A Dickensian nightmare: New York City and the Great Economic Divide

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homelessBy Danny Weil

(Photo courtesy Veterans Administration.)

[F]or the rich and affluent population of New York City, they certainly prospered during the 12-year dictatorial reign of NY Mayor Bloomberg, that came to an end in on January 1, 2014.

In March 2009, Forbes reported Bloomberg’s wealth at $16 billion, a gain of $4.5 billion over the previous year, enjoying the world’s largest increase in personal mammon in 2009.

Bloomberg moved from 142nd to 17th in the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires in just two years (March 2007 — March 2009).

In March 2012, Forbes reported Bloomberg’s wealth at $22 billion, ranking him 20th in the world and 11th in the United States among the wealthiest people in the world.

In September 2013, Forbes reported Bloomberg’s wealth as $36.5 billion and ranked him as the 13th richest person in the world and the 10th richest person in the United States.

While Bloomberg jumped quickly to the 13th richest person the world, this cannot be said of those Dickensian lives of New York’s children whose disposable population grew significantly under Bloomberg’s rule.

Under Bloomberg’s mayoral regime and his rise in personal affluence the crisis of poverty, homelessness, incarceration and inequality in New York skyrocketed.

There are public policy reasons behind the spike.

In 2005, the decadent Bloomberg administration reversed the policy of former mayors Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani and ended ‘priority referrals’ for homeless families to public housing and terminated Section 8 vouchers, which provided federal rent subsidies.

With priority referrals for Section 8 vouchers and temporary rental subsidies cut off, the decrepit and gentrified city provides very little in the way of public family assistance for those who need help or who want to move or shift from shelters to housing. Instead, they have one foot in the gutter.

The argument Bloomberg used to snuff out public Section 8 vouchers and rental subsidies was the neo-liberal mendacious free-market deception that concluded public support for the homeless and poor actually provide incentives for homelessness by sending homeless families (along with some other groups, like victims of domestic violence) to the front lines of long public housing wait lists.

We heard this same deluded mantra when Clinton spoke off ending Welfare as we know it and we see now that poverty in America has gone through the ceiling as welfare for the rich replaced welfare for the poor.

Neither Clinton nor Bloomberg actually believed their own lies; they were doing the bidding of their rich supporters and friends in the financial capitalist system where poverty is commodified and traded minute by minute on Wall Street.

City Homeless shelters explode while ‘feeding sites’ for the homeless are criminalized

According to an article in The Atlantic Cities in January 2013, for the first time in New York’s recorded history, the city’s homeless shelter system housed an average nightly population of more than 50,000 people. That number was up 19% from 2012, and up 61% since Bloomberg took office.

This figures eclipsed all historical levels and the numbers did not even include victims of Hurricane Sandy, who were housed separately ((http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2013/03/bloombergs-other-legacy-homelessness-crisis/4910/).

It seems the rise in NYC homelessness paralleled Bloomberg’s augmentation in wealth.

In 2013, more than one percent of NYC children (21,034 of 1,780,000) slept in a homeless shelter; this, while foreclosures continued to skyrocket, the rich got richer and affordable housing literally disappeared.

In January 2014, a new record was set as the average number of homeless single adults sleeping each night in the New York City shelter system rose five percent to 11,342 women and men (http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/state-of-the-homeless-2014/).

Homelessness is increasing all over America but the numbers from New York are shockingly high compared to most of the US Empire’s failing cities.

The Atlantic Cities noted that in January 2013 alone, on average, over 21,000 children slept in city shelters each night, a 22% increase over the same period in 2011. The average length of stay in a shelter for homeless families with children, according to the report, is now over a year, an increase of 10%from the previous year (ibid).

The Coalition for the Homeless also found that under the Bloomberg administration there was a dramatic expansion of for-profit shelter operators. The majority of homeless families (51 percent) in New York City reside in for-profit shelters (i.e., commercial hotels and motels and so-called “cluster-site” shelter units) (ibid).

This is the Dickensian nightmare that litters America, the stark reality of American capitalism and it only promises to get worse under the tutelage of banksters, media sophists, philanthro-pirates and their supplicant coin-operated politicians.

In October of 2014, under the canopy of the same mendacious free-market con-job which concluded public support for the homeless and poor actually provided inducements for growing homelessness, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida became the latest to pass a measure restricting food distribution to the homeless.

This too is part of a growing trend in America over the past several years.

The measure, whose passage provoked protests from irate residents, criminalizes and prohibits feeding stations from operating within 500 feet of each other or 500 feet from any residential area.

