Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Viciousness vs. practicality

Two problems regarding the homeless have recently gotten attention here in the Silicon Valley:

1) The problem of homeless people living in run-down motor homes parked by the streets and dumping their raw sewage into the street drains that run to the Bay.

2) The problem of homeless people living on the shores of local streams and crapping in places where rains will wash their crap directly to the Bay.

Needless to say, both of these present water quality issues for San Francisco Bay. So what should we do about them? Here's two possibilities:

1) We can create public dump stations for the motor home people to dump their sewage into and refill their water tanks from, and we can set up porta-potties near homeless encampments so they have a place to shit into rather than directly into the streams, or

2) We can go out and arrest people and throw them into jail for dumping their crap into street drains or shitting into streams.

Which of the above two alternatives do you think would be cheaper? Well, porta-potty rental and weekly cleaning service is around $250/month (deliberately overstating), so figure $3,000/year. A public dump station could be installed near a sewage lift station for fairly cheaply, figure around $5k total, and would basically require no maintenance after that because the incremental costs of processing that sewage are lost in the noise. So figure that for around $50K/year total, you could completely do away with the issue of raw sewage flowing into the bay due to homeless people crapping in the water or dumping their tanks into street drains.

*OR*... you could put ONE SINGLE HOMELESS PERSON into jail for a year for that $50K/year total. And the reality is that you'd need to put HUNDREDS of homeless people into jail to deal with the problem of homeless people crapping into water or dumping their tanks into street drains.

So which alternative do you think the local governments have chosen? Any takers on that one?

Hint: It's the vicious solution, not the practical solution. As usual.

-- Badtux the "Americans are such a vicious bunch of motherfuckers" Penguin


  1. America has the same mindset as the father of a teenager who figures "If I just beat the boy hard enough, he'll straighten up and fly right." How'd that work out, all you former teenagers out there?

  2. No, Bukko, America has much the same mindset as the right-wing zealots who think they can beat the gay out of their gay teenager, they figure they can beat the homelessness out of a homeless person too. How well that works for making gay teenagers un-gay, all you have to do is take a trip to the right neighborhood in any major city of America or observe Mr. Michele Bachmann.

    The solution to homelessness is homes (duh!). But again, being vicious towards the homeless is easier than providing them with homes. Americans never bother solving problems if solving problems would interfere with their viciousness towards their fellow Americans.

    - Badtux the Snarky Penguin

  3. Ah, but then you'd be "encouraging" the homeless. Encouraging them in what is never stated. In staying alive? In keeping clean? In holding onto some shred of common humanity???

    You would think that Silicon Valley of all places, where sanity does occasionally prevail, could do this math.

  4. Once upon a time, I worked for a military contractor in Silicon Valley (a mid-sized firm, decades gone). During the time of my tenure there, the company changed how it did its circuit card manufacturing, and laid off a loyal cadre of wire-wrap machine operators. One of them was an elderly lady who could simply not afford to live on her Social Security. But she did have an old motorhome, so she parked it in the far corner of the company lot and used a sewer cleanout to dump.

    Officially she simply wasn't there. The company didn't acknowledge her, but it didn't tell her to go away. Security staff kept an eye out for her. Employees brought her produce from their gardens.

    I don't know what happened to her when the company finally closed up its California operation. But I was encouraged that one company, at least, would take care of its own, however grudgingly.

  5. Right, so being nice to the homeless is what causes homelessness. That whole lack of, well, a home, thingy is just incidental. Alrighty, then!

    - Badtux the Snarky Penguin

  6. Maybe we could just mail in our turds for a rebate.

  7. well, I tried to get a quote for porta-potty rental, because $250 is about 1/3 of what I remember, but they all seem to require that you submit a request and they'll get back to you. I'll follow up and let you know.

  8. Fuck the homeless...

  9. Yep, BBC, you're a true American.

    Bad Yogi, even if it was TEN times as expensive, it'd still be less expensive than putting dozens of homeless in jail to keep them from shitting in the creeks. Plus, jailing the homeless that you caught crapping in the creek wouldn't, like, automagically make homes just appear out of the ether for the homeless and make them suddenly not-homeless, so it wouldn't solving the problem anyhow, it'd just be engaging in pointless viciousness for the sake of pointless viciousness.

    Which, of course, is the point. Why solve a problem if the problem gives you the opportunity to be vicious towards your fellow Americans?

    - Badtux the Snarky Penguin

  10. Sorry to harsh your "give a home to the homeless" buzz, but it's not so simple as just building enough roofs to put over their heads. Tux probably knows this already, but allow me to pontificate.

