posted 2/14/10

There is a great deal written about homelessness, its causes, remedies, dimensions, even definitions. Is a 20-year-old kid sleeping on his cousin’s couch homeless? Is a Vietnam era veteran living in a hollow redwood tree homeless? Are the drifting masses of people sharing hotel rooms for a few days or weeks at a time before moving on to the next city, homeless? Is a person living in a camper on his own property homeless?

Homelessness is a problem, but the kind of problem it is depends on your location in society. The homeless own few newspapers or televisions stations; as result, we know of homelessness mostly as a "social problem".

Crime and trash follow homeless camps. People who are homeless have a hard time fitting in to the systems we’ve established to deal with the effluvia of the human condition. People need food; it often comes in packages. When they eat the food, their bodies process it into a material which, judging by the reactions of professionals in the field, is toxic to all life forms. Homeless people and poor people in general often tend to collect semi-useful stuff they find. Homeless people also tend to create other social problems and crime. Being homeless is nearly a crime, and various types of vagrancy charges are a good place to start.

For all the blah blah written about homelessness by overpaid experts, very little of it actually speaks honestly about the problem.

Homelessness is not a characteristic of persons, nor is it a feature of communities. It is a consequence of a social system, indeed, all social systems.

Capitalism benefits from unemployment. A system such as ours, in which the government and private enterprise not only interact frequently but have mirrored administrative structures, creates as a by product a surplus of people two ways.

First, resources necessary for life are divvied up according to bureaucratic rules. These rules favor specific kinds of interaction. For example, one directly pertinent to our discussion, it is probably easier for a timber company to find public land to cut than for a homeless person to find a piece of public land to live on.

Secondly, in a system where nearly every useful thing in life is "owned" by someone, it is possible for wealth to accumulate in some places in society, and no wealth to accrue in others. This "shape" or symmetry to our society is a result of the way we look at property. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does, as a systematic feature, create a surplus of people over the availability of resources.

The Lorenz Attractor. Not just a pretty picture, but a picture of structures arising from the complex interaction of simple systems; in this case, the weather. Rather than being randomly placed, the points arrive where they do from the iteration, or repeating, of each process over and over.  The shape is created from individual points, and while we can only see it in two dimensions here, it is a three dimensional shape. From here

All of us can be analyzed by sociologists according to "personal dimensions" or "variables". These variables locate us in social space. The list of things that cause a person to become homeless are the same list that cause a person to be wealthy.

Spatial (200 nm · 200 nm) probability distribution (ordinate) of an electron participating in the current transport in the case of the quantum Hall effect. The self-similar structure of the fractal landscape determines the universal conductance.  From HERE This is the fractal distribution "map" of electron participation in a dissipative electric transport system, but a map of the distribution of wealth in the social space would look very much the same, because both arise from the same kind of reflexive interaction, which causes structures to appear in multidimensional social space, instead of distributing either conductive participation (above) or economic participation (our example) evenly or "randomly" throughout the space.

The system is founded on the value of the person as a revenue-producing unit, and as a consumer unit, like a little particle with a plus side and a minus side. When everything goes well, most persons spin nicely, generating revenue for their employer, and maintaining a market base for goods and services, including government, which is a service we pay for. We pay for government through fees, taxes, and fines.

The energy that makes us spin is money. People with a lot of money spin and spin, and they cause those right around them to spin, too, but the farther you get from them, the less spin there is. When there is too little money, or when it is too highly concentrated, the flow of money doesn’t reach everywhere. Some people don’t generate money and they are very poor consumers. They are on the margins of money, they are surplus people.

If there were a terrible plague, or a horrible war, or a sudden prosperity like a new source of free energy, then everyone in society would move up a notch, and some of the surplus people, who weren’t too old or too addicted, would be swept back into the flow.


Bonus Army: 17,000 homeless WWI veterans and their families march on Washington DC demanding the government cash out their bonuses. They made their demands at the urging of retired Marine Major General Smedley Butler, see here They were attacked by the U.S. Army, and their homeless city burned, with the loss of two men and unknown children. Archive photos

Here in the United States we have official mythology about how we’re all created equal. That’s simply unfounded crap, and it was never expected that we are all equal, only that we should receive equal treatment under the law. Evidence is very strong that even that meager goal can’t be met. By no means are people equal. Most of the differences, like accidents of birth, transcend the person and whatever choice they might make. Did you choose to be your sex, your race, your social status at birth, your birth date? These are the variables that most likely influence your place in society, and they are the things you have the least control over. These variables are the realities covered by the myth that we are "all equal".

If we consider the variables that can cause a person to become homeless it quickly becomes clear that some people will not be allowed to succeed. The process is subtle, and it and works by simply selecting someone else. In the land where everyone is equal, it just means that person will get a job next time. In the real world, they will likely be selected against again. If someone else is selected over and over, you won’t get a job, and the longer you don’t get a job the longer until you get a job and the less that job is likely to pay.