The decree reflects the argument that homeless people are better served in facilities that also provide mental health and drug rehabilitation services (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/criminalizing-the-hands-that-feed-the-homeless/381804/).

Robert Marbut of Marbut Consulting, a ‘privatized homeless outreach’ adviser who instructs cities on homelessness, told NPR recently:

“Street feeding is one of the worst things you can do, because it keeps people in homeless status.”

Not surprisingly, Marbut was a White House Fellow to President George H.W. Bush (http://www.marbutconsulting.com/Dr.html).

Privatized subcontracted Prisoner Mental Health and Medical Care

What Marbut didn’t tell NPR listeners is that Subcontracted Prisoner Mental Health and Medical Care along with for-profit homeless containment is the largest and fastest-growing private sector in the ‘treatment industrial complex’ that has emerged in the US within the last few years — a sector that Marbut Consulting heartily supports.

Research shows that 25-50% of the homeless population have a history of incarceration. Sub-groups within the homeless population–namely individuals with mental health issues, veterans, and youth have even more pervasive incarceration histories (http://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/infocus_incarceration_nov2013.pdf).

This is all good news for Wall Street.

We usually think about for-profit prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation), as benefiting from dramatic increases in incarceration and detention in the United States.

While this is true, these corporate, Wall Street traded companies are accomplishing much more: they are greedily watching with a callous and yellowed eye the rising homelessness and mental illness and benefiting from the expansion of the incarceration industry away from warehousing and into areas that have been traditionally focused on treatment and the care of individuals involved in the criminal justice system.

For instance, these areas include prison medical care, forensic mental hospitals, civil commitment centers, and ‘community corrections’ programs such as halfway houses, homeless shelters and home arrest (http://afsc.org/sites/afsc.civicactions.net/files/documents/TIC_report_online.pdf).

In the US, total average state spending on correctional healthcare rose from $4.2 billion in 2001 to $6.5 billion in 2008 (the last year available for comprehensive review). The beneficiaries of the government largess are private companies that have contracts and receive public subsidies for close to 1/3 of all correctional healthcare spending in the US, or a whopping $3 billion per year.

‘Community corrections’, as it is has been baptized comprises a titanic segment of the criminal justice system. It includes a variety of treatment services historically delegated to probation and/or parole, halfway houses, homeless shelters, day reporting centers, home arrest, surveillance, and electronic monitoring.

Overall, two-thirds of individuals involved in the criminal justice system are in privatized community corrections systems.

And what is not well-known is that within this sordid labyrinth of privatized misery the destitute and mentally ill are being used as human rats for and by Big Pharma. This represents the increasing commodification and exploitation of destitution and is hardly new to America.

In the notorious drug research scandals of the 1960s and ’70s, the common component was human exploitation.

In the Tuskegee syphilis study it was exploitation of poor black men in Alabama; with the Willowbrook hepatitis study it was exploitation of disabled, institutionalized children; with the Holmesburg Prison experiments it was exploitation of prisoners.

In each case, researchers with power took advantage of vulnerable populations (https://medium.com/matter/did-big-pharma-test-your-meds-on-homeless-people-a6d8d3fc7dfe).

All of this is not only currently legal it is all a big corporate, financial driven profit scheme.

Summary

In America upward mobility, once the intonation of the capitalist class, has been replaced with the ghoulish and nightmarish reality of downward mobility, the privatization of poverty and the incarceration, exploitation and medication of America’s ‘throwaway’ populations; all of this while equality diminishes and the rich, like Bloomberg, get grotesquely richer.

The crisis of homelessness in America is the crisis of capitalism. The Dickensian nightmare of Charles Dickens’ Victorian England is now the cruel topography where numerous people reside within many, if not most American cities.

Meanwhile Wall Street and Big Pharma saddle up in their endeavors to seek more financial profits by preying on an unsuspecting public who have been told that free market capitalism is the answer to social disease, incarceration, homelessness, poverty and unrest when in fact it is their cause.

Originally published at OpEdNews.

Danny Weil is an author and investigative journalist who has written more than four hundred articles for Truthout, Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Daily Censored, Project Censored and more. I received two awards from Project Censored, one in 2010 and one in 2012. He is part of Truthout’s “Public Intellectual” project, and has written seven books on education, most recently: Charter School Movement: History, Politics, Policies, Economics and Effectiveness.He has been a tenant organizer and educational worker and organizer for 40 years.

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