Equality in Public Transit?

homelessness, Inequality, poverty

Click here to read the NYT article that covers Seattle’s new policy of charging people for public transportation based on their income…This innovative policy attempts to reverse some of the inequality that is inherent in fixed price models of public transportation fares.  Those who are experiencing homelessness and/or those who live below the poverty line struggle to get from place to place paying public transit fares that are targeted at middle income individuals.  With lower fares, Seattle hopes to decrease inequality and encourage the increased use of public transportation by those who struggled to afford it before the new policy.


Drug Testing Welfare Applicants: Unethical, Unnecessary, and a Waste of Money and Time

poverty, Welfare Policy

Click here to read the article titled “What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients” by Bryce Covert and Josh Israel.  The article follows the rise of policies aimed at drug testing TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) program applicants that have emerged in state legislatures across the country.  These states–which include Montana, Texas, and West Virginia–want to drug test applicants to the states’ food stamps and unemployment insurance programs.

States that have already implemented similar programs–such as Mississippi, Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah–are spending millions on the drug testing programs alone.  Not only does the act of drug testing applicants raise ethical issues, but the drug testing programs themselves are costing states far too much money and this money comes out of the budgets of the welfare programs.

The article quotes one welfare rights advocate who argues soundly that this is a waste of money that should be spent on helping, and not hurting, TANF applicants: “‘The main impact of it is first…to spend TANF money that could go into other things,’ said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator and director of income and work supports at CLASP, a non-profit focused on policy for low-income individuals. While many states told ThinkProgress that the funds don’t necessarily come out of the pot that would go to TANF benefits, it’s still money that could go elsewhere. ‘The money could certainly be spent on other things if it wasn’t going to drug testing,’ she said. ‘Even if it’s a state where it can’t go to into childcare or cash assistance, it probably comes out of their administration pot, so that’s caseworkers and things like that.’”

The article also addresses the fact that these drug testing policies  impact social stigmas surrounding seeking state assistance (e.g. welfare/TANF benefits) and drug use.  These policies can discourage drug users from seeking help and economically disadvantaged folks from seeking TANF benefits.  A must read for anyone interesting in homelessness, poverty, inequality, and welfare politics!

Homeless Child is Ignored in Freezing Cold for Hours

homeless children, homelessness

Life & Style magazine published a powerful, telling story on 2/25/15 that shows the worst that humans have to offer.  Different from its usual fare of fashion, celebrity, and lifestyle news, this story and accompanying video highlighted a young boy who was homeless and wearing a short sleeved t-shirt while “signing” (asking for money using a sign) in NYC.  The video that accompanies the article is very distressing because it shows numerous people (all dressed in warm clothes) pass the boy without acknowledging his presence.  The only person who stops is an adult who is also experiencing homelessness.  I thank my best friend Emily for bringing this video to my attention.  It is very disturbing, so as Emily warned me, do prepare yourself before watching it, as it is not easy to watch.  CLICK HERE to read the article and watch the video at Life and Style’s website…

NY Times “Room for Debate” Analyzes Homelessness

homelessness, Housing Policy

Click here to read the NYT “Room for Debate” series piece on homelessness and housing policy.  The article features six different “view points” on homelessness.  Conservative writers from the Manhattan Institute and the American Enterprise Institute argue against embracing affordable housing for all, continuing the usual pattern of blaming the homeless for their own state of homelessness and using the “deserving” citizen/”undeserving” citizen paradigm that has been established for decades in conservative literature on welfare policy.  Four of the authors featured in the series work directly with people experiencing homelessness, and with social sector organizations and government agencies responsible for housing and homelessness policies.  These authors advocate for housing for all and some explore the nuances of serving those with addiction recovery needs and mental health services needs.

The Throwaways

homelessness, mass incarceration, personal experience

The Throwaways is a documentary that chronicles the life and experiences of Ira McKinley, an activist documentarian whose interactions with police brutality, mass incarceration, and homelessness have led him to produce excellent work that illustrates the urgency of these racial justice issues.  This is a “must see” film for anyone interested in policing policies, mass incarceration, homelessness, and inequality.  The film features interviews from local activists in the Capital Region of New York State, as well as interviews from scholar Michelle Alexander.

