Our Mission

Founded in 1989, HtH is the oldest all volunteer, action, homeless organization in the state of Texas. The mission is Education and Advocacy around the issues of ending and preventing homelessness.

Urgent Issues

Re-Criminalizing Homelessness — Speak up now!

The Austin city council recently voted to put on its May ballot a vote to reinstate the no camping ban including the no sit/no lie ordinances. Now is the time to contact your mayor and council members particularly those who have supported decriminalizing homelessness, such as Mayor Adler, Kathy Tovo, Ann Kitchen, Greg Casar, Sabino Renteria, and others, we pray.

First call to action is cold weather shelter. Anyone that reads this, our urgent plea is to email our mayor and city council in this urgent time of cold weather. House the Homeless is encouraging to use the Convention Center or other alternatives sites that are already over burdened due to Covid-19 or at capacity.

A second call to action is to not displace unsheltered neighbors from bridges and the four major camp areas without having an immediate plan for alternative shelter/housing.

Finally, advise your mayor and council members that the wording for the May ballot regarding reinstating a camping ban must consider that those with disabilities, the aged, and in fact anyone with no place to go. The no sit/no lie ordinance is absolutely inhumane and unconscionable we must have at least 15 minute respites particularly for those with disabilities and make other provisions.

Federal Minimum Wage Debate

Federal resolve is insufficient; highly recommend Universal Living Wage formula indexed on the cost of housing wherever the person lives and works. 

Notes on the Universal Living Wage Concept


Richard R. Troxell, President of House the Homeless, Inc., is one of those people who almost has too much common sense. While everybody is frantic about jobs being outsourced, Richard asks us to think about what kinds of jobs can’t be outsourced. People who cut our hair and paint our nails. People who care for our aged relatives — and soon, for us.

Some things are destined to come back into style. As the world grows more conscious of waste and pollution, objects that last will be back in demand, and so will people who know how to repair them. The point is, jobs that people do with their bodies cannot be sent overseas, and Richard calls these workers “the backbone of American business.”

They can and will be treated better. If they ever realize their collective strength, things could get ugly for the folks who mainly love money. This is why unions are so widely discouraged, and why deceptive Orwellian phrases like “right to work” are formulated.

Another point Richard makes is that businesses need to stop treating workers like disposable plastic forks. For people who are so attuned to the nuances of the dollar, the things they don’t grasp are astonishing. Richard has studied the thoughts of Henry Ford, who may not have been the perfect man, but he knew a thing or two about running a factory.

Financially stable workers are good for business, and here’s why:

1) Significant reduction in employee turnover;
2) Significant reduction in retraining costs;
3) Significant reduction in unscheduled absenteeism;
4) Almost complete stoppage of internal theft;
5) Finally, Ford’s new approach created a true economic stimulus because his workers put discretionary funds right back into his company as purchasing consumers. They then bought the very cars they were making by using their newfound wages.


A fiscally responsible person does not budget more than a quarter of their income for housing — that’s what they used to teach in home economics classes. Then somebody sneakily raised the bar. Now, we are told, it’s wise not to spend more than one-third of the income on housing. And we’re supposed to feel all prudent and sensible, like before. But one-third is more than one-fourth.

In her article for House the Homeless, Katie McCaskey speaks of massive players and their extractive agendas, and specifically points to Wal-Mart as the archetypal corporate vampire, with “no incentive to care for local workers, their environment, or the economic resiliency of the local market to which they and other local business owners contribute.” And here she is on housing:

There was a time when the Federal Minimum Wage stabilized incomes enough that working people could afford housing. That time has passed, so definitively that workers are not only unable to become homeowners, they are not even able to pay rent. Apparently, the landlord class is untroubled by this. Their lawyers can figure out how to make the government reward them for sitting on empty properties.

Some HtH posts have introduced interesting individuals like Kirsten Anderberg, who called 300 apartment-for-rent ads in Los Angeles, and found that only three of those landlords accepted tenants who received assistance. For the mathematically challenged, that is one out a hundred, or one percent. Anderberg wrote,

[…] In essence, the government has made the Section 8 voucher program nearly impossible to use, while feigning the illusion of concern and remedy.


Don’t miss the interview that Wayne Hurlbert, host of Blog Business Success Radio, conducted with the House the Homeless co-founder Richard R. Troxell. On that day, Richard was wearing his writer hat, as author of Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage.

We also recommend:

Consider the Universal Living Wage
Minimum Wage and the Universal Living Wage
Business, Fairness, and the Universal Living Wage
Perspective: Living Wages

The Home Coming statue unveiling

The Home Coming statue to be unveiled at Austin’s Community First! Village on Saturday, May 18. This unique statue project has been in development for several years, the result of a collaboration between House the Homeless and sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz. The much-anticipated life-sized bronze statue will be introduced to the public at the Village’s community garden, details below.

When: Saturday, May 18, 2019, 9 a.m.
Where: Community First! Village, 9301 Hog Eye Rd., Austin, TX 78724
Getting there: The bus from downtown Austin leaves at 6:58 and 7:58 a.m. (Take the route 6, East 12th, from 7th & Colorado).
Accommodations: Out-of-town visitors are welcome to stay at the Community Inn on premises. Call 512-551-5453 or contact the Inn at communityinn@mlf.org for more information.

There will be live music, and coffee and breakfast tacos will be served.


Community First! Village — Austin’s Jewel

Austin, Texas, is an exceptional city for many reasons, one of them being the existence of Community First! Village (CF!V). It is the creation of Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF), the social outreach ministry that has been making a difference locally since 1998. Since then, among other accomplishments, the organization has served more than 5.5 million meals via its food trucks.

But treating the symptoms has never been enough. What is the underlying societal malfunction? MLF has found that the single most prevalent cause of homelessness is “a profound, catastrophic loss of family.” This paragraph is from the Village’s Facebook page, which we strongly recommend, along with the Village’s inspiring YouTube channel.

