Lobbyists Paid By Your Tax Dollars Lie to Montana Lawmakers to Continue Stealing Your Tax Dollars

When Montana Senator Greg Hertz introduced Senate Bill 523 into the legislature earlier this year, he never imagined it would catalyze the gathering of more people than any other piece of legislation introduced during the entire 2023 session. His bill sought to rein in the addictive potential of the municipal tool known as Tax Increment Financing and allow TIF to finally receive some much needed public scrutiny. It also brought its primary beneficiaries into the light, many of whom revealed exactly how low they’re willing to sink in defense of their “free money” fountain.

After passing through the Senate Committee, SB 523 entered into the House Taxation Committee for review, where it was met by an army of lobbyists. Former City Councilman and longtime TIF critic Jesse Ramos commented on the irony of voters facing off against opponents whose salaries they’re helping to pay for:

“Unfortunately, constituents have to work,” he said. “When you’re taking on these big giants, the League of Montana Cities and Towns, a lot of these folks are paid with taxpayer dollars to fight against the interest of the taxpayers. It’s frustrating.”

Montana taxpayers were up against a crowd of suit-and-tie representatives from the Big Sky Resort, the Montana Building Industry Association, the Montana Economic Developers Association, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Montana, the Montana Contractors Association, the Great Falls Development Alliance, the Montana Banking Association, Montana Architects, the Montana Travel Association, the Hospitality and Development Association of Montana, Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montana Infrastructure Coalition, Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, Montana Association of Realtors and the Missoula Economic Partnership. Every one of these lobbyists arrived in the state Capitol to help protect their favorite public investment subsidy from succumbing to additional regulation.

Without unregulated TIF dollars, developers would be on the hook to pay for the demolition costs associated with redeveloping existing property, which is the normal course of events and always has been. It’s always nice to receive a subsidy but the screaming high demand for real estate in Montana guarantees that said developments would have happened anyway and therefore did not require an extra incentive from the taxpayers. Nevertheless, one of the classic arguments made by TIF addicts is that these developments would not have happened “but for the TIF”, hence all the corporate hysteria hurled in Helena.

Charles Robison of the Montana Chamber of Commerce alleged that, “TIF builds infrastructure that won’t get built otherwise.” WGM engineer Brent Campbell echoed with, “My developer clients will not invest in that kind of risk, where some neighborhood folks dislike a project. Frankly TIF is the great equalizer.” Brent Campbell also earned the award for Most Distracting Facial Expressions Made During a Legislative Hearing.

There were many runners up for Most Offensive Show of Entitlement for Taxpayer Money, including the unelected Mayor of Missoula Jordan Hess’ breathless claims about so-called “affordable housing” or WGM’s executive officer Jeff Smith’s contention that “TIF is too important to the health of Montana’s economy and in solving our affordable housing crisis.” The public are meant to believe that our communities would fall apart without public subsidies for developers, which is exactly what Julie Foster of Ravalli County claimed when she said, “If this bill goes forward it is the knock-out blow for our community.”

But the award for Most Emphatic Distortions may go to May Nan Ellingson from Missoula, who alleged:

Every tax increment district, every tax increment project, every tax increment bond that has ever been issued in this state has been approved by a duly elected City Council or a board of county commissioners. … Tax increment bonds are truly revenue bonds. If the tax increment revenue is not adequate, the tax payers are not on the hook. It’s a risk that the purchasers of tax increment bonds make. Tax increment bond proceeds cannot be used to fund private buildings.”

According to constitutional attorney J. Kevin Hunt, these revenue bonds are really “junk bonds” secured only by unrealistic predictions of guaranteed prosperity. General Obligation Bonds are more secure, but must be approved by a vote of the people. Many cities issue “junk” revenue bonds explicitly to eschew that responsibility, especially when it comes to projects they know the public won’t support.

Dan Brooks of the Billings Chamber of Commerce seemed to corroborate this fact when he mentioned that, “While some cities may not require council approval, ours does, and those elected officials get to answer to their constituents.”

As for whether TIF bonds can be used to fund private buildings, that seems to be exactly what MRA proposed in 2019 when they pushed forward a $16.5 million TIF bond aimed at helping entertainment magnate Nick Checota build a community center that only he could enjoy exclusive access to, and for a lease duration of 75 years to be paid for by his property taxes. Stockman Bank likewise spent millions of dollars of public money to build private bank towers throughout the Missoula valley.

Next, the award for Most Obvious Contradiction goes to Craig Rickert and his misguided declaration that,

People outside my TIF district are not paying taxes into the TIF district. There seems to be a lot of miscommunication about that. People outside my TED district are not paying taxes into the TED district.”

Actually, people outside your TIF district are, in fact, paying taxes into the TIF district. And that isn’t a typo – Craig conflated TIF and TED so many times the chair had to ask him which one he meant. If you own property in an Urban Renewal District (URD), part of your property taxes go into a special fund used for other projects in that area. And this a isn’t “miscommunication”. It’s the reason why neighboring taxpayers grow increasingly irate about the things that their dollars are funding in districts that redirect captured tax revenue. In 2021 Craig Rickert’s developments became the target of lawsuits from citizens who called his deal with the Department of Transportation “unconstitutional”:

The lawsuit, filed in district court in Broadwater County, takes aim at MDT’s decision to work with Montana Rest Area JV Partners to build a rest area in Three Forks near U.S. Highway 287 and Wheatland Road. In exchange for the new rest area building, MDT would hand over the 19th Avenue rest area in Bozeman to developer Craig Rickert.

Next up, the award for Biggest Facepalm goes to Sara Hudson of Snowy Mountain Development, who claimed that anyone who criticizes the use of TIF must have a “fundamentally flawed” understanding of it, which in this case included Fortune 500 CFO Bob Moore and other veteran finance professionals. Officials reliant on TIF dollars predictably employ this old-hat response whenever the voters begin to get wise about where their taxes are going. Regardless of how many facts and figures are presented, critics are unanimously and contemptuously told that they “just don’t understand” how TIF works.

Finally, the award for Most Offensive Show of Entitlement for Taxpayer Money goes to developer Matt Sullivan who foolishly alleged that his ideological opponents were wasting everyone’s time and merely for the purposes of personal grandstanding:

Programs like TIF should always be improved but please be careful, objective and data-driven to make this decision. Do not be swayed by exaggeration and misinformation! Today no proponent has presented actual studies proving this bill will lower taxes! They’ve just presented their opportunities for themselves to speak!

First of all, neither Mr. Sullivan nor any of his peers ever satisfactorily rebutted any of the specific criticisms or concerns presented. They can’t debate the merits of a bank buying it’s own TIF bonds because they don’t seem to understand what that sentence even means. And they certainly can’t tell us it’s ethical for local businesses to be forced to subsidize outside competition.

Secondly, it’s technically true that tax burdens wouldn’t necessarily drop immediately, but they could stop skyrocketing as steeply for those affected by the so-called “special assessment” taxes of URDs.

Does anyone really think Missoula’s constant tax levy proposals are a normal consequence of fiscally responsible policy decisions? Every approved levy constitutes a tax increase. Missoula County Public Schools have repeatedly asked the voters for special general fund levies because their budgets got hollowed out by TIF. The same thing happened in California where it was discovered that TIF districts had stripped over $40 billion from public education, contributing to then Governor Brown’s decision to shutter over 400 URDs.

In 2017 only 4% of Missoula’s tax base was captured by TIF increment.

By 2020 it had ballooned to 14%.

And when the City of Missoula took in $36 million in property taxes during fiscal 2020, the MRA acquired $35 million of that.

Other cities are following suit and the percentages tend to grow larger. It’s a common pattern that seems to repeat ad infinitum. When municipal officials become addicted to this one-size-fits-all approach to development there is nothing but the state legislature to stop them from stretching the limits ever further.

But while Sullivan got downright irate about the very notion that his precious subsidy might need to be regulated, he also explicitly admitted that TIF does, in fact, represent a form of corporate welfare:

We’ve never received TIF funding or any other form of corporate welfare for our past projects, but due to high construction costs currently, we are asking for TIF funding for the project in front of you today. TIF provides developers with an incentive to improve our communities and increases the housing supply.”

