Housing is a Matter of Survival
Someone told me the other day that housing wasn’t a matter of survival; it’s only a matter of comfort. That’s simply not true.
Across 297 counties representing 61.9% of the United States population in 2000, we estimate that an average of 5,608… deaths were attributable to heat annually, 1997–2006.
I live in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area. It hasn’t gotten below 100 degrees at my house for more than a few hours since July. We’ve gotten as high as 117 degrees. The pavement on which far too many people live and sleep can get as hot as 180 degrees. That heat causes second and third-degree burns. People are, in fact, dying from the heat in Arizona. And we’re not alone in this catastrophe.
Thousands of Texans have sought emergency medical care in June related to the heat, data from the Texas Department of State Health Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. Only about half of health facilities report heat-related illness data to the state’s health department, meaning the real toll on Texans’ health is almost certainly much worse.
When you tell me being unhoused is merely uncomfortable, you’re either entirely unaware of a situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you’re simply lying.
We have come to a place where the unhoused are finally finding ways to fight back.
An unhoused man who was ticketed by Lafayette police for illegal camping has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the city does not provide enough indoor shelter for people who are homeless.
In the lawsuit, which was filed July 31 in U.S. District Court in Denver, James H. Holmes Sr. alleges that ordinances in Lafayette that prevent him and his 17-year-old son from camping in public violate his right to privacy, to be free from self incrimination, and protections against cruel and unusual punishment…
The lawsuit was filed at a time when places like Boulder County, one of the wealthiest counties in Colorado, are seeing increasing rates of homelessness. The number of unsheltered homeless people in Boulder County has grown to 243 in 2023 from 52 in 2019, an increase of 367%, according to federal data. Unsheltered homelessness refers to individuals and families who sleep “in a place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation,” such as cars, parks and garages, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development...
Legal experts say a steady stream of lawsuits against cities, including Boulder and Fort Collins, could require Colorado courts to finally answer the question of whether cities can punish homeless people for sleeping outside when there is no shelter available to them. For example, a 2021 decision in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals known as Martin v. Boise expressly prohibits cities from punishing homeless folks under these conditions, but that decision isn’t binding on Colorado communities, said William Knight, an attorney with the National Homeless Law Center. States like New York have also enshrined a right to shelter in their constitution.
We still have a nearly endless road to travel, but this is an important step down The Highway to Housing.
And while people are suffering from heat, the planet continues to get hotter, and it is, in fact, because of human activity.
Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 800,000 years, there have been eight cycles of ice ages and warmer periods, with the end of the last ice age about 11,700 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.
The current warming trend is different because it is clearly the result of human activities since the mid-1800s, and is proceeding at a rate not seen over many recent millennia.1 It is undeniable that human activities have produced the atmospheric gases that have trapped more of the Sun’s energy in the Earth system. This extra energy has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land, and widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred.
And what are we doing about this?
Why? Those who have the most money have a vested interest in keeping people unhoused and ignoring the climate crisis. The threat of being homeless is a powerful motivator for many of us. We fear, for good reasons, the horrible conditions we will face if we have no shelter. The fossil fuel industry is the largest cause of the problem, though they are not alone.
The world’s biggest fossil fuel companies recently released their 2022 earnings reports, revealing record-breaking profits last year; just five companies–ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, and TotalEnergies–reported a total of nearly $200 billion in profits. At the same time, the world is incurring record losses due to extreme weather events. Thanks to advances in attribution science, we now understand many of these extreme events have been worsened by climate change. The fossil fuel industry plays the dominant role globally in causing climate change and therefore their profits come at the expense of our global health and safety.
Yes, the evidence I quoted is from a blog, but the blog links the studies that are too complicated for me to use in this show. You’re welcome to peruse them at your leisure and tell me why I’m wrong.
When you defend the wealthy, I’m sure they’re grateful for your efforts. They really don’t need your help, though.
