Paul Boden

Paul Boden became homeless at age 16. In the decades since then, he’s earned national recognition for his advocacy on behalf of the homeless. Boden ran the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness for 16 years, where he wasn’t shy about criticizing the attitude that homelessness is “only a problem if you can see it.” He now runs the Western Regional Advocacy Project. He joins us to talk about the current state of Bay Area homelessness and about his book, “House Keys Not Handcuffs.”

Guests:
Paul Boden, executive director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project and author of "House Keys Not Handcuffs"

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    Would love to hear Mr. Boden speak of the value of tiny houses on wheels. More and more people, including myself are tiny house folks and a well equipped tiny house off grid can be made for $5k, yet so many cities/towns do not seem supportive. Housing is a need and a human right, and a tiny house on wheels could be one answer for many people.

    • jim bridges

      Wisconsin is doing that. Through the Occupy Madison group, I think. Several tiny houses have been built in clusters with some shared facilities, like showers.

  • Kurt thialfad

    Is there any connection between homelessness and substance abuse?

    • c_woof

      Or desperation? Or crime?

  • Another Mike

    How to add more supportive housing, for people who need assistance making good decisions about their lives?

    • c_woof

      That is indeed the question.
      A subset is, where to find the mindset and the will to make it possible?

  • Noelle

    Paul has been a great guest on Forum throughout the years and I always enjoy listening to his advocacy and ideas around this issue.

  • jurgispilis

    As Paul says, “Why would a society not educate it own, and not provide decent housing for it’s citizens, etc…..???”.

    Answer: We don’t have to take care of our own, because we can always import more people. People who are not so uppity, as Americans.

  • wandagb

    Couple of challenges:
    He asserts that everyone is entitled to housing. Why should I be asked to pay for housing for illegal aliens?
    He objected to recipients being asked to clean streets; I have to work to afford my housing. Why shouldn’t recipients of housing subsidies be asked to contribute?

    • Another Mike

      Fine, if you wouldn’t mind being required to clean streets in exchange for your mortgage interest and property tax deductions, which reduce the amount you spend on housing.

      • wandagb

        Your response is typical of the mindset that demands the Second Coming, World Peace and Universal Brotherhood before any meaningful steps in the here and now can be considered.

        • Another Mike

          Why should I pay more taxes to help you afford your house?
          Canadians do fine without a mortgage deduction.

        • c_woof

          If people are paying taxes to subsidize your mortgage, why not expand the concept to assist those who find themselves w/out a place to live?
          And that does not negate asking for them to assist in some way.
          It might even lead to a job or career.

    • Sam Badger

      It’s amazing … people pay for all sorts of outrageous things with their taxes, but they flip out at the prospect of spending a tiny amount of social spending on illegal immigrants. I’m much more worried about billions being wasted de-building Iraq than a minuscule amount going to pay rent for an apartment for an illegal immigrant who lost their job.

      • jurgispilis

        How about much exactly are you talking? Maybe it seem like a pittance, but it might seem like much more to some else.

        • c_woof

          Compared to what? Our wars?

      • Beth Grant DeRoos

        Sam Badger you are spot on! BILLIONS are still being spent on wars yet here at home we have citizens and often veterans who need clean housing, and yet where is this housing?

    • Paul Gimenez

      One answer is that it is actually more expensive than you might think to have homeless. Homeless are more likely to get arrested than the general public, taking up jail space, absorbing police resources, et cetera. They are more likely to go to the emergency room (but those bills typically get paid by guess who?) Additionally, they deter tourism and when their visibility is extremely high, like it or not, it influences the collective conscious more generally. If something can be done about it, simply put, something should be done about it.

    • jim bridges

      Many homeless people have jobs and still can’t afford housing. They can barely afford food and certainly not good healthcare.
      If you have a mortgage, you are being subsidized because the interest is tax deductible. Your property tax is deductible also.

  • Paul Gimenez

    I completely agree with Mr. Boden. Utah adopted a program wherein all the homeless were simply given a place to live to help manage homelessness. It seems to be proving quite effective (yes, even economically). Socioeconomic research has demonstrated time and time again that general quality of life, happiness, self-appraisal et cetera are not meaningfully altered from middle class to upper class, but real problems arise when looking at nearly every ‘quality of life’ measure in impoverished individuals. It seems to me that the bottom of a civilized nation should be above that of what we label an impoverished one. Utah demonstrates that you can have a society wherein the lowest one can fall still affords a home. It seems like a promising template for the US. Do you agree?