I thought the love of the community was the incentive to improve it, but apparently some people need TIF money to feel that way about where they live. And increased construction costs duly noted, putting the burden on your neighbors isn’t the answer. We don’t need to build so-called “affordable housing”. Our priority should be to make existing housing affordable for people who already live here.

The main problem with funding so-called “affordable housing” developments with TIF dollars is simply that nothing in state code allows for TIF dollars to be spent that way. Tax Increment dollars were only intended to fund the elimination of physical blight, not to subsidize housing projects.

Yes, there’s high demand for housing out here but locals are well aware that the problem isn’t a shortage of places to live. The problem is that locals can no longer afford to live in the communities they grew up in. Building more buildings isn’t going to help because that doesn’t address the core problem that these policies are displacing the locals.

Matt Sullivan alleged that the loss of TIF subsidies would ultimately result in fewer apartments for Missoula, but existing Missoulians need breaks, not additional buildings funded with public money. The Missoulians who already live in Missoula but haven’t been displaced yet grow daily annoyed by the attempts all around to take their housing away, and that includes every mechanism that negatively impacts their property tax bills.

Developers are receiving TIF subsidies to build stack-and-pack apartments under the banner of so-called “affordable housing” and in doing so exacerbate the very reason housing has become so unaffordable for locals: the burgeoning effect that TIF overuse has on property taxes.

Harping on the “affordable housing” buzzword with extra gusto was former City Councilwoman and executive director for Habitat For Humanity of Missoula, Heather Harp:

And while on council I heard from constituents about the lack of affordable housing every week, and I have to say that remains very true today in my current job. This bill unravels the work of last session to include workforce housing – which was genius by the way – which is exactly what we build at habitat. … This bill affects every developer’s lending costs. To make home ownership affordable we rely on a variety of funding sources and grants from local and federal governments are an essential part of our lending strategy. … And for 30 years our affiliate financed 2 homes a year with bake sales and raffles. But with skyrocketing home sales and a statewide housing shortage of 30,000 homes, we opted to innovate to find financing alternatives to supply the demand. That solution requires large scale investment. The problem needs cash flow now. Government grants that can direct tax increment dollars to workforce housing are a much needed tool. This bill and others focused on reducing TIF’s strengths or leverage capabilities will effectively water down those local government funding sources to be meaningless. And without those local government dollars then we will not have the necessary local match to be awarded federal grants.”

Heather Harp fails to mention the voluminous TIF opposition she witnessed during her time on council including several of the longest council meetings in Missoula’s entire history. Nor does she seem to remember the woman who lost her Habitat home to rising property taxes in Missoula. On 27 August 2018 Councilwoman Harp was present at the Missoula City Council’s marathon budget meeting where one woman provided testimony that she could no longer afford the property taxes on her Habitat home. TIFs had significantly affected her property tax assessments.

When the national branch of Habitat For Humanity found out there were lobbying efforts in Montana this year to finance their housing program with public subsidies, they hit the ceiling. Habitat For Humanity homes are explicitly not supposed to be built with funding models that involve taxpayer dollars, and Heather knows it. It’s likely she knew it during her time on City Council too.

Heather’s development director, Nevin Graves, took the microphone next on behalf of Habitat to say:

Every part of our state is facing a housing affordability crisis. And just as my previous opponent said, we build workforce housing. We have an incredible tool in Tax Increment Financing to build workforce housing. And usually when people steal tools from my tool chest I call the cops. In this case I have to come to you. … But if anyone feels like they’ve got an adequate understanding of how this works in every community in Montana, then by all means, take your action tomorrow.”

After speaking, Nevin Graves publicly accosted Jesse Ramos in a heated outburst that had to be broken up by Capitol security, earning himself the prize for Most Unprofessional Behavior At A Legislative Event.

Jesse Ramos was standing in the committee room when Nevin marched up to him and shouted, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? This is irresponsible!”

Jesse replied, “Don’t you think it’s irresponsible that we’re subsidizing this level of corporate welfare?”

Nevin again shouted over Jesse, “You just don’t understand the time value of money. You’re supposed to be a financial advisor.”

Nevin continued cursing his adversary out until he was told to leave by capitol security.

“Sure enough!” Nevin declared as he turned and walked out the door.

As we’ve repeatedly observed for years, there just doesn’t seem to be any limit to the behavior of people desperate to defend their parasitic choke hold on public money. Not all municipalities are corrupt but someone has to clean up the ones that are. SB 523 was a gallant effort to that end.

Jesse Ramos and Greg Hertz really hit a nerve in Helena this spring. So much so that big business had to flood the legislature with a toxic cloud of “smugnorance” emitted by a shrieking chorus of angry lobbyists. It doesn’t seem particularly surprising that organizations that have grown accustomed to TIF subsidies would rather not restructure their revenue model. Big business tends to be against major changes, unless those changes make them money. Developers will happily destroy historic housing that locals can afford with patronizing insults to injury like, “Change is hard.” But look how offended they become when the shoe is on the other foot. Hence the corrupt seldom see themselves as liable for the problems their corruption creates, as though no drop of water could ever be responsible for the flood.

Ellen Buchanan Mobilizes Big Business to Keep Her Secret Government Monolith Alive

An addict is a person with an uncontrolled compulsion to continue engaging in an activity despite the negative personal or professional consequences that result. Addiction can also be defined by the overreaction that occurs when the object of addiction is taken away from the user.

Tax Increment Financing began as a complex and convoluted financial scheme of using public money to repair blighted areas that has gradually morphed into a silver bullet solution for every municipal problem and often gives rise to rampant cronyism at the expense of the taxpayers.

Bureaucrats who become predictably overdependent on Tax Increment Financing constitute TIF addicts and their overuse of this legal financial tool signifies an obvious perversion of the original intentions set down by the state legislature that enacted it in 1974.

This spring Senator Greg Hertz championed a bill meant to reign in some of the abuse during Montana’s 2023 legislative session, prompting an army of lobbyists and business people to come out of the woodwork and assemble in defense of the status quo.

Anyone who earnestly studies TIF will eventually recognize that the law is loose, open to interpretation and riddled with loopholes. There are plenty of instances of Cities using this tool responsibly, but nobody can deny the fact that TIF has also consistently birthed a scourge of runaway redevelopment agencies staffed by unelected bureaucrats who enjoy uninterrupted control over municipal budget spending decisions.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from former MRA director Geoff Badenoch, who ran the agency for 18 years:

The history of Tax Increment around the country has been that it is a temptation that many cities have not been able to resist. And tax increment gets used in ways that go way out on the fringe of what I think legislatures intended. And as a result, in Minnesota, California, Illinois, other states, legislatures have felt the need to come in and restrict the use of tax increment or eliminate it altogether. And, yes. But that’s a political response to abuse. The danger with TIF is that there is a temptation to use it every which way, if you can square it in the law any way, to use it.”

Ellen Buchanan has run the MRA ever since Mr. Badenoch left over two decades ago, and today she makes $180,000 a year to dictate how our tax money is spent. Last month Ellen was quoted in the Missoulian piece titled, Missoula Officials Lash Out At Proposed Bill That Would Revise TIF Laws:

The one that absolutely just destroys Tax Increment Financing in the state of Montana is a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Hertz and it just puts us out of business,” Buchanan said. “There’s no way to amend it that makes it functional or even just less efficient. It just destroys Tax Increment Financing.”

When SB 523 came before the Senate Committee in March, Ellen Buchanan showed up to defend her access to the municipal purse strings. After the Montana Senate passed it Buchanan went into overdrive, sending out a mass Email that included the business community, fellow MRA board members, former mayors, TIF dealers like Stockman Bank and major TIF recipients like Peter Lambros. The Email expressed grave concern about the bill and provided an eight-bullet list of talking points with which to appeal to the members of the Tax Committee that would be deciding the bill’s fate.

Many of Ellen’s bullet points are factually problematic, like the claims made in Bullet #7:

Elimination of TIF may result in higher property taxes, not lower property taxes. Without TIF investment in public facilities, roads, bridges, parks, other infrastructure, this puts more pressure on local governments to find ways to pay for these services.”

So without TIF there aren’t any resources for government to fix the roads? What about the taxes that were collected to begin with? Do we really need a bank loan to fix our roads?

But it doesn’t matter that many of the bullets are factually and demonstrably false because if you get enough people to repeat the lie everyone starts to believe that it’s true. And she definitely harnessed enough people to repeat her points.