One of the things the right wing does with exceptional efficiency is spread both fear and “misinformation”… or, in the parlance of the rest of us… lies. And they have several excellent methods of which you should be aware.
The one I see most frequently on Facebook, on those occasions I make the mistake of trying to convince someone that what they’ve said is incorrect, damaging, or immoral is called “Sealioning.” I had never heard this term until recently. It refers to a cartoon concerning a sealion who continually asks for evidence to back your argument.
Let’s be clear. I’m all about the use of evidence. This episode is overloaded with it, and I’ve edited more than a little out for fear of boring you. A Sealion, however, is not interested in your evidence. The Sealion is interested in wasting your time. If you provide evidence, they’ll come up with reasons that it doesn’t work. Then they’ll probably give you some poorly researched YouTube videos that will provide pseudo evidence for their ridiculous assertions. They do this ever so politely and respectfully so that you feel the need to engage. They will, however, under no circumstances, change their minds. I have learned not to engage Sealions any longer. For those who are listening instead of reading, the cartoon, which is available on Wikipedia, is in the transcript.
The next tactic of the right wing is called Whataboutism. This is an effort to distract you from the issue by pointing out that someone else has done something else that was bad, too. When, for example, I point out that our former President told us in excess of 30,000 verifiable lies, the retort is that everyone lies. The intention is to make it somehow okay for people to lie. When Greta Thunberg talks about the need to slow climate change, someone is sure to find something she did wrong, as though this discredits everything she has said. When I point out that there are millions of unhoused people, the response will be, “Well, what about the horrible things they did to deserve their fate?” None of these arguments do anything to solve the problem. They just keep us from engaging it.
Why don’t they want us to engage the problem? It’s because the first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. If we pretend the problem isn’t there, we don’t need to do anything to fix it.
Their favorite, and probably most effective, tactic is Fear. Fear is a powerful motivator. It’s how terrorists operate. They take hostages and threaten to kill the innocent people unless their demands are met. We will do all sorts of things because we are afraid to see someone killed. If someone comes into your house and puts a gun to your head, you’re much more likely to comply with their requests. Someone once said, “You can get much more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word.”
There are real causes for fear. Our children live their lives in jeopardy. The climate is changing to the point that the Earth will become incapable of supporting the human population far too soon. Much of the population lives a paycheck or two from the street. Medical attention is difficult to get, and it’s a major cause of bankruptcy in America. There are nuclear weapons in the hands of dangerous people. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, America is an election away from becoming a fascist dictatorship. These are all legitimate reasons to be afraid. All of these are problems we need to have informed, intelligent discussions about solving.
But those aren’t the dangers the right wing wants us to fear. We need to be afraid of people who are… gasp… DIFFERENT!!! These can be people from different countries, sometimes even different states in this country. I’ve seen more than a few friends saying “Don’t California my Arizona.” (California does much better than Arizona does at helping those in need.)
We should fear people whose sexuality is different. And because most of us don’t understand what it’s like to have a different sexuality, it’s a fertile garden in which to plant fear. If they’re different, they must present a danger.
We should fear people whose skin is a different color. We should fear people who have more liberal ideas. We’re now called Woke, as though to care about others is evil. We should fear anyone who keeps the wealthy from running the world. While most of us don’t understand what Socialism actually means, and even fewer of us understand the distinction between Socialism and the Democratic Socialism people like Bernie Sanders and I advocate, we have been trained to believe that Socialism is another word for Communism, and Communism is evil. If you want to understand better what Socialism is, I have an entire episode on that subject.
I experience fear. Of course I do. So do you. It’s a basic human emotion. When I was little, I was afraid of the dark. That was because I was sure The Wicked Witch of The West was waiting for me within it. (Margaret Hamilton turned in the most frightening performance I have ever seen. Keep your Freddy Kruger and even your Hannibal Lecter. The Wicked Witch was absolutely terrifying.)