  • Sam Badger

    Recently, Palo Alto and LA have passed laws against camping in cars, and LA was even impounding people’s cars. This is problematic at face value – where are the homeless expected to sleep? Worst, this is grounded fundamentally on the NIMBY attitude of histrionic businesspeople and middle class homeowners. People used to camp in their car in the library parking lot near my house, and I enjoyed their presence within the community. The wealthy elitists in Palo Alto, however, couldn’t see past the poverty long enough to recognize the humanity of the homeless. Where do Palo Altans expect the homeless to go? Do they expect them to survive without sleep, or to just die? Shameful.

    • BarryG

      See my response above. We expect them to go live with you. We’re probably the most liberal neighborhood you’lll find. We “enjoyed” or at least tollerated the 2 or 3 people camping across the field. Then it became “discovered” and suddenly we had not 2-3 people but over 60 people, many NOT in cars, and new arrivals coming all the time. Word had gotten out.

      Suddenly this group of painfully non-elitists started decidedly NOT enjoying the drug dealing next to the elementry school. The creepy guy following my wife. The fires, the rapidly growing litter and broken beer bottles, the growing piles of excrement, the agressive harassment from the mentally ill guy, the kids being afraid to go to the neighborhood store alone and then it escalated to the attempted murder (stabbing). Yep, us elite people, who have to have neighborhood meetings to decide whether a stray dog should be reported, decided enough was enough. Close it down. They should go to the houses of elitists like you who proscribe solutions for situations you assume but know nothing about. Because we in fact are NIMBY to meth dealers in cars (that was the arrest) and stabbings. That kind of humanity just irritates us elites.

      • Sam Badger

        Excuse me, they lived near me too as I clearly stated. I am a Palo Alto resident too, but I don’t take my privilege for granted while seeking to exile the less privileged. I don’t look at a person living in poverty and hate them or fear them for the causes or effects of their socio-economic conditions.

        Much of the behavior associated with the homeless is obviously not wanted in our neighborhoods, but (1) many neighborhoods that aren’t Palo Alto have to deal with far worse – Palo Altans just feel more entitled, perhaps thanks to the money they invested in the right to live there. I guess the homeless must camp in East Palo Alto if they expect not to be harassed by the cops? (2) Palo Alto actually has the resources to help pay for improved services which would reduce the problematic behavior, like public bathrooms (3) not all homeless people behave like this, yet your demands effectively punish them all collectively, and (4) having gone to a Palo Alto high school, I can tell you that many of our teenagers do all of the same things which you begrudge the homeless for doing, but in the case of the students, they have all the privilege in the world to protect them. Nobody will kick them from their homes when some of their peers drink or urinate in public, or get in fights.

        I think its fair for Palo Altans to not want a disproportionate number of homeless, but to kick them all out because people don’t want to witness the shitty parts of our society is unfair both on the homeless, and on any community which is more compassionate than us and has to take them on.

      • Sam Badger

        Excuse me, they lived near me too as I clearly stated. I am a Palo Alto resident too, but I don’t take my privilege for granted while seeking to exile the less privileged. I don’t look at a person living in poverty and hate them or fear them for the causes or effects of their socio-economic conditions.

        Much of the behavior associated with the homeless is obviously not wanted in our neighborhoods, but (1) many neighborhoods that aren’t Palo Alto have to deal with far worse – Palo Altans just feel more entitled, perhaps thanks to the money they invested in the right to live there. I guess the homeless must camp in East Palo Alto if they expect not to be harassed by the cops? (2) Palo Alto actually has the resources to help pay for improved services which would reduce the problematic behavior, like public bathrooms and (3) having gone to a Palo Alto high school, I can tell you that many of our teenagers do all of the same things which you begrudge the homeless for doing, but in the case of the students, they have all the privilege in the world to protect them. Nobody will kick them from their homes when some of their peers drink or go to the bathroom in public, or get in fights.

        I think its fair for Palo Altans to not want a disproportionate number of homeless, but to kick them all out because people don’t want to witness the less fortunate parts of our society is unfair both on the homeless, and on any community which is more compassionate than us and has to take them on.