In fact, Buchanan’s recruitment efforts were so successful that she didn’t even have to herself testify before the committee. Her newly unelected mayor, Jordan Hess (alongside his handler Council President Gwen Jones), also came to her bidding and helped hypnotically repeat the phrases “affordable housing” and “workforce housing” while she lingered in the background on her phone building the next wave of testimony. The real power remains behind the throne.

A cacophony of lobbyists and business owners stepped up to the microphone to read versions of Buchanan’s talking points at the tax committee. Among the hyperbolic allegations was the predictable claim that “TIF critics are just ignorant,” which seemed particularly offensive given the explosive history of TIF criticism in Missoula.

Speaking of offensive, Missoula City Council President Gwen Jones publicly projected the word “criminal onto Adam Hertz and Jesse Ramos – two former Missoula City Councilmen – for compiling a list of TIF abuses in their City. By The Missoulian’s account, Jones is “an experienced attorney in town” (ostensibly meaning her enunciation of the word “criminal” has extra authority). The article went on to illustrate how the MRA unanimously characterized professional criticism to their spending habits as a“lot of misinformation” being presented deliberately by elected officials:

Everyone in the room murmured in agreement. “By elected officials who know precisely what they’re doing,” Jones said.

One wonders if Ms. Jones has access to a mirror, as she too is an elected official who knows exactly what she’s doing. She is also well versed in the practice of abusing her power. As a board member of Missoula Aging Services, Gwen Jones threatened the job of another MAS employee who had written a poem critical of her policy as a City Councilwoman of placing crippling debts on local homeowners for unnecessary and unsolicited sidewalk updates. She also made a habit throughout 2019 and 2020 of performing background checks on all constituents who presented TIF information to the City Council that she personally disagreed with.

Ellen Buchanan likewise recently resorted to absurdist ad hominem attacks of the citizens critical of her agency’s shenanigans, comparing lawful populist opposition in Helena to the J6 “insurrection”:

You watch what’s going on in Helena and it’s just terrifying,” Buchanan said. “It’s just a microcosm for what went on in D.C. … It’s pretty scary,” Buchanan said. “It’s frightening for staff. It’s frightening for me and it’s frightening to city administration. So not to be a Debbie Downer, but it’s been a tough couple weeks around here.”

She also alleged that there’s been a “criminal” amount of disinformation spread about TIF. Former City Councilman Jesse Ramos responded, saying, “And citizens going to Helena to fight for what they think is right is ‘criminal’? That’s fantastic.”

Big Business opposed the bill with extreme prejudice, and many of the lobbyists who rose in opposition are paid by Montana tax dollars. Most of them parroted Chicken Little’s claim that “the sky is falling” and other apocalyptic predictions foreshadowing the end of the world as we know it should this bill ever become law.

They couldn’t debate obvious instances of TIF abuse so they instead try to divert attention elsewhere. And their buzzwords this session were “affordable housing” and “workforce housing.” But we don’t need to build affordable housing. We need to make existing housing affordable. Native Montanans are supposed to be represented by their legislature and their existing housing is under threat from the commonly occurring phenomenon of sudden property tax inflation. TIF districts disproportionately affect the working classes who pay for them because their property taxes balloon when the “taxable value” of their homes increases.

A stated purpose of TIF is the increase of taxable value, which thereby theoretically grows the tax base.

Theoretical benefits of TIF aside, the demonstrable abuses are as numerous as they are egregious but are all still technically “legal” since the legislature hasn’t really begun to regulate TIF in Montana yet. They include banks loaning their own TIF handouts to municipal governments at interest, unlawful claims of eliminating “future blight” and “blight down the trail,” designating newly constructed buildings as “blighted” to justify additional spending, weaponizing tax monies against local businesses who pay for their corporate competitors to out-compete them, and the cronyism inherent to a runaway board of unelected bureaucrats who have seized control of the City budget and decide economic winners and losers without regard to public will.

While snakes in suits kicked the legislative can down the road in the halls of Montana’s Capitol, many hardworking Montanans continue to be taxed out of their homes and businesses to make room for tourists with townhouses and second-home snowbirds. For the development regime who opposed Hertz’s bill last month that’s not a bug but a feature.

The problem in Missoula is not a lack of housing, it’s that people can’t afford it. One Army veteran we interviewed returning home to Montana in April of this year couldn’t find a one-bedroom studio apartment for less than $2,200 in his hometown of Missoula. But TIF addicts love to twist the reasons for our affordability problem around, which is why they talk a lot about their false solution to the problem: so-called “affordable housing.” TIF addicts like this subject because it technically allows them to administer many additional hits of industrial-grade TIF, even though the TIF statute says nothing whatsoever about building housing.

But Ellen Buchanan won’t let a petty thing like facts get in the way of her propaganda. And beyond quoting her inane blathering, the stenographers at the corporate-owned Missoulian won’t ask her any follow-up questions to statements she utters that make absolutely no sense:

“One of the arguments that is being made by some of the folks testifying for this bill is that we’ve got no business doing housing,” Buchanan said. “All we’re supposed to do is remove blight and housing is not something that’s permitted under TIF statutes, which is ridiculous. That’s been said over and over again, by one of our former city council members that’s really pushing this bill hard. So that’s a little bit ironic that there’s this dichotomy going on.”

I fail to see what Ellen Buchanan means by “ironic” since irony is an outcome opposite from and in mockery of the expected result. She doesn’t provide any evidence whatsoever that her critics are incorrect in their assertion, just that said assertions are “ridiculous”. Having said that, it does indeed seem ironic that a former elementary school principal and superintendent would oppose a bill supported by the School Administrators of Montana:

Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winnifred, said he supported the bill because he believes “bad actors” are abusing the system. “Big corporations that don’t need these tax dollars for their construction projects. We have a person from Big Sky coming up here wanting his money, that really turned me off because those guys have more damn money than the U.S. government has.”

The bill was supported by the School Administrators of Montana, who argue that TIF diverts funds from school districts and instead into construction projects in Urban Renewal Districts.

But Rep. Mark Thane, D-Missoula, took issue with Butcher’s comments. Thane is the former superintendent of Missoula County Public Schools.

“We’ve heard essentially people say that there are abuses, that it’s corrupt, that it’s corporate welfare,” Thane said. “And I just want to go on record as saying that these funds are audited. There’s oversight by local government entities. There is no evidence that there’s been any kind of fraud or corruption or even abuse.” Thane went on to say, “I do take some offense at the allegations that it’s in some way corrupt or being abused when there’s been no evidence presented.

But plenty of evidence of abuse was presented before Thane and his peers by Senator Greg Hertz during the hearing. Thane’s definitely come a long way from his 1995 appointment as principal of the newly constructed Chief Charlo Elementary. Isn’t it interesting that he opposed a bill supported by the School Administrators of Montana, since TIF districts adversely affect school budgets?

TIF addicts won’t bother trying to defend the $1.5 million to Stockman at 4% interest or the $1.6 million to First Interstate at 6%.

They can’t deny the fact that Andy Holloran’s Home Base received over $3.6 million in TIF and used it to add an additional floor to the Marriott.

They can’t rebut the fact that “future blight” is not covered under state code, but was employed to justify $8.6 million in TIF subsidy to Peter Lambros to build a new road toward SouthGate Mall to incentivise Lucky’s Market to move in. But Lucky’s went out of business after only two years and Lambros sold Southgate to Washington Prime Group for $58 million. According to then Mayor Engen, the reason we helped Peter make a cool fifty million dollars of profit with over eight million in public money was to prevent “future blight,” since malls were going out of business all over the country.

Nevertheless, SB 523 died in committee on its way to the House after being tabled by a vote of 13-8. Former City Councilman Jesse Ramos said of the bill’s defeat, “Most unfortunately, SB 523 died in Committee today because of the Great Falls Caucus who believe it is their job to represent their local government. Not their constituents.”

It also didn’t help that certain committee members seemed hellbent on abdicating their responsibility to even consider regulating demonstrably irresponsible behavior. Committee member Dan Fern from Whitefish pigeonholed the debate as “the Missoula show” and even tried forcing a requirement on speakers to identify what town they were from. Chair Feilder overruled Fern’s requirement, but his minimization of the issue was duly noted.