Community First! Village was built on the basic philosophy that housing alone will never solve homelessness, but community will. Most often, we find people on the streets who have a regular, albeit dysfunctional, community, even though they have no houses or shelter to live in. The truth is, the fundamental component that human beings need is human interaction; and human interaction occurs within community.

The organization’s website says,

It’s from this understanding that MLF’s vision emerged to build Community First! Village to welcome home our friends who had been pushed to the fringe of society… Community First! Village is a 51-acre master planned development that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness.

House the Homeless co-founder Richard R. Troxell calls it “a national best practices community, truly affordable for people experiencing homelessness who are disabled.” For more than a decade, Richard has been helping people apply for the SSI payments to which they are entitled, and referring them to the Village.

Richard also introduced Village founder Alan Graham to Dr. Mark Gordon, and plans are underway to join with House the Homeless, Millennium Health Centers, the Warrior Angels Foundation, and local medics to create a Traumatic Brain Injury treatment program for 10 homeless veterans. Consult this publication to learn more.

How it goes

The idea here is for people to rediscover their talents and abilities, and translate them into making a living. The Community Works program includes car care, screen printing, catering, blacksmith work, art, gardens, a cinema, and an Inn. Animal husbandry is one of the areas in which participants can develop expertise.

Other features include a store, a hair salon, a health clinic and mental health facility, open-air barbecue facility, community kitchens, meeting spaces for worship, study and fellowship, and of restroom, shower, and laundry facilities. The Village also enjoys hiking trails and a conveniently located bus stop. The residents live in tiny houses, tepees, canvas tents, and trailers with extended slide-outs.

All that is about to change, because Phase II is underway. Additions include a woodworking shop, outdoor event center, memorial garden and prayer labyrinth, a community market, and a guest parking lot. The housing component will eventually comprise 100 RV homes and 200 micro-homes, and more laundry/restroom facilities will be added, along with more outdoor kitchens.

House the Homeless has also gotten traction for the idea to create an Adopt-A-Tree program at CF!V. It is designed to enable local, on-site arborists to “love on all the trees” already on the property’s 51 acres, and offer an adoption program for a community-based/designed new tree program to soften and warm the Village with new trees.

Ultimately, around 500 people are expected to be at home in Community First! Village. The opportunity to be a part of this is wide open for both local supporters and distant ones. Learn more about that from the Ways to Give page.

The Home Coming statue unveiling

The Home Coming statue to be unveiled in the Village’s community garden on Saturday, May 18. This unique statue project has been in development for several years, the result of a collaboration between House the Homeless and sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz. The much-anticipated life-sized bronze statue will be introduced to the public at Austin’s Community First! Village, details below.

When: Saturday, May 18, 2019, 9 a.m.
Where: Community First! Village, 9301 Hog Eye Rd., Austin, TX 78724
Getting there: The bus from downtown Austin leaves at 6:58 and 7:58 a.m. (Take the route 6, East 12th, from 7th & Colorado). 
Accommodations: Out-of-town visitors awe welcome to stay at the Community Inn on premises. Call 512-551-5453 or contact the Inn at communityinn@mlf.org for more information.

There will be live music, and coffee and breakfast tacos will be served. 


Source: “Homeless Veterans in Action Traumatic Brain InjuryA Protocol to Help Disabled Homeless Veterans within a Secure, Nurturing Community,” MFL.org
Source: “About Us,” MFL.org
Image by MFL.org

America Needs the Universal Living Wage

In Emeryville (in California’s Bay Area) the City Council decided to incrementally raise its minimum wage for workplaces with 55 or fewer employees. It went to $13 per hour in 2016, then $14 the next year, and $15 in 2018, and this coming July it goes up to $16.

Yes, some lucky locals can now get away with working only 48 to 60 hours per week, instead of 80. Journalist Matthew Desmond lists some of the effects of a reasonable minimum wage. For instance, the Georgia Institute of Technology found that raising the minimum by even $1 per hour cuts down reports of child neglect by almost 10 percent. This is because it helps parents pay the utility bills and keep food in the cupboard.

The public health benefits are undeniable. As Desmond says,

The chronic stress that accompanies poverty can be seen at the cellular level. It has been linked to a wide array of adverse conditions, from maternal health problems to tumor growth…

Low wages are an affront to basic dignity. They make people feel small, insignificant and powerless. Subjectively experiencing these feelings can have real health consequences beyond the material hardships of poverty.

With a higher minimum wage, a community sees declines in smoking, teen alcohol use, teen pregnancies, low-birthweight babies, and domestic violence — all things that we definitely need less of. People sleep better, suffer less depression, and are less likely to overeat from stress. Businesses make money because people have money to spend. When there is less incentive for crime, the cost of policing goes down.

And of course, when people have a living wage in their pocket we can stimulate the economy both locally and nationally because folks all need the same thing…housing. So, now that people have that money, the housing industry will create that housing in a heart beat.

Even better than minimum wage — ULW

Minimum wage laws seem to have finally become an accepted principle, although there is disagreement about what the minimum should be. In France it is set at 60 percent of median income; in England at 46 percent. In the United States the formula is complicated, but hovers around 40 percent. The thing about the Universal Living Wage is that it has a different way of calculating its math, one that takes into consideration the local conditions, because after all, this is a nation of a thousand economies.

We recommend “Economic Recovery — Fixing the Economy,” the very full explanation authored by House the Homeless co-founder and President Richard R. Troxell. Another way to absorb these ideas is via Richard’s discussion with Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Talk Radio. Meanwhile, here is the elevator pitch:

The Universal Living Wage formula ensures that anyone working 40 hours in a week can afford the bare necessities of civilized life: food, clothing, shelter, including utilities, and transportation to and from work. That is not a lot to ask, and the employers who benefit from the workers’ labor ought to pay them enough to live on without resorting to public assistance.

