Funny about Money

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

What d’you make of this story…


So, I cannot bear the prospect of reading another word of academicese…there must be something better. Like, for example,

This interesting story just in from NPR, found on the LA station’s website.

Take a read of it, and then tell me: what do you make of this piece?

To my eye, it comes across as a sophisticated, well written version of what we used to call a “sob story”: a human-interest newspaper piece specifically designed to twang the readers’ heartstrings, thereby selling more papers.

It would be cynical, though, to say that’s exactly what this is. Because it’s not. Exactly. Homelessness — leaving out the “drug-addicted” aspect for discretion’s sake — has become a vast problem in this country, and it’s getting bigger fast. Putting a human face on the grimy, road-worn souls milling around outside your office, hitting you up for a handout when you sit down for breakfast at a restaurant, panhandling on the street corners, chasing you around the grocery store parking lot, and rummaging through the trash bin outside your home (to say nothing of stealing everything in the yard that’s not red-hot or nailed down) is a sure way to help Americans understand the dimensions of the problem and that the people caught up in it are people.

Still. Enough is left out of this report that you…well…you wonder.

For example: here we have a report that the tent camps our vagrants put up along sidewalks or (here in the ’hood, for example) next-door to a middle school are controlled by criminal gangs, who extort money and drugs from the occupants. One could even call these street-campers “renters,” since in effect they’re renting space from gangs. “(LAPD Officer Deon) Joseph says the landlords are the gangs. In order to stay on the block, he explains, one woman here was forced by the Grape Street Crips to give up her entire Social Security check every month.”

Okay. If she’s getting a Social Security check, the minute that thing comes into her PO box or arrives down at the social service agency where her mail comes in, right in that moment she has enough to get on a bus and ride out of town. Even if what she can afford is not very far. Every Greyhound bus in the country follows some route out into the boondocks. So…why doesn’t she wrap up her tent and her belongings, take herself to the Greyhound station, and ride out into the sticks, where the Crips are unlikely to follow?

True, the thugs may stop her from wrapping up her tent. Though it must be said: if Officer Joseph knows as much about these folks as he seems to in the article, why would she not go to Officer Joseph (after dropping her meth pipe and other paraphernalia in a trash can or hiding them someplace near the Greyhound station) and ask him to stand by while she packs up her stuff and watch while she boards a city bus and makes her getaway? Maybe Officer Joseph could even drive her to the Greyhound station.

If you’re sleeping in the rough, chances are sleeping in a national forest or on BLM land is going to be a lot safer and a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the streets. When SDXB and I hitch-hiked through the back country of Canada and Alaska, we slept under roof exactly two nights in three months — because it was raining so hard that even he would not put up with it. A couple of times, when we were in a small city, we camped overnight in a parking lot. And I’ll tellya: asphalt or concrete is damned uncomfortable to sleep on. The ground — dirt — is far preferable. And the boondocks are far preferable to an urban setting: quieter, and though there are a few crazies stumbling around out there plus the occasional bear, surprisingly few Crips and Bloods.

We have an observation from a social service worker, who sounds very experienced:

“They are you or me divided by circumstance,” says Georgia Berkovich, of the Midnight Mission. “A catastrophic illness in the family that depletes their savings. A victim of domestic violence who would rather live on the street than be with their abuser.”

Financial issues and the lack of affordable housing are increasingly impacting women. No one never imagines they’ll end up on these streets, Berkovich says. “First you would stay with friends and then you’d stay with family and maybe you’d wear out your welcome and you say ‘we’ll just stay in our car.’ “

Yeah. But…if you have a car that you imagine you can stay in, then you have four wheels that will get you out of town. You can camp in most national forests and on BLM land for nothing. For what you could get by selling that car, you could buy a small tent, a sleeping bag, a camp stove, a few camp pans, a plate, and a cup, with a wad of dough left over. That and a decent jacket and boots will equip you for living on the land — one helluva lot better than anyone is equipped to live on the street in some gang’s territory.

Something is left out of this NPR story. Maybe it’s simply an answer to the question why stay in a gang-ridden city when rural areas have services for the poor and the homeless?

Interestingly, homeless levels are significantly high in the rural counties here in lovely Arizona. My guess would be the conditions described in this NPR piece are largely the reason. Poverty rates are higher in our rural areas, so that would tend to push up the numbers of homeless. But dollars to donuts, the rates of urban homelessness — city people who lose their livelihoods and their homes — increase the numbers of homeless in the boondocks. Because anyone who knows how to camp knows that you can live better beside a stream than you can beside a freeway.

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  1. ” Because anyone who knows how to camp knows that you can live better beside a stream than you can beside a freeway.”

