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This is Real, That's Not (streetlifesolutions.blogspot.com)
356 points by DoreenMichele 3 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 340 comments

What a great read. This resonates with me. At one point in my life I was desperately close to homelessness. At the time I was lucky to still be enrolled at a university and could therefore easily take out as many loans as I needed. It was a horribly risky gamble I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but without going into more details of my life story I barely managed to graduate and find a successful career. I was able to pay off all that debt (nearly 150k) in 4 years. I recognize soberly that my story is the exception and far from the rule. I had a lot of luck. But from that experience I can say nobody should have to experience this. Especially not in the most wealthy nation in the history of the world.

- edit: I just want to add the experience nearly broke me, to the point friends and family barely recognized me and the looks I remember in their faces still haunt me. That transition after graduating and starting to make money to being a person who could interact with others who never got so close to total disaster was just as hard.

Please be kind. You just don’t know what someone has been through.

May I ask for how long you took that loan? I’m from Germany and a lot of people live here from around $15 000 per year. 150 thousand seems like such a big amount, but I guess life is also more expensive in the US. I just want to understand, because I come from a different perspective.

Unlike in Europe, in the US going to university or college requires huge amounts of money and usually require students to take loans. And unlike other types of loans it is nearly impossible to declare bankruptcy for student loans. There is a great summarising it: https://youtu.be/pVKEsiNMPNc

Yeah, this was the most messed up part of the whole article:

> I got back into housing a few weeks after I made my last student loan payment.

I graduated undergrad with $4k in student loans. The fact that there are people becoming homeless due to student loan debt is insane.

In a different post[1], the author writes: > As my finances tanked due to a combination of divorce and medical crisis

[1] https://streetlifesolutions.blogspot.com/2020/07/independent...

That makes it sound like [divorce + medical crisis] would maybe have "reset" their finances, but not kept them in on the street for so long if it hadn't been for the student loan which couldn't be discharged through bankruptcy.

while not the norm, there are places in Europe where student loans are relatively common, e.g. Norway[0] and Sweden[1].

Just mentioning because I was very surprised when I discovered it, and it offers an interesting alternative on how student loans could work.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Student_loans_in_Norway

[1] https://www.collegefinancinggroup.com/student-loan-repayment...

There are student loans in virtually every country, including Europe, and I'd say they're quite commonly used. The difference is whether they're required to pay for tuition or not. For example, in Norway public universities (which are most, including the best ones) are tuition-free.

In countries like the Netherlands, there is tuition, but heavily subsidised. Fees are about 2k per year, and low (and partially to middle-income) households get a government stipend that is more than double that fee per year.

In short, people in these countries have to pay living expenses, tuition is pretty much covered. And a lot of these countries are quite small and have people living near the university, with decent public transportation, which is often free for students as well. As such lots of students live at home instead of on-campus, moving out for lifestyle reasons as soon as they can (often taking out loans to supplement a parttime job), rather than for the logistics of having to move to a place near the university.

In the US there's a lot of subsidies, state programs, scholarships etc as well. But many people still end up paying way more, especially if they're going out of state. And there's lots of people who end up having to move city to study somewhere, which means paying for room and board are very much a requisite part of their studies.

As such the loan amounts are nowhere near as large. Second, loans tend to be government issued, the cost-of-capital essentially tracking the interest on state bonds (e.g. treasury bills in the US) with a cap of 0%. This means in the Netherlands for example interest rates for student loans have been 0% for years and will likely remain at 0% for many years. This presents a wildly different outlook for students because borrowing $30k today isn't going to turn into having to pay back $100k over the course of the loan the coming decades, but just $30k, which is depreciating due to inflation in real terms over time.

There is literally no tuition in Sweden. The loans are for rent and general cost of living. You can have literally zero means and still go to university in another city.

What's more, the interest rate is practically free and you can take 25 years to pay them off if you want. Students are not seen as desperate marks to be exploited.

There is no such thing as 'no tuition'. In Sweden's case, the public is paying the tuition

When you say literally, what do you mean? Almost or absolutely? Because I get confused, since, literally, literally doesn't mean literally with some people, literally.

Do you encounter similar confusion with ‘really’, ‘very’, and ‘truly’?

False. It's subsidized to zero for citizens, but many schools are not free for foreigners either from EU or outside of it. Same in most EU countries.

Yes, so for EU citizens, there is no/low tuition in the EU, making the statement true.

This works this way for most social programs in most countries. E.g. to can't migrate to a country and then claim unemployment benefits. That doesn't mean the statement "the country has an unemployment program" is false.

Unemployement is something different, you can't compare apples to oranges. Nobody is paying for getting unemployment, you're not eligible at worst.

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of people paying for universities in the European countries with public schools (most of paying students are of second/third-world background in a country that is acting passively aggressively to them because of their non-resident/non-citizen status [that causes issues e. g. with banking services], btw), and many of them in Sweden, that's why I feel the statement is false. Also note that I'm not judging, merely stating a fact; I don't see anything wrong with both funding approaches, and think they should be combined (like in Czechia).

And the UK. Although it's not a normal loan in that repayments are linked to income and there is a promise that it will be "forgiven" at retirement (which I'm a little skeptical of)

Not even retirement, 30 years after graduating. I do wonder how the government managed to sell so many of those loans on when I expect a small minority will ever end up getting fully repaid, given the high-ish interest and earning threshold for starting repayment.

The UK loans are actually a good deal if you really understand them, which students here inevitably don’t. It makes demanding government to pay for tuition here pretty abhorrent imho.

I know a lot of working class/blue-collar families here, and talking with them, it really becomes clear how incredibly selfish and unreasonable it is to expect their taxes to buy someone wealthier than them an education that they themselves are denied by virtue of being raised in harsher circumstances.

I'm entirely incapable of understanding how a UK SLC "loan" can be considered a loan in the conventional sense of the word when it seems to have literally no characteristics of a loan, and every characteristic of a tax:

* You only pay it when you are in employment and earning money (with a minimum salary for repayments to be taken);

* The repayments are calculated as a function of your taxable income;

* The balance isn't discharged by bankruptcy;

* The balance isn't considered by lenders when assessing your suitability to take on "real" debt.

As far as I can tell, it's a graduate tax (on those who took a loan) for all intents and purposes.

I see comments from students talking about being "crushed by debt" as a result of taking an SLC loan, and I just can't work out where this perception comes from: yes, it decreases your take-home pay, but since there's a minimum salary threshold for payments to be taken, it's never going to leave you destitute.

I think that the modern loans are a far less amicable deal than I had just a few years ago. Interest rates far higher despite an incredibly low rate environment.

But. The repayment thresholds and the loan forgiveness period do massively reduce the onerousness, especially on those in lower paid roles who would otherwise never repay. My main complaint about the system is really how it drags on the middle.

The successful graduates pay off their loans in 6-7 years, or less. If you're earning 40-50k, you'll take more like 20 years to pay off the loan which feels like a long hard slog. I still think graduate tax would have been the right call.

6-7 years on standard repayments would require a salary of around £100k straight out of uni.

On £40k you'd end up with them cancelled and likely repay less than you borrowed (45k typical borrowing, £38k repaid over 30 years).

1. The amount that you "borrowed" is a fake number, though, with no correspondence to the true cost of the course and is non-existant for e.g. Scottish students in Scotland.

2. Your salary will (is expected to) inflate; the repayment threshold currently does not, so the "time value of money" has something to say about how much you repay. Someone whose salary remains constant on the equivalent of £40k will find their repayments an increasing burden.

The repayment threshold is expected to rise with average earnings so someone on an equivalent salary of £40k would be expected to pay back less in real terms than that calculation if wages rise above inflation.

The amount you borrow is not a fake number, whether it is related to the course cost or not, just as the price of a car is not a fake number even if it was cheaper to produce. It also includes literal cash payments to you.

What £ of tax would the working class family contribute towards university education (assuming you accept this paradigm of tax and spend)? Back of envelope calculation suggests income tax collected from a median family would be £50 per year.

Meanwhile, I know plenty of working class/blue-collar families who believe that debt is an unmanageable risk that they should reject if at all possible.

Their children take that to mean that they absolutely shouldn't go to university, no matter how capable they are.

> Back of envelope calculation suggests income tax collected from a median family would be £50 per year.

Back of envelope calculation is definitely wrong.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you, I'm just saying that £50 figure is definitely not right, without doing any calculation. (OK sure - 50/0.2 = £250 taxed at basic rate above personal allowance. Which this year I think is £12k5, and median household income is surely above £12k75.)

Ah apologies, I was answering my own question: I meant marginal tax required to pay for university level education in place of current student loans system.

this, but also that:

“ What £ of tax would the working class family contribute towards university education”

Is not really fair to the issue. It’s not a cost for university education, because it’s not open to all - there are gatekeepers - and those from underprivileged backgrounds have very little chance of being accepted to the most prestigious institutions, so it’s unfair to expect them to pay for it, is essentially my point.

My point is that people from underprivileged backgrounds realistically don't pay any different amount in tax and are only further removed from access.

To repeat myself: "Their children take [accruing debt] to mean that they absolutely shouldn't go to university, no matter how capable they are."

Tax pays for plenty of things that working class people don't use; it also pays for plenty of things that working class people do use, that other people are paying for - and the latter category should include university education. Tax is an agreement that we find these things valuable to pay for, as a society. Not everything paid for in taxes has a direct benefit to everybody.

"Tax is an agreement that we find these things valuable to pay for, as a society."

But we don't agree. A lot of people are affronted that as they see it they're being asked to, in essence, fund a high quality education for wealthier people's kids that their own kids can never have access to.

Whether they're right or wrong (and I've yet to see evidence that they're wrong), that's their view. And there are a lot of them. Which is why Clegg could never sell it to the electorate back in the coalition days.

If we all took the point of view that any government spending that doesn't directly and immediately benefit us personally should be cancelled, no government spending would be likely to happen at all. It's an inherently right-wing/individualist position.

I think this is an issue of right-wing media spin, rather than beliefs that working-class families innately hold. (Also since my experience of working-class families' views is generally the opposite of your claim.)

There is a lot more egregious government spending distribution problems than this one, which get ignored. In general, government spending benefits the middle classes (and upper classes) far more than it does the working class, and that's true in other areas more than it is in education.

From https://www.tutor2u.net/economics/blog/does-uk-government-sp... e.g. "The wealthy also drive three times as many miles as the poor. This makes them big beneficiaries of spending on roads, worth £8 billion a year. Poor people make up ground elsewhere: they use buses twice as much. But bus subsidies are smaller."

-But those loans do not cover tuition (which is basically free), but your living expenses while studying, which you would have incurred anyway.

And here (Sweden, Norway) the student loan is used for living costs: rent, food, books, and nothing goes to the university.

...meaning they end up pretty small: my debt was about 250 000 SEK -- very roughly $25k -- after 5 years of university. Combined with the monthly stipend that everyone gets, I was "self-supporting"; my parents didn't have to (and wouldn't have been able to) pay any money out of pocket for my education or living expenses during that time. And now I pay around $1k total on that loan every year. I could pay it off faster, but the terms are so good that I'd rather use it to lower my mortgage, or invest it.

Thanks to this system, I got the opportunity to do what I wanted, and society gets another well-paid software engineer that can pay lots of taxes. Win-win!

(Edit: corrected debt from 300 000 SEK to 250 000 after checking)

Father of 3 here, one recently graduated and one about to start US college.

With reasonable preparation, college is very affordable. Scholarships are easily obtained with a good ACT or SAT score. Both of these are well documented, a few months of self-study practically guarantees a good score.

My experience has been that good preparation puts out of pocket costs below $10k per year. (I think that's actually on the high side.)

> Scholarships are easily obtained with a good ACT or SAT score.

For the children of people that read Hacker News, I could see that. For normal American kids? No way. Not even close.