One size does not fit all: $7.25 an hour in Austin is not the same as in a small town. As a responsible Community Partner, a business needs to pay a fair living wage for the area. Crazy plan, right? So crazy, the U.S. military uses it. When personnel live off base, their housing allowance is indexed to the local conditions. Minimum wage just needs to be tweaked a bit, into the Universal Living Wage, which could both cure and prevent homelessness for an awful lot of Americans.

ULW and UBI — why not both?

The Universal Living Wage is different from the Universal Basic Income (UBI), which we discussed in two recent posts. They could potentially both exist at the same time, and why not? Why shouldn’t people be fairly compensated for working, if they can, and if there are jobs? Don’t they deserve a little extra help at the same time?

Universal Basic Income is mischaracterized, and some weird ideas are circulating about what so-called “free money” does to people. But we need to think about what it does for people, to be lifted above bare subsistence. UBI would apply to everyone equally — rich or poor; disabled or fully functional; employed or unemployed. It would provide enough to prevent starvation, and hopefully, for rudimentary shelter, especially if Richard’s dream of reviving institutions like the YMCA and YWCA could be realized.

Some complain, “But then everyone would just sit around.” Realistically, it is silly to worry that people will not want to work, when jobs keep drying up. Every day, more jobs are automated, shipped overseas, or both. Soon, even more people will have no jobs. It would be better for everyone if they had a way to survive.

What if everybody didn’t have to work so much?

Third-world residents take out micro-loans to buy goats or chickens, and are able to repay within a year. Surely, a percentage of Americans would figure out how to turn a dependable pittance (like a UBI payment) into a livable income. Millions have already used their entrepreneurial genius to achieve success. We haven’t forgotten how. UBI could embolden a person to ditch a crummy job for an independent venture, and that crummy job would then be available for someone else — a win/win!

For a person who could technically scrape by on UBI, but also held down a job, that extra could make the difference between having health insurance or not. It could let them hire an exam coach for their nephew. In other words, having a modest cushion could allow for self-betterment, in the honored American tradition.

Maybe people who work less will volunteer more, to the immeasurable benefit of their communities. Just imagine if parents didn’t have to put in so many work hours, and could spend more time with their kids.

The proposition that nobody works unless they have to is ridiculous on its face, and here is the proof: Lots of people in America have millions of dollars, and yet they keep on grinding. There is no evidence that hating work is a catastrophically widespread trait. The really ineradicable human characteristic is always wanting more, more, more.

The Home Coming statues have arrived in Austin!

Please join us on Saturday, May 18, at 9 a.m., for the unveiling of The Home Coming statues at Mobile Loaves & Fishes Community First! Village, 9301 Hog Eye Road, Austin, TX 78724 (map). You can register here (required).

Parking will be limited, so please carpool if at all possible. There will be coffee, breakfast tacos, and live music! If you’re traveling from downtown take the route 6 bus (East 12th) from 7th & Colorado. The bus leaves at 6:58 and 7:58 a.m.


Source: “Dollars on the margins,” NYTimes.com, 02/21/19
Image: House the Homeless

Universal Basic Income — How?

What would be the advantage of distributing the same amount to everyone, with no strings attached? It seems counterintuitive, but associate professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego Matt Zwolinski explains how the universality would be an economic benefit:

When transfer systems provide benefits to some but not to others, people will inevitably spend a great deal of time and resources trying to get politicians to put them in the “some” category and not the “other” one. One of the virtues of a universal grant […] is that it severely reduces the incentive for this wasteful competition between interest groups.

Also, making it universal and unconditional would cut down on slothful and expensive bureaucracy. Administration does not have to gobble up a huge portion of every program. The idea of allocating a set amount, for basic needs, to everyone with no strings attached, sounds insane to some.

The basic philosophy is based on ideals different from, but equally as strong as, “everyone must work.” A quotation from Miranda Perry Fleischer and Daniel Hemel in Zwolinski’s piece capsulizes three of those foundational concepts:

Delivering benefits in cash, rather than in-kind, furthers autonomy by recognizing that all citizens — even poor ones — are the best judges of their needs. Decoupling such transfers from a work requirement acknowledges that the state lacks the ability to distinguish between work-capable and work-incapable individuals. Providing payments periodically, rather than through a once-in-a-lifetime lump sum grant, ensures that all individuals can receive a minimum level of support over lifespans of variable lengths…

In some circles, denying the government any chance to invade privacy is seen as a very desirable end, and so is minimizing the government’s opportunities to make mistakes. Zwolinski goes farther into why it is not good for officials to play God. He writes,

Distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving is difficult business and requires a variety of invasive, demoralizing, and degrading inspections into the intimate details of applicants’ lives.

We should guarantee a basic income for everybody not because everybody deserves a check but because some people deserve it as a matter of justice, and sorting out the deserving from the undeserving is an impossible and dangerous task.

Fleischer and Hemel add that demoralization, in and of itself, is a social cost, and that even the most flawlessly objective officials make mistakes. When that mistake involves allocating or denying the means to live, it’s kind of like handing out a death penalty, or not. You don’t want to mess up. But even if they genuinely care,

A separate concern is that officials charged with making these distinctions will inevitably bring their own biases and value judgments to the process.

They don’t have enough

In explaining “Why we should give free money to everyone,” the Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregman points out that social welfare programs whose requirements are contingent on the labor market are bound to fail because the labor market does not create enough jobs, and more are being eliminated by automation every day — especially the kind that can be done by minimally educated and perhaps disabled people.

“Workfare” schemes ignore the fact that people crushed by circumstances, especially if they are disabled, have enough problems already. Transportation is a nightmare; employers don’t want to be giving low-level employees time off to go to medical appointments; their medication might cause side effects that cause even more complications. Bregman writes,

The trend from “welfare” to “workfare” is international, with obligatory job applications, reintegration trajectories, mandatory participation in “voluntary” work. The underlying message: Free money makes people lazy.

