THE POINT.

      It could be that the people the officer encountered OD’d on purpose…or maybe “accidentally on purpose,” figuring that if the next high carried them away, that would not be such a bad thing.

      Methadone IS “real dope.” It also is an addictive drug–one that Big Pharma has managed to faze past lawmakers. Meth treatment substitutes one addictive drug for another. It doesn’t ultimately solve the problems that a) the person is addicted to a chemical and b) the person is suffering in such a way that apparently the only thing that helps is to wrap his brain in chemical cotton.

      Seems to me — bearing in mind that i are not a doctor or a social worker, i are a english major — that the way to deal with the issue is to figure out why people use drugs, and if they do so because they are in psychic or physical pain, to figure out a way to address that pain. We need treatments for mental illnesses that are not worse than the disease.

  5. Hmmmm….Not sure how much of our drug problem can be attributed to mental illness….though I have two beloved cousins who are “bi-polar”. If they take their meds all is well with the world…..if they don’t not so much. So as I my one cousin says….”just take the meds…”. Around here it seems teens get into “experimenting” with pot and coke….Then there is a fork in the road….Some cease and go onto productive lives…..and some chose to seek higher “highs”….Which is why we have so many heroin overdoses in our Richestan. I’m talking folks from solid families in good neighborhoods who resort to robbing there own neighbors to get dope. And when they do get caught and get on the methadone program….they find it’s not enough but a good supplement to getting high. The meth clinic opens at 7 AM and you can’t find a place to park! So “bidness” must be good!

    • Well, IMHO drug addiction itself is a mental illness. You’d have to be crazy to do that to yourself, and to persist in doing it is a clear sign that you’re sick.

      Yes…we learned dope was more easily accessible at the expensive private high school our son attended than it was in the inner-city school right next door to it. The kids certainly could get grass and ‘shrooms any time they wanted them, and I assume they had access to coke and meth, too.

      When Big Brother decided to take Sudafed out of our sticky little hands so that we couldn’t use it to cook up meth in the kitchen, the Mexican drug gangs tumbled to that REAL fast: they set up factories in Mexico to produce the stuff, which they now import into the US and then sell to meth-heads for LESS than it used to cost to buy the ingredients and cook up the stuff yourself!

      Our drug interdiction schemes are stupid. One thing that makes them stupid is that we treat an illness as a crime. And we play into the real criminals’ hands with policies and laws that make sales of illicit drugs extremely profitable.

  6. Hmmmm….See this is where I’m gonna disagree…diabetes…cancer….colitis….those are illnesses … diseases if you will. Nobody says “hey would like ya like some diabetes…or how about some colon cancer”…. These maladies befall people they have no choice. BUT drug addiction….you have a choice….there are programs….needle exchanges….to me, and my thinking may not be correct, it’s a character flaw. For me I’d only have to see one person come off of heroin one time and I’d be sworn off the stuff. But these folks seem to have a “grudge against their backside” OR know that Society will be there to catch them.
    I will tell you that all my friends that happen to be cops say the first thing to do is get them incarcerated and out of the environment they are in….in other words…”get dried out”. Regardless of what folklore would claim drugs ARE NOT widely available in jail/prison. And if they are available they are so expensive that the average convict can’t afford it. A cigarette goes for $5….so dope is pretty expensive which is why everybody is saving their fruit to make “wine” on the inside…. Nope…IMHO lock them up BUT do not throw away the key or tax dollars….

    • Well, to a degree that’s true. However, I’m certain that some people who have mental illnesses self-medicate with street drugs.

      Queer John, for example, the cute little guy who, with his partner, ran up a Rainbow flag on the day they moved into the rental across the street, told me he was bipolar. And when you got to know him a little better than just “hello” in passing, you could see that he really was ill…there was a real, quantifiable disorder there. And it wasn’t something that made him feel good.

      What you describe, though, is part of the problem: we have turned our prisons into mental hospitals. But prison is NOT a mental healthcare system, and the stigma attached to imprisonment is no more helpful than incarceration instead of real care.

      What is needed is to bring our mental hospitals back! Turning people out on the street and letting mental health care die on the vine promised to create exactly the conditions we see in our cities every damn day of the week: sick people wandering around uncared for with no safe place to live, often dependent on street drugs to ease their symptoms.

      Heh… And actually, every company that makes and sells soda-pop and spikes it with caffeine (an addictive drug) is saying to you, “would ya like some diabetes.” Every company that makes and sells tobacco products (nicotine is more addictive than heroin) is saying “how about some lung cancer (or stomach cancer, or a heart attack).” Every company that makes and sells aspirin is saying, “would you like a hole in your stomach.” Every company that makes and sells pseudoephedrine is saying “how about some high blood pressure.” Those are all illnesses that we recognize and treat as illnesses, not as signs of moral weakness.

      You could argue that many of the ailments that afflict natives of industrialized economies are self-inflicted. Should we not treat any malady that could be regarded that way?


  7. Funny…..That is an interesting take on things….I’ll never look at an aspirin or coffe in the same manner again…..LOL.