The average american kid is not going to be able to get an SAT or ACT score good enough to get a scholarship. It's just not going to happen. You're vastly overestimating how smart and committed they are.

How much effort do you expect a kid to put into something that has no immediate benefit and no guarantee it'll ever pay off? To get to that level of delayed gratification requires a very special sort of upbringing.

You raise an excellent point. My kids (and others like them) are being raised in a 2-parent household. We encourage the kids to study, and help them where needed.

It's a form of privilege, but I don't feel guilty about it. We take part in programs that help other kids outside the family (including after-school homework help for ELS kids). IMHO, we all should become 'privilege factories', helping first our own kids and then other kids. It advances quality of life for everyone involved.

I am glad that you and your kids had the time, means, and opportunity to get some scholarships and bring down the tuition costs.

Consider however that college has historically been an important vehicle for families and kids without the same time, means, and educated family like yours to achieve social mobility.

Here in Canada, I paid $15k CAD (a lower amount in USD of course) out of pocket per year for my engineering degree without having to do...any of that preparation. Of course, I did well academically in high school, which helped me do ok in the program. But my specific family circumstances during that period of my life didn’t determine whether I was financially able to even consider the prospect of going to university.

To put it another way, I didn’t work hard in high school so that I could put university within financial reach. I worked hard so I could focus on actually preparing for the program I was going into.

Perhaps there are issues with how higher education is run in the US that make heavily subsidized college education for everyone less of a bang for your taxpayer buck. But in Canada, practically every reputable university is public and heavily subsidized, and many of my brilliant peers simply wouldn’t have been there at all if they had to have a supportive family and an excellent high school education to be able to afford the scholarships to attend.

> Scholarships are easily obtained with a good ACT or SAT score

Ha ha ha. Having gone to college and recalling some folks I met, and listening to some stories from a friend who is a high school teacher at a public school, I laughed hard at that

Family income bracket, natural talent, and pressures of high school are also factors.

How well can a person live in Germany for $15,000? A person in the US could live on that much in an apartment with multiple room mates in a city with a low cost of living, but it’s not much of a life. You would be eating Ramen noodle every night (and not the good kind).

German rents are relatively reasonable:

"The price of Monthly rent for a 45 m2 (480 Sqft) furnished studio in NORMAL area in Leipzig is €352" i.e. slightly over $5,000 per year.

[Source https://www.expatistan.com/price/studio-rent-normal-area/lei...]

Wow, that's super cheap! Here in Grand Rapids, MI, USA (generally considered a low cost of living area) an unfurnished apartment in not great parts of town is on the order of $800/mo, plus about $150/mo in utilities, depending on how cold you can tolerate in winter and how hot in summer, i.e. double the price.

Now, actual studio apartments command a premium here, and anything that small is hard to find, you'll more likely find an 80m2/800 sqft converted space in the basement of someone's house for that price. Also, housing is cheaper the farther you go from downtown, and I'm not sure how good public transit is in Leipzig, but it's pretty car-centric here. We have a bus system, but that basically means an extra hour anywhere you want to go, which is a massive pain when you're already working 2 30-hour-per-week jobs.

Not sure about Leipzig (not the OP here) but in a sort of comparable (ish, Leipzig is much larger but also in the east of Germany) place elsewhere in Germany I paid about the same like 20 years ago. I had the choice of 2 bus routes to get to university (one was a special university Express bus running between the two campus locations) and I could walk to one in about 10 minutes, the other around 20 minutes. Town of about 150000 ppl and 15000 students.

In general public transport in cities in Germany is good. You may have pockets of town where you can't get from one side to the other without going to the center first but if you're in a reasonably small city even that doesn't take you forever. And if you have to cross town you can do it easily because the transit system is not only made for rush hour traffic to the center in the morning and out in the evening. You can go either direction at all times, even on weekends. Not all jobs are downtown either (though many are). You have offices all over the place too. In Frankfurt for example I would take the train (5min walk) to central station (maybe 20 min ride) then take the "S-Bahn" out to the other end (another 10 min or so) of the center to an office building right in the middle of lots of apartment buildings (3-4 storey max).

Depends on how and where you live.

Goes fron $300-$1000 a month for a shared flat to a single flat.

I'm actually really skeptical on city affordability. I could barely do this in my home town let alone any city I can think of.

You're saying they make $15k a year after or before taxes? Or that is their yearly expenses?

> Especially not in the most wealthy nation in the history of the world.

Everyone keeps repeating this, but it's not true. Switzerland beats America by mean net worth. And look at median... whoa 22.

By government deficit (and likely household, corporate, etc), I bet we're #1 in all categories. The truth is, America is great at spending money. That doesn't make it wealthy, quite the opposite.




re: be kind.

Sorry, I don't mean to be mean or pick on you personally. That experience must have been terrible. Normally I'd let the data speak for itself, but I will reveal my reason for posting it is because I don't think we give a fair shake to people like yourself.

Wealthiest nation could easily be true depending on your chosen measure. The US is number one in total wealth. Almost double the next wealthiest.


When people say "most wealthy nation" they mean GDP, not per-capita. America's wide discrepancy between those two is usually the point.

But GDP is most certainly not a measure of wealth, and not doing it per capita makes no sense.



Edit: GDP is more like income than wealth, and not per-capita makes no sense because the expense of welfare programs would be on a per-person basis.

I think the rationale for ignoring per-capita is that you're talking about the wealth of a "single entity", the US. And, well, yeah... ok, I guess (ignoring the fact that, as you point out, GDP is more like income than money in the bank).

I agree that looking at it that way is meaningless for the purposes of figuring out whose populace is the financially healthiest, but... that's what people do, for some reason.

All I'm saying is that's what people mean colloquially.

That's genuinely understandable. My worry is that it was true back in the days of the boomers, and it has been so ingrained in us that we didn't even notice it shifting, and now lack of awareness of this fact causes a kind of cognitive dissonance preventing us from fixing these issues, not least of which the OP.

We've squandered our wealth for ever-increasing cash flow, and by the time we're done I'm worried that the country will be a empty hulk.

That's nonsense, by that token India is far richer than Switzerland. That's simply not how 'wealthiest nation' is used in the colloquial sense.

For your meaning other terms would be used, e.g. saying India has a larger economy than Switzerland, or a larger market.

Under the medically justified urgency of covid, Victoria took a significant number of homeless rough sleeping people (as they are called here in australia) into some kind of housing. Queensland did the same using surplus student purpose built dense housing.

I'm not going to pretend this "solved the problems" but I am told a number of the less intractable cases got put into a better situation,simply having secure shelter helped get them off drug dependency, or back into medication for treatable problems, or away from self harm situations.

Now covid is closing out, the "experiment" is partially unwinding again and this makes me very sad. People will be put back into considerably less suitable housing. People will return to a life led off the rails.

Sure, some want something rough sleeping provides (I really suspect few do but let's not pretend everyone can handle housing up front) and some will continue to be drug affected and crazy will break out.

But for nine months we reduced homelessness and structural health problems to single digit or less and it almost certainly saved money.

That's the truly amazing thing: the net budget effect on federal and state funded interventions was probably better, and they STILL unwound the programmes.

Collective failure of imagination.

Homelessness exists because we let it.

> That's the truly amazing thing: the net budget effect on federal and state funded interventions was probably better, and they STILL unwound the programmes.

> Collective failure of imagination.

> Homelessness exists because we let it.

You're listening to the words and not understanding the actual motivation. Budgets are a convenient objection but not actually important. Like you observe there are people who would gladly spend more money to make the problem worse.

What you unfortunately need to realize is that there are far too many people who need to know that there are others suffering "because they deserve it".

You will never understand the debate around homelessness[0] as long as you assume everyone agrees it should be solved or that people just haven't discovered the right way to allocate resources.

[0]: You can swap out homelessness with a few other political hotbutton issues as well. I'll leave those to your imagination.

Citation needed that there is a significant cohort of people who effectively believe that homelessness is some sort of divine wrath that shouldn't be interfered with.

Do you doubt that plenty of people think that threat of homelessness is necessary motivation for people to work?

Those people also think that some people being homeless is acceptable trade off given the motivational value of the threat and cost of paying for everyone's accommodation.

Yes, I do doubt that.

Have you never heard the argument that all handouts make people lazy?

It's an opinion of significant percentage of american voters.

Homelessness exists because the landlords and business people prefer it. Homelessness is a demonstrated threat of what not paying the rent and having a job will do to you. If you remove that dire threat, the housing market and job market becomes far more competitive for the workers and the owner class is disadvantaged.

In the US, we have many more vacant houses than we have homeless people. The market system is incapable of solving this very simple problem.

That's an interesting theory. I think there are competing interests, though. Landlords and businesses generally won't want homeless people in their areas, though, because their presence alone will decrease property values and rent (landlords), and drive away customers (businesses). But for what you suggest to work, homeless people need to be visible.

Do you have any data on this? This doesn't really pass the smell test for me, even though it potentially sounds like a satisfying explanation of part of the problem.

I don't think GP was saying that landlords keep hoards of miserable homeless people just outside the property, in order to scare tenants into paying their rent. People are plenty aware of economic reality.

They certainly collaborate to keep rent high, its known that property developers in the US don't rent out property in manhattan to keep prices high. Why would they want to solve homelessness? They're motivated by profit in their role at the institution.

This is just nonsense.

Right now, homeless people are not customers, meaning they are not making money off of those people, when they could be if those people were actually renters.

The argument is that would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. It also isn't penny-wise: homeless people don't have cash.

It is absolutely not clear that this would be pound-foolish, and homeless people do have cash if you get them off the streets and back as productive members of society.

Well, yea in a larger sense they would but they don't have cash so you can't rent to them for any significant sums. This is why socialists critique the market system as irrational.

> But for what you suggest to work, homeless people need to be visible.

Not necessarily physically visible. Just mentally visible.

Private property getting in the way again?

I want to believe this is hyperbolic.

Do you really believe business owners, and landlords are sitting in some smokey room plotting to keep people homeless so people will pay their rent?

Really, that is your honest held belief of the situation?

Are you saying that there are not smokey rooms in all countries where they are plotting how to cut public services?

What I am saying is landlords do not believe people are paying (or not paying) rent because of homelessness, nor do landlords believe that if homelessness was solves completely that would mean people would stop paying rent...

That is a ridiculous and moronic position. People can have good faith disagreements on how to solve social problems, and if you believe government is not the right avenue for that solution it does not mean you want or desire people to be homeless.

That is a similar, but distinctly different topic.

Indeed, there are always people who are looking to cut public services, but the discussion was about the motive for doing that.

Yeah, but we are not talking about people in general, we are talking about board rooms in think tanks and cameras of commerce. What is the motive there?

That's just your perception of what "we're" talking about. Think about it as you would when debugging software: how might you (an instance of a class in a complex system) know what other people (instances of classes within the system) are "talking about" (where talking derives from thinking/computation that takes place within those object instances)? Are you obtaining this knowledge via the calling of public interfaces? If not, then what is the True source of this knowledge?

Ironically (or not), the title of this overall thread is "This is Real, That's Not". The content of the discussions is a fine reflection of the very phenomenon that Doreen is talking about, and I suspect a plausible demonstration of why humanity can't sort its shit out, decade after decade: an inability (or unwillingness) to acknowledge the self-delusional nature of the human mind.

> What is the motive there?

The motives are complex, and unknown (the necessary callable public interfaces to obtain such knowledge do not exist - and yet, observe the number of people in this thread who perceive that they have knowledge of the contents of other people's minds. Is this not an extremely interesting phenomenon? Might this phenomenon have consequences in a complex system, especially if it exists but is completely unrealized?

