How This Homeless Man and Others Spend Money vs Government Spending on Homelessness -- Mayor Muriel Bowser
[S]omewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 of guaranteed annual income is necessary for any homeless person to have -- while homeless.
Someone recently had me read Chapter Two of a book called "Utopia for Realists" where author Rutger Bergman makes the case for a "universal basic income" or "guaranteed minimum income". It points out that government spends so much on social services with their well-paid employees who set painfully high bars for the poor who participate in these programs; and, it suggests that maybe government should just give this program money directly to the poor -- no strings attached.
When you factor in the failed plans to end homelessness -- like DC's 10-year plan of 2004 called "Homeless No More" and its failing current plan called "Homeward DC", that only strengthens the case for a guaranteed minimum income. As far as high bars are concerned, DC has a "Rapid Re-Housing" (RRH) program wherein 45% of the homeless families are in landlord-tenant court because they are unable to pay their portion of the rent in their subsidized units -- not because they're irresponsible people, but because the program which has an employment component has failed to connect them to housing-wage jobs.
Page 13 of THIS REPORT indicates that the monthly cost of case management for a family in this program is $790 and the average increase in the family's income is $68 per month. Things that make ya go "Hmmm!!!"
(20 families per case manager -- an improvement since the Banita Jacks murder case -- at $15,800/month/case manager)
I also know a woman who was in the federal HUD Voucher program some 20 years ago and whose mentally-challenged boy who was five at the time burned their unit down. HUD is charging her $23,000 which she must pay before she can obtain HUD services again. If she could pay $23,000, she wouldn't need a HUD voucher to begin with!!!
In the 13 years since DC began "working" on ending homelessness, they've spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 Billion (approximately $160 Million per year) on the "effort". With it costing about $20,000 per unit per year, that money would have paid for 100,000 unit-years. DC had 7,473 homeless people in January, but is probably closer to 8,000 now. Those $2 Billion would have housed all of the city's current homeless people for over 12 years. Even when you subtract for a reasonable amount of administrative costs, you still get 10 years of housing out of it.
On occasion, government has a moment of moral clarity. Unfortunately, these moments only occur when discussing social services for able-bodied poor people. Many in government are like Ben Carson who seems to think that taking all supports away from the poor will cause them to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps". For one, that ideology hasn't worked for the twenty-plus years since Bill Clinton tried it. Number two, a person must have resources just to look for a job. Number three, there are government programs whose mission is to connect people to jobs that make them self-sufficient, but which fail at their stated mission. It's high time we called out these government failures as well as the ignorance of expecting a poor person who lacks resources to do better than the "professionals" who fail at the expense of tax payers.
Chapter Two of Utopia for Realists mentions various social experiments that were performed in the U.S., Canada, Africa and England. In one such experiment, 13 homeless Londoners were given 3,000 British Pounds. Nine of the 13 did quite well for themselves -- one going so far as to get off of heroin after receiving this lump sum. Some even became entrepreneurs. These and other findings fly in the face of this notion that poor people are poor because they don't know how to spend money and they just waste it. Actually poor people are poor because they have little or no money. That is the ONLY blanket statement that can be accurately applied to ALL poor people (and the definition, for that matter). As many as three-fourths of poor people know how to spend money wisely -- if only they can get their hands on some.
That brings me to myself -- a topic that I often avoid writing about. I know that "it's not about me". However, I see that at least one blog post about myself was quite popular among my readers. So, I'll indulge you yet again.
Beginning on June 2nd, 2016 I have had some measurable amounts of money come my way. I won't say just how much; but, suffice it to say that I figured myself to have spent around $9,000 in the last 53 weeks (just under $170 per week -- $24 per day, $1 per hour) That's not a lot of cash by any stretch of the imagination; but, it might be more than you'd expect a homeless person to have -- unless they're a really good beggar. (I don't beg.) I have enough saved such that, if I were to get a full-time job, I wouldn't have to worry about not having enough finances to care for myself, ride transit and buy lunch until the first check. As a matter of fact, I can currently afford to pay first, last and security for some of DC's cheaper units -- and have money left over. I got a lump-sum retirement (of which I won't say how much) on June 2nd, 2016 and have been careful not to spend it down. However, as I look back over the last year, I realize that I've spent more than I've saved -- but saved nonetheless.
