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Archive for May, 2009

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The Washington Post’s DeNeen L. Brown wrote an interesting article titled “Poor? Pay Up.” on Monday.

It goes over the reason why everything costs more when you’re poor. And not just in proportion to what you make, either. But rather, how not having money literally makes things more expensive. Here’s an example of this:

Like food: You don’t have a car to get to a supermarket, much less to Costco or Trader Joe’s, where the middle class goes to save money. You don’t have three hours to take the bus. So you buy groceries at the corner store, where a gallon of milk costs an extra dollar.

A loaf of bread there costs you $2.99 for white. For wheat, it’s $3.79. The clerk behind the counter tells you the gallon of leaking milk in the bottom of the back cooler is $4.99. She holds up four fingers to clarify. The milk is beneath the shelf that holds beef bologna for $3.79. A pound of butter sells for $4.49. In the back of the store are fruits and vegetables. The green peppers are shriveled, the bananas are more brown than yellow, the oranges are picked over.

(At a Safeway on Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda, the wheat bread costs $1.19, and white bread is on sale for $1. A gallon of milk costs $3.49 — $2.99 if you buy two gallons. A pound of butter is $2.49. Beef bologna is on sale, two packages for $5.)

The article goes on to talk about other things like payday loans and how much time is spent doing simple tasks like laundry (and as we all know, time = money).

It’s a long article but a great read to introduce the concept of the high cost of being poor.

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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts2

[Today’s post is written by United Way of King County’s Neil Powers]

There is a top-ten best selling book about the poor, homeless and addicted that you’ve likely never heard of. Gabor Mate’ is Doctor to the poor and homeless in Canada’s poorest neighborhood, Vancouver’s downtown eastside. It is within walking distance of the City’s hotels, cruise-ships and tourist attractions. His Canadian best-seller takes an engaging look at his patients who struggle with trauma in their lives, poverty, addictions and homelessness; few of whom are likely to see old-age. It offers insights as Mate’ says, “for being able to look people in the eye with compassion for them and for yourself.” He challenges some assumptions about addictions, while laying groundwork for a better understanding of people who have addictions.

Mate’ starts with telling the up front and in your face stories of his patients. He quotes one patient, a 27-year old sex trade worker’s first encounter with heroin as “…feeling like a warm soft hug”. Another patient tells Mate’,” I’m not afraid of dying ….. sometimes I’m more afraid of living.”

The book is provocative. He reframes a key question as not “why the addiction” but rather “why the pain” that can lead to addiction? He shows how trauma is a consistent pathway to addiction. Mate’ describes many of his skid-road patients, who are committed substance-abusers, as having suffered severe neglect and maltreatment in early life.” He pushes the reader, claiming that most of us feel for the suffering child. “but can’t see the child in the adult who, soul fragmented and isolated, hustles for survival a few blocks away.”

He takes you on a layperson’s journey through the mind, providing a front and center view to what’s going on in the brain of an addicted person. For example, Mate’ describes dopamine as a key “brain chemical messenger” having a central role in addiction that serves as a feel-good chemical in the brain. He cites a UCLA study showing the possible impact of dopamine levels in the brain; seeking food can cause a 50% increase in dopamine levels, erotic arousal 100%, cocaine 300% and crystal meth 1200%.

Mate’ describes how prolonged drug-use can re-wire the brain and lead to altered behavior; the stronger the addiction, the more likely impacts to the brain and the greater the biological obstacles for better health. He points to a brain study of drug-addicts, that shows key aspects of decision making ability at about 50% of normal ability. Mate’ makes a critical distinction of addiction as a chronic disease rather than an acute disorder.

While acknowledging success stories with the self-help approach; Mate’ points to other realities. His chapter on “The Four Steps Plus One” offers not so much as an easy remedy but practical steps for working with and understanding addictions. Still, Mate’ declares “the possibility of renewal exists so long as life exists. How to support that possibility in others is the ultimate question.”

Mate’s journey with his skid road patients may take you closer than you imagined, to people who struggle, who are homeless and who have addictions. Given the book’s insights and incredible stories from the streets, it is a journey well worth taking.

Gabor Mate’s “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addictions”

Paperback published by Vintage-Random House of Canada-2009. It can be purchased in Canadian bookstores or ordered via on-line book retailers with operations in Canada. (Just Google “Canadian on-line bookstores”)

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Yesterday, the state of Maryland became the first in America to extend hate-crime protection to homeless people. There are several sad circumstances that lead to this type of legislative action, the least of which is that attacks on homeless people increased 65% between 2005 and 2007 and many of those attacks were performed by youth, some as young as 10 years old.