All in all, Ellen Buchanan’s success was a manifest reality. Her persuasion machine succeeded, however narrowly, in convincing the legislature to leave her magic wand collection alone. With the legislative session finally over, she can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that her access to the tax coffers – and her ability to continue profiting from them – remains unimpeded.

At least for now.

Efforts to reign in TIF in Montana multiplied following this legislative session as more citizens began to familiarize themselves with the law, learning for themselves just how deep the rabbit hole goes. SB 523 awoke the multi-tentacled TIF Leviathan. And when the next round of TIF debates fill the halls of the Helena Capitol in 2025, Montana taxpayers can expect an even larger and more menacing beast to rear its ugly head.

POVERTY: The Deadliest Form of Violence


Ignoring Problems Does Not Make Them Disappear

Recently one of Missoula’s local newspapers used images of summer-squatters to give a face to the new boogie man we must all demonize, as part of a new jihad on panhandling. That’s right. There are homeless people downtown begging for your money, and now it is our duty to declare war on them – right?


As more individuals than ever struggle to get by, the war on the impoverished rages to new heights.
But before we get too deep into this topic, let’s not take my word for it. Perhaps we should take a look at this article directly…
The headline reads:

Police and Businesses: Downtown Missoula Panhandling Growing Worse

Martin Kidston for the Missoulian writes:

Panhandlers still press for money, transients still congregate in front of businesses, and the homeless with addiction issues still sleep on city sidewalks.

Some downtown business owners and shoppers have had enough, but there’s little the Missoula Police Department can do other that write offenders a ticket, and even that hasn’t helped.

“Our business community is feeling the frustration because they’re not getting the response they need,” said Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association. “Our police officers are frustrated because they’re limited in what they can do.”

The City Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee met Wednesday to discuss implementation of Missoula’s Pedestrian Interference and Aggressive Solicitation Ordinance.

While the city ordinance was designed to address such issues as aggressive panhandling and sitting and sleeping on downtown sidewalks, some believe it has failed, and it may be making the problem worse.

“The ordinance really hasn’t helped, and I’m not so sure it didn’t re-educate these guys,” said Worden’s Market owner Tim France.

“They are more intractable, it seems. They’re clear about knowing where they can sit, and I’ve watched them sit for hours and hours and hours, even after multiple contacts by law enforcement.”

Instead of watching these people sit for hours and hours and hours, might I suggest perhaps, I don’t know, maybe talking to them? Why does their sitting enrage you so? I mean, what exactly are these people supposed to do? Sing and dance? No patron seems to have a problem with paying customers just sitting for hours and hours – so if someone isn’t putting money into your pocket they don’t deserve to exist? Is that it? Another thing here -they’re clear about knowing where they can sit because they have nowhere else to go without being harassed by law enforcement. But I digress; Kidston writes:

To deal with the problem, some have called for fines and possible jail time for repeat offenders.

Oh yes – jail time! That’s the answer, isn’t it? That’s the answer to everything! There ought to be a law, right? Yeah, because homeless people have money to pay fines, and putting them in jail is a perfectly plausible solution – how dare anyone be without money! Why don’t poor people just buy more money? I don’t get it. Here’s what we do – let’s punish the poor for being poor. Brilliant solution everybody – top class – I really hope you’re proud of yourselves. Good work. Fantastic. Now I’m on the edge of my seat – pray-tell, what other nuggets of wisdom does this article have in store for us?

France has adjusted his business by monitoring liquor sales and types. Other downtown establishments that sell packaged liquor may do the same in an effort to forge their own solution.

France said he recently observed two intoxicated transients engage in a fistfight in the middle of the day with families nearby. It was one of several examples given to highlight the problems business owners and downtown shoppers face.

“It’s just a very graphic example of what we see on a very regular basis,” said France. “Our inability to move people along is glaring, and they seem hardwired knowing they don’t have to move on.”

I love how the propensity is to treat the issue of panhandling like it is itself some kind of disease. I’ve got some news for the good people out there; there are more than 800,000 homeless Americans walking our streets, right now living already in a post-apocalyptic reality, and if it makes some affluent business owner uncomfortable to be confronted with the reality of where this country is headed, the answer is not to ignore that reality or deny its existence or treat those in poverty as though they are the problem. I think we would do well to understand that homelessness and panhandling are symptoms of a profoundly sick society rotting from the inside. If there are no opportunities for income, people won’t have homes, let alone food. But he’s right – they seem hardwired knowing they don’t have to move on – because they’re human beings – why on Earth would they have to move on? Where should they go? Where would the pretentious affluent prefer they relocate to? What would convenience the yuppies most? The article continues:

Ellen Buchanan, executive director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, met recently with developers eying a high-priced project in the Riverfront Triangle.
After the meeting, one developer spent an evening downtown. Despite his worldly travels, he was less than pleased with the level of panhandling, aggressive behavior and inebriation he witnessed among Missoula’s transient population.

“He told me, ‘You’ve got some cleaning up to do in your downtown,’ ” Buchanan told the committee. “This is someone who’s looking at a multimillion-dollar investment downtown. His concerns certainly caught my attention.

Missoula Redevelopment Agency?  I’ll listen to the outsider with some mysterious flippin multimillion $ plan rather than asking a person born and raised here living in a tent under a bridge because she likes living outside and she’s been through hell and high water trying to negotiate the privilege of living life with an insane society that only cares about their narrow window of …”doing my job, just doing my job, gotta do a good job so I’ll get that check… check into the bank… can’t see my life blood retained….”

Because there is no money in helping people, is there? If some multi-million dollar investor who isn’t even from Missoula, is uncomfortable by a glaring reality more difficult to ignore on a daily basis, then we need to criminalize the act of being poor, right? Its also very telling that they’re upset about inebriation – especially Mr. France. “God, these people are just drunk out there, sitting around.” Well what does Warden’s Market sell, anyway? Do they sell, groceries? Not really. Oh, but they do sell alcohol – lots and lots of alcohol, and little else. Oh right – Cigars. I suppose they’ve got some cigars down there too. And alright, to be fair there is a single aisle of condiments in there to make the place look a bit more respectable so they don’t just look like a liquor store. After all, Grizzly Liquor is right across the street. The article concludes:

Council members expressed varying levels of concern, including Bryan von Lossberg, who agreed that citations alone aren’t working, and Emily Bentley, who asked why jail time wasn’t already on the books.

To that question, attorney Dan Cederberg said the city in 2009 considered adding jail time to the original ordinance but shied away for two reasons, including a lack of political will and the costs involved in doing so.

“If you put somebody in jail on a city ordinance violation, then the city is liable for the jail time,” he said. “There are often other costs associated with that, like medical treatment.”

Cederberg expressed his support for a tiered penalty system that includes increasing fines for each offense and jail as a possibility for repeat offenders.

He said a Missoula Municipal Court judge supports jail as an option as well, and will likely testify before the committee lending support for jail as a penalty.

“To make the ordinance effective, she needs that tool (jail) in her belt to make it work,” Cederberg said. “She would like the ability to effect jail time, and she’d like it to be effective jail time.”

And that’s it – that’s the entire article. The Missoulian didn’t even bother to interview these so-called transients, did they? Was there even a mention of why these people are homeless in the first place? And I’m supposed to interpret this as journalism?

Somebody’s confusing the symptoms for the problem here. The problem is not that there are more homeless people, oh excuse me, let me use the Missoulian’s charming expression here – TRANSIENTS. The problem is not that there are more transients than ever begging for change. That is a symptom. A symptom of what our economic system produces, namely scarcity. This system is beneficial only to elites, and if you think it serves you, that’s because your number hasn’t come up yet -keyword here YET. This is a game of musical chairs, and here are local business owners getting upset at the people who lost the first few rounds of musical chairs. They don’t have a chair to sit in, so what are they supposed to do? Are they supposed to just go die somewhere so you don’t have to be confronted with reality on a daily basis?

So while the question of how to “end homelessness” is proposed, what seems to be the most obvious reason for homelessness? If people can’t pay rent, they’re going to be homeless. If people can’t find work they won’t be able to pay rent. If the banks have intentionally destroyed our economy to line their own pockets thereby undermining our entire manufacturing base, then people won’t be able to find work. Follow the money – it’s called basic journalism.