    A lot of homeless people are mentally ill or addicted to various things. They are what we in the psych biz call "disorganized." Not as in "I forgot where I left my car keys" but as in "so scattered that they can't function." Even if you GAVE them a home free and clear, like one of the many vacant ones now owned by banks as a result of the repossession crisis, they'd still wreck it. They would burn the place down by passing out drunk with a lit cigarette on the couch, or invite friends over for wild parties that would trash the place, or simply fail to fix things that fell apart -- houses need continuous maintenance, and it takes a modicum of mental wherewithall to organize hiring a handyman.

    The problem with "giving a home to the homeless" first became clear to me with a psych patient I dealt with at a group home in Florida in the mid-1990s. This woman was a lucky one, plucked out of a large state mental hospital that was being decommissioned. The Florida .gov had a Potemkin demonstration housing project designed to cover the fact that they were really dumping 98% of the patients on the streets. This woman was given a modest apartment in a brand-new building. She would do things like deliberately leave the water running in the sink because of some strange fixation tied to her mental illness, which flooded the place. She was paranoid, so she'd get into screaming matches with the property manager or her neighbours because of the persecution she imagined they were directing at her. She was diabetic and had other health problems that she ignored, so she periodically had to be hospitalized because of physical crises. Her social workers finally had to turf her into the psych home where I knew her.

    Now multiply that times the millions. Even in Canada, where the baseline societal vibe makes many people behave slightly better than the average American, I see plenty of patients who get kicked out of homeless shelters because they can't follow the basic rules of "don't come in her all fucked up and starting fights." And there's the "moral hazard" angle of the resentment from crusty bastards like BBC who'd see homeless folks getting free housing, utility bills paid and government food, while the solid citizens have to work for it.

    It's a mess. In expansionary times, where there's a surplus of money, energy and productive capacity, society has enough resources to carry a certain percentage of non-producing people. Whether that percentage is 2%, 10% or 25% of the population depends on the philosophy and abilities of that society. But I posit that we're in contractionary times because of Peak Oil, Peak Food, Peak Everything, including Peak Humanity. We are in for a frightening future, first for the homeless, and not long after for the rest of us. Alien Corporate Overlords excepted.

  11. Whoah! Comment moderation back on? Invasion of Glibbertrollians, or spambots?

  12. Actually, there is a program for just GIVING the homeless a place to live (not just sleep) that has been pretty sucessful. But, since I have actually, you know, worked with the homeless, I can categorically state that just having a place to shit won't actually mean that they will shit there. Many homeless aren't mobile, others too drunk/stoned/mentally lost to care. You're going to need dozens of porta-potties in different locations, multiple dump stations at $50K each, not $5K, and infrastructure/personnel to manage it, because they don't maintain themselves. So, cost does actually figure into it.
    But it's still the right thing to do. Let's be realistic about what it is.

  13. @Bukko. That is how it has gone down here in Michigan. Years ago, when I was young, I worked with our local mentally ill population. It was during a time that the state was closing all of the old state run mental hospitals. Part of it was because people on the left thought that community based treatment would be nicer than keeping people locked up in hospitals but part of it was the right wing desire to save money.

    Most of these folks ended up in group homes staffed with young psych majors from the local college like me. Our salary was just above minimum wage which allowed these people to live in situations with supervision for a lot less than they could live without it. I think that for most people things were better.

    Then the state kept cutting budgets. I eventually got so frustrated with everything that I changed my major from Psychology to Economics and decided that I just didn't have the stomach to work in that system.

    A couple of years after I left, I happened to witness a crime so I had to go to court for the preliminary hearing. As I sat in the court room and watched person after person going before the judge for their preliminary hearing, I was very saddened to see that over half of the "criminals" in court that day were mentally ill people I knew because I had been working with them. All were likely going to prison for crimes such as going to the bathroom outside. A crime, btw, in Michigan that results in people being added to the life long sex offender list thus insuring that they'll have trouble finding housing if they ever get out of prison. It is a sick business. That it ends up costing the taxpayers much more money than it would cost to simply take care of people in the first place is something lost on many voters unfortunately.

  14. BBC, I'm curious. How much are you willing to pay to fuck the homeless? (I'll go ahead and assume you mean "fuck over.") You understand, from the original post, that fucking costs you more than helping, right? You willing to have your taxes raised again and again to more and more severely fuck people you disapprove of?

    Is that the eventual course this country will take? A single family of trillionaires at the top, who enslave one half of the country to enrich themselves enough to continually torture the other, more miserable half?

  15. Bukko gets props for "peak humanity".

  16. Yogi, if you're claiming a dump station costs $50K, I gotta say you're full of it. A dump station is essentially a sewer cleanout pipe, and last time I had one of those installed, it cost under $5K *WITH* the septic tank and drain field that went with it, but we're talking about hooking into a pre-existing sewer. And the motor home "homeless" are mobile, as little as they like being rousted from wherever they're stopped and told to move along, it does assure that they at least have *mobile* motor homes.