As I got older, I was better able to sort out real causes for fear and those that exist only in my overactive imagination. The right wing appeals to our most immature aspects.
Today they love to distract us with reasons to be angry, such as Bud Light, Mr. Potato Head, Drag Queen Story Hour, and a host of other non-issues to keep us from focusing on what we need to do to make our country, and our world, what it could be.
The planet is growing hotter. The heat is killing people. Why don’t we try to fix it? Money.
Our children are being slaughtered in their classrooms. Why don’t we try to fix it? Money.
We are losing our grip on what is happening in the world. Why don’t we look for verifiable facts and credible evidence to help us understand what’s happening? Money.
My Facebook acquaintance who made the claim that Housing is only a matter of comfort at the beginning of this episode went on to tell me of how he had helped so many people (although he never specified exactly how he had done that) and that actions speak louder than words. Perhaps he has. I don’t know.
What I do know is that far too many people need help. No, I can’t help them. Unless one is obscenely wealthy, there is little you can do… individually.
We can, however, as a city, or county, or state, or nation end many of these problems. We can ensure that housing isn’t more expensive than people can earn at a single minimum wage job. Landlords will scream that they won’t make enough money at only 1/3 of what a person earns at $7.25 an hour, which is the national minimum wage. What could we do about that?
Obviously, we could raise the minimum wage. We could also enact laws that protect us from the spiraling rents that have sent record numbers of people onto the skin frying pavement.
I’m unreasonably fortunate. My disability is a little less than $1500 a month. That’s less than nearly any rental place in my town. If it weren’t for the charity of my landlord, I would be among the unhoused. With the temperatures in Phoenix right now, I would be in the hospital (if I were lucky enough to make it there before I died) in less than 24 hours. Even if I managed to keep my insulin with me somehow, the soaring temperatures would destroy it quickly. DKA would be a certainty. Death would follow promptly.
And many others are worse off than I am. And you know what? All of them… Every single one… is as important as I am. They’re as valuable as you are. They all have mothers and fathers. They were all loved by someone once.
While we spend massive amounts of money blowing other people up, we let our own citizens die. We let our veterans go without the help they need to survive in a world it’s difficult for them to understand. We create a world in which most of us are only a half-step up from being slaves, and we try to medicate away the depression caused by the civilization we’ve built.
No. No one deserves this. I don’t care what choices anyone might have made. They don’t deserve to live and die on streets that can cause third degree burns in a matter of seconds.
The man who asked me what I am doing about it is right in that I’m not doing much. I can’t save any of them. I make it to the end of the month, and I feel successful. I beat my depression, I kept my blood sugar in check, and I had the money (only only only because I get so much help from people) to eat well. That’s it. That’s the best I can do. I don’t have the resources any government has. The best I can do is try to make the need for help a part of the conversation. I’m doing that right now.
The government is using my money, and yours, and everyone else’s to make things work. I would like that government that has all our money to direct those funds toward helping people who need our help. There must be politicians who want the same thing. Look for them. Test their credibility. Make sure they are what they appear to be. And then support them. This is how we make change.
People matter more than money. They simply do. Let’s use our collective resources to help people. Is that really unreasonable?
It’s not about me. It’s about Us.
…I know the future is with me, and what I stand for here; not merely for the lives of these two unfortunate lads, but for all boys and all girls; for all of the young, and as far as possible, for all of the old. I am pleading for life, understanding, charity, kindness, and the infinite mercy that considers all. I am pleading that we overcome cruelty with kindness and hatred with love. I know the future is on my side. Your Honor stands between the past and the future. You may hang these boys; you may hang them by the neck until they are dead. But in doing it you will turn your face toward the past… I am pleading for the future; I am pleading for a time when hatred and cruelty will not control the hearts of men. When we can learn by reason and judgment and understanding that all life is worth saving, and that mercy is the highest attribute of man.
— Clarence Darrow, Closing Argument
And yes… I love you.