Many people in our society, especially the affluent, have the audacity to think of homeless people as freeloaders – as panhandlers – as transients. The homeless who walk our streets are living out their daily existence in a post-apocalyptic reality. It is no picnic to be in their shoes, and we would do well to walk a mile in their shoes before judging them. There is no freeloading to be had here – their life is one of daily suffering and constant misery, not just of the lack of means to survive, but from the corrosive outlook of those condescending enough to look down their noses at them, as though they’re not even human. Then newspapers go the extra step, attempting to make their demonization a commonplace mentality.

And yet, The harder it gets out there, the more numerous the homeless population will grow – that encompasses you and I. And why don’t these homeless folks have a better attitude? They’re only starving to death in a system that offers few safety nets and no economic opportunities.  The illusion here is that there exists a difference between them and us. There is no them and there is no us – unless you’re into binary distinctions, drawing lines in the sand, or adhering to divide and conquer strategies employed by elites. You know, there are two kinds of people in the world – people who make binary distinctions about there being two kinds of people in the world, and everybody else.

There is only we in this game of musical chairs. Just because I didn’t lose the first round of musical chairs does not give me the right to demonize those who have been left out to dry. And when its my turn to lose one of the next rounds, a sense of urgency will suddenly well up inside of me as reality comes sinking in that I’m on my own. But so is everybody else – Musical Chairs does not meet a harmonious end, it ends with one privileged person and everyone else loses. That’s no model to build your society on unless you’re fond of Concentration Camps. Anybody want to be Nazi Germany?  The POINT here is that today it is them, the unfortunates, who have lost the first few rounds of the real musical chairs game. But tomorrow its us, as the game of monopolization continues. This is far from over. It is delusional to think that we can avoid this; that if we’re smart we can stay afloat as everything becomes worse and worse. That we can just ignore these problems and keep right charging right on course with the dead shell of what used to be free-market capitalism. We don’t have capitalism anymore. We don’t even have a society – we have a collective of individuals, cooped up in their individual houses, hating on everybody else, watching television to better ignore what we’re collectively doing to the planet and each other. No person is an island. But our media outlets continue to perpetuate this ridiculous myth of a jobless recovery.

“But wait a minute – I heard on the nightly news that unemployment is getting better?  So these homeless folks are just too lazy to get out there and find a job in the wage-slavery market.”

The only statistical data concerning unemployment RATES that is reported on the mainstream media has to do with the percentage of our population currently receiving unemployment insurance BENEFITS. It is does not include any other demographics. So if you hear that unemployment is currently 7.1%, that means that 7.1% of Americans are currently receiving unemployment insurance benefits. That means that 7.1% of our population receives a check from the Unemployment agency this month. Now, on the other hand, if you’re talking about the percentage of Americans without income, our actual “unemployment” rate in America is closer to 30%.

But how can this be?

92 million Americans are presently excluded from the labor force in a country with roughly 315 million people.   Do the math, I’ll wait. That’s roughly a third of our population. We can’t see the depression for what it is because we’ve gotten a lot better at hiding it. There are no lines for soup kitchens in this day in age, because we’ve invented food stamps – its hard for a photographer in the journalism field to take a picture of a long line of people standing in a bread line if 47 million Americans are enrolled in the SNAP program because they can’t afford to eat on their low wages. And this is the crux of this entire issue – our system demands people have access to money – scratch that – currency, to survive. And not just any currency. We’ve institutionalized the Federal Reserve note as the only acceptable currency with which to trade for goods and services. So therefore if people have no access to Federal Reserve notes, they lack access to the necessities of life. And what do most of us believe is our only source for Federal Reserve Notes?

Jobs. We’ve got to get a job that pays a wage, but most jobs don’t pay a wage that we can survive on, do they? There are 92 million Americans without a source of income right now.

But some economists actually contend that there is no real “labor shortage,” only a shortage of people willing to work at the wages currently being offered. We may as well discuss a “Lamborghini Shortage” – which there is, you see, since there is a shortage of people willing to pay $300,000 for a car. Calling around to various economists and complaining about the inadequacy of wages available to entry-level workers, the first response is always the same: they say, “But wages are going up!” Obviously we have one of those debates over whether the glass is half empty or half full. While wages at the bottom might be going up, they’re not going up very briskly. The obvious reason why they’re not is that employers resist wage increases with every trick they can think of and every ounce of strength they can muster. I’ve had ample opportunities to query some my own former employers on this subject, some of whom have CONFIDED in me that they could easily double their business overnight, if only they could just find “enough reliable workers.” So, as politely as possible, I asked why they didn’t make their jobs more competitive and just raise the pay, thereby undermining the frequency of the turnover rate. But the question seems to slide right off of them. One employer actually told me, “We offer “mothers’ hours,” meaning that the work-day was over at three o’clock, – as if to say, “With a benefit like that, how could anybody complain about something as inconsequential as wages?” But this is a non sequitur because their employees continue leaving.

As Louis Uchitelle reported in the New York Times, many employers will offer almost anything, from free meals, to subsidized transportation, to store discounts – rather than raise wages. The reason for this, in the words of one employer, is that such extras “can be shed more easily” than wage increases when changes in the market seem to make them unnecessary. In the same spirit, automobile manufacturers would rather offer their customers cash rebates than reduced prices; the advantage of the rebate is that it seems like a gift, and can be withdrawn without explanation.

But the resistance of employers to increase wages only raises a second and ultimately more intractable question: Why isn’t this resistance met by more effective counter pressure from the workers themselves? I mean, don’t workers have unions to stave off exploitative slave-labor practices? In evading and warding off wage increases, employers are of course behaving in an economically rational fashion; their business isn’t to make their employees more comfortable and secure, but to maximize profits. So why don’t employees behave in an equally rational fashion, demanding higher wages of their employers or seeking out better-paying jobs? The assumption behind the law of supply and demand as it applies to labor, is that workers will sort themselves out as effectively as marbles on an inclined plane – gravitating to the better-paying jobs and either leaving the wayward employers behind or forcing them to up the pay. According to economic theory, we are all supposed to do whatever it takes to secure and maximize our own economic advantages. Well difficult though it may be for the economics professor to believe, human beings are not marbles, and tend to experience a lot more friction than marbles do, and the poorer we are, the more constrained our mobility is. Low-wage folks who don’t have cars are often dependent on a relative who is willing to drop them off and pick them up each day, sometimes on a route that includes the babysitter’s house or the child care center. In turn another obvious result is that working two jobs, folks cannot raise their own children, and the day care centers and public schools are charged with doing our jobs for us, locking us into further government dependency on external institutions. And if you change your place of work, you may be confronted with an impossible topographical problem to solve, or at least a reluctant driver that now must be persuaded into assisting you on a daily basis. Many of my previous co-workers have ridden bikes to work, and though this is cleaner and healthier, clearly limits one’s geographical range. For those who do possess cars, there are many more problems still with gas prices, oil changes and maintenance, registration, mandatory insurance and compulsory licensing, and of course the numerous court fees accumulated from police who are just trying to secure the city’s bottom line. And with the general hassle of getting around to fill out applications, drop off resumes, get interviewed and take drug tests, being without transportation all-too-often means being perpetually unemployed.

Its easy to judge others when you’re comfortable, but when its your butt in the sling, and you see for yourself from the eyes of the poor, the utter lack of compassion and so-called humanity our society has to offer those truly in need, reality begins to set in like a brick wall to the face and that sense of urgency begins to take hold in your stomach. Only when we experience poverty for ourselves do we realize what the phenomena of hunger really feels like. So while today its them, tomorrow its us – it’s you and me. We would do well to watch our language with regards to demonizing these so-called poor people. Because how long do we need to travel down that road before we see where it leads? Is our solution really to round them up and arrest them? So we cordon off this ambiguous sector of the population as undesirable and ship them off… where? To prisons? To labor camps? To a Gulag?

How about this new trend of anti-homeless floor studs – have you seen this? Metal spikes installed near doorways under awnings where a homeless person might sleep to avoid the weather. Businesses have decided to install metal spikes in those places to prevent the homeless from sleeping there, because God forbid we be presented with the consequences of what our economic system produces.





Or Pay to Sit Park Benches – park benches with retractable spikes which retract only when pocket change is fed into a slot. After a period of time an alarm sounds to let the sitter know their time is almost up, at which point the spikes jut back up again to prevent poor people from enjoying the luxury of sitting down on a bench.