I suspect that a specific, conscious motivation to bring about the specific end state that we are experiencing (inequality, homelessness, human suffering in general) also does not actually exist. Rather, I reckon the mess we are living in is more like some sort of a cosmic demonstration of the law unintended consequences, due to an unwillingness to acknowledge the complexities inherent in reality. A religious person may consider this punishment from God for disobedience. A comedian (or a schizophrenic) may consider it to be comedy at its finest. Each individual perceives reality through a custom lens, and comes to vastly different conclusions.

I could be wrong of course, but it's a fun way to look at it. Part of the fun is observing how people react to crazy ideas like this, that may actually have a fair amount of validity to them (how might we know, for sure, if they do, or do not?).

I do agree that it's ironic that a subthread on a post called "This is Real, That's Not" has devolved into conspiracy theories about secret cabals of businesspeople in smoky rooms scheming to cut public services in order to keep people on the streets so that the people not on the streets will be scared into continuing to pay their rent and mortgages.

I don't doubt that there are some people who want this, but the idea that there's a giant, organized, shadowy group out there... that's something out of a very bad spy movie.

And yet, The System seems to reliably produce this outcome in the USA to a much larger degree than elsewhere.

The full spectrum of causation is often (strongly) asserted to be very specific things, but rarely does one encounter any person or organization asserting that the problem is complex and not fully understood. It does not seem unreasonable at all to me that some wrongdoing may indeed be happening here and there.

That said, the highly inconsistent (other than confidence levels of assertions) approach to conspiracy theories is indeed wonderfully ironic.

Today is a good example of this...one one hand we have a thread about the abstract notion of CIA deception:


When discussing this sort of topic abstractly, it seems the HN hivememind has no problem whatsoever conceptualizing it.

However, if one changes the topic to a specific, object level news event (Jimmy Wales & Wikipedia), the ability (to conceptualize deceit) seems to vanish, as ~always:


I think your sentiment is in the right direction but I don’t think it’s as explicit as you’re proposing.

Landlords don’t “prefer” homelessness to exist. Their position, as capitalists, ends with their interests.

Many (not all!) landlord are quite simple: “Pay rent or I will evict you and find someone else”. That’s it.

After an eviction, they don’t care whether the person moves elsewhere or is homeless. In fact I’d argue that most people are probably on the gooder side of good and would prefer their former tenant move elsewhere and live a nice comfortable life and someone else can deal with their poorness.

What they do absolutely want is the ability to enforce that eviction. That’s key. But I doubt they care so much about the looming threat of homelessness.

If someone would end homelessness by providing homes to all of the homeless free of charge and then some more empty ones then landlords would mind very much because this oversupply would make their prices drop. They would accuse homelessness solver of dumping prices.

Landlords "prefer" homelessness exist because that the surplus demand over the supply that they provide.

That already happens. Section 8 is profitable for the right landlords...

Yes, rents going down is not what a landlord wants. Just like salary going down (all things being equal). But it's not as if all landlords are conspiring to keep people homeless to increase their rents.

Yes they would accuse/blame the homelessness solver of decreasing their rents and they would be correct. I'm not a landlord and I would 'blame' or point out the same thing. That doesn't mean that I think it's wrong while at the same time correctly identifying it as the cause...

We have it over and over and over again that housing first is the approach that works. Yet it is very hard for society to stomach the idea of giving someone a handout "no matter what they have done or will do".

I don't know why but this seems to be the primary psychic barrier to doing this thing we know works and which can in some cases even be cheaper than services first aid.

You can't give free housing to the unfortunate and at the same time increase rent on the workers. Workers need to see homeless people every day so they can feel better off and scared to end up like them.

Everything else is bad for real estate investors.

The motivations of moneyed interests are obvious. But the contempt the working and middle classes have for the poor is something I'll never understand.

I've often been obliged to pay for something I've seen others acquire freely and I say good for them. I wouldn't exchange places with them for a moment. It seems the pettiest of all things to begrudge someone whose life is a disater, even in the rare cases when it is of their own making.

Perhaps those who object have more to lose or have worked harder. Everyone has had different challenges that shape their perspective. We can never assume to understand another person’s motivation or understanding.

We can't, but we can certainly judge that perspective to be counter-productive.

I'm concerned about outcomes. Let's stop for a minute and assume that I'm an unfeeling, non-empathetic person who doesn't care about anyone but himself. Even then, I would advocate to allocate more money to homeless services, regardless of how that money is used, because doing so would benefit me: I don't want to see human feces on the sidewalk, or used syringes, or disease-carrying rats running around near tent encampments, or mentally-ill people screaming at me as I walk by.

People who adopt the attitude that we shouldn't give people a generous safety net because they haven't done anything to "deserve" a handout are quite simply cutting off their noses to spite their faces. They're making their lives actively worse just to "teach a lesson" to those "undeserving" homeless people.

ETA: when I say ‘you’, it’s not personal. Sometimes I type as stream of consciousness and it’s more a figure of speech. I am trying to fix this habit while commenting. This seemed to be a good time to clarify. Not sure I want to edit the entire comment and sentence structure.

If you want clean streets, ban vagrancy and street living.

You can’t save everyone. Savior complex is self serving. At some point, you have to cut damaging/damaged people lose.

The sanctimonious savior complex is frankly nauseating ..especially when it achieves nothing but create noise that is pleasing only to the one practicing the virtue-signaling sounds.

I attended al-anon meetings for three months to support a friend and continued going to them because I found it helpful to understand the effect addiction(of all kinds) has on the normal people around them. We have to be kind. Yes. But we are not our ‘brothers’ keepers’, as it were.. we need social boundaries when it comes to taking over the burden of those over whom/whose actions we have no control.

> They're making their lives actively worse just to "teach a lesson" to those "undeserving" homeless people.

The last US election showed us that there are a LOT of these kind of people.

Most of them call themselves religious, too.

What does the election has anything to do with this? We have only spent more on homelessness since the last election?

"...socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."

(paraphrasing Steinbeck)


Then maybe the city should allocate enough money toward giving people a place to poop and discard their needles (or, better yet, money toward drug rehab programs).

But they don't, because that's not what the voters want, apparently. They'd rather see the city drown in a sewer than give money to people who don't "deserve it".

What alternative do they have?

If we don't provide adequate public loos, or addiction treatment, or injection rooms, or mental health care, we should expect to experience the problems that are caused.

I don't understand why it's so frowned upon in cities like LA to arrest someone for disposing used needles on the ground, and sending them to jail. I'm not going to pretend that it's doing the homeless any favors. However, the alternative of letting them poison themselves with drugs, and I don't see how that's any more humane.

I think the real reason America fails the homeless is not a lack of empathy, but a "it's your fault because you touched it last" mentality. Housing first requires people who work with social workers. These people already draw a lot of ire when they fail or deemed as too harsh.

I don’t understand why Americans are so eager to punish and jail people given that it objectively doesn’t fix the problems people think it will fix. My conclusion (having lived, worked and paid taxes in many countries, including the US) is that there is an undercurrent of cruelty in US culture less prevalent in (say) Australia or the UK for example. It is the only explanation I have been able to come up with that matches my experiences having lived, worked and paid taxes in Europe, US and Australia.

I'm not "eager to punish people." Even for a junkie, it's not that hard for them to find a public restroom to shoot up and dispose their needles (at least pre-covid). They will almost certainly choose that if it means they won't get sent to jail. Right now, in LA and SF, certain areas are littered with needles and feces. I'm not blaming the homeless. I'm blaming the woke tech liberals who get offended no matter what how the police interact with the homeless. I seriously doubt that that anyone is allowed to casually shoot up in highly trafficked streets in Sydney or Berlin.

It apparently cost between $30k and $60k to house a single prisoner in the US. So you have a choice: you can spend those $30k to $60k putting a homeless person in prison (not solving the problem), or spend the same money fixing the actual problem (treating it for what it is: a mental/health issue) or perhaps spend the money cleaning up the streets and provide places for people to use drugs safely. America so far has always chosen the least effective, most cruel way to pretend to solve the problem.

Why would you spend thousands of dollars putting people in prison rather than just spending that cash on providing them treatment?

Addicts, by definition, take drugs. They continue to take drugs when they know it harms them. Why do you think the potential risk of going to prison for a few days will have a deterrent effect when the very real health consequences they're currently going through isn't a deterrent?

Of course treatment is better, but privileged Californians see the state "coercing" an addict to go to rehab as evil as well. That's why the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on homelessness rarely goes to the people who need it most.

Genuinely asking, how much more does California spends on homelessness per capita than the average state? What services are offered that aren't offered elsewhere? If these services aren't reaching people where is the money going instead?

The majority of the homelessness budget goes towards subsidized housing and small, but still significant fraction is spent on temporary shelters. According to this source, only 7% of SF's budget is spent on street outreach, which is what most people think about.


> I'm not going to pretend that it's doing the homeless any favors.

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are simply ignorant of what jail or prison does to a person. Because I cannot see otherwise how you can possibly believe your right to a clean sidewalk should be enforced at the expense of another person's rights and freedom.

It is expensive jailing people. And it just makes the problem worse. Countries around the world (Portugal for example) show how to actually solve the problem. What seems to stop other countries adapting good solutions is a desire by the population to punish and hurt people they don’t like (the homeless).

To be clear, I'm not blaming the homeless or anything. My point is that the middle and working class hang out on the streets because they can't afford to spend their weekends in Monterey. Now they don't even have the streets. Blaming them for not having empathy is insensitive.

Who's spending their weekends in Monterey? I never said there wasn't any reason for conflict. I can see how feces and needles in the street might engender momentary disgust. But a brief comparative examination of one's lot in life should be enough to turn that disgust toward pity and gratitude rather than contempt.

But the persistent pattern has been to use prisons and jails for the homeless until there is an outcry. Then there is a cessation of incarceration and a turning into the streets. This is followed by conflict from homeless and homes cohabitating. Once frustration builds to a fever we return to authoritarian treatment of the homeless.

All the while it remains unacceptable to try any other remedy because they might engender moral hazard or encourage immoral behavior.

Our society is like the man who repeatedly trips over his shoe laces because he cannot learn to tie his shoes but who refuses velcro on the principle that he ought to be able to learn to tie them.

Weekends in Monterey was hyperbole. My point is that younger professionals (which I assume is most of the audience of HN) have more options for leisure than most. They can relax in their luxury apartment, work out at Equinox, socialize in the office break rooms, take a day trip, etc. It's not a big deal if you need to watch the ground for poop occasionally.

If you're a cook who wants to take a break from your 6 flatmates by taking a walk outside, a clean sidewalk is a much bigger deal. When you hear liberals are spending more money every year on the homeless and you see more needles on ground. Of course, you're going to harbor some resentment towards the homeless, even if you rationally know it's not their fault. It's not that they're simply ignorant or lack empathy.

You raise a good point about the cycle of homelessness policy though.

>>But the contempt the working and middle classes have for the poor is something I'll never understand.

Really? Should be fairly easy to understand, for a Middle Class Family that is living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to save for retirement, the kids collage fund, maybe help pay for a aging parent, save for home repair, and provide daily expenses seeing a good chunk of their earnings being stolen errr "taxed" away from them, money that they could use to provide for their own needs is a large part of it.

Taxation is only theft in the US, in the rest of the world you get something for it (health care, free education).

Taxation is always theft... If I steal your TV but clean your house, mow your yard, and perform other services "worth" same as your TV, I have still stolen your TV even though you got something for it.

Here in California, we have huge budgets to tackle the homeless problems, which are paid for from taxes. Yet the homeless situation has not changed anywhere here that I can see. Where is that tax money going to?

Most of the money is going to places that aren't immediately visible: it's paying to keep people with marginal financial situations in their homes (and paying to keep newly re-housed people housed). Without that help, there would be many more people living on the streets than there are now. The stuff that you do notice, like hiring people to do street outreach and try to help homeless people directly, is a small part of the homelessness budget.

