Ghost Town

Downtown is small as cities go. There are no proper skyscrapers, but two respectably large bank buildings and a motley collection of adjacent 10- and 15-story structures might fit a definitionally loose description of a skyline. There's a theater district, a miniature park and a landmark that's at least regionally famous. I lived here last 16 years ago. It's changed, but not as much as delirious local real estate agents, still drunk from the tsunami of out-of-town money that flooded in during

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6 thoughts on “Ghost Town

  1. Rooting for a recession to tame inflation is worrisome to me. This article makes it even more frightening than what I already know the case to be.

  2. The problem is very bad in Los Angeles. My oldest daughter lives there and I have seen the situation continue to worsen over the past few years. Every time I visit, I think to myself that it isn’t possible for the homeless situation to worsen- but every time I return to LA, the homeless problem is worse.

    I did notice that the homeless were gone from certain downtown areas – such as near the Walt Disney theatre- where I had previously noticed homeless people. I am guessing that where the homeless “interfere” with high spending tourists, the homeless get “relocated”. I have read that Paris is also planning to relocate any homeless from certain arrondisements during the summer Olympics next year.

    There is some hope that churches will be able to fast track housing on excess land owned by the churches- but I have my doubts.

    https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2023-10-11/newsom-signs-laws-to-fast-track-housing-on-churches-lands-streamline-housing-permitting-process

    And yes, H….I agree- one can’t return home. Everyone has to find their own soul-fulfilling place in this crazy world. I always turn to nature; especially the mountains.

  3. My God this is such a beautiful piece of summary research. H, you have such an extraordinary ability to digest, summarize, and integrate critical research. This was by far your best piece since I have been reading your writing in this space. This is a complex subject at the heart of the condition of our nation’s poor. Outside of my dissertation, my best paper in grad school was study of the primary, secondary and tertiary effects within the community of public housing solutions in Chicago. My dissertation was a study of the denizens of the lowest cost housing alternatives available to the poor. It was a big success statistically, but no one cared or even wanted to know.

    I have to say the NIH’s conclusion that homelessness stems back to the early 1980’s is too silly for comment. In the 1930s and before we called such people Hobos. One summer I lucked into a faculty internship at a major manufacturer located in a modest Iowa city. One of the features of the city was a good sized RR freight yard in the middle of town. In the 1930s, as the depression started to tear into the fabric our country, this rail yard was the outdoor home to legions of hobos. A restaurant near the yard became my favorite luncheon haunt in the mid-1970s. Great food but no catsup was made available (fries without catsup, bad). It seems that the homeless haunted the place in the 1930s, stealing catsup to mix with hot water in the nearby camps to create “hobo tomato soup” Apparently, the NIH missed the part of our history during which a third of our population had no work, housing or proper food. My mother was raised during the 1930s in the heart of the Depression. She was fiercely proud of the fact that her modestly well-off family supported two women in their struggling household and sported an “X” on their back-alley fence post. This symbol was put there by the area homeless to let everyone know that in this house you could knock on the door and get a modest hot meal. My paternal grandfather, an illegal alien, down from Canada from the 1920s, couldn’t speak English but he built restaurants and tenements to feed and house underpaid mill workers in eastern MA who paid $3-5/wk for shelter. Fifty years before the 1980s we really had homeless. Hasn’t stopped since. When I see how my so-called neighbors speak of the less fortunate in our society, it sickens me.

    If I had been the editor of a suitable journal and this piece was submitted to my publication, I would have added it to my next issue in a heartbeat. Thanks for this wonderful, clearly heartfelt work.

  4. H., I sure wish you’d find a warmer weather winter alternative home and embrace a best of birth worlds approach to life given how short and precious it is…I’ll be re reading this effort at least one more time, probably more…I spent the last 12 years of my career working in a psychiatric emergency room, and that generally anchors my perspectives on homelessness, and I’ll look forward to reconciling them further with this broader effort…thanks…

  5. My location has a very serious homelessness problem – its been in the national news – which combined with street drug and untreated mental illness problems has moved “homelessness” writ large to #1 on voter and government priorities.

    We have passed all manner of new taxes and directed lots of funding to the issue, and built a large “homeless-industrial complex”, as it is increasingly known, but the problem keeps getting worse.

    Housing production is considered a major part of the elusive solution, but our policymakers and those who elect them often fail to distinguish between “affordable” housing and “market-rate” housing.

    Persons who become homeless for economic reasons were poor, the last housing rung from which they slipped to the street was low-pricing housing, and the “30%” metric is most relevant for affordable housing. (If a person with $250K income spends more than 30% on housing, s/he will move to cheaper housing rather than become homeless.)

    In this area, market-rate housing can not be affordable /1 and thus will have little effect on homelessness. We are directing huge public-funded economic incentives to housing production, but the great majority is going to market-rate housing. The public is essentially subsidizing land values, development profits, and mid/higher income households.

    Some funding is going to “regulated privately-owned temporarily-affordable” housing. The public pays most of the cost of producing and operating the housing, renting it for formerly homeless/very low-income households for a couple of decades. After that time, the rent caps are lifted and the existing occupants (often older persons by then) have to find other affordable housing or become homeless.

    We need permanently-affordable, publicly-owned housing aka “social housing”. For many reasons, led by the profit motive and campaign contributions, our policymakers won’t go there.

    Whose profit motive? Land owners and developers, of course, but also the complex of non-profits, charities, and for-profits that comprise the homeless-industrial complex. Profit motive of a non-profit? Sure. Non-profits have payrolls to meet and executives to compensate.

    1/ I refer to genuine affordability, i.e. to poor people. Increasingly, projects are pitched as “affordable” [to incomes of $X] where $X starts at $100,000 and goes up. “Affordable” has joined “green”, “diverse”, and “equity” in the list of words that mean whatever you want.

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