To illustrate where this kind of thinking leads, let’s take a look at a little town called Columbia, South Carolina, whose city council has successfully outlawed homelessness – isn’t that great? It’s actually illegal to be homeless in Columbia!

Columbia’s city council voted unanimously to ban all homeless people from its downtown business area. Violators will be jailed, but those who wish to “comply” can stay at a shelter just outside of the city limits. The catch is that they must be among the first 240 to get there, and are not permitted to leave the grounds by any means, other than the official shuttle booked by appointment only.



The American dream turns into a nightmare when we succumb to the reality of getting stacked into giant, concrete, filing-cabinets we can barely pay for with the crappy service jobs available, lest we become homeless, which is rapidly becoming a crime in many places around Amerika.

Did you know that 25% of all homeless Americans are Veterans?

Did you know there are 24 EMPTY homes for every homeless person in America?

That is what the census says. Andrew Leonard in Salon notes that it is a bit misleading, that “4.7 million are for “seasonal use” only, the Census tells us — unoccupied vacation homes, in other words. 4.1 million are for rent, 2.3 million are for sale, and the remaining 7.5 million “were vacant for a variety of other reasons.”

The census also lists the total number of homeless in America as 759,101. Therefore, according to these numbers, there are 24 empty houses for every homeless person in America.


Let’s think about this last statistic for a moment, shall we? While the city of Missoula proposes building a new Poverello center, I find myself asking why we need to build more buildings if there are already so many empty buildings? Why are we building more structures? We have more houses than we have people, but they’re all empty because this is the banking industry’s idea of a good profit margin. Could we, I don’t know, stop building and make use of the buildings we already have? And by the way – nobody wants to live in a Ghetto. I know people think they should be grateful for it, but nobody wants to live there. Sickness and mites spreads like wildfire in places where people are crammed together like sardines. I’m sorry, it is a Ghetto – that’s what a Ghetto is. Cramming people with no options left into a relatively tiny facility. 24 empty homes for every homeless person in this country and we’re proposing building another Ghetto. We can do better than this, goddamit. This is a shameful outrage that for some reason, nobody wants to confront for what it is.


This situation is more commonplace today than I think most of us want to admit, and more Americans than ever are forced to make the ludicrous choice between a full stomach, or paying the rent. Why can’t our financial elite be introduced to this ever-so-elusive concept of ETHICS? Are the bankers familiar with that word? Or the concept of EMPATHY?  The deadliest form of violence is poverty, like Mahatma Ghandi said, and he didn’t say it that long ago: Poverty – is the deadliest form of violence.


“When the United States is not invading some sovereign nation—or setting it on fire from the air, which is more fun for our simple- minded pilots—we’re usually busy “declaring war” on something here at home. Anything we don’t like about ourselves, we declare war on it. We don’t do anything about it, we just declare war. “Declaring war” is our only public metaphor for problem solving. We have a war on crime, a war on poverty, a war on hate, a war on litter, a war on cancer, a war on violence, and Ronald Reagan’s ultimate joke, the war on drugs. More accurately, the war on the Constitution.

“But there’s no war on homelessness. You notice that? It’s because there’s no money in it. If someone could end homelessness and in the process let the corporate swine steal a couple of billion dollars, you’d see the streets of America clear up pretty goddamn quickly. But if you think it’s going to be solved through human decency, relax. It’s not gonna happen. You know what I think they ought to do about homelessness? Change its name. It’s not homelessness, it’s houselessness. It’s houses these people need. Home is an abstract idea; it’s a setting, a state of mind. These people need houses. Physical, tangible structures. They need low-cost housing.

“But there’s no place to put it. People don’t want low-cost housing built anywhere near them. We have a thing in this country called NIMBY: “Not in my backyard!” People don’t want social assistance of any kind located anywhere near them. Just try to open a halfway house, a rehab center, a shelter for the homeless, or a home for retarded people who want to work their way into the community. Forget it. People won’t allow it. “Not in my backyard!” People don’t want anything near them, especially if there’s a chance it might help somebody. It’s part of that great, generous American spirit we hear so much about. You can ask the Indians about that. If you manage to find one. We’ve made Indians just a little hard to find. Should you need more current data, select any black family at random. Ask them how generous America has been to them.

“People don’t want anything near them, Even if it’s something they think society needs, like prisons. Everybody says, “Build more prisons! But don’t build them here.” Well, why not? What’s wrong with having a prison in your neighborhood? It seems to me it would make for a fairly crime-free area. You think a lot of crackheads and thieves and hookers are gonna be hangin’ around in front of a fuckin’ prison? Bullshit! They ain’t goin’ anywhere near it. What could be safer than a prison? All of the criminals are locked inside. And if a couple of them do manage to escape, what do you think. they’re gonna do? Hang around? Check real estate prices? Bullshit! They’re fuckin’ gone! That’s the whole idea of breakin’ out of prison: to get as far away as you possibly can. . “Not in my backyard.” People don’t want anything near them. Except military bases. They like that, don’t they? Give ’em an army or a navy base; that makes ’em happy. Why? Jobs. Self-interest. Even if the base is loaded with nuclear weapons, they don’t give a shit. They’ll say, “Well, I don’t mind a few mutations in the family if I can get a decent job.” Working people have been fucked over so long, those are the kind of decisions they make now.

“But getting back to low-cost housing, I think I might have solved this problem. I know just the place to build housing for the homeless: golf courses. It’s perfect. Plenty of good land in nice neighborhoods; land that is currently being squandered on a mindless activity engaged in by white, well-to-do business criminals who use the game to get together so they can make deals to carve this country up a little finer among themselves. I’m sick of these golfing cocksuckers in their green and yellow pants, precious little hats, and pussified golf carts. It’s time for real people to reclaim the golf courses from the wealthy and turn them over to the homeless. Golf is an arrogant, elitist game that takes up entirely too much space in this country.

“The arrogant nature of golf is evident in the design and scale of the game. Think of how big a golf course is. It’s huge; you can’t see one end of it from the other. But the ball is only an inch and a half in diameter. So will someone please explain to me what these pinheaded pricks need with all that land? America has over 17,000 golf courses. They average over 150 acres apiece. That’s three million-plus acres. Four thousand, eight hundred and twenty square miles. We could build two Rhode Islands and a Delaware’s worth of housing for the homeless on the land currently wasted on this meaningless, mindless, arrogant, racist game. That’s another thing: race. The only blacks you’ll find in country clubs are carrying trays. And don’t give me that Tiger Woods bullshit. Fuck Tiger Woods. He ain’t black. He acts, talks, and lives like a white boy. Skin alone doesn’t make you black.

“And let’s not forget how boring golf is. Have you ever watched it on television? It’s like watching flies fuck. A completely mindless game. I should think it takes a fairly low intellect to draw pleasure from the following activity: hitting a ball with a crooked stick …and then walking after it! And then …hitting it again! I say, “Pick it up, asshole, you’re lucky you found the fuckin’ thing in the first place. Put it in your pocket and go the fuck home!” But, no. Dorko, in the plaid knickers, is gonna hit the ball again. And then he’s gonna walk some more. I say let these rich cocksuckers play miniature golf. Let ’em fuck with a windmill for an hour and a half. I wanna see if there’s any real skill among these people. And yeah, yeah, I know there are plenty of golfers who don’t consider themselves rich; people who play on badly maintained public courses. Fuck ’em! Fuck them and shame on them! Shame! For engaging in an arrogant, elitist, racist activity.”

~George Carlin


They’re everywhere; on the street, at the bus stop, even the corner of Circle K, and there being millions of them, it’s no surprise, You’ve guessed it – I’m talking about our homeless. We all have our opinions and have heard statements regarding the homeless be it, “keep walking,” “avoid eye contact,” and my personal favorite, “ignore them,” and they’ll all go away. But the truth of the matter is, this problem isn’t going away. Homelessness is a major problem for the United States, with a skewed view by the public regarding the causes and effects has lead to dehumanization and unfortunately, an overlooked need. Today I would like to enlighten you on the causes and the effects of homelessness, which have attributed none to the solution.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, Poverty is the leading cause of homelessness. But Poverty is multi-faceted, and the first of which is work related. Be it due to downsizing or inadequate work ethics, losing a job at the wrong time can have an indomitable effect on one’s social class.