Except that it doesn’t.

He cites studies from many countries showing that free money correlates with decreases in infant mortality, malnutrition, teen pregnancy, truancy, and crime. Universal basic income also coincides with more equality between groups, better school completion numbers, and higher economic growth. And the long-term benefits in terms of health, income, and tax collection are said to be excellent. What’s not to like?

House the Homeless News

If you want some inspiration to warm you up for protesting, check out “Tax Day: Make Them Pay,” a video that makes a number of good points in less than 10 minutes.

To welcome The Home Coming statues, please join us Saturday, May 18, at 9 a.m. at Community First! Village. The address is:

Community First! Village
9301 Hog Eye Road
Austin, TX 78724

Coffee and breakfast will be served. The bus from downtown Austin leaves at 6:58 and 7:58 a.m. Take the route 6 (East 12th) from 7th & Colorado.


Source: “Property Rights, Coercion, and the Welfare State,” Independent.org, Spring 2015
Source: “Why we should give free money to everyone,” TheCorrespondent.com, May 2009
Photo credit: laura0509 via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Universal Basic Income — Why?

In some circles, Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an idea that sounds perfectly natural. After all, in ancient times when the hunters and gatherers brought home food, they shared it with everyone.

They could have eaten their babies, but they didn’t. Despite being totally useless, babies were fed. Beyond that, things got competitive.

Nature has decreed that a certain percentage of people is, for whatever reason, unable to contribute in a way that society can appreciate or sustain. In some times and places, the culture goes hardcore and says, “If they can’t work, throw them off the island.”

Today, such people are called faultlessly needy, because their state of dependency was none of their doing. But certain members of the most powerful caste have very strong feelings about these matters. To them, the most important thing is a solid conviction that everyone should have to work for a living, because it is morally wrong not to.

They may hide this judgment behind a veneer of concern, pretending to chiefly care about helping the person to self-actualize by earning a paycheck. Of course, many extensively disabled people are independent and self-supporting, but it should be an opportunity, rather than an ironclad rule. Some people are just not built for high levels of challenge.

Not everything that can be done, should be done

When the keepers of the common funds institute a work requirement, the whole dynamic changes, and even the faultlessly needy are recruited. Take the hypothetical example of a blind girl with musical talent. An employment absolutist would say, “Sure, technically you are faultless, but are you really, truly needy?”

An enormous amount of resources could be used to train her for a job she hates, and that necessitates constant dangerous interaction with a hostile world, when she would have done better to stay home and practice the violin. And maybe, after a few years, when she gets her 10,000 hours in, music might lead to an enormous paycheck. But bureaucrats are not taught or allowed to think this way.

A basic and rarely questioned presumption

There are people who perhaps can work; who maybe could work; who are healthy and able, but simply prefer not to work. The favored solution is to throw them overboard. In rare cases, like Alaska, natural resources allow bounty for all. More typically, ultra-rich individuals and corporations foot the bill for “welfare.” Naturally, they expect the recipients to be deserving. Somehow, the government employee in charge of distribution has to figure out how to distinguish between “can’t work” and “won’t work.”

There are arguments for and against “means testing.” But it’s way more complicated than just determining an applicant’s financial status.The trouble is, for the government to determine who is “deserving” and who is not, requires an unconscionable amount of snooping, as people who currently receive any kind of public assistance can attest.

What eligibility questions would be asked? What if the person didn’t want to answer them? What if the person told the truth and the questioner didn’t believe her? What can the interrogator do to assure himself of the truthfulness of people’s answers?

Believe it or not, a form of UBI had a chance, for a brief time, in the USA in the late 1960s and early ’70s, according to the Dutch historian and author Rutger Bregman. In explaining “Why we should give free money to everyone,” he points out,

For the first time in history we are rich enough to finance a robust basic income. It would allow us to cut most of the benefits and supervision programs that the current social welfare system necessitates. Many tax rebates would be redundant. Further financing could come from (higher) taxing of capital, pollution and consumption.

[T]here is plenty of evidence that the great majority of people, regardless of what grants they would receive, want to work. Unemployment makes us very unhappy.


But wait, there is more, and some of it is pretty rude. He says…

[…] our social security systems have degenerated into perverse systems of social control. Thousands of government officials are kept busy keeping an eye on this fraud-sensitive bureaucracy. The welfare state was built to provide security but degenerated in a system of distrust and shame.


UBI is touted as a way to minimize expense, bureaucracy, political manipulation, and the bossy authority that some call paternalistic, and some call the nanny state. Reportedly, projects have been tried, or exist in various stages, in Canada, Finland, Kenya, Uganda, Italy, Switzerland; California, Alaska, Pennsylvania, Indiana, North Carolina, Seattle, and Denver. Armchair philosophers like to toss around ideas like, “How about we grant a basic lifetime income to anyone who gets sterilized?” One feature of UBI is the avoidance of such debates.

In “Atlas Nods: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income” authors Miranda Perry Fleischer and Daniel Hemel speak of those who are “unwilling to consent to the exchange of liberty for the state.” There are people today who choose to remain destitute, rather than get involved with the government and what they regard as its invasive, demoralizing, and degrading ways. They are politely known as “treatment resistant.” The remarkable thing is, even if universal basic income were enacted with no strings attached, some people would still say no, because we’re Americans and that’s how we roll.

Possibly, another class of Americans would also refuse. In a less avaricious world, more people would feel that they have enough. A certain number of highly conscious folks would say, “No thanks, put it back in the general pool.” In all probability, UBI would not cost as much as doomsayers would have us believe.

The recent past

March was Brain Injury Awareness Month, but in reality, so are the other 11 months of the year, and for some people, that goes on for years. Traumatic Brain Injury affects every aspect of a victim’s life. Please support organizations and legislators who are working on this.

