Fixing America In 500 Words Or Less

Chapter 59


       In July and August of 2013, I interviewed thirty-five homeless and formerly homeless individuals in Nashville, Tennessee.  Virtually every one said they have been harassed, cited and arrested multiple times for trespassing, often when not acting any differently than non-homeless persons who were not arrested.

       At taxpayer expense, city leaders have removed some public benches and installed other benches with bars so the homeless can't lie down.  The homeless say there is literally no where for them to go, sit, walk, drink water or go to the bathroom without fear of being arrested for trespassing.  Most say they have been fined significant amounts for the 'crime' of being poor.

       The homeless say some Nashville police officers are fair, while others go out of their way to constantly harass, cite and arrest them when acting no differently than the non-poor who are not arrested.  Many say they've been arrested for intoxication when sober.  Several claim the police routinely search their belongings without probable cause, frequently kick them out of public parks and authorities have confiscated and destroyed their belongings.

       The homeless situation in Nashville is much worse than city leaders claim. One day walking only a few blocks from the downtown bus terminal to Church Street and back, I interviewed thirteen homeless individuals, while many others passing by appeared to be homeless.  Many Nashville citizens have been homeless for several years.

       During tourist events, the homeless say police conduct general sweeps of the downtown area, arresting people for appearing to be poor.  A homeless man on crutches said he was arrested for walking diagonally across a store parking lot.  Several claim they have been harassed while selling a homeless newspaper.

       One said he was arrested for obstruction because his shoe touched a public sidewalk.  Another said she has witnessed numerous homeless citizens arrested for trespassing while on public property.  Several say their belongings have been stolen at the mission; some claim they have been physically harmed there.

       Homeless veterans told me the police show them no respect and treat them as badly as the rest.  We expect police officers to protect us from real criminals who murder, rape and steal.  Nashville citizens should demand that city officials immediately cease wasting our tax dollars harassing, citing and arresting people for the 'crime' of being poor. ¹

       Let all Nashville citizens who fear God demand that our city immediately begin constructing enough affordable housing and install public restrooms downtown.  It is far less expensive and more wise in every way to house the homeless, than for cities to repeatedly arrest and run them through legal, health and social services. ²

       Music City's lack of affordable housing, lack of basic common health sense and common decency to even provide public restrooms and ongoing harassment of the poor, is an open American shame.  Last year alone, over thirty homeless citizens died in the Nashville area, including a man who froze to death on a downtown church's steps.  And, that is over thirty American citizens too many. ³


1. When asked, two officers openly denied that the Nashville police ever harass the homeless for any reason, in spite of the fact that on a survey containing many questions, virtually every homeless person interviewed said they have been repeatedly harassed, cited and arrested for trespassing, with the majority saying "no" to other similar questions, such as arrested for obstruction.  A third police officer not only didn't deny the claims in this chapter, he publicly defended police actions in a community meeting by saying the homeless make it hard on business owners.  Based on his response, one would assume he believes his job is to defend the interests of business owners, rather than to protect and serve the interests of all citizens equally.  Another complaint often cited by the homeless is being arrested is for public intoxication when they are sober.  Several said that if one homeless person appears to be intoxicated, the police often arrest others nearby who are not and one said if someone has public intoxication on their record, they are often arrested even if they no longer drink or do drugs.  It is inconceivable that over thirty homeless individuals randomly chosen in many different places throughout Nashville, would all lie about the exact same charges, while not lying about other similar charges when provided a list of many options to choose from.

2. This chapter could have been considerably longer and the information on this page only represents a small part of the total picture of how the homeless and poor are profiled and discriminated against in the United States on a daily and ongoing basis.  In fact, some information, such as claims by homeless individuals of being arrested over 200 times on trespassing charges, sounds too farfetched for the average person to believe, even though they insist it is true.  At a cost to taxpayers of between 2-5,000 dollars per arrest when the cost of jail time, police officer salaries, public defender, judge and court and other personnel are factored in, consider that several homeless people could have been housed for many years for the same amount.  Then consider how much more it costs the taxpayer in lost productivity as diseases are spread by those who lack proper shelter and nutrition, when someone without health care is taken to a hospital emergency ward, the cost to cities paid for by taxpayer dollars for providing social, mental, health and food services, the additional millions donated to charity organizations and, one can easily grasp the obvious fact it would be far less expense, wiser and better for everyone, if instead of acting as they are now, cities instead constructed affordable housing, charging a third of one's income, regardless of what it is and requiring they are either employed or actively looking for work in order to live there. To say our city, county, state and federal leaders are acting irresponsibly and not in the the best interest of we the people, doesn't even begin to describe the modern-day American reality.

3. Studies conducted by Philip Mangano, former National Homeless Policy Czar under both presidents Bush and Obama, reveal that it costs taxpayers on national, state and local taxation levels, far more to not house a homeless person than to house the same homeless person.  Costs for arresting and jailing America's poor, as well as costs for hospitalization, medical expenses, shelters, social workers and other taxpayer supported services, can range from $35,000 to well over $150,000 annually per homeless individual, while costs to house the same individual range from $13,000 to $25,000 annually.  Many homeless people are employed, receive social security or some other income and, when cities charge them 30 percent of their income for housing, annual savings to taxpayers can be considerably more. Link to Philip Mangano Interview.