That doesn't mean it's going super great. There are still a lot of people on the streets, obviously, and depending on where you look, either it's getting worse, or at best it's like they're treading water.

But it turns out combating homeless is just expensive, even though arguably it can be cheaper than just doing nothing (taxpayers end up paying for those 911 calls and unpaid emergency room visits after all), but there are a lot of people who have an aversion to "just giving away money to people who don't deserve it". They'd rather pay to clean up after a homeless person, year after year, than pay to make that person not homeless, even if the latter would cost less. So funding is hard to fight for, and funding levels are never enough to fix things.

San Francisco's allocation for this is a single-digit percentage of the city budget (your assertion that their budget is "huge" is incorrect; here it's a few hundred million on a $5B budget), and yet it is one of the biggest, most obviously visible problems the city is facing. Sure, simply throwing more money at a problem doesn't make it go away, but insufficient funding -- as is currently the case -- is going to ensure the problem remains.

Housing first doesn’t mean free housing for life.

I believe the primary psychic barrier is that when people propose a solution, they perceive that they are working from a perfectly accurate, comprehensive model of reality, when what they are really working from is a perspective upon a very simplified, personal model of reality.

And what is overlooked/unrealized is not just the missing data (that which exists, but is not perceived by the individual), but also all the "forces" at play, like complex causation, individual preferences (many of which are highly illogical), behind the scenes string-pulling, randomness/chaos, and so forth and so on.

If we could somehow find a way to get even a few people to realize (and honestly acknowledge) that we all live within a complex, interconnected and interactive system, full of uncertainty and illusion, could we perhaps start to come up with some solutions that take this complexity into consideration (and therefore are more resistant to being derailed by simple rhetoric and propaganda)?

The problem with Housing First, like with any Welfare program, it abuse. Housing First programs are ripe for abuse and are abused.

While yes it is cheaper in some ways, the problem is people will be less likely to be creative or lean on personal support networks (i.e couch surfing, live with family, etc) if the government through the taxpayer will just hand you a key to an apartment no questions asked....

There were a couple of times we were technically homeless as a child, I slept many nights on the floor of my grandparents home, or an uncle, etc. so I am not unsympathetic to being in this condition. However I also do not believe government handouts are a solution to the problem

I believe in Handups, but not handouts.

I hate to call it abuse, but I do wonder how one avoids rewarding bad behaviour.

There are a lot of poor people who work very hard to provide for their family. I don't know what should we do for them.

Teach them financial literacy. Upskill them. And encourage girls/women to practice safe sex. Large families without stable jobs/income end up living in the fringes of poverty and will eventually fall without a safety net. Time and again, low rates of literacy and teenage pregnancies and poor household income are correlated.

You seem to think that we shouldn’t do X because it is ripe for abuse and are abused. So we shouldn’t do politics then because it is ripe for abuse and are abused (corruption)? And we shouldn’t have CEO’s then because being a CEO is ripe for abuse and are abused? We shouldn’t have corporations in general for the same reason? Or is it only things you don’t like that we shouldn’t do for those reasons?

Abuse? How? And how do you know this? Where is the history of the entire world has this been attempted?

I'm tired of hearing how people think it will go. Pre-critics and naysayers. I want action, drastic action that has never been done before to solve problems that have never been solved before. Offer a solution or go back to work.

It has been solved though. Most post industrial countries have solved or minimized it with generous safety nets.

> But for nine months we reduced homelessness and structural health problems to single digit or less and it almost certainly saved money.

> That's the truly amazing thing: the net budget effect on federal and state funded interventions was probably better, and they STILL unwound the programmes.

According to the treasurer of Victoria, they allocated $150 million budget to provide this accommodation for 2000 people. That comes out to $75,000 per person. According to the University of Queensland, taking a homeless person off the street saves about $13,000 in additional medical and policing costs. So the covid measures certainly didn't save money. Normal state provided housing comes a lot closer to the $13,000 mark if you take a look at how much those programs costs, but they tend to be at 100% capacity all of the time. It's also worth noting that while Victoria reports providing 2000 homeless people with housing during the pandemic, the state is reported to have somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 homeless.

There are definitely not 20k+ Victorians out on the streets every night. That figure almost certainly includes the vast majority of homeless people who are sleeping on mates' couches etc.

Thing is, if you make a reasonable service available, "the vast majority of homeless people who are sleeping on mates' couches" will be competing for the same spots with those who actually are sleeping on the streets otherwise.

If some sort of safety net is available, then some people who'd otherwise find some solution to pay rent - whether it's going over their heads in payday loans or getting into petty crime or resorting to prostitution or some other way - some of them will choose to actually use that safety net instead. So the demand for that safety net if it's available should be expected to be larger than the number of people who "fell through" in the absence of it.

Sure, but those people who sleep on friends couches, or in homeless shelters, or in boarding houses occasionally are all people who sleep rough sometimes. Gathering statistics on this is not the easiest thing to do, but I’ve read more than once that about two thirds of Australia’s homeless sleep rough regularly. So while there might not be 25,000 people sleeping on the streets of Victoria on any given night, a good portion of that number will find themselves doing it often enough.

Meaning if you want to keep those people from sleeping out in public places, then you really do need to provide all of them with housing, and also that you certainly can’t provide only 2000 of them with temporary housing and then claim that you’ve solved homelessness (even only temporarily).

That's a forward commitment for 18 months of secure housing and 24 months of complete support for mental and physical health and welfare. Its not the amount spent to take 2,000 people off the streets right now.

You're correct, if you look at the line items in the budget the cost to get 2000 people off the street right now is actually $42,250 per person per year. Still far from $13k. Also depending on what document you look at it's either 2000 people or 1700 people so it's somewhere between $42,250 and $49,705.

The easiest way to solve homelessness is to build a home. The legal minimum is 72 sq.ft per person. Dorms and shared kitchens and bathrooms can also be a solution.

There should be no room for thought processes that pretend that we can solve homelessness by any other means than just give people a home.

Just build high density villages with basic facilities so a place exists for people to take stock before figuring out their lives. Maybe they can be there till they finish education. Maybe till they recuperate from illness or use it as rehab. Or live there till they get a better job. Short lease, minimal rent. A breathing space.

In San Francisco I believe we've been housing some homeless people in hotels (which have been otherwise empty due to COVID). From what I understand, the funding for that is drying up very soon, which is really unfortunate. Supposedly the plan is to get people into more permanent housing, but I can't see how that's going to happen on such a short time scale, so I expect that sadly many of the people in hotels now will end up back on the street.

Since you mention that some people in your area have managed to get themselves into a better situation just because they'd been housed for a bit, I wonder if that's true for any number of people here. But I'm also afraid that any gains will be quickly erased with our new lockdown that's going into effect Sunday night (which essentially winds us back to March with most businesses closed0, which could take away any newly-found jobs.

The US doesn't have universal healthcare either, which is another massive barrier to getting out of homelessness. It's like an ideal lubricant to slide people into destitute existence, and like a honeypot plant, climbing back out requires navigating barbs and thorns.

Well because rich people let it.

That's an important distinction.

The working class is in no position to take care of homeless ppl.

I like the observations you make, and I think you are correct in them.

I object to this though:

"Collective failure of imagination"

There is so much wrong with that statement, I barely know where to start.

Government is a collection of individuals. Individuals do have imagination. But in this case, no imagination is even required - as you point out there is the previous 9 months of data.

What we find is no interest in improving the situation of those in the worst position. Have you considered the possibility, that it is government that creates these situations in the first place?

More broadly, I object to the commonly held idea that government is there to help us at all, despite that being what we are taught in its schools. It is there to rule us.

You can confirm this if you can break down the word 'government'. 'Govern' (has root as kyberenetes) means rule with authority. '-ment' means relating to minds, like 'mental'. The word literally means 'rule minds'.

Yeah, probably not. You might as well say that "carpet" means "a domestic animal that inhabits your automobile", because "car"+"pet".

Generally speaking, you can't get at the meaning of a word by decomposing it into its etymological roots, even if you're lucky or educated enough to pick the correct roots.

For a nice (heh) example of why, look up the etymology of the word "nice", for example, here:


I hope my comment doesn't sound tone-deaf or ignorant but this is something I have thought about for a while.

As I was watching @lisper's movie "grace of god"[1] and heard the phrase "convince myself that it could never happen to me" (becoming homeless), I started thinking, is this a more American-centric problem?

What I mean by that is, can the lack of a social safety net in the US cause a much higher rate of homelessness than in other countries? Or at least, it seems the experience of homelessness in the US is worse than in other countries.

I wonder how much culture also plays a part in that. In Romania for example, the idea of becoming homeless in the same way as in the US seems so remote and unlikely that most people don't ever think about it and I'm sure you would have a hard time finding people who ever think they would get into that situation. Is the government just doing a great job at hiding these people or exporting them? Is the culture of having a close family saving people from ever hitting rock bottom?

I have a lot of questions with few answers and I'm curious if anyone has any thoughts on the culture/US-centric view on this type of homeless.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25312081

This is exactly my thought while I was reading the text. I live in Brazil and while we certainly have homeless and poverty here, this specific situation of someone with skill and education becoming homeless is something ultra rare, to te point that I never saw, hears or read of anyone in this situation. Even very modest people earning little money are able to get a roof over their heads. The usual case of homelessness here is caused by addiction and mental problems. In contrast I've seen lots of stories in the US about capable, healthy and sane people living in the streets for some time and most of the time the justification is indebtness (in this text the writer mentions his study loans). Is the average american more in debt than the citizens in the rest of the world? If so, isn't this situation a economic risk for the US? As something like COVID crisis could easily throw people.withouy any savings to the streets in a heartbeat?

> healthy and sane people living in the streets for some time and most of the time the justification is indebtness

There is a strong selection bias here: homeless people who are addicts or suffer from mental health issues are significantly less likely to be on a computer writing interesting articles of their experience.

I volunteered at a soup kitchen in SF a number of years ago. At the orientation meeting, the director said nearly all homeless fit into one of these categories:

1. Mentally ill

2. Addicted to drugs

3. Veterans (Gulf War, Vietnam)

4. Down-on-their-luck families (debt, sudden medical bills, lost job, eviction, etc.)

He said #4 category was the smallest, and these families typically got out of the situation within a year or two at most. A 'Pursuit of Happyness' type situation.

The other problems are much less tractable. The distribution of time spent on the streets was strongly bimodal: people were either on the streets for <2 years, or for decades.

  >There is a strong selection bias here: homeless people who are addicts or suffer from mental health issues are  significantly less likely to be on a computer writing interesting articles of their experience.
Good point. But shouldn't we see those kinds of articles in other countries as well? Maybe #4 (down-on-their-luck) might be proportionally smaller in the US but bigger in comparison to the same group in other countries?

One interesting thing also is #3, why are veterans homeless? PTSD?

Homelessness in my area seems to correspond to physical disabilities as often as mental ones sadly.

One thing I notice about developing countries that is basically non-existent in the US is tenement housing. In a lot of counties you can get a tiny “apartment” where it’s enough to sleep out of the rain and lock up your possessions. The “minimum housing” is actually not that expensive.

These places are long gone in the US, because of fire code reasons, local regulations, etc. The minimum housing in many areas that have the hardest hit homeless populations is probably closer to $1500 a month.

What’s more cruel, having people live in tenement housing our having none available at all?

I also live in Brazil. Here the government builds entire neighborhoods of 10.000 to 30.000 houses (basic building, with two bedrooms, living room, bathroom and kitchen) and sells those houses for very cheap installments, sometimes even as low as 50 USD/month. There are some conditions to be met before buying such houses, but usually even people working in the worst types of jobs (say, bagging groceries or sweeping the streets) can meet them. These sorts of programs used to be more popular in the past (when we had a more left-leaning government), but just today I passed by 15.000 houses being built on a city of half a million inhabitants.