Take for instance, Guy Trevor, a former Interior Designer prior to the foreclosure crisis. He says,

“I see myself as a casualty of a perfect storm. The people sleeping on the parking lot are very friendly. They’re just like me. They come from normal, everyday homes. I don’t think a lot of people in this country realize that they too are a couple of paychecks away from destitution.”

But believe it or not, he’s absolutely right. According to a recent survey performed by Careerbuilder.com, 4 in 10 workers say they’ve often or always lived paycheck-to-paycheck.

Healthcare is also another contributing factor to Poverty in the United States. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless for families and individuals struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness. And considering that one-third of all people living in Poverty has no health insurance whatsoever, one bad break, or one illness can send an entire family down the road to homelessness.

Personal problems is the second major contributing cause of homelessness in the United States, first of which being domestic violence. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, nationally, approximately half of all women and children experiencing homelessness are fleeing domestic violence. And considering the extent of abuse, the choice is trivial.

Mental Illness and Addiction are also contributing causes of homelessness in the United States, surprisingly not to the extent that most of us realize. According the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Only 16% of the single, adult, homeless population suffers from some form of mental illness. and according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the increase in homelessness over the past two decades cannot be explained by addiction alone – which leads me to the sad effects of homelessness.

Pastor Mark Hewitt, Director of Love and Care Ministries says:

“I think a lot of people think homeless people are nothing. They’re feeble; they’re not “all-there.” I think people take that opportunity to take what they have, or beat them.”

He’s absolutely right. Often times we find ourselves frowning upon the homeless, ignoring the homeless, and believing the worst – thinking they’re trying to “free-ride” their way through life, rather than getting a job like the rest of us. But sometimes that’s not the case, which leads to dehumanization.

Four years ago, Nathan Moore was a typical 15-year-old boy who liked typical 15-year-old things like playing video games, watching movies, and hanging out with friends. Until some of his friends decided to, “play a game,” of what they considered a game of taunting a 49-year-old  homeless man, Rex Baum. It started innocently enough (or as innocently as this can get) with yelling and screaming, but eventually escalated to hitting and punching, and then throwing anything and everything that they saw in sight, from sticks and rocks, to bricks and even the homeless man’s barbecue grill. One of the boys picked up a baseball bat that homeless man had at the side of his camp for his own protection and began pounding him with it. Upon finding him unresponsive to their abuse, one of the boys took their own fecal matter and smeared it across his face before cutting him, simply to “see if he was alive.” He wasn’t. And upon finding this, the boys left the homeless man there with his face wedged in his own barbecue grill, and a plastic tarp over his body, hoping that the animals would eat him, before heading off to grab a bite to eat at McDonald’s.

Believe it or not, these stories of abuse are not far and few. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, the number of attacks on the homeless has been at the highest level in almost a decade. It was reported 122 attacks and 20 murders in 2006. And as the years continue, so does the number of attacks on the homeless.

As we’ve seen, the causes of homelessness are typically due to unexpected and unpreventable circumstances. And the majority of people experiencing homelessness today are everyday folks such as ourselves who fell into one of these situations. It is also clear that these actions of abuse are unacceptable. But actions derive from attitude. And currently our attitude stinks. We give abuse rather than compassion, beatings rather than sympathy, and avoiding eye-contact rather than addressing the issue with more vigorous action. It is clear that change must start within ourselves. But the real question is, “Are we willing to change?”




People so often ask, “What do you do,” as a conversation starter. The question annoyed me for years since I tended to see it as an attempt to label me in a particular category of a person’s mind. It reminded me of that famous scene in Taxi Driver where a fellow Cabby explains to Robert De Niro that what you do is who you are. So if you drive a taxi, you’re a cabby. If you spend your day in the kitchen, you are a cook.  But Tyler Durden’s contention that you are not your job, sits a whole lot better with me, since I’ve engaged in a plethora of activities over the years to keep a roof over my head but did not identify personally with any of them.

Over the course of my life I’ve held down a lot of different jobs to make ends meet. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve never been fired from any job in my life. However, something happened in 2008 that changed the game for everyone; The banking collapse made everything worse for everybody, and tossed six-million families onto the streets in a matter of months as the subprime loan bubble burst. That was the first time I had ever experienced a layoff, and I like so many others was only able to prevent myself from becoming homeless during a long, tedious job-search by prematurely cashing in my 401K retirement plan, and registering to collect Unemployment Insurance Benefits. Do not confuse Unemployment with Welfare, because if you’re eligible for Unemployment Benefits its because you earned it by paying into it. But that safety-net doesn’t last long; when it runs out, if you haven’t found a job, you’re on your own, and the brick wall of reality hits hard.

But even if you are employed, most people I know have to work two jobs simultaneously to make it work, and I have myself often experienced periods where 70-hour work weeks were a normal phenomena.

When a single person in good health, who possesses a working car, can barely support themselves by the sweat of their brow, something is indeed very off track in our system.
It wasn’t that long ago that mothers could stay at home and rear their children while the family survived monetarily off of dad’s earnings. I’m all for empowering women but our system hasn’t done that at all – today’s family struggles despite the fact that  both parents work two jobs; and since the child never gets to see their parents,  they’re raised by the system – and we wonder why our kids are disturbed.

When the entirety of your earnings are exhausted on food and shelter, your labors are no longer viewed as an opportunity for economic advancement, but rather as an act of self preservation in the real world. That’s called SLAVERY, but most Americans don’t see the plantation. Why not? You don’t need a degree in economics to perceive that wages are too low and rents too high. Especially in a college town like Missoula, where predatory lending agencies siphon student loan refund checks, and Property Management Companies knowingly charge exorbitant rents since they’re after all banking on new waves of naïve freshmen who can be convinced that this is all very much “normal,” and that it has always been this way, to sign their exploitative contracts. During my third year in school I remember one rental agency actually increased our rent by 50 dollars every six weeks. I am not making this up.

When the rich and the poor compete for housing on the open market, the poor don’t stand a chance.  The rich can always outbid them, buy up their tenements or trailer parks, and replace them with condos, McMansions, Golf Courses or whatever they wish.  The poor of today have been forced into housing that is more expensive, more dilapidated, or more distant from their places of work. Insofar as the poor have to work near the dwellings of the rich – as is the case of so many service and retail jobs – they are stuck with lengthy commutes or dauntingly expensive housing.

When the market fails to distribute some vital commodity, such as housing, to all who require it, the usual liberal-to-moderate expectation is that the government will step in and help. We accept this principle, albeit halfheartedly, in the case of health care, but in the case of housing, the extreme upward skewing of the market has been accompanied by a cowardly public sector retreat from responsibility.

The deadliest form of violence is poverty. If this is true, then it cannot be disputed that today we are experiencing a level of violence unparalleled by anything in recorded history.

John Steinbeck likewise once observed that the poor of America see themselves NOT as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. Thus none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.

I’m amazed and simultaneously profoundly saddened by the pride some people take in jobs that reward them so meagerly, either in wages or in recognition.  Often, in fact, these people have experienced management as an obstacle to getting the job done as it should be done – just like in the Mike Judge Film Office Space. There seems to be a vicious cycle at work here.

Ours is not just an economy of inequality, but a culture of inequality. Corporate suits occupy economic positions miles above that of the underpaid masses whose labor they depend upon; they tend to distrust the category of people from which they recruit their workforce, hence the perceived need for repressive management and intrusive measures like the whiz-quiz or the personality exam; exams and medical tests that cost a lot of money, resulting in ever more increased pressure to keep wages down. And indeed the society is caught up in a similar cycle of cutting public services for the poor and investing more heavily in prisons and cops; the microcosm displays once again that the cost of repression becomes another factor weighing against the expansion or restoration of needed services. Running on the hamster wheel, we’re condemned to even deeper inequality, and in the long run, almost no one benefits but the agents of repression.

Most civilized nations compensate for the inadequacy of wages by providing relatively generous public services such as health care, child care, subsidized housing, maternity leave, free education, or public transportation. But the US, for all its wealth, leaves its citizens to fend for themselves – facing market-based rents on non-competitive wages and nothing more. For millions of Americans, that laughable minimum wage is all that there is.