But some homeless advocates, while lauding this legislation, also believe it sidesteps the real issues. As Shannon Moriarty points out in her blog on Change.org, lack of housing is something fixable in someone’s status, unlike their gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. By passing a law like this, aren’t we in a weird sort of way saying ‘it’s okay to be homeless’? Just like it’s okay to be gay, Asian, etc? Instead of spending time in the legislative process to discuss and pass laws such as this, why not actually admit that we suck at affordably housing people in our communities and do something about THAT?

This law was passed in the shadow of a very sobering study released recently by the National Low Income Housing Alliance, the 2009 Out of Reach Report. I will write more about this study as the summer progresses, as it contains such a rich (no pun intended) amount of data. But among the more dismal findings I’d like to bring to your attention are:

  • There is not a single county in the entire United States where a person working full-time at the minimum wage can afford a 1-bedroom apartment at the Fair Market Rent (FMR) value.
  • A household must earn $37,105 to be able to “afford” the national average FMR of $928 per month for a 2-bedroom unit (“afford”=paying less than 30% of their income for housing).
  • In KING COUNTY, that annual income increases to $38,480. For a 1-bedroom unit, it’s $32,800. That means a single person wanting to rent a 1-bedroom apartment at FMR would need to make $15.77 an hour, full-time (40hrs/wk, 52wks/yr).
  • Minimum wage in Washington is $8.55/hr. That means a single person wanting to rent a 1-bedroom apartment in King County at the FMR would need to work the equivalent of almost two full-time jobs at the minimum wage.
  • The answers do exist. Housing First works. Affordable Housing projects all over the country are achieving levels of success, one unit at a time, in places as small as Steamboat Springs, CO, or Kenosha, WI, and as big as Houston or Los Angeles. (Don’t believe me? Set up a Google! Alert for ‘affordable housing’ and read it for a week). There are setbacks, to be sure. But I visited an affordable housing project in Redmond yesterday, and it works! There’s even an affordable housing “plan” available out there for us.

    When will there be a better time to do this than Right Now, when we’re fed up with rental properties and homes being auctioned off for a quick buck, while more and more families are being forced onto the very streets those properties occupy? Instead of criminalizing people who are homeless, kicking them out of parks at night and off of sidewalks during the day (or not even letting them pitch a tent across the street), might it be possible to craft a community or a country where we don’t need to legislate protective measures for someone based solely on their housing status?

    Patrick Kelley

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    [This post is written by Guest Blogger and Free Tax Prep volunteer extraordinaire Octavia Hathaway. Homeowners in need of help can begin signing up on the website beginning June 1st.–Patrick]

    The Washington State Bar Association, acknowledging the alarming rise in foreclosures in this state, has decided to start the Home Foreclosure Legal Aid Project (HFLAP). This is the website set up to inform the public, but mainly it is the portal for all lawyers in the state to sign up and volunteer to provide assistance in foreclosure proceedings.

    Lawyers are uniquely qualified to help in this pressing matter. Even if your practice does not include foreclosures or bankruptcy, you can learn the basics as the WSBA is developing online training and is making available a panel of experts and mentors.

    Lawyers are scheduled to be deployed by June 1, 2009. If you know of any lawyers, please encourage them to volunteer. If you know of someone who is on the brink of losing his home, let them know that this is available and that they can get some help from a real lawyer. There is no cost to them.

    As a matter of fact, do not wait until you are already delinquent in your mortgage payments. There are probably preemptive steps you can and should take now to avert foreclosure. I am aware of many financial institutions, including credit unions, that will work with you on a loan modification or refinance. Begin by talking to your mortgage lender about options you may have. We are all in this together, and any recovery is meaningless as long as there are families out there still mired in poverty and hopelessness.

    –Octavia Hathaway (octavia_hathaway@hotmail.com)

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    This is a short follow-up to a previous post about rental properties going into foreclosure. Since then, this ‘silent issue’ has become more prevalent in the media, including this recent NYT article.

    I posed the question in my original post about how this works in Washington, and I now have an answer of sorts, and I think it’s vital for people who rent (like myself) to understand the process. This document from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty provides a state-by-state breakdown of foreclosure and eviction proceedings as they apply to rental properties. Washington is on page 109, and I’d also recommend reading the Introduction starting on page 6. It includes some interesting information about recent initiatives from a few state legislatures, and the $700 billion bailout of the financial industry (aka, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008).

    Patrick Kelley

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