The problem with student loans is that they are rooted in "need-based" formulas which define how much a student should pay in terms of their parents' wealth. And for upper-class students the gap between what their parents are willing to pay and what the formula says they can pay often is substantial and is made up with loans. This ends up being something resembling a real hardship for upper-middle-class families, since tuition for two kids can easily be 50% of your household income. If someone is paying off a mortgage on a house, it's easy to imagine their only option to pay the tuition without loans is to downsize the house, which is a huge investment of time and money on top of getting a child ready for college.

> Is the average american more in debt than the citizens in the rest of the world?

Sorta. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_household...

However, I don't know how good of an indicator debt is for one's circumstances, or for the consequences of indebtedness. I suspect not very.

That's exactly right. The existence of homelessness is a policy decision, not a law of nature. We have enough space to house everyone, and we have enough money to run social programs to help people with addictions or mental illnesses.

But our cult of individualism says that your successes belong to your boss, and your failures are your own damn fault. So you can die in the gutter and you'll deserve it.

I understand now that ‘social safety net’ means welfare programs. When I came to this country many years ago, I had a completely diff understanding of what ’social safety net’ meant... to me..how I understood it by my lived experience..it was the social/security net family/friends hold so that if you were unfortunate enough to fall, someone will catch you.

Maybe it’s different in India now. But my generation remembers ‘family’(and I use the term loosely) walking in and leaving through a revolving door for a break from the condition what most people in America call ‘unhoused’.

You feed the guests, house them, pull connections..find a job, heal them, fight for them..whatever until they can leave. If someone can’t manage it, they’d at least duct tape them and drop them off with the next relative with more resources. Keep in mind..’resources’ doesn’t necessarily mean money..it could be pulling a favour or even just giving sane advice.

It boggles my mind that anyone could go hungry in the USA..one of the richest countries in the world. Having said that, a bag of rice, lentils and throwing in some vegetables is cheap. And it is easy to keep people well fed and housed so they can function, recover and revive. The social contract also insists upon reciprocal favors when the time is right. The entire society works on ‘you scratch my back, I will scratch yours’. Together..everyone survives.

Anytime someone has to leave their home town to travel for work or study or vacation or a break from the rat race, the social net will be activated and word will go from one end of the country to another. Also multi generational families were the norm and that’s how wealth..even middle class wealth..accrued.

I knew a girl whose family was from mainland China or Hk ..or maybe Taiwan whose extended family had a restaurant. Everyone worked at the restaurant and she was also working at HSBC. We found out from her that she handed over every paycheck to the family’s head. And he gave her back a monthly stipend. She worked weekends at the restaurant without pay. When she finally decided to marry her boyfriend, the family gifted her a house. Fully paid off. And now she had a family unit of her own and an asset that was hers and hers alone.

Now...everyone who wasn’t a first generation immigrant was shocked by this system. I could grok it. That’s what I think of as a social net. It could be known as ‘co dependent’ in the west, but most people from Asia get it. Because there is no govt ‘welfare social net’ or Medicare or whatever. It took me a while to understand what ‘social safety net’ meant in the United states.

In America, everything is translated in the language of money and what someone else owes to every individual. It’s different. Entirely different world. Clearly.

First and second industrial revolutions made people rush to the cities and created a world where people are « factory workers », with fewer bounds to their origin land and to their family. In parallel, traditional values were criticized by modernity to the point of dismantling them.

What we have now in the Western world is not families, it is millions of single independent autonomous actors. They have close friends, but loose families. They have teenage crisis where they try to gain independence from their family. They have work relationships. When they fall, they can’t come back home, they have no place called home. They may say « I’m from Minnesota » but their grandfather was from Belgium. Even in France or Germany, people are unrooted, and a good 15% of them are total migrants, as in, people who fled/left their home country, often in a state of war. Some would raise the flag of a Muslim country and fly there every year. And yet, they are more French than foreign.

This may be a difference with India. We’ve thrown tradition to the bin while inventing modernity, but what we’ve really done is cut through all the ties between people, made them move cities and countries, made them leave their home land with carrots that had grown from the ground for centuries into worker factories where all they owned was a bed (on rental) and a place in the factory, we told them family was a contractual relationship, and shred their sense of belonging to a place. « So why would you help your next of kin? He doesn’t come from here. »

I think American homelessness is a unique case study. The problem could be its diversity of people. There is more social cohesion and tribal glue that holds together homogenous populations. It has to be something to see the person next to you through the lens of empathy. Usually it has a wide range..DNA, culture, language, education, faith etc. To say that America is ‘diverse’ is just another way of saying that American population is ‘fragmented’. It’s the same thing..but one has a positive connotation and the other is negative.

Similarly the results of diversity can be positive or negative. The people who slip through the cracks are those who don’t have enough glue on them to stick to any group that will embrace them as their own out of empathy.

I have been woolgathering and I also think the main reason is the young age of America. It simply leapfrogged into prosperous existence after minor dramas in its relatively short timeline. The only collectively experienced trauma is the civil war and that’s just a memory now. And it doesn’t even apply to everyone in the small population dataset. Weak small magnets.

America is also a nation of immigrants. We have never had any kings or queens. We have never deferred to authority ever and have no notion of social contracts. We believe in our ‘vote’.

There is always a reverse reciprocality to responsibility. If you borrow money from me, you will feel obligated to pay me back. Because my face will keep floating in front of your eyes or I will knock on your door loudly. It is easier to deny this with a govt. Perhaps that will lead to life changes.

During the tougher times of my life, I didn’t have time to lose myself with drugs or alcohol. I fretted about failing my parents, grandparents, teachers, ancestors, community...if I hadn’t been a wannabe atheist dickhead during my ill spent youth, I guess the thought of failing my faith would have been a weight upon me too.

Recently, I have been exploring ways to re enter my universe of religious/spiritual faith. In my wool gathering, I wondered if communism, socialism, capitalism are all religions too.

it’s the same with relationships between a person and institutions. You have faith in the institution of marriage, the institution of law, the institutions of education, the institutions of trade and commerce etc. No relationship is consummated without a voluntary vesting of power.

Another big one is military and armed forces. I am anti-war and I don’t want to say anything that will even indirectly glorify war connected concepts. But conformity and shared social responsibility is a big thing with people from countries with mandatory draft. We don’t have that either. Most positive behaviours come from negative inputs. I am just pinning it here. It is not something I like to delve into...but to be fair, that we have never had any major wars or mandatory conscription also contributes to the weak social glue.

Faith in government is a form of religion too. The people who pray to the elected god of politics are disappointed when they are not rescued.

The suffering faithful cry out to their gods... why won’t you rescue me? The others wonder how the unblessed have sinned. Some others are smug in their own worship of the gods. Some create new gods. Cults emerge.

When you start thinking of faith in govt as no different from faith in a god/higher power, it won’t be too long before you realize that it is US who have vested power in that institition.

And then there is the issue of contracts. Every relationship is based on an understood contract. Be it a mother/child or a bank/customer.

In most countries..let’s take Scandinavian countries because they are the America’s favourite...the contract is between govt and tax payers. These countries were monarchies initially. The notion of economic social net is a very old one. As is social contracts. They go hand in hand. That America had never had a functioning monarchy and has a diverse expanding population with weak glue could also be a reason.

> Recently, I have been exploring ways to re enter my universe of religious/spiritual faith. In my wool gathering, I wondered if communism, socialism, capitalism are all religions too.

I agree with you. I phrase it this way: In the 1500 in Europe, people believed the origin of universal public good came from God, now people believe the state represents public good. It is very dangerous, as in both cases it is reified by humans who clearly don’t only have positive intentions.

> it was the social/security net family/friends hold so that if you were unfortunate enough to fall, someone will catch you.

I've no doubt that, for every person who ends up rough sleeping in the US there are 1000 who move back in with their parents. Or sleep on a friend's couch. Or get gifted a few hundred bucks from a loved one to tide them over. Or move in with a partner when otherwise they wouldn't have.

But there will always be some people who don't have any social connections left to spend - if your parents have died, or were abusive, or you're a first generation immigrant, moving back in with them might not be an option. Maybe you've had $300 from grandpa several times before, and lost it to your gambling addiction. Maybe you've stayed with your sister before and scared them with your untreated mental illness.

None of which is common - but if a million people are struggling to make rent it's a simple numbers game: some of them won't have any social connections to fall back on.

Right. But they have welfare programs to fall back on. Every homeless person on the streets of SF is cut a welfare check by the govt courtesy of the tax payers. There is no such thing in India.

Perhaps the problem is that there IS a govt welfare program. The complaint currently is that what’s being done is not enough. The truth is that it will never be enough. The govt and tax payers can shovel mountains of dollars into the maw of the problem and it will never be enough.

The way American welfare programs are designed is like sticking a band aid for cancer and hoping rosy health will return.

If we stop relying on govt, perhaps our tribal instincts to care for each other will return ...perhaps it will finally dawn on us that we rely on our kith and kin...that we come from other people like us and it was not the govt that birthed us.

>Every homeless person on the streets of SF is cut a welfare check by the govt courtesy of the tax payers.

I don't think that's true. Welfare as commonly understood doesn't really exist any more in the US. The closest is TANF (temporary assistance for needy families) but that requires you to have children and is time limited. SNAP gives you food benefits but that is limited to 3 months unless you have a job or are in workforce training. For the most part, your random homeless person on the street isn't eligible for these and doesn't get benefits. The loophole is disability but that's a pretty tough process to go through. Not likely that many homeless can muster it.

Here is where structures come into play, though.

If you get Section 8 housing assistance in the US, it is illegal to house that relative who needs a hand without an extensive paperwork and approval, which you probably won't get. It is especially difficult if that relative has a drug charge in their past, including "smoking a joint at age 16". (If that relative has a felony drug charge in their past, they also can't get federal student loans ever.)

Many of the things people do to help their families have been made to have bad consequences for poor people in the US. To me, it feels as if there has been a systematic effort to break poor families, take away their ability to help each other, and ensure that they continue to be embroiled in "the system" in the US.

> If you get Section 8 housing assistance in the US, it is illegal to house that relative who needs a hand without an extensive paperwork and approval, which you probably won't get.[..]

Isn’t section 8 itself a welfare program?

‘Help’ here should flow down from the haves to have nots. For the have nots to help each other is counter intuitive and counter productive. No solid results. And can be detrimental to the original goal of social welfare.

It dilutes the notion of section 8. If the goal is feeding someone with a bowl of soup so he can be strong enough to start working, then splitting the bowl of soup between three people defeats the purpose. Everyone is still hungry, everyone is too weak to work and nobody achieved their goal. It is a waste of resources.

If one needs to get out of debt, do they go to someone who is debt free or to someone who also needs to get out of debt?

> Many of the things people do to help their families have been made to have bad consequences for poor people in the US. To me, it feels as if there has been a systematic effort to break poor families, take away their ability to help each other, and ensure that they continue to be embroiled in "the system" in the US.[..]

Can you give an example?

San Francisco spends over $40,000 per year on each homeless person in the city.

I think it could be an aspect that homeless people flock to places where there is spare money and climate that is easier to survive.

if this is true, why on earth wouldn't they just use that money to, I dunno, rent them an apartment?

They do. The majority of San Francisco’s budget around homelessness actually goes into keeping people housed, not to services for people who are unhoused. Mission Local has consistently interesting (though highly opinionated) reporting around this: https://missionlocal.org/2018/10/prop-c-in-liberal-san-franc...

They could build high density apartments far away from San Francisco and run multiple shuttles for those working in the city.

Homeless crisis and affordable home crisis will never be solved without robust transport networks.

Yes, we can house a lot of people who need help. No, we can’t house them in San Francisco. Or in other expensive metros.