The near future

To welcome The Home Coming statues, please join us Saturday, May 18, at 9 a.m. at Community First! Village. The address is:

Community First! Village
9301 Hog Eye Road
Austin, TX 78724

Coffee and breakfast will be served. The bus from downtown Austin leaves at 6:58 and 7:58 a.m. Take the route 6 (East 12th) from 7th & Colorado. 


Source: “Atlas Nods: The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income,” SSRN.com, 10/23/17
Source: “Why we should give free money to everyone,” TheCorrespondent.com, May 2009
Photo credit: lavocado@sbcglobal.net on Visualhunt/CC BY


Brain Injury Awareness Month and People Outside

Richard R. Troxell, co-founder and President of House the Homeless, wrote an Amicus Brief having to do with fines levied on the homeless. In that document he cited a white paper that he also authored, using as one source the data gathered by the 2016 Traumatic Brain Injury Survey conducted by House the Homeless.

The number of head injuries, and the number of symptoms commonly associated with head injuries reported by people experiencing homelessness in Austin are astonishing. We are talking about “Parkinson’s Disease, chronic headaches, ongoing dizziness, memory problems, balance problems, ringing in ears, irritability, sleep problems, chronic pain, hearing loss, poor blood flow to brain, seeing and hearing problems, anxiety disorder, agitation, schizophrenia, depression, bell’s palsy, etc.”

And then, there is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, which cannot be diagnosed when a person is alive, only via autopsy. This means it can’t be treated, either. But anger, frustration, and confusion appear to indicate its presence. Richard says,

[T]he condition of TBI and CTE seems to be exceptionally high within the population of people experiencing homelessness. In fact, this may be one of the leading causes of health-related homelessness in America…


Friend of HtH

Antisocial behavior alienates others, whether on the street or off. A lot of people experiencing homelessness, including many of America’s military veterans, are not in full control of their actions.

Dr. Mark L. Gordon has worked with many victims of traumatic brain injury and found that TBI is a causative factor for accelerated hormonal deficiencies, which increase the risk of a number of medically documented conditions. These patients may be prone to “learning disabilities, depression, anger outbursts, anxiety, mood swings, memory loss, inability to concentrate…,” and other symptoms that jeopardize a person’s ability to keep a life on track.

Dr. Gordon has shown that restoring the patient’s neuro-steroids and neuro-active steroids to their pre-injury level can restore the necessary homeostasis, even years after the initial injury.

Non-Alzheimers dementia

Finnish researchers studied people who had suffered a traumatic brain injury at age 65 or younger. They found that non-Alzheimers dementia risk was greater in patients who had experienced TBI than in the population as a whole. Perhaps not surprisingly, the more serious initial head injuries posed an even higher degree of risk.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Rahul Raj, told reporter Alan Mozes,

The study showed that 3.5 percent of persons with moderate-to-severe TBI [were] diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease later in life. This is substantially higher compared to age-matched peers with no history of brain injury.

Currently, it would be impossible to prove a direct cause-and-effect link between TBI and this type of dementia, but the usefulness of the knowledge is in minimizing other risk factors such as high cholesterol levels, diabetes, hypertension, tobacco use, and alcohol consumption. One difficulty is that a person with severe head trauma, a young soldier perhaps, could appear to be fully recovered, and even function adequately for decades, but still be in the demographic slice of people with an elevated risk of developing non-Alzheimers dementia.

The elders remember

One of the more familiar forms of teasing or ribbing that many Americans grew up with is the imputation of early head injury. If a person acts goofy or does something stupid, a friend might say, “Did you get dropped on your head when you were a baby?” Making that connection is a crude form of folk wisdom, probably originating from tribal elders with long memories. A person can experience TBI, seem to be okay for a big portion of life, and then turn up with dementia.

A lot of people who depend on shelters, or on no shelter at all, were punched in the head, struck with objects, violently shaken, damaged in car accidents, or even dropped on their heads as children. They seemingly recovered and went on to have normal lives, until at some point the past caught up, and things started to go haywire in the thinking department. For the healthy, housed citizen, it is an exercise in compassion to imagine an annoying, crazy-acting homeless person as a tiny, helpless baby, criminally abused by the grownups who were supposed to care.

Source: “Homeless Veterans in Action Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI- A Protocol to Help Disabled Homeless Veterans within a Secure, Nurturing Community,” 
Source: “Survey Links Brain Injury to Medical Causes of Homelessness – Follow Up,” PRNewswire.com, 04/12/16
Source: “Severe Head Injury May Raise Dementia Risk Years Later,” ConsumerHealthDay, 07/05/17
Photo credit: Garry Knight on Visualhunt/CC BY

Damaged Brains, Diminished Lives

A hundred years ago, it was called shell shock because artillery shells were what landed in the trenches and exploded around the British troops. It was also called battle fatigue, and it could strike at any time, in the first firefight or after years of combat experience. The shell-shocked were said to have “lost their nerves.” Usually, the term wasn’t even pejorative, simply descriptive. And even back then, they called it cracking up.

The person might never stop shaking or, conversely, might turn into a living statue, staring blankly and unable to move. There might be memory loss. Or he might lose the ability to speak. If touched, or for no discernible reason at all, he might turn very violent. Or he might weep helplessly and cry out for his mother.

Given a choice, active duty troops said they would rather lose a finger or even a leg, than get shell shock. Determined to continue fighting for their country, or simply not wanting to be seen as cowards, some men worked very hard to hide the evidence of their deterioration.

But thousands of soldiers who lived through World War I, even the physically unwounded, came away with crippling disabilities. If they were officers, they likely had family homes to return to, or upper-class friends they could stay with or borrow a cottage from. Some isolated themselves, some killed themselves by quick or slow means. The lower-class veterans were not so lucky. Then as now, a lot of them ended up on the streets or worse.