        • c_woof

          It seems to me the problem is there are few programs designed to help those w/mental problems which accompany many who find themselves on the street. If you don’t fit in, there is no place for you to go in our society.
          And if PA felt they were under assault by homeless, whom it seems (per the description by BarryG) were ignored until the problem became a major problem, perhaps if the neighborhood had taken steps to find assistance for the few who first appeared, the problem would have taken care of itself.
          But with the attitude of NIMBY and “it’s not my problem” when it obviously was Barry’s problem, nothing continues to be done, except to use law enforcement to sweep the problem under the rug, down to road to someone else’s parking lot.

          As was pointed out in the program, people didn’t suddenly decide in 1983, “Hey, I don’t want to continue to sleep in these public houses — I want to go sleep in doorways and parking lots.”

  • Ben Rawner

    When is SF going to finally provide public restrooms to its people 24 hours a day. Making the people deficate and relieve themselves on the streets is not only inhumane, it’s also a public health issue. People have to use the bathroom and denying this basic need is also denying a basic right.

  • Lance

    One thing I haven’t heard is if there are personal finance programs to help homeless or poor people.

  • Dean Tucker

    My son is one of those with a dual diagnosis. Challenge is to find an alternative to the SROs offered by the city, and Bakers Places or other interim housing.

    \

  • Eve

    Please reconsider your statement about the relationship between tiny houses and homelessness. I lived in a “tiny house” (which was a trailer) as a self-selected alternative to being homeless. I was able to enjoy this good form of shelter for $180/month in an area where the lowest rents were over $500/month. For me, a tiny house gave me an address, and that makes all the difference when you are trying to get a job (no house = desperation; any house = hope).

  • BarryG

    I’m the “elitist” Palo Alto home owner who, together with perhaps the most liberal neighborhood in the US, voted to evict the homeless from the community center across the field. You see, it was fine and no one minded when the old lady and one old man were living there. But then it was “discovered” and we had a rapidly growing parking lot full of “campers,” and then came the crime.

    My wife exercises and some guy started following her. We had some agitated mentally ill person harassing people at our neighborhood park. I have 3 daughters who became afraid to go to the store across that lot. A lady was arrested for dealing Meth from her car across the field. Then we had a stabbing. There are bathrooms there but excrement started appearing in the bushes, trash growing. A fire was left burning on the running track, more and more broken beer bottles in the bike path.

    We suddenly had a little ghetto across the field and we closed it down, no appologies! And no elitism! Just a regretful but rational response. I’m all for better policies and in our neighborhood, even swatting houseflys might raise objections, but for probably the first time we had unanimous agreement that the rapidly growing camp across the field had to go. Go to where? To the living room couches of the people who think what we did wasn’t a calm, sane response to an utterly out of control problem.

    From my wandering through that camp, I’d say greater than of 50% were suffering from some clinically significant untreated mental illness and 1 in 50 of those were agitated/violent. The population was over 50. I’d love a society approach to the problem, but not foisted on us, alone, and quite litterally in our backyard.

    • RosoMenti

      BarryG, I commend you on your post. Thank you for it. I too live in an area that was being frequented by people most would call undesirable. I feared for the health and safety of my friends and family which I staunchly defend. It also exposed a lot of baseless fears that I held.
      Questions remain, where should homeless people stay? Where should they go to the restroom if “Toilets are for customers only”? We are lucky to be where we are at. Is it at the expense of others in society? In your example, if there wasn’t noise, garbage, stabbings, meth dealings, stalkings, etc, would you still be ok with the mass of people living there? I’m guessing that the answer is no, but more of us need to ask why that’s out instinctive response.
      Thanks again for posting.

      • Beth Grant DeRoos

        Common sense would suggest like with zoning for apartments that the homeless areas should have a set limit of tents per lot, and the city/county should have camp ground like shower toilet areas and even a homeless leader who I paid to be a caretaker who oversees keeping the lot and bathrooms clean.

    • c_woof

      So the feeling was, “Boy those people have it hard.”

      Then more showed up. “Boy those people have it hard, too, and problems.”
      Then even more showed up. “Boy, now we’ve got problems. Well, that’s easy for us — we’ll just call the police and throw out the trash. Problem solved.”

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