As an aside, when prefab house builder from mare island offered to build units for the homeless, the unions protested and SF mayor, London Breed had to acquiesce to build them in the city and use Union labour only.

So it was decided in 2014..maybe 2016..that after they find lots to build in SF, funds would go to build homeless units(not pre fab because Union labour was a condition).

After that, the whole thing is hanging in limbo. Because..as if..there will be land in SF to build homes for the homeless. Daft..laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

Probably the money is spend on admin. So if you take that to the homeless, admin would be unenployed. Unsolvable.

Here in Germany we have homeless people, and Romania wouldn't come to mind as a place where they don't. More likely I would expect people from Romania to be homeless in Germany. I think some homeless here are (possibly illegal) immigrants who don't have access to the same social security measures.

But there are also homeless Germans, despite of safety nets existing in theory. I think it is often associated with mental illness and addiction, making it difficult for people to master the bureaucracy to get access to social services.

I've lived and worked in many different countries (including America and Germany), and there seem to be two main causes of homelessness: economic hardship and mental illness.

In Germany, I've only seen homelessness due to mental illness, because the bureaucracy in the social programs causes too much friction for them to use it with decent success. There are organizations that help people navigate the mazes and paperwork, but it's still too much friction.

In America, it's both, but primarily economic. The levels of economic inequality in America is something I'd only seen in third world countries before. TBH I'm surprised at how low the corruption level in government jobs is given how dire peoples circumstances have become. It is much worse than in other first world countries, but not as bad as in places like Mexico or India. The higher the inequality, the more the proportion pushed towards mental illness in the homeless people living there. San Francisco was particularly bleak...

In Japan, it's also primarily economic, but I suspect that's mainly due to their tendency to hide mental illness away since it's a source of shame. The "tent cities" in the parks were a sight to behold...

I think in places in San Francisco, it might not just be "inequality", but also homeless people flocking to places with spare money and mild climate. Why else would you choose to be homeless in one of the most expensive places on earth?


this myth gets repeated and has no basis in reality. people in every city that offer any kind of service for the poor think that this attracts poor people. i guess it’s easier to believe that people are choosing to cheat society than society failed to provide for them

I said nothing about "choosing to cheat society". Perhaps check your own biases? I also didn't say anything about "offering services".

From the charts in your article it still doesn't seem unlikely that many homeless people migrated there for the jobs, a ka money - 30% in the "1 to 4 years" bracket, 48% if you go to "up to 9 years".

In my city (Berlin) it certainly seems to be the case that it is often immigrants who end up homeless, presumably because the social net for citizens doesn't fully apply to them.

> choose to be homeless...

That's a poor choice of words that betrays your lack of knowledge on the subject. Instead of guesses about what is happening backed up with with "why else" reasoning, why not just do a little research on your own first? Or at least start with a question instead of a claim?

I literally asked a question. And I meant choose San Francisco as the place to be homeless in, not choosing homelessness.

If you would apply the principle of charity, you would have been able to read my comment correctly.

Here is your claim:

> homeless people flock to places with spare money and mild climate.

Here is what it would look like as a question:

Do homeless people move to places with spare money and mild climate?

The "why else" construction is not a literal question. It's rhetoric device used to make a claim about reasoning. It implies that you've thought through all the possible reasons and you've come up with the obvious answer.

But if you were really making a sincere question, the answer to "why else" is: that is where they lived when they became homeless.

I wrote the reason MIGHT be spare money and mild climate, and in that context my question is an actual question, not rhetoric.

"It implies that you've thought through all the possible reasons and you've come up with the obvious answer."

No, me writing "MIGHT" literally implies the opposite of that.

It is also an aspect to consider, in any case - it is a valid question of why there are many homeless in a rich place. Merely claiming "inequality" is not actually an answer. In theory, the rich place should offer more job opportunities than poor places elsewhere.

> In theory, the rich place should offer more job opportunities than poor places elsewhere.

Which theory? Because trickle down doesn't have much support in terms of evidence. Often it's actually the wealth that causes the homelessness. As wealthy people move into an area and rents skyrocket, people who once could afford to live there end up on the street.

And where are homeless people getting all this money to relocate a thousand miles away based on the hopes that they might get a job in a city with a much higher cost of living? None of this even passes a quick common sense test.

Is there any evidence for people becoming homeless because of skyrocketing rents?

Are there no renter protections in the USA, anyway?

The theory is simple that where the area is rich, there are more jobs - catering to the rich people, but also the jobs that make the rich people rich.

As for relocating, in the old days, you could hitchhike or jump on trains.

> Is there any evidence for people becoming homeless because of skyrocketing rents?

Plenty of it, it is one of the primary causes. But just to put it in concrete terms that should scare anyone, the average rent in San Francisco in 1994 was about $1000. By 2001 the average rent was $2300. [1]

Consider that other living costs go up along with rent.

> Are there no renter protections in the USA, anyway?

Sometimes. But what happens when you lose your job, and then lose your apartment as a result? How are you going to afford the much higher rents now at a new apartment even if you can find a new job? At minimum wage?

If you ever decide to work with homeless people (you should) you'll hear two types of stories over and over: 1. Diseases such as mental illness and addiction. 2. People who are pretty much just like you and me. And then something unexpected happened. These stories are humbling, because after hearing enough of them you realize that a lot of what's keeping a roof over your own head is luck. Add medical bankruptcy to the mix and you've got the USA.

> The theory is simple that where the area is rich, there are more jobs - catering to the rich people.

So your theory is that rich people hire homeless people off the street to cater to them? NYC has loads of rich people - the most in the world [2]. NYC also has a huge homelessness problem. Maybe that will get solved when and if NYC gets just a few more billionaires?

NY state itself has the highest per capita homelessness rate in the USA [3]. Trickle down doesn't work.

> but also the jobs that make the rich people rich.

This is along the lines of saying "stop being poor, just get one of those jobs that the rich people have".

I would encourage you just read up on the subject instead of inventing theories that sound good to you. Homelessness is a well researched topic, and there is no lack of studies and data around it.

[1] https://johnmacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Rents_Avg-S...

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/giacomotognini/2020/04/07/world...

[3] https://psydprograms.org/the-places-with-the-most-and-least-...

Rising rents are not evidence that rising rents are a major cause of homelessness.

"what happens when you lose your job, and then lose your apartment as a result?"

Then losing your job is the cause, not the rising rents.

"So your theory is that rich people hire homeless people off the street to cater to them?"

I could imagine many people migrate to those places to try to make their luck, because there are many opportunities. Many people trying their luck means also many people failing.

Pretty sure that a couple of dozen Billionaires do NOT cause homelessness.

"Trickle down doesn't work."

People living in New York are probably quite well off in general. A bunch of homeless people don't contradict the trickle down effect. You yourself mentioned mental illness, addiction, and unforeseen events as major causes of homelessness. Notice how rising rents and high paying jobs are not on the list.

"> but also the jobs that make the rich people rich.

This is along the lines of saying "stop being poor, just get one of those jobs that the rich people have"."

Not at all, and this is becoming silly. All I said is that there are presumably the jobs that made the rich people rich, which will usually be a lot of jobs, because rich people will usually have sold a lot of things. Building lots of things requires many workers.

"I would encourage you just read up on the subject instead of inventing theories that sound good to you."

If you are so well read, then provide some convincing evidence for your claims. None of the three links you provided tell us anything about the cause of homelessness. I noticed in the last one that California has very low youth homelessness, though.

Frankly, your "well researched" theories about homeless sound mostly like leftist anti capitalist propaganda to me.

> I could imagine many people...

Yes, that's the entire problem I've been encouraging you to stop doing. You don't need to imagine. It's an extremely well researched subject.

I was sincerely hoping you'd put a little work into the research yourself (like I asked you to) instead of continuing to create mental fantasies about why homelessness might happen. We already know why it happens. Without any cherry picking on my part, here are the top five search results from "causes of homelessness". Is it really going to surprise you that "lack of affordable housing" shows up over and over? When average rents goes from $1000 to $2300 in a few years, that's a specific example of "lack of affordable housing" isn't it? It's plain common sense that skyrocketing rents are going to put some people on the street. If you don't believe the articles, talk to some real homeless people, like I have during my volunteer work to help them.







You're moving the goal posts. You asked for this:

> If you are so well read, then provide some convincing evidence for your claims. None of the three links you provided tell us anything about the cause of homelessness.

I gave you five articles listing the causes of homelessness. Now you're claiming the articles aren't enough.

> If you could give everybody a free house, there would probably be less homeless people.

In many cities they have in fact done this and it works pretty well. It's significantly cheaper than the hospital visits and the extra burden on the police force.

You want to keep inventing theories out of your own imagination, while I have actual experience working with homeless people, in several major cities around the world. If you don't want to believe that gentrification in general and specifically rents going from $1000 to $2300 in a few years causes homelessness for those who were barely able to afford rent in the first place, that's certainly your choice. You can have the last word as I don't see this going in a useful direction.

"I gave you five articles listing the causes of homelessness. Now you're claiming the articles aren't enough."

Um yeah, because they are not? They don't say anything about rising rents causing homelessness, they only mention the same correlation you also mentioned (rich city has many homeless), which doesn't provide any causation. In fact most of them don't provide any evidence at all. Some web site claiming "x causes y" is not actually evidence for anything.

"In many cities they have in fact done this and it works pretty well. It's significantly cheaper than the hospital visits and the extra burden on the police force."

Sure, but that was not what we are discussing. We are discussing the claim that rising wealth increases homelessness. That's an entirely different question. In fact wealthy regions would probably be better able to provide free housing for homeless people than poor places.

If you have actual experience working with homeless people, give us some real information.

> The levels of economic inequality in America is something I'd only seen in third world countries before

I've concluded that the best way to understand America is as the top first world country and a Latin American third world country still struggling with the effects of colonization - in the same physical location. You can see bits of both next to each other, and the ugly coexistence of pretending not to see the problems.

Trump surprised a lot of people by suddenly manifesting the politics of the Latin American country - he's a lot more like Peron than GWB. He's a sort of "business generalissimo": rather than going around in a uniform with a bunch of unearned medals, he talks about his business "successes" (inherited or bankrupt) endlessly.

I've talked to a couple of homeless people in a large city in Germany and the impression I seems to largely match your assertion. Most people I talked to who are homeless were from eastern Europe who tried to make a better living in Germany but failed. There were also some with drug or alcohol problems or had some sort of mental issues.

But there was also a man who was bullied out of the company where he had worked for 21 years. I guess he didn't see homelessness coming for him. Also there was an older woman who lived in her car because she was forced out of the apartment where she lived for her whole life and she refused to accept moving to a different apartment. She had a reputable job, it was after she retired that all these issues came up. So I guess that even here there is no absolute guarantee that one wouldn't end up homeless.

I've worked for an organization helping homeless. We eg organized a worldwide soccer tournament https://homelessworldcup.org/ and are selling a news paper distributed by homeless people.

Most homeless in western european countries come either from losing their job and having drug problems, or losing their wifes and thereby homes. The many eastern homeless cross the borders because they can live much better by begging on the streets here than in the east. But there are plenty of homeless, squatters there also. Eg nost of the abandoned village houses in the east were subsequently squatted by gypsies. The city center in Bucuresti is also full of homeless. When writing a book about homeless over the world in the US and Russia, the problems were the same, just that in the USA there's a homeless shipping industry to get them out of the city, but they still prefer the warm south where it's easy to survive. Who wouldn't. Even the rich old folks prefer Florida over NY. Just politicians and police are more inhuman there.

What’s the point, from your point of view, of the homeless newspapers?

To me it’s always seemed like mostly a way to regulate begging, and also to let both parties pretend it isn’t begging. And in the best case maybe it’s therapeutic for people to write for them.