Then and now

Many experts see shell shock and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the same thing, though apparently in WWI the symptoms were more likely to be physical, whereas nowadays the psychological aspects have come to the fore. For the Smithsonian, Caroline Alexander wrote,

Early medical opinion took the common-sense view that the damage was “commotional,” or related to the severe concussive motion of the shaken brain in the soldier’s skull. Shell shock, then, was initially deemed to be a physical injury…

As the war dragged on, medical opinion increasingly came to reflect recent advances in psychiatry, and the majority of shell shock cases were perceived as emotional collapse… There was a convenient practical outcome to this assessment; if the disorder was nervous and not physical, the shellshocked soldier did not warrant a wound stripe, and if unwounded, could be returned to the front.

The medical establishment got over its first impression. Too many struggling veterans had not even been that close to being blown up, so their malfunctions could just be psychosomatic, which in many people’s minds is right next door to cowardice and even malingering. Both then and now, opinions have differed on whether these conditions exist because of physical damage to the brain, or not, and it might be that energy is wasted on that question that could be better used helping the victims.

Vietnam Veteran John Ketwig charges the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration with refusal to acknowledge “the existence of moral damage from war” or that “PTSD is an outpouring of the soldier’s intrinsic humanity.” He wrote:

Post-Traumatic Stress Damage is a normal and predictable reaction to the horrors of war, the heart and soul’s reaction to the unthinkable destruction of brick and mortar and life and limb… When they see modern combat, the horrible effects of modern weapons, and the brutality encouraged by today’s American way of waging war, far too many are mentally and emotionally scarred for life.

On the ground in Vietnam we said the fallen were “wasted.”

And there it is. Every combat death is a waste of life, a waste of all the love and care that the soldier’s parents put into raising a child, a waste of the taxpayers’ money that went into training the soldier, a waste of all the potential and the aspirations that once belonged to that person and that could have resulted in a full and happy life and unguessable contributions to humanity, had the war not intervened.

But it doesn’t take death to waste a life. When a person comes back mentally shattered, that life is on track to end up wasted, just as surely as if the death certificate had already been issued. Here are words from someone who veered close to the edge, Richard R. Troxell, President and co-founder of House the Homeless. His book, Looking Up at the Bottom Line, describes post-war confusion. Richard wrote,

We have veterans who have served our country well in Vietnam, Desert Storm, the Gulf War, Iraq and in Afghanistan killing in the name of God and Country, returning to their home only to find they have none. Others were so traumatized, like myself, that they vomited it all up and wandered the country aimlessly for years confused, in pain, and abandoned.

A major increase of homelessness began with the end of the Vietnam War due to a glut of returning soldiers. Most of these young men and women were too emotionally destabilized to work even if they could find it. Many were suffering PTSD.

Many vets and many other people experiencing homelessness have PTSD in addition to Traumatic Brain Injury, either diagnosed or undiagnosed. This is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and we will have more to say about it next time.

The Home Coming

Thanks to our supporters, the much-anticipated life-sized bronze statues will be introduced to the public at Austin’s Community First! Village in May 2019. We invite you to the unveiling ceremony, details below:

When: Saturday, May 18, 2019, 9 a.m.
Where: Community First! Village, 9301 Hog Eye Rd., Austin, TX 78724


Source: “Voices of the First World War: Shell Shock,” IWM.org, 06/06/18
Source: “Looking Up at the Bottom Line,” Amazon.com
Source: “World War I: 100 Years Later,” SmithsonianMag.com, September 2010
Source: “Ketwig: More veterans commit suicide than were killed in Vietnam,” Roanoke.com, 11/10/17
Image by BIAUsa.org

Crucial Protection Lost

At the intersection of homelessness and the criminal justice system, one of the most important legal documents the last two decades has been negated by a federal judge in Florida.

When some kind of pattern or practice of wrongdoing has been identified, a consent decree is a way of trying to keep officials honest. It is an agreement to allow oversight by the Department of Justice, and has been found useful in encouraging reform. In 1988, the ACLU tried to get one in Miami, FL, filing a class-action suit on behalf of 5,000 plaintiffs.

It took 10 years for the Pottinger Agreement to come into existence and bring partial relief to the city’s unhoused population. Now, the city intends to regress to its old practice of arresting people who have nowhere to go — which, to all intents and purposes, criminalizes homelessness, causes needless misery and expense, and swims against the tide of the larger national movement to defeat homelessness with housing, not handcuffs.

Miami, just to put things in context, is one of the top 10 most mercilessly expensive cities for renters, and has been for a long time. Nor is this the first attempt to terminate the agreement. It was tried back in 2013, when we quoted law professor Stephen Schnably:

Eviscerating the Pottinger protections — what the City is effectively seeking — would do nothing to make downtown more vibrant. All it would do is strip homeless people of the basic human and constitutional right not to be arrested or have their property destroyed just for being homeless.

One of the major purposes of the agreement was to keep people from being arrested for loitering. Even with the agreement in effect, life has not been smooth for the unhoused. Journalist Joey Flechas wrote,

Dozens of homeless people testified in court during multiple days of hearings that the city had discarded or destroyed their personal belongings during “cleanups” of sidewalks where they were living. Many said they lost identification, clothing and other personal papers.

Last year, the ACLU told the federal court that the city has been violating the agreement, and asked for it to be enforced. The motion demonstrated that police and city workers had been seizing and destroying the property of people experiencing homelessness in the city and banishing them from certain areas. It also showed that police had arrested individuals for engaging in “life sustaining misdemeanor conduct” without offering shelter or assistance, as required by the Pottinger Agreement.

Instead, Federal District Judge Federico Moreno decided to get rid of it. The affected personnel are city employees, especially police, firefighters, and Human Services workers. The city wants them freed from the constraints of decency, and enabled to go back to arresting people and destroying their property, just for being homeless.

City Manager Emilio Gonzalez claims that the city has “created a model for effective homeless services countywide.” (Dade County has almost 2.75 millio Miami more than 460,000 people; Dada County has almost 2.75 million.)

