Meanest Streets, Part 1

by | Jun 23, 2011 | Uncategorized

A 2005 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless listed what were, at the time, the 20 meanest cities, the ones with the worst records in terms of anti-homeless laws, selectivity of enforcement, severity of penalties, and their general political climate including whatever anti-homeless legislation was currently being pushed.

Let’s look at what were then deemed the five worst cities and catch up on subsequent events.

#5 Las Vegas, NV. [THEN] Even as the city shelters are overcrowded and the city’s Crisis Intervention Center recently closed due to lack of funding, the city continues to target homeless persons living outside. The police conduct habitual sweeps of encampments which lead to extended jail time for repeat misdemeanor offenders.

The more recent situation in Las Vegas is outlined by Rodger Jacobs in a three-part series published late last year. The introductory editor’s note mentions a downtown tent city, which the author and his girlfriend fortunately were able to avoid. Jacobs gives 13,000 as the number of homeless residents in the county, and relates details of his problems in obtaining the documents required to apply for services.

Like any endangered renter with good sense, Jacobs was aware of the landlord-tenant law. As he and his girlfriend struggled to pack, he reflected on what would happen if they couldn’t get their belongings out of there by the deadline. The building owner could put their stuff in any rental storage unit, charging any fee. Thanks to the publicity from the news article, a donor paid the moving and storage costs. The next place where the couple landed inspired Jacobs to write that…

… life in a residential hotel is far from ideal, and it has offered me a ground’s-eye view of the full effect of the Great Recession, from entire families crammed into small rooms and a school bus that drops off dozens of children in front of the hotel on weekday afternoons.

In the second installment, Jacobs names and thanks people who came forward with help, but that humanitarian glow is spoiled by the Las Vegas newspaper readers who responded to Part 1 with hostility. Jacobs says,

The day the Sun published my essay… I spent many of my waking hours defending myself against allegations of sloth… hypochondria, arrogance… weak moral and ethical judgment, prevarication, alcoholism, drug abuse, liberalism, solipsism, atheism… ripping off ‘the system,’ a defeatist attitude, poor money management…

In the third installment of his story, Jacobs was still shocked by the outpouring of malice. He writes,

More than the tale of my plight itself, the vicious online response to the New Homeless series… became the story for the press beyond Nevada’s borders… Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak summed it up best when he said, ‘Societies are judged by how they respond to those in need.’ Indeed, the citizens of Las Vegas have been judged by the shrill voices of a very vocal minority… my story has also gained a lot of traction in foreign media.

Well, thanks, unfeeling people of Las Vegas, for once again making America look bad in the eyes of the world. On the other hand, the city apparently is tolerant of the hundreds of tunnel dwellers and does not go out of its way to disturb them.

#4 Atlanta, GA. [THEN]
In the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Atlanta stood firm in its resolve to criminalize panhandlers… In addition, during the first week in December, the Atlanta Zoning Review Board approved a ban on supportive housing inside the city limits.

As we have mentioned, the reputation of Atlanta, Georgia, was dismal due to the massive displacement of the urban homeless in preparation for the 1988 Democratic Convention, and then again for the 1996 Olympic games. The city has some good things going for it more recently, including the Georgia Law Center for the Homeless.

In late 2007, House the Homeless did a survey to find out how many of the people experiencing homelessness in Austin, Texas, were actually working; were, in other words, the “working poor” who can’t even scrape together a living wage. Richard says,

Upon releasing the survey results… we were notified that in Atlanta, Georgia, 45% of their homeless population were working at some point during the week… Apparently, the work ethic is there but the wage is not.

The House the Homeless website features a report on Bridge Action Day 2010 in Atlanta, more formally known as “Bridge the Economic Gap” Day. Its purpose is to focus attention on the gap between an average worker’s paycheck and the possibility of actually living on that amount.

More recently, Lori Chapman reported for CNN about an unusual art studio opened by Anita Beaty, who is executive director of the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless. Chapman says,

The art studio sits in the group’s headquarters, a 1920s-era building on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. Beaty says the homeless can find a secure place to paint and a creative community environment there… To get their own free studio space, those interested must show some artistic ability and follow certain rules, including staying drug-free.

There is a coffee bar in the storefront space, to entice passers-by and potential art patrons. Anything the artists sell, the Task Force gets a very reasonable 20% commission. Whether homeless or housed, painters tend to sink their profits back into buying more art supplies. This news story profiles a couple of artists who, between part-time service industry jobs and their art sales, managed to earn enough to rent an apartment. Also important is the chance to mingle with other artists who are not experiencing homelessness, who are also welcome at location.


Source: “A Dream Denied,” National Coalition for the Homeless
Source: “I am frightened,” Las Vegas Sun, 08/29/10
Source: “Hostile toward homelessness,” Las Vegas Sun, 09/26/10
Source: “Homelessness and the indignity of hurtful speech,” Las Vegas Sun, 12/05/10
Source: “Vancouver Olympics Aftermath Studied,” House The Homeless blog, 02/17/11
Source: “What’s New at the Universal Living Wage Campaign,” Universal Living Wage
Source: “At this shelter, art studio helps the homeless paint a brighter future,”, 04/01/11
Image of Bridge Action Day 2010 Atlanta by House the Homeless.