I asked myself where those $9,00 went and came up with the following:
1 -- My phone costs $55 per month plus $6.60 tax or $61.60. In 13 payments (June 8th, 2016 to June 8th, 2017), I've spent $800.80 on my phone. (I'm not sure that an Obama phone would work for me. I need unlimited everything -- especially talk.) Changing my carrier would present more logistical problems than I care to deal with; so, I won't consider that option.
2 -- My storage unit from May 2016 through April 2017 has cost me $35 per month for a total of $420.00 ($385 of it since June 2016). That storage facility closed at 5 PM on June 8th, 2017 for good. (All whose accounts were current got the last five weeks free.) This facility had 1,070 units of which as many as 400 may have been rented by homeless people and will be demolished so that a boutique hotel can be built in its place. (I began advocating in mid-June 2006 amid the threat that the Franklin School Shelter would be converted into a boutique hotel. Hmmm.) I just moved into a different unit for which I paid $64.00 on June 6th. That brings my storage bill since June 2016 to $449.00.
3 -- My cigarettes may have run me about $2,400 in the past year. Newports cost about $8.00 per pack in DC and I might do 16 per day. That's about 300 packs. It might be wise for me to start buying cartons in Virginia for about $50 every 12 days. Even after accounting for $10 round-trip on Metro, it still comes out to $6.00 per pack and saves me $600.00 per year. (Writing this blog has caused me to do a bit more introspection.)
4 -- Transit to a regular side job that I do one day per week runs me about $8.00 per day or $416 per year, give or take.
5 -- Four things: A significant financial favor to a good friend, my personal contribution to an advocacy event, a suit that I recently bought (when I had two funerals to attend) and purchasing clothing for another advocate to attend the latter funeral total about $690.00.
6 -- I might spend $20 per week at Starbucks so that I can use their wi-fi in an environment that I enjoy more than going to the library. That's about $1,000 per year. (I'm considering cutting that in half.)
7 -- I might spend an average of $40 per week on other transit (in addition to item #4). If so, that's about $2,000 per year. (Maybe I should ride the bus more and the subway less and try to cut that expense in half.)
8 -- I might spend $1,000 per year on food. I often eat the free food that's offered to the homeless; but, sometimes I attend meetings -- as part of my advocacy -- and must miss the free meals.
9 -- Then there are the negligible expenses like going to the laundromat and buying that occasional pair of shoes or discount clothing from Walmart or Forman Mills. I can think of at least $150 that I've spent on such things.
SUMMARY: All of my calculable expenses from June 2, 2016 to June 10th, 2017 TOTAL 8,905.80 ($168.03/week). When I add that number to my current savings, it approximately matches my calculable income this past year. I'm satisfied with the closeness thereof. I might be able to decrease my cost of living as a "homeless homeless advocate" by $2,400 (though getting connected to housing would be even better).
CONCLUSION 1 of 3 (My Budget): One can make the case that I'm slightly extravagant insomuch as I don't always choose the cheapest transit options and often choose to make a purchase at Starbucks instead of getting free wi-fi access at a public library. They might also conclude that I'm a bit philanthropic based on item #5. They might also advise me to quit cigarettes altogether and thereby decrease my cost of living by $4,200 as opposed to $2,400. Even so, anyone would have to admit that I don't spend my money illegally or on excessive alcohol consumption. (I DO get an occasional drink.)
CONCLUSION 2 of 3 (Argument for Guaranteed Minimum Income): Even after a person eliminates any of my declared expenses that they don't think should be covered by a guaranteed minimum income, they'd almost be forced to realize that somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 of guaranteed annual income is necessary for any homeless person to have -- while homeless. Though I've been critical of efforts that focus more on making homelessness comfortable than on ending it, I've convinced myself while writing this post that I should fight harder for a guaranteed minimum income than I have thus far.
CONCLUSION 3 of 3 (How DC Government SHOULD Spend Homeless Dollars): DC Government spends upwards of $10,000 per year on each individual who remains homeless. That money covers food, shelter and transportation to and from shelter. The city will also spend up to $4,000 on job training for any citizen (not intended to be an annual expense for any citizen). A homeless job seeker can already receive at least $14,000 worth of services from the city -- the failures of the Rapid Re-Housing program notwithstanding.
Maybe DC Government should give $100.00 per week to any homeless person who can prove that they are actively seeking employment (and possibly doing other things to improve their situation). That's $5,200 per year per person. DC Government could then take a prorated amount from the budgets of Human Services (DHS -- five-sevenths) and Employment Services (DOES -- two-sevenths). After all, it would be money well-spent.....FINALLY!!!!!