We are asked to believe that Miami’s continuum of care is unparalleled in the United States, and that the homeless count has decreased by 90 percent since the agreement was instituted. If things have been going so well, and the agreement has been accomplishing its mission, doesn’t that seem more like a reason to keep it going, than to end it?

Yet, with a stunningly byzantine collection of bizarre arguments, opponents of the Pottinger Agreement are trying to convince everyone that the end of that agreement is a victory for the homeless. And also for national security. Somehow, according to the city’s legal experts, there is a connection to 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing.

One person who wanted termination is Ron Book, chair of the Homeless Trust (don’t be fooled by the job title), who is of the opinion that, by making it easier for “shelter resistant” individuals to stay on the street, Pottinger was actually harmful.

Not long ago, House the Homeless mentioned Ron Book in another post, when he refused to spend any of what he characterized as the Homeless Trust’s “scarce resources” ($55 million) on public toilets. Not surprisingly, Book is also against making showers available to people experiencing homelessness, nor does he have any tolerance for people or groups who want to serve food to the hungry in public places.

According to Judge Moreno, his killing of the Pottinger Agreement is a victory for the ACLU and the Florida Justice Institute, even though both organizations protested it vigorously. Their side of the story, related by journalist Daniel Rivero, is that Miami authorities and power mongers want to…

[…] loosen the reins on policing to push homeless residents from a rapidly gentrifying downtown area. Last year, the City started clearing homeless encampments in the city, and the ACLU asked the court to find Miami in contempt of court.


In theory, according to the judge, both advocates and authorities agree that arresting the homeless is not a solution. Nevertheless, during protests against changing the status quo, two activists were arrested. One of them, Tabitha Bass, “spent three days in jail with limited access to medical care, which advocates alleged contributed to her death a few weeks later,” says the news report.

The Home Coming Sculpture News

The Home Coming will be unveiled on May 18 at 9 a.m. at Community First! Village. The address is 9301 Hog Eye Road, Austin, TX 78734. Check back with us for more details on the history of the statue’s conception and creation, and impressive information about Community First! Village.


Source: “ACLU of Florida Defends Historic Agreement,” ACLUFL.org, 10/23/13
Source: “Federal judge dissolves homeless protections from police harassment in Miami,” ChicagoTribune.com, 02/16/19
Source: “ACLU of Florida Statement,” ACLUFL.org, 02/19/19
Source: “Judge Terminates Miami’s Landmark Agreement On How To Police The Homeless,” WLRN.org, 02/15/19
Photo credit: Phillip Pessar on Visualhunt/CC BY

The Amazon Effect — An Update

How about a quick update on events in Seattle and around Amazon since the most recent chapter of the cautionary tale.

In September, The Seattle Times looked into some of the ways in which people “exit to permanent housing,” or leave the condition of homelessness. If they are in an emergency shelter in King County, it will take about $14,200 to accomplish the exit. If they are in transitional housing, defined as “temporary stays in a subsidized project,” the tab will be around $12,000.

A third option, rapid rehousing, pays subsidies for renting on the private market, which puts money in the pockets of local landlords, so it’s not such a bad thing. The cost to remove a person from homelessness via that route is around $7,300.

In the same month, several businesses made the news by complaining that people had been trespassing on exterior water sources and using their hoses for impromptu showers. They filled their drinking water bottles! Some had the nerve to shave or brush their teeth! A store manager said that the homeless people broke his spigot. (Why would they? They are the ones who are so desperate for water.)

Toward the end of the month, a long-established encampment “that included many wood frame structures” — in other words, a town — disappeared as heavy machinery cleared 25 acres. Journalist Matt Markovich said the inhabitants had plenty of warning, and “By city policy, no clean up can begin until there is shelter space for all residents, even if they don’t accept.”

Apparently, the city had been picking up garbage from the camp, which inspired the solid citizens of Seattle to bring their garbage, construction trash, and abandoned vehicles to the site, resulting in a rotten deal all the way round. The land may be repurposed as a dog park, the irony of which has not escaped the former residents.

Sara Rankin of the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project has compared these activities with flushing money down the toilet. People are not helped in any substantial way; the underlying causes of homelessness are not addressed; and what Seattle needs is a whole lot more affordable housing. Of the passion for camp-clearing, Rankin says,

It’s moving people around to create the illusion that homelessness has been fixed when it hasn’t.

At the same time, there was some kind of trouble with the agencies assigned by the city to deal with homeless matters. Also, a group called Safe Seattle, which touts its mission as “public safety,” would like to see part of the public live unsafely in tents and dumpsters, rather than in miniature structures with heating, and access to showers and bathrooms. The group sued the city in an effort to get rid of the tiny house villages.

Meanwhile, over the past five years Seattle rents rose by close to 40 percent. With 54 people experiencing homelessness per each 10,000 residents, the city’s rate of homelessness is greater than that of New York or Los Angeles. On the other hand, Amazon did start a training program for low-income people to work in its food facilities, and allowed the nonprofit Mary’s Place temporary occupancy of an unused building.

Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, told the press,

There is not a straight line between Amazon coming and homelessness. But what I want to be clear about is that Amazon certainly contributed to the affordable housing crisis in Seattle, and the affordable housing shortage in turn absolutely contributed to the homelessness crisis in our community.

In an article for BoingBoing.net, Editor Cory Doctorow explains why some Seattle residents are now saying, “See? We told you. Never give in to bullying, it leads to nowhere good.” He writes,

Seattle’s immensely popular business tax was designed to do something about the city’s epidemic of desperate homelessness, but then Amazon threw its muscle around to get the tax canceled, mostly by threatening not to occupy its new offices in Ranier Square, a 30-story building currently under construction that Amazon was to be sole tenant of… Now, Ranier Square is advertising for new tenants to fill its 722,000 square feet, because Amazon has canceled its plans.