    And that’s the issue – these people don’t know how to camp. They aren’t comfortable in the wilderness – that isn’t even an OPTION. The city is all they know.

    If you’re recently homeless through one of the unfortunate set of events described in the article – you’re going to stay in the city – if you’re looking for work, being out in the boondocks isn’t going to find you many opportunities.

    For those who are addicts – being out in the wilderness doesn’t give you access to many drug dealers, I would guess. Nor are there many liquor stores in the BLM lands.

  2. I was thinking the same thing as Spiffi: people don’t know how to camp the way you’re describing. I certainly don’t. Assuming that I had enough money to stock up food, etc. ahead of time (doubtful, if I was homeless), I don’t even think I’d know the right things to get. If I was homeless and had a car, I’d also be worried about having enough gas to get to the more rural spaces you’re talking about and about what I would do if my car decided to break down on me.

    And all that’s assuming that I could even afford to camp and that there was a campground I could use when I needed it. The national parks service often charges for admission to the park, and charges again for spending the night in a campground. The campgrounds often require reservations and aren’t necessarily open year-round. When I looked at a nearby campground in my state just now out of curiosity, the reservations system said that the park was closed to camping until next May.

    I don’t think that living as a homeless person in a city is great, but I don’t think switching to wilderness would be terribly doable for a lot of people.

    • Well. If you’re tenting in the city, you can tent in the country. Remember, a lot of rural areas and small towns do have services for homeless — food kitchens, clothing handouts, and the like. You aren’t required to stay in a campground — we rarely did, partly because we didn’t care to pay for the privilege of sleeping on the ground and partly because they’re noisy and crowded. We usually sought out a stream or lake on public land. No one asked us to pay for the privilege — not once in three months. You can camp for free, legally, in national forests, national grasslands, and BLM land:

      As for homeless shelters and related services, you’d probably have to get online (public library) and look. But the following small towns in Arizona list homeless shelters: Bisbee, Holbrook, Kingman, Flagstaff, Sierra Vista, Safford, Willcox, Patagonia. And these towns have subsidized housing for the homeless: Bisbee, Lake Havasu City, Ajo, Douglas, Buckeye, Flagstaff, Prescott, Wickenburg, Cottonwood, Somerton, Bisbee, Kingman, Show Low, Payson, Marana, Williams, Superior. Many of those towns are adjacent to or close to BLM or National Forest lands. And again remember: in the encampment we’re describing in this post, THE STREET GANGS CHARGE THE RESIDENTS to camp there without harassment. A police officer is quoted as saying the local Crips gang demanded a woman’s entire Social Security check to let her stay in the encampment in L.A. And herein lies my point: if you have a Social Security check, you can afford to camp in the boondocks with plenty left over for food.

      Compared to sleeping on the street in a city, the big drawback to sleeping in a rural or forest area would be that you’d have many fewer opportunities — maybe none — to panhandle. So you’d pretty much have to take recourse to a food line or some such. No one knows how much people really make, on average, from panhandling. It almost certainly is not the rumored 50 bucks an hour. A 2001 survey suggested the median was about $300 a month…but y’now, that’s more than I’m spending at Costco on food and household products. And 2013 reports turned up an average of $11.10 an hour for panhandlers in Oregon City — $2/hour above the state’s minimum wage (

      Oregon City has 32,000 people. Not a small town, but no large city, either. It’s on the Willamette River…a lovely place to camp. We’re not the only ones to have thought of it, though:

      • I think the underlying thing is – if you’re homeless and living in a tent on the sidewalk – it’s because you don’t have the mental wherewithal to come up with a better plan and fix your circumstances.

        If you were able to think rationally and figure out that you have other options – that your Social Security check will go further in a lower cost of living area – that you could get on a bus and get away from the bad situation and the gangbanger “landlors” – that you could live in the same tent, with some supplies, on public land, without being harassed – then you could probably also figure out how to no longer be homeless.

        And if you had the self determination to take any of those steps – you probably wouldn’t have ended up on the streets in the first place – because you would have been able to prevent it.

      • Well said, Spiffikins. Many of these men and women are so far gone mentally — whether because of drug or alcohol addiction or because of untreated mental illness — that they clearly can’t think clearly. On the other hand, I don’t think that description fits ALL the people who are living on the street.

        You should have seen the poor soul I saw this morning, walking up an uptown thoroughfare. He was so thin he looked like he was made of toothpicks. So dirty he looked like must not have washed in a a couple weeks — or more. And so exhausted and sick, he could barely put one foot in front of the other. Poor old fella was just completely gone. And what help is there for him?

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