Click here to visit the official website of the film.  The Throwaways has won numerous awards and is now touring the country, so check the website to see if a viewing will be coming soon to a theater near you!

NY Times Article Illustrates Problems with Gov’t Programs that Define “Deserving” Poor

homelessness, Welfare Policy

Click here to read the NY Times article “Aid to Needy Often Excludes the Poorest in America” by Patricia Cohen

This article highlights the problems with structuring American welfare programs on concepts of “deservingness” of citizens, as those who do not “deserve” government assistance are left on their own with no social safety net or support.  Married parents, low wage workers, the elderly, and the disabled have been categorized by welfare policy as “deserving” citizens and beneficiaries of welfare programs, while single mothers and those who have barriers to work (ex-felons who are continuously discriminated against in the hiring process and then in the workplace, former or current addicts, etc.) have been cast as “undeserving” in welfare policy.  In studies of the American welfare state, this concept of dividing citizens into categories based on their “deservingness” is referred to as the “Two Tiered Welfare State”…This NY Times article does a great job of showing (and not just telling!) these differences through interviews with people who are struggling to get by and have been placed into different categories by welfare policies.

The article chronicles the journey of Charles Constance who was denied Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits in the state of FL before moving to and applying for benefits in the state of LA.  His experiences shed light on the problems with TANF.  In order to receive the meager stipend from the government ($123 per month in Mr. Constance’s case), Constance had to work or do community service.  With a nine year old son, the commute to community service locations became trying.

If you are interested in reading more about the “two tiers” of the welfare state, check out some of the following books:

Deborah Stone Policy Paradox

Christopher Howard The Welfare State Nobody Knows 

Marie Johnson, Georgia Duerst-Lahti, Noelle H. Norton The Sexual Politics of Welfare Policy

Linda Gordon  The Welfare State: Towards a Socialist-Feminist Perspective

NYT article highlights alternative reasons for Homelessness


The article “On the Homeless Beat: Reporter’s Notebook”, published in February 9, 2015’s New York Times, draws attention to the complexities of finding housing even if it appears readily available (CLICK HERE to read the full article, written by Winnie Hu).  Reporter Winnie Hu interviewed homeless people living outside in New York City about their experiences with city shelter and housing services.  Hu learned a lot about why some people do not seek shelter, even if that option is available. NYC has a “right to shelter” mandate, which requires city officials to find shelter for homeless people who request housing. Some reasons for staying outside instead of seeking shelter inside include: violence/lack of safety in shelters, restrictive shelter rules, and feelings of personal pride (or shame) deters people from seeking shelter.  These are just a few of the reasons that homeless people often appear to “choose” life on the street versus life in a shelter. But this begs the question, is it really fair to even call this a choice, when both options are dangerous and unfulfilling?

There is little agency in homelessness, so when housed people question the decisions of people experiencing homelessness regarding staying outside versus going inside, they may be operating under assumptions driven by the logic of rational choice theory.  In rational choice theory, actors (in this case homeless people seeking safety) are able to choose amongst multiple options.  In this model, actors have access to perfect information (which is rarely the case for people who are experiencing homelessness), and after weighing all of the pros and cons they are supposed to be able to make an informed decision based on information and needs.  However, in reality, rational choice theory does not stack up.  As Hu’s article shows, powerful feelings of shame or guilt can prove more prominent in decision making than physiological feelings of cold and discomfort.  When discussing the “choices” that people experiencing homelessness make, it is important to interrogate the assumptions that are imbedded in our understandings of the word “choice” and how this concept of “choice” actually plays out in reality for people who are experiencing homelessness.

KPCC’s Report on Homeless Children Highlights Flaws in PIT Counts

homeless children, homelessness, methods

KPCC, the public radio station of Pasadena, CA, published a news piece on homelessness in Los Angeles.  (CLICK HERE to read or listen to the story…)  The piece does an excellent job of highlighting the complexities of homelessness and showing how these complexities are obscured by stunted data collection methods such as PIT counts.  The article shows how homelessness can become a reality for people who “do everything right” and end up with a few bumps in the road.  The article also makes note of the importance of youth homelessness and explains how the data collected by Los Angeles County on homelessness often hides the amount of homeless children.  Below is one illustrative graphic from the article.