Amazon had been busy for a year, thinking about where to establish two new headquarters, and inviting bribes. They picked Long Island City (Queens, NY) and Virginia. Immediately, both places were drastically affected. Housing prices went up and inventory went down. Experts reported that…

[…] overall, the number of homes on the market in January in Arlington County was down 38 percent from a year ago, and the median price of what closed in Arlington last month was up 10 percent from a year ago, at $607,500… a reflection of properties that were purchased due to the Amazon effect in December.


In Long Island City, reporter Corey Kilgannon learned that the price had already been raised by at least $30,000 each, on apartments that did not yet have walls or bathtubs:

Asking prices jumped. Buyers rushed to make deals. Inactive listings turned into bidding wars. Brokers are taking bids via text message. And the rush has fueled concerns that a gentrifying neighborhood will become even less affordable, as “tech bros” push out the working class.

For three months, the real estate business boomed, until… It’s not clear who broke up with whom, but the New York engagement is off. Amazon backed out, or maybe the city rejected Amazon; some speculators got stuck with pricey properties; and nobody knows what will happen next.

The Home Coming Updates

Watch this space for news of The Home Coming, the sculpture whose figures represent several kinds of people experiencing homelessness — a veteran, a child, and an elderly woman of color. The fulfillment of years of dedicated work, The Home Coming is coming home to Austin soon!


Source: “What would it cost to house and provide treatment for Seattle’s homeless?,” SeattleTimes.com, 09/17/18
Source: “Seattle business claims homeless people trespassing on property to steal water,” KOMONews.com, 09/05/18
Source: “Seattle begins clean-up of one of city’s longest running homeless encampments,” KOMONews.com, 09/24/18
Source: “Seattle increasing removals of homeless encampments,” SeattleTimes.com, 08/21/18
Source: “Lawsuit aims to shut down city’s tiny home villages,” MyNorthwest.com, 12/07/18
Source: “Amazon HQ2 could push 800 people into homelessness, economist says,” MarketWatch.com, 11/19/18
Source: “Amazon killed Seattle’s homelessness-relief tax…,” BoingBoing.net, 02/28/19
Source: “Amazon speculators gobbled up Arlington housing market,” WTop.com, 02/25/19
Source: “An ‘Amazon Effect’ on Queens Real Estate? Here’s Why Brokers Say It’s Real,” NYTimes.com, 12/27/18
Photo credit: Wonderlane on Visualhunt/CC BY

About the Universal Living Wage

We recommend The Universal Living Wage Whitepaper, the comprehensive guide to an idea whose time has come, written by House the Homeless co-founder Richard R. Troxell, which can be read online or downloaded. There is a lot to absorb, but the basic ideas are easily graspable.

Here is Richard’s recap of how he laid out the basic ideas to those present at a breakout session at the White House Summit on Working Families in the summer of 2014:

The Universal Living Wage uses existing government guidelines that ensure that if a person works 40 hours in a week (be it from one job or more), he or she would be able to afford basic food, clothing, shelter (including utilities), public transportation, and access to emergency rooms, wherever that work is done throughout the nation. This will end homelessness for over 1 million people, and prevent economic homelessness for all 20 million minimum-wage workers. It will stimulate the national housing economy, save billions in taxes, and stabilize small businesses across America.

The Universal Living Wage (UWL) intends to adjust the federal minimum wage and index it to the local cost of housing in any area. When properly adjusted, the ULW should ensure that anyone who works a 40-hour week can afford basic rental housing, and that means safe and decent as well as affordable.

Speakers at the exciting event included former President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Gloria Steinem. Amongst talk of paid paternity leave, flexible work hours, wage equality and comprehensive health care and child care, attendees were astonished to learn such gritty realities as the fact that in three states, the cost of child daycare had surpassed the cost of state college tuition.

Another Troxell contribution is the Open Letter to Barack Obama. Then, the curious reader might want to proceed to the Universal Living Wage website and focus on such details as the Wage Calculator.

We also recommend the past House the Homeless posts, like the one that discusses a strange and seemingly intractable paradox. The super-wealthy who run everything really don’t want anyone to pay the workers a living wage. On the one hand, they themselves have no intention of paying workers enough to live on. On the other hand, they certainly do not want the government involved in anything that resembles a guaranteed income, because the government can only acquire the funds to supply a guaranteed income by taxing the super-wealthy. That would be socialism, a word that scares them more than Satan.

They will stand for nothing that smacks of the redistribution of wealth, like for instance the program colloquially called “food stamps.” They need workers, but pay their workers so little they have no choice but to apply for food stamps. And then the super-rich who own everything cry and whine because they suspect that money is coming from their pockets — which there is very little chance of, since their expert lawyers will help avoid any taxation of either their giant corporations or their personal wealth. The people who own the factories and stores don’t want to pay their employees enough to live on — nor do they want to pay taxes that would filter the money through the government, and supply the employees enough to live on.

They reject both answers as unsatisfactory. To put it simply, they just plain don’t want workers to make enough to live on! At one point, McDonald’s added insult to injury by unveiling a plan that would help their employees budget their money properly. Just get a second job and apply for food stamps, and all will be well.

The plan allowed $600 per month for rent, which is laughable almost anywhere; nothing for heat; nothing for clothing. It allotted $20 a month for health care.

As just one example of the unreality, research commissioned by the American Diabetes Association showed how ridiculous that number is, especially for dependent child insulin users. For many people, the cost of insulin runs into the hundreds of dollars each month. In the most basic possible meaning of “trying to make a living,” people have actually died from attempting to nurse their insulin supplies, hoping to make them last longer.

The Home Coming Updates

Watch this space for news of The Home Coming, the sculpture whose figures represent several kinds of people experiencing homelessness — a veteran, a child, and an elderly woman of color. The fulfillment of years of dedicated work, The Home Coming is coming home to Austin soon!


Image source: Internet meme, author unknown