According to a Los Angeles study, it costs taxpayers in Los Angeles $605 per month to house homeless veterans, while it costs the same taxpayers $2,900 per month in law enforcement, jail, court, health care and other costs to not house them: Link to Los Angeles County Comparative Cost Analysis.  Phoenix, Arizona has dramatically reduced the number and taxpayer costs of homeless veterans by housing rather than arresting them: Link to NY Times Arizona Article.  After conducting studies clearly demonstrating it is statistically far less expensive to house than to not house homeless people, the State of Utah is no on course to virtually eliminate homelessness entirely by 2015: Link to Utah Article.

In Florida it cost the taxpayers of Osceola County over 5 million dollars to repeatedly arrest and jail 37 homeless people over a period of ten years, not including police, court and health costs, while it would have cost only about 3.5 million to house them instead, including rent and utilities: Link to Florida Article.  According to a study conducted by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, "Florida residents pay $31,065 per chronically homeless person every year they live on the streets", while it would cost the same Florida taxpayers only "$10,051 per homeless person to give them a permanent place to live and services like job training and health care", representing a 68% savings in taxpayer dollars: Link to Florida Commission on Homelessness study.  According to the Denver Business Journal, it costs $50,000 annually to not house the homeless, far more than it would cost to house the same homeless individuals: Denver Study.

The United States loses many billions if not trillions of dollars in lost productivity annually due to the simple fact that people without adequate health care, when they contract contagious diseases, still have to go to work, take public transportation, still attend public gatherings and events, still eat and shop in public establishments and, their children still attend public schools.  Obviously, people who are sick are not going to be as productive as people who are healthy and quite obviously, untreated contagious diseases get spread around to others, whether they have health care or not who in return, will spread such diseases around to even more people.  Nobody wants common colds, flues and other communicable diseases, regardless of how good of quality our health care may be.

Modern antibiotics may not cure common diseases, but they very much serve to keep them in check and, people who can't afford to go to the doctor and obtain medicine are obviously ticking time bombs endangering the health and welfare of us all.  It is quite literally insane for a modern nation to not insure that everyone within it's borders has access to affordable quality health care.  People without adequate rest, shelter and nutrition sleeping under bridges and otherwise out in the open, are going to get sick much more easily and frequently than people with adequate resources and, they are going to be less physically able to be productive citizens.  Disease knows no economic, political or other boundaries and, many once mighty nations have fallen due in large part due to human disease turning into plague.

In many nations with universal and considerable better health care than the majority receive in the United States, like Japan for example, the average citizen pays about the same and many pay even less taxes than average citizens in the United States and yet, they receive much better government-paid benefits back in return.  Some Europeans pay higher taxes, but they receive much better benefits like free child care and guaranteed lengthy paid vacations, along with universal and better quality health care back in return, thus at the bottom line they pay less out of pocket than our citizens.  U.S. citizens are taxed much more than many realize when federal income taxes and social security, workers compensation, state, county, local, sales, gasoline and other taxes and fees are combined.  While not covering nearly adequately the vast disparity between what U.S. citizens receive compared to what citizens in other nations receive for their tax dollars, the Article Linked Here provides some good examples.

One of the main reasons we receive a lot less benefits back from our government for taxes paid in, is because private health insurance companies are quite literally, sucking trillions of dollars out of our economy, meanwhile providing no legitimate necessary function in return. Instead of having a relatively simple organized universal health care system, our U.S. system is a great mass of bloated, redundant and often indecipherable confusion, which drains immeasurable employee hours and immeasurable dollars from hospitals and other actual medical providers in paperwork alone, while providing our citizens on average, with less quality health care than thirty-six nations above our global ranking of #37 in the world, including some of what are traditionally considered to be "third-world" nations.  Many U.S. citizens have horror stories of being put on hold for long periods of time when trying to deal with private insurance companies--horror stories of often very sick people who are recovering from serious operations and illnesses, who are mentally and emotionally run through the wringer by private insurance companies reluctant to pay their end of the bargain.

The other main reason we receive far less bang for our tax dollar buck is that the United States spends a far greater percentage of GDP on military appropriations than any other nation on earth.  And to add insult to injury, unlike nations with taxpayer supported health care systems, in the United States corporations and other companies spend trillions of dollars insuring their workers, which results in much higher prices for goods and services than consumers otherwise would pay.  There is no free ride for health care; somebody is going to pay dearly for what companies compensate their workers and, that "somebody" is every U.S. consumer.

To compare, the United States currently spends about 16% of GDP on health care, while the next highest nation France, spends about 11% and, every other nation on earth spends less than France, even though 36 nations have better quality health care than we receive in the United States.  And unlike here where many millions of citizens have no health coverage and many more have inadequate coverage, in nations with universal health care, all citizens are covered.  See also, Should We Care if Everyone has Health Care?.

Link here for Homeless Statistics.  For related information, see Why Are There Homeless Veterans in America? also, Can We Afford to House the Homeless? and Where is the Great American Dream?.

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Copyright © December 10th, 2019 by Richard Aberdeen.
Copyright © December 10th, 2019 by Freedom Tracks Records.
( including from several earlier copyrights )

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