    Bukko, while there are a significant percentage of the homeless who are mentally ill, the highest estimate has been 50%. And yes, the mentally ill homeless aren't going to be able to live in a regular home even with assistance, they need institutional help. I've previously mentioned on this blog what I think about the results of Saint Ronnie the Raygun's nationwide de-institutionalization craze that at the time was beloved of liberals and conservatives both, which has resulted in crazy people dying on the streets of "natural causes" (hey, starving or dying of exposure is "natural", right?) in order to protect human dignity err cheap out on our responsibilities as human beings towards our fellow man. But that was neither here nor there. The issue here was keeping tons of raw human shit from flowing into San Francisco Bay, and the refusal of local municipalities to deal with the issue, instead attempting to push the problem along to other municipalities or criminalize it.

    As for Lynne's example of public urination being a "sex crime" in Michigan, wow. Talk about a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Crap, you could put every one of those folks into dorm rooms with full-time attendants for less money than jailing them. But that would be humane, and Americans never let being humane interfere with their hobby of being vicious towards their fellow Americans.

    - Badtux the Disgusted Penguin

  17. Bukko gets props for "peak humanity".

    And I meant that in a double-edged way: peak population of humans befouling the surface of the Earth (I'm a doomer who expects that reality is about to get all Malthusian on our asses) but also peak in terms of the decency with which we treat each other. The mindset expressed by BBC is going to be a lot more common in the Grim World of the Afterscape.

  18. Thing is, there's still plenty of resources. All that's required is to spread'em out in a more equitable matter and we can all, like, sing kumbaya and shit. But the "me me ME!" greed-heads want it all for themselves, and fuck everybody else, up every orifice in fact.

    BTW, yes, got an infestation of Libertards. One of'em posted something along the lines of, "I'd post something here but it's no use debating with an elementary school dropout." That's all they got -- is insults. They never let a fact they don't like get in the way of being vicious towards their fellow Americans. Bah humbug.

    -- Badtux the Tired-of-stupidity Penguin

  19. I don't know if you've seen this but Barbara Ehrenreich had a good piece in the NYT last month about the criminalization of the poor.

    Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor

  20. OK, Tux, I'll argue with you for the fun of it. A dump station is not just a hole into which you dump. You need a water connection, a storm drain for run-off from cleaning, lighting and a 10x35 8" concrete pad, plus don't ram posts, access road and a shit-load of other stuff, including the land and insurance.

    I said I agreed with you and I do, but you are conflating marginal costs and absolute costs in his discussion. The marginal cost of picking up and locking up a homeless person is effectively zero: the cops and the infrastructure are already in place. Obviously the overall (absolute) cost is not zero, but that's not entirely the point, is it. Same in reverse for the Porta-Pottys: the cost of ONE isn't high, the cost of an infrastructure to maintain them is.
    Look, I think we need to deal better with the problem, but this is a "simple, obvious and wrong" answer.

  21. TBY, you need all that if you're going to build things to Cadillac standards for old people in RV parks. I'm just telling you what it costs if you do it on the cheap in a place where there is *already* an access road, where there is *already* running water and sewer available, where there is *already* street lighting. For example, the VTA has a *giant* parking lot over on 1st Street near much of the infrastructure for dealing with the homeless, a parking lot that's well-lit and almost empty most of the time. Stripe a lane down the side, tap into the sewer and water lines that go into the building, and there you are. And note that VTA security officers *already* regularly patrol this park-and-ride lot to keep the homeless from setting up camp there. Multiply this by dozens of other underutilized facilities around the valley and the problem, while not solved (the final solution for those who are mentally stable is a real home, the final solution for those not capable of functioning without assistance is some sort of supervised environment where they can get the assistance they need), is certainly lessened.

    As for the incremental costs of putting a homeless person in jail, they're decidedly non-zero because once they're in jail you have to supervise, feed, clothe, and take care of the medical needs. They're especially non-zero if you're putting not one, but *hundreds* of homeless people in jail, which is going to require hiring additional corrections officers, building additional correctional facilities, and so forth. There's cops who justify the practice on the grounds that jail is the only place these people can get cleaned up and get some health care (though what passes for health care in our penal system would make Dr. Marcus Welby throw up in disgust at its incompetence and venality), but that just points out the fact that we've dismantled the *other* institutions that were once capable of dealing with those issues and put everything onto the shoulders of the penal system, which incidentally has the effect of making these folks unemployable even if they *do* get cleaned up. Which I suppose is an *advantage* to other Americans... "good, that's one more job for *me*." Great if you're a vicious person who enjoys being vicious to your fellow Americans. But it's a humanitarian disaster.

    -- Badtux the Practical Penguin


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