But it doesn’t seem like anyone reads these, and I wonder, are the other effects worth the cost / effort?

It's the best way to get them out of homelessness. It's not begging at all.

They have to buy all the papers they are distributing in advance. It's a financial risk. But a good income, if you've got a good location.

I vaguely remember a police report that said that a very large number of Berlin's homeless are Polish.

I vividly remember that just across the Romanian border, there are numerous Roma villages that look quite like Skid Row.

I can't compare European homelessness to its American variant, but I can say it certainly exists. Safety nets have holes in them, particularly for those who aren't in the system. Freelancers are not that well-protected either.

At least the homelessness you see on the street in Romania is much much less. I went a few times for business there and I saw zero. (More old people peddling stuff at the street though than germany)

In Sweden the homeless increased when a lot of dedicated mental health institutions were closed.

I personally have never witnessed homelessness like the US anywhere else in the world. I’m not sure what’s the cause but lack of social safety net must be up there.

>can the lack of a social safety net in the US cause a much higher rate of homelessness than in other countries?

I thought that was widely understood as a contributing factor, yes.

other contributing factors: poor minimum wage laws, at will employment, lack of regulation around housing. health system problems I put in the social safety net category.

These things mean that there is more of a chance that something goes wrong, and you need the social safety net, which isn't there.

I recently read Anu Partanen's book "The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life" that discusses a number of these factors and how they're different in her native country of Finland.

My thoughts on the matter, after living in the SF Bay Area for a decade, conclude that for the average person and those that have limited earning potential, Western European or Scandinavian countries can offer a better life to those people, on average.

If you have a high earning potential, then the US is a great place to grow your wealth, pay for your children's expensive education and purchase all the consumerist-centric things your family desires, at a fairly low price.

I have been told that it's also due to the fact that in Europe, people generally travel through a unified medical and social system from birth; if they exhibit problems they are directed to the necessary interventions (mental health services, addiction, etc.) Providing these services earlier on with a full picture has a higher ROI than intervening later without all information about that person's journey.

Additionally, I believe that for people who are seriously mentally ill, it's more difficult to section them in the US. In the UK, it takes a GP and social worker to section someone; I believe in the US it's not that simple.

Beyond the government provided safety net, there is also the factor of social and cultural structures. E.g. in south asian cultures, if you belong to middle class and above, short of calamity, you will not be homeless because it is quite normal for folks to live with parents anyway. Worst case, you can just move back in anytime (bit of that has happened in US as well recently).

Of course, cost of living is a big factor anyway. In asian countries, government provided safety nets are rare but since everything is so cheap, at worst you can still manage to eke out a living and find, say, a single room in not-so-great locality.

There’s a lot of homelessness in Budapest, just to pick a place not so far from Romania. And it’s visible enough that I’m sure you think about it if you’re a low-wage worker without a strong network of family or friends.

While it’s not as crazy as in SF or LA, the problem is quite visible throughout the city, as are the homeless people themselves.

I imagine it’s easier to go from middle/upper class to homeless and then bounce back, than it is to bounce back to a place you’ve never been.

For my own homeless experiences (~5 years), I was able to jump back because of work history and experience that would not have existed if my life had started out otherwise.

More cross-the-tracks experiences would undoubtedly make the world a more tolerant, understanding, and uplifting place to live. Though I can’t say I’d wish my personal trauma on any specific person. I’m thankful for the perspective gained, but it would be easier to prescribe if there were less long-term-costly means of gaining it.

For those who haven't experienced homelessness personally, doing volunteer (or paid) work for homeless shelters/outreach centers etc, or in mental health treatment centers, is one of the best ways to gain a fairly deep perspective, and get close to feeling what that perspective feels like, without actually walking a mile in those painful, broken shoes.

My homeless experience was incredibly brief (4-5 months) compared to the struggles of so many people I met during that time, but it had profound, permanent effects on my level of empathy I feel towards people still going through it. If you are struggling in your own life, dealing with depression or anxiety despite your white collar and comfortable financial situation, it can be a humbling and powerful experience to meet people who have no money, no friends, no family, and no support, not even from their own minds. Helping serve food at a shelter or something in that ballpark can be incredible for learning more about yourself as well as those folks, and you both gain from that relationship.

If actually interacting with with homeless people takes you too far outside your comfort zone, I spent two years trying to get a homeless person off the street and made a movie about it:


So you can just watch that.

Yes. This is a really excellent movie. I have seen it. I highly recommend it.

Thanks, DM!

It’s a wonderful movie about a difficult topic. Great job.

Thank you for making it and for sharing it here—I watched it based on this recommendation, and it was well worth the watch.

Thank you! If you wouldn't mind leaving a review, I would really appreciate it.

Certainly. I will leave a review on iTunes.


Is it possible to watch this movie outside of the USA?

Depends on where. It should be available in the UK and Canada. It's not available in Germany because of some weird requirement that I was not able to meet (closed captions in German or something like that). Where are you trying to access it from?

Given that there is a pandemic on and volunteer work is problematic, I will add that I had a college class on Homelessness and Public Policy. The primary text for it was called "Tell them who I am."

It tells the stories of homeless women and was written by a man dying of cancer who decided to spend his last days doing something more meaningful to him than punching a clock.

In a different thread someone recommended charging a small fee for new accounts to prevent abuse. Dang responded that its important for everyone to be able to participate. Between his response and this article I reflected quite a bit about the nine years I have spent on this site, the various weird and mostly wonderful interactions I've had with the community, and the way it has shaped my career and therefore my life.

On this site I have received legitimately profound and sometimes life changing advice and insights from a wider variety of people than I have interacted with in any other format: schizophrenics, the homeless, people from a wide variety of cultures (wealthy and impoverished), and industry rock stars.

There have been disagreements and occasionally arguments. Some of them have made me a little more aware of my own bubble and allowed me to recognize aspects of my world view that were ignorant or that at least failed to consider different points of view.

Much of this was possible because its a place that values the participation of everyone. Articles like this excellent piece of writing shine a light on how important it is.

Edit: I figured some shadow banned people would respond. I was actually talking about at least one person that ended up getting permanently banned that happened to be an influential person to me. Part of what makes this community great is that while we can have heated disagreements we largely do it more civilly than many other online communities. While its an accurate assessment that Hacker News has a liberal bias there are lots of conservatives here that freely share their opinions civilly. They might feel outnumbered and they might sometimes be unjustly downvoted by people that don't understand what a downvote button should be used for, but they are largely able to participate because they keep it civil. I'm pretty politically moderate myself. By no stretch of the imagination could I be considered a "SJW" or a person with a typical San Francisco political outlook (only mentioning these phrases because that was what was alleged to be the only type of person that can exist here). Out of curiosity I took a look at jrcii's account and they were indeed needlessly toxic on a large number of occasions before being banned and yet was still told if they email the admin and promise to be civil they can be reinstated. Instead of taking them up they decided be even less civil. A community can be open to everyone and still ban people that are not acting in good faith.

I wholeheartedly agree with you. I am so grateful that HN exists. As much as I try to contribute and offer my thoughts and views, I certainly get so much more from it than I could possibly give.

Unfortunately it is not true in general that the reason accounts are being banned is incivility. Censorship of unwanted opinions is very much real on this site.

Disagree completely, and I am far to the right of what I suspect the average hacker news member would be politically. Certainly opinions on the right get heavily downvoted, but that’s not censorship. Dang has corrected me a number of times for incivility, but he has never touched any of my posts because I happen to lean in the opposite direction of my colleagues here.

There is a flag in your profile called "showdead" that you can turn on to see the comments that have been deleted. There might be some minimum karma requirement for this, I'm not sure.

But I've had it on for a while now and I usually read a few of the dead comments. I see a lot of incivility, inanity, very little in the way of a politely expressed, well-thought out but unpopular opinion.

I didn't claim that incivility does not also exist. And the banned accounts don't show up in showdead anymore, either. What you consider "well-thought out but unpopular opinion" could also be subject to your personal biases.

Its possible that it happens, but from my admittedly limited anecdotal experience from seeing a half dozen or so people claim that they were banned for no reason and then taking a look at their comment history, they were absolutely banned for a reason.

Do you have an example of someone being banned simply because they shared an unpopular opinion?

Also "not true in general" implies that you seem to think that its a widespread problem and banning people simply for having an alternative opinion is one of the more common reasons people are banned. On HN that is something I find hard to believe.


But that's the thing -- I'm a woman in tech. How am I political? I'm just a sack of cells like you. Are you a political topic?

To get back to the parent posters, that's why I keep coming back to HN despite the unfortunately-now-expected friction of, well, comments like the one above me. (And timeeater, to be really clear, I don't care your position on feminism or socialism. The friction is that you label me talking a "political topic".) The conversation here is overall good enough to outweigh that, and I have learned a lot from conservatives/Julia programmers/people who've experienced homelessness/infosec people/homebrewers on HN.

Huh what makes you think that I think you are political because you are a "woman in tech"?

Women in tech is political when it comes along with the unfounded claim that there are so few women in tech because of sexism.

I didn't label you anything, I wasn't even aware of your username appearing in the comment thread. I only answered to comments, not to people.

You as a "woman in tech" could become political if you started claiming special rights or special insights or demand special treatment because of your status as woman in tech.


But this is silly. I was born with what I was born with. Why do I have to think about it? What choice did I have in it? Religion, I can choose. Politics, I can choose. Gender? That's not my choice. To the extent it's my identity, it's forced upon me. Thanks, guys.

In this thread, I'm responding to timeeater's claim that it's censorship, not incivility, that results in banning. As evidence, timeeater says that criticising feminism is 'not allowed' or suppressed. But I would argue that it's not criticism of feminism that gets timeeater in trouble, but instead the tendentious supposition that discussing women at all is "political" (to quote, "But there are political topics on HN all the time (women in tech, worker unions at Amazon, and so on and so on)."). Then timeeater goes on to make some statements about special treatment and special insights. Now that's the rabbithole of wasted pixels that Paul Graham is getting at in his essay -- it's really not germane to the discussion, and it's all bound up in an identity that is indeed chosen.

You misinterpret my statement, that is all. I mentioned "women in tech" as an example, because those articles are usually political. They tend to be about alleged discrimination and demands for special treatment of women in tech. That is politics (special treatment of a specific group of people is a policy).

If you don't do any of those things, your person is not a political issue.

Also I didn't say you shouldn't be allowed to post political things like "women in tech". Hacker News policy says that, and bans people for commenting on such threads under the pretense of the policy.

Stop misinterpreting my comments.

And nobody is forcing you to use your body for politics. You don't have to identify as a feminist, either. Feminism is not synonymous with women.

Fantastic read!

Always remember that "money doesn't buy happiness" is the shibboleth for people who always had money. Bring that up next time someone says it. Fun reaction guaranteed.

I like to follow it up with my favorite slavic saying: "Sure money won't make you happy, but crying in a Ferrari is much nicer than on the bus"

Easily the worst time of my life was during a 1 year eviction. I even dated a girl for a brief period who told me the ' you can always have a good attitude' thing.

Years later when a met someone else struggling to find safe housing, I told them 'always stay positive, attitude' is bullshit. Allow yourself to be upset.

Money buys security. Security means one less thing to worry about.

I'm very grateful for the career I have now. Started with trying to copy Unity scripts from youtube videos and I'm a senior level dev now. Paying my rent early gives me an endorphin rush

The “good attitude” line is a form of toxic positivity, actually. Getting evicted sucks and it’s perfectly rational to be upset about it. What matters is how you move on from it, and you did and it sounds like your life is much better now.

If I recall correctly she started her speech with ' I've probably never been though what you have'.

I make sure to never repeat this crap to other people.