Suppose you are hiring a secretary. Statistics indicate that most people hired as secretaries remain office help, but in some instances, people are promoted from clerical to management or administration. It is one of those "start at the bottom" positions people love to use as examples of how anyone can get ahead.

However many applicants there are for the position, chances are good that the person hired will be chosen based on personal attractiveness, age, education and the person’s similarity to you.

Indeed, in its simplest forms, much human interaction can be charted on just three variables: similarity (how much like you they are), familiarity (how many times in the past you’ve had interactions) and proximity (how near you are in physical but especially social distance).

We can’t help but be personally biased; it’s how we ultimately make hard decisions. If there are too many applicants for a job, you’ll likely try to weed some out right up front, using experience and education as a guide. Those that are left have to be evaluated, and most often resumes are nearly meaningless, unless they show unusual job sequences or gaps.

When it comes down to it, we hire based on how we feel about people, our comfort level with them. If they are physically unattractive, they are less likely to be hired; in fact some studies suggest that if a person is missing one of the eight front teeth (4 up, 4 down) it can prevent a person from getting a job. Not having a car can prevent a person from getting a job. Having a "message phone" or a "general delivery address" can prevent you from being interviewed. Speaking poorly or with a cultural accent can keep you from a job.


Hire me.  Un-named forest dwelling "homeless" friend of Forest Ministry

There is a long list of things which simply cause people to select someone else. We can see that some of these features are "reflexively contributory," meaning that, if you had a job with a dental plan you could replace those missing front teeth and get a better job. Indeed, employment studies indicate people prefer to hire people who are already working. Those that have will get, the Bible tells us, and those as not will lose.

Most of the variables which contribute to homelessness are made worse by homelessness. For example, if you are homeless, you are far more likely to be noticed by a cop than someone sitting in his or her living room. Being noticed by a cop increases the likelihood of arrest; it’s true for all of us. Arrest increases the likelihood of joblessness. Physical and mental illness head the list of reasons to be homeless. Homelessness increases the likelihood of ill health, depression, and substance abuse. Because drugs are highly constrained in the land of the free, and because demand for emotional escape is high, a huge shadow economy has been created around drugs. If you are not able to take part in the main economy, chances are good you’ll find some income in the secondary economy.

People who do well in society are invested in it, and are less likely to engage in petty crime. You are less likely to pick up someone's chainsaw if you have chainsaws of your own to have stolen. If you have an address and a reputation in the community you are less likely to engage in crime.

If you are homeless, if your opportunities are few, if you have little to lose by going to jail, you are more likely to engage in petty crime. A criminal record increases your likeliness of poverty and homelessness.

Under the myth that we are "all created equal" if you don’t have a job it’s your fault. When joblessness, homelessness and other consequences of poverty are analyzed, we find that social locations for homelessness exist, and so persons will fall into them.

A homeless family home in the forest, from Forest Ministry, HERE

This all matters because homelessness is a major local issue. Director of Human Services Dr. Carol Roberts describes homelessness as "hidden" in the county; a common problem with rural homelessness. How does homelessness "look" here? It’s ramshackle.

Let’s return to the definition of "homeless". Home, literally, is where the heart is. Home is where your stuff is, it’s where you go when you are sick. It is safety, and however modest or "substandard" it is, it’s your castle.

When the forces of government evicted the people from Dredge Mine, they were completely comfortable they were doing the right thing. Like little ants, they proceeded in an efficient manner to remove "violations". The people involved were in violation. They were given legal notice. There are other agencies to help them.

Because these bureaucrats have jobs, good jobs, and nice houses, they want to keep them. They might feel personally bad for making those men homeless, for evicting them from their very modest castles, but the truth is, they have a slot in society and don’t fancy giving up their nice houses for a tenuous existence in a shack in the canyon. Sorry, pal, but I’m going to do to you, or have done to me.

If everyone living in the county whose septic system, water system, electrical system or housing was substandard was evicted, whole communities in the Canyon and west Valley would be depopulated. Those with jobs or resources can stave off homelessness; they could get permits, pay experts, and keep their castles. The farther from wealth you are, the less likely you can fend off the bureaucrats who can make you homeless. Many simply can’t.

Jack Nixon’s mine; Courtesy Administration, Tahoe National Forest Headquarters

Likewise, some people can’t live in a city. It seems a solution for some that the homeless in the woods be "given services" for a hotel room or subsidized housing in town somewhere. It isn’t a solution for everyone. Why do our old timers come back to their shacks to die? Because home is where the heart is, not where a social worker says it is; at some point society can warehouse the body, but not give home to the heart.

Something has to be done to return the public lands to the public. If we have millions of acres of public land, but no place for the poor to find peace, we are a nation of want.

Prospect photo: government land

Website Builder