In hindsight the eviction did get me out of a very bad home life, still was a solid year of hell

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is also a good teaching tool in these situations. Yes, money won’t buy you all the way up the hierarchy to self-actualization (which is probably what these folks vaguely mean by “happiness”). But it will surely get you up the lower levels and perhaps some way further than that.


Today I learnt: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibboleth

While I agree that "money doesn't buy happiness" is over simplistic. The opposite - "money buys happiness" - also is. An expat in Angola recently told me that what surprised him the most was how happy poor people were. People without nothing (material) not even the certainty of having a dinner everyday.

A less simplistic (but still simplistic) take on this is: "Comparison is the thief of joy".

When I hear "Money doesn't buy happiness" my internal response is always

"but poverty can ensure misery"

Another one: "Money doesn't buy happiness - but it solves 99% of the problems that make you unhappy." - GSElevator on Twitter

Another one: "If money can't buy happiness, I guess I'll have to rent it." - Weird Al.

That is so true. And money does bring happiness for people who just got some of it when they previously had none. Rich people I believe are not very happy. But they would be very unhappy if they lost their money. Money is desperately needed by people who don't have it.

Poverty does not in fact ensure misery. Victor Frankel wrote about surviving the most hideous depredations imaginable in World War II concentration camps. It was obvious from the first that a defeatist attitude killed you, and that determination to survive was essential. Knowing this helped me through many years of misery.

I recall a study that indicated the perceived disparity in wealth has a greater effect on how poverty is experienced than the absolute condition, therefore (the study argued) somebody living in poverty in a very wealthy society is likely to be more miserable than if they were living in a society where the majority were also in poverty. I'm not saying this applies to your example, I just thought it was an interesting factor to consider.

Determination is orthogonal to happiness. Survivor guilt over what may have been done to survive, demonstrates this.

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but lack of money is catastrophe. I think the focus should be on that. That’s the problem that we should and could actually fix with money.

Going from no money to some money is everything. From some money to a lot of money does not help anyone.

I always thought people who take issue with this saying never had a lot of money.

I agree It's such a crazy statement. If going to the supermarket and buying whatever you want doesn't seem like a crazy luxury, you've got a 1% station only perspective.

I believe the threshold for the top 1% is around $10 million in net worth excluding primary residence.

Being able to buy whatever you want at the super market is probably a top 25% of the US perspective if not more.

Maybe. As a rough estimate I'd place it closer to the top 10% of the US. The 1% threshold is around $500k, whereas the 10% threshold is around $100k, which is pretty luxurious most places in the US (confounded by the fact that higher CoL areas have higher incomes).

On the other end of the spectrum, 50-70% of US families were living paycheck to paycheck even before covid, so I'd be moderately surprised if the top 25% could afford whatever they wanted at the supermarket.

> The top 1% earned an average of $515,371 while the annual income for the average taxpayer was $41,740.

> The minimum net worth of the top 1% was roughly $10.4 million, according to Forbes. The top 10%, on the other hand, has a net worth of about $1.2 million.


The discrepancy between $10.4 million net worth and $515k income (which I assume includes gains) confused me for a moment, until I realized that the $10.4 million figure likely includes at least one large non-income-producing piece of real-estate.

The top 1% net worth and the top 1% income are different things, and I’m pretty sure the linked source is only talking about the net worth group (though it’s not exactly clear). Net worth is not necessarily linked to your income in any given year, so I don’t think it’s especially surprising that the income for that group averages out to around 5% of their net worth.

> The top 1% net worth and the top 1% income are different things,

Obviously. But if the figure is exclusive of their primary residence their return on investments isn't especially impressive-- e.g. it's sub index fund rates even assuming they have no other income than gains. :)

I would presume this is taxable income, which would be different from gross return on investment in any given year (depending on how you plan your taxable events). The other thing to consider is that index funds are essentially the best performing strategy over any significant period of time. For people who derive a significant portion of their income from investment returns, you’d expect some of them would have their income to trending closer towards the risk free rate than average market returns. Index fund returns would be the upper bound for a lot of people in this group.

For example, I think it contradicts the narrative implied by many complaints about the rules around accredited investors and eligible contract participants and such that "the rich" benefit from important investment opportunities that are denied to less wealthy. It makes a case that joe-everyman can toss money into an index fund and out perform the wealthy.

I wouldn't expect 'given' year effects to be relevant, as it's averaging over a large number of people. Taxable is a better argument, since as you reach the highest marginal tax rates there is a lot of reasons to find ways to indefinitely defer paying taxes (e.g. die with it and pass it with stepped up cost basis).

Most of these estimates exclude primary residence or the primary residence isn't a huge portion anyway.

These numbers loosely correspond with the 4% rule for gains.

I don’t mean in the US

Not sure about that ferrari. Crying while someone else is driving you is much more comfortable.

This was a great deal better read and for my mind than I anticipated going in. It’s also worth noting since I’m commenting that I have the inverse class experience (I grew up literally eating garbage at times because we couldn’t afford food, I still present as trash even after years in the upper middle), but that inverse has always carried with it an understanding that what comfort I have might be gone in an instant.

The author is partly right that reconciling what ought to be and what is... is a powerful part of navigating the way out. But part of that reconciliation for me is also recognizing that what is doesn’t reflect what should be. And that the people most at the whims of what is are not often equipped to do more than escape, “rescue” or not.

Great read, thanks for sharing.

A couple years back I was admitted into a government rehab. At the time I was a fresh college grad, and I couldn’t help but feel that I was somehow smarter/better/more “upper class” than all of the other patients on the unit because of my upbringing. That is, even completely broke, strung out and institutionalized, I still felt as if I was somehow more “chosen” than anybody else. It took a lot of learning to realize that this attitude was a major part in what lead my drug addiction being unaddressed for so long that I wound up in such a gnarly place. That said, I am doing fine now, but I often think how the others I was with could possibly be doing.

This was a good post. I particularly like:

> I will suggest that repeating all the things you believe about how life is supposed to work will not magically make them true and thereby fix your problems.

I recently realized I would frame some of my wants/desires as “I just want $x.” There is no natural order of fairness and by shifting my internal phrasing to “I want $x,” it helped shift my mental model to what concrete actions I need to take instead of a complaint.

And back to the main content of the post. Yes, most people are living on an edge they can’t see that could upturn their whole apple cart of world views and expectations. Growing up poor and now being well off, I have an expectation in the back of my head that this is all temporary and can be lost at anytime. It affects how you approach many, many things.

If you're well off and living on a knife's edge, I don't think you're doing a very good job of managing your finances.

It's not about finances.

I also grew up relatively poor (we had food, but couldn't afford e.g. school books) and am currently pretty well off (saving more than half of my salary while enjoying a decent quality of life).

Such an upbringing leaves a mark. The other day I was thinking how it's been going too well for too long and I probably have, I don't know, ball cancer which is going to bring my situation to a more familiar level of misery.

I've lived my life having a plan B, C and often also D for every situation.

When you're not used to the good stuff, you become suspicious to the good stuff once it comes along.

Ok, but I feeling that you're on a knife edge is not the same as actually being on a knife edge, which is what GC claimed.

The existing reply captured it well. To add to that, this is not “an unexpected expense”sinking your finances. Imagine instead that you suddenly can’t do the job you do nor can you get equivalent pay. How long could a you float on say minimum wage? Maybe it gets worse and you have trouble getting any regular job. How long could you go with no pay? Many people would say, “can’t happen to me.” And that is what the article is about. That is the invisible knife edge. Get a divorce, get sick, and have student debts, and you could be just like the author and living in a tent and taking years to claw your way out of the situation. When that is a reality that you expect could happen, you think differently. And for most people, it could happen.

What does homelessness mean in an US context? Is it a state where you cannot even afford rent and actually sleep on the streets? I have read quite a few posts in HN referring to homelessness. For someone from a much much poorer nation, posts/comments from here suggest it is so so easy to be homeless in US than ours which brings disbelief to me.

And secondly, the author points she is "upper class"? How can upper class family or individual ever need to borrow loans and also not have assets? I only ask to gain some social context. For example, our social context, a middle class family wouldn't take education loans and would have assets, in general (even the many thousands of students who immigrate to US to study, the middle class student do not take loans to fund their education in US university - This is what always surprises me when I see posts/comments similar to this)

> And secondly, the author points she is "upper class"? How can upper class family or individual ever need to borrow loans and also not have assets?

In the US, economic class and social class are often used interchangeably, which is wrong. Social classes are cultures, and while ever-increasing amounts of money are needed to perform the rites and shibboleths of the classes, you can still be upper class while being dirt poor. It's a set of values, not a figure in your bank account.

> For example, our social context, a middle class family wouldn't take education loans and would have assets, in general

With the way tuition costs have snowballed in the US, I would imagine that even upper-middle class families are starting to struggle to put together college funds for their kids.

In the US, economic class and social class are often used interchangeably, which is wrong. Social classes are cultures

Thank you for saying that.

While my late father had more money at one time than I really understood as a child, my mother's "upper class expectations" referenced in this piece are mostly not about money per se. They are rooted in the fact that her mother came from a low level noble family (my mother is a German immigrant).

They sold the title when the family fell on hard times financially, thus I'm not actually nobility myself. But I believe my grandmother was (or perhaps her parents were -- I'm not sure where the cut off is there).

My mother sewed a lot of my clothes when I was growing up. It was a cost effective means to dress me "properly" and it's only recently that I realized that my mother's ideas of "proper" attire are somewhat like the dress codes of British Royalty that you read about in gossip rags. (Not too much skin showing, no cleavage on display, don't let your bra straps show, etc.)

She didn't spend a lot of money on sewing for me, but I can't sew and I can't afford to buy the style of clothing to which I was accustomed growing up. In fact, I mostly can't even find it in the US at any price and I am so frustrated by that fact that I toy with the idea of creating my own clothing line so I can dress "properly."

Sold a title? What?! Most of us peons don’t even know what that means. Can I buy nobility? How much does it sell for? What benefits does it convey, and who would recognize it?

This sounds like a level of old-world elitism that is intended to completely alienate one from the rest of the world. Do you think that had anything to do with your situation? How did the rest of the family take being poor?

> my mother's ideas of "proper" attire are somewhat like the dress codes of British Royalty that you read about in gossip rags. (Not too much skin showing, no cleavage on display, don't let your bra straps show, etc.)

This is an even more bizarre comment than TFA to me. Your idea of 'upper class' and the royal family is... curious. You certainly don't have to be royal not to want to wear (or your daughter to wear) a tracksuit with cash and a phone hanging out of visible 'under'wear..!

These dress codes are necessary, but not sufficient, for being a member of the upper class.

What's described isn't a dress code, it's 'not being a chav', essentially. It's necessary, but not sufficient, for something very far from 'upper class'.

What she described was actually very vague, so I don't know what you are envisioning?

A thing to remember though is that the further away from a social class you are, the less you know about its culture. I suspect that the styling cues she's talking about would be instantly noticeable to other people from the same class, whereas lowly plebs like you and me would never notice, or care.

> What she described was actually very vague, so I don't know what you are envisioning?

Exactly what I quoted above:

> (Not too much skin showing, no cleavage on display, don't let your bra straps show, etc.)

> And secondly, the author points she is "upper class"? How can upper class family or individual ever need to borrow loans and also not have assets?

Because student loans, at most points, have has extremely favorable rates at initiation (substantially below, e.g., long-run average S&P 500 returns), an upper or middle class family might well choose to take them to maximize net expected returns.

If that family then experienced financial ruin for some reason, they might be left with the debt without any longer being upper/middle class (or, an individual who becomes cutoff from the family and it's assets might be in similar straits to what would happen has the family bien ruined.)

It's also possible that the author has confused a relatively high income (or high value of non-productive assets) working or middle class existence with “upper class”; it's worth noting that the “upper class” understanding of the previous cicumstance was an epiphany reached through homelessness.

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