Physical slavery requires people be housed and fed.

Economic slavery requires people house and feed themselves.




Many people attest that raising the minimum wage decreases the purchasing power of the dollars in their pocket, but what are we really talking about here? The first minimum wage was established in 1938, and it was 25 cents per hour… But the economy was different then, and hadn’t inflated to where it is now. Today’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour or roughly $14,000 annually, and that’s before taxes, mind you. Fourteen-Thousand dollars in the year 2014 amounts to roughly $850 in 1938.So when we adjust for inflation today’s minimum wage should be at least double what it is just to match what it was in 1938 when the minimum was established. Still, as many people are against raising the minimum as those advocating for a maximum. So if raising the minimum wage cheapens your money, it certainly doesn’t cheapen your money to anywhere near the degree that inflation does. We know that this is exactly what happens with inflation in all of its forms, including the institutionalized counterfeiting operation known as Quantitative Easing that take place at Private Central Banks like our beloved FED. I still don’t see how resetting the game a little bit to include people who weren’t at the Monopoly board when the game got started could do any harm whatsoever, nor do I see any reason any person from any background to feel opposed to such a proposal – I mean, it shouldn’t be a novel idea that if your neighbors do well, you do well; that the success of those around you is your success. But we’ve got this whole competitive
edge in the Economic game, don’t we? Winner-take-all and nice guys finish last. Make an all out commitment to acquisition and accumulation and win the game by kicking in your opponent’s teeth.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, I don’t know if raising the minimum wage constitutes a solution to the PROBLEM, or merely one of its symptoms.  It very well may be simply delaying the inevitable, since the phenomena of technological unemployment has come into view in a society where most labor becomes obsolete due to technical automation of just about everything. Cars are made by machines. Clothes are made by machines. CDs, blue jeans, sneakers, computers, even guitars and houses, all can be made by technical automation now. In fact many low-wage jobs only exist  now because those tasks have not been automated yet. As soon as a machine can do it, the market has no use for you. In the end this is a good thing, since it frees human beings from menial and meaningless tasks, but in a market system driven by dollars and cents that leaves the working class to fend for themselves, it’s absolutely catastrophic.

Worst of all, for the jobs that haven’t been affected by automation yet, workers are expected to act like machines, and we never care if our computer is sick, we just want it to work, and in the modern disposable economy, toss it the moment it fails. What is difficult for those who are not poor to see is the acute distresses: they don’t see how being unable to eat leads to lightheadedness and faintness on the job before the end of a long shift; they don’t see the “home” that is a car or a van; they don’t see the illness or injury that must be “worked through,” with gritted teeth, because after all there is no sick pay or health plan, and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next, if not losing the job altogether for inconveniencing the establishment. By this token, a good friend of mine was recently fired from a local Missoula restaurant for, believe it or not, undergoing an Emergency Surgery whereby his appendix had to be removed. He was fired from his job for this, and this treatment is shockingly routine among employers. I wish more people would see that these experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle, or even a lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low-level punishment. They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that is how we should see the poverty of so many millions of low-wage Americans – as nothing short of a state of Emergency!  The true consequence of learning these hard truths was possibly best articulated by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. who said that A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its previous dimensions. As a consequence it becomes more and more difficult to participate in the façade that everything is okay. Thereby anti-depressant medications have been peddled for this kind of thinking. Many would like us to believe that anti-depressants are the answer. Just give in and quit being so gosh darned negative all the time – you can perceive all of this to be good! So you lost your house, your job, your
car and your ability to feed yourself but you can feel good about all of this if you just take one of THESE every day. After all, depression is just a chemical imbalance, right? But no! – to be depressed is not a sign of a serious chemical imbalance; no one said it better than Huxley, that “It is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” After unplugging Neo from the Matrix, does Morpheus offer him an antidepressant to “make it all better?” Quite the opposite – the red pill opened his eyes, didn’t it? He was forced to see the world as it is, instead of as he may have wished it to be.

But some odd optical illusion within our highly polarized and unequal society makes the poor almost invisible to their economic supervisors. Journalist James Fallows reported in 2000 that, from the vantage point of the Internet’s nouveaux of riches, it is “hard to understand people for whom a million dollars would be a fortune…not to mention those for whom $246 is a full week’s earnings.” Among the reasons he and others have cited for the blindness of the affluent is the fact they are less and less likely to share spaces and services with the poor. As public schools and other public services deteriorate, those who can afford to do so send their children to private schools and spend their off-hours in private spaces like health clubs, instead of the local park. They don’t ride on public buses and subways. They withdraw from mixed neighborhoods into distant suburbs, gated communities, or guarded apartment towers; they shop in stores that, in line with the prevailing “market segmentation,” are designed to appeal to the affluent alone. Even the affluent young are increasingly unlikely to spend their summers learning how those lowly peasants live, as dishwashers, as waitresses, as housekeepers.

Then, too, the particular political movement favors what looks like a “conspiracy of silence” on the subject of poverty and the poor; since elected Democrats are not eager to find flaws in the period of “unprecedented prosperity” they take credit for, and elected Republicans have lost interest in the poor now that “welfare-as-we-know-it” has ended. Welfare reform itself is a factor weighing against any close investigation of the conditions of the poor. Both parties heartily endorsed it, and to acknowledge that low-wage work doesn’t lift people out of poverty would be to admit that it may have been, in human terms, a catastrophic mistake! One reason nobody has bothered to pull all this information together and announce a widespread state of emergency may be that Americans of the newspaper-reading professional middle class are used to thinking of poverty as a consequence of unemployment. When unemployment causes poverty, we know how to state the problem: we say, “Well, the economy just isn’t GROWING fast enough,” because our system is built on an infinite growth paradigm, and furthermore we know that the traditional liberal solution is something called “full employment.” But when we have full or nearly full employment, when jobs are available to any job seeker who can get to them, then the problem goes deeper and begins to cut into that web of expectations that make up the “social contract.”  I grew up hearing over and over to the point of tedium that “hard work” was the secret to success: “Work hard and you’ll get ahead” or “It’s hard work that got us where we are today!” No one ever said that you could work hard – harder even than you ever though possible – and still find yourself sinking ever deeper into poverty and debt, as our system is of course designed to do. The only counter to this I can think of given to me by any superior came during my time in the Army, where a Lt. Colonel told me to work smarter – not harder. This man also told me that the fastest way to get anything done was to pick out the laziest guy and let him lead the project, because he would find a way to get through the task as quickly as possible, though I never understood what to him constituted a lazy individual.


THE POINT IS that when poor single mothers had the option of remaining out of the labor force on welfare, the ZERO POINT ONE PERCENT quickly defaulted to their corporate media to convince everyone else to view them with a certain impatience on the edge of contempt, if not all out disgust. The welfare poor were condemned for their laziness, denounced for their persistence in reproducing in unfavorable circumstances, criticized for their presumed addictions, and above all castigated for their “dependency.”

“”TO THINK, here they were, the lazy bastards, content to live off “government handouts” instead of seeking “self-sufficiency,” like everyone else, through a job – the nerve. They need to get their act together, learn how to wind an alarm clock, get out there and work.””

But now that government has largely withdrawn its so-called “handouts” now that the overwhelming majority of the poor are out there toiling in Wal-Marts or Wendy’s, what are we to think of them now? Disapproval and condescension no longer apply, so what outlook makes sense? GUILT?, you may be thinking warily. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to feel? But guilt doesn’t go anywhere nearly far enough to solve the problem, does it? I would venture to say that the appropriate emotion is SHAME – shame at our own dependency, in this case, on the underpaid labor of others; SHAME on our consumption of low-cost goods that are low cost specifically because they’re SLAVE-MADE goods; SHAME on our complacency through entertainment; SHAME on our obsession with convenience; and SHAME on us, that with which we demand so crumbles the social foundation of our entire society. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor to everyone else, one of history’s many ghost writers. The late, great George Carlin once remarked, “You know how I define the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keeps all of the money and pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes and does all of the work. The poor are there just to scare the crap out of the middle class and keep them showing up to those jobs.


Ana Kasparian for The Young Turks reports:

“Utah is a very conservative state, but recently they decided to deal with their issue of homelessness by giving homeless people homes for free – and there are no strings attached whatsoever. So this program actually started back in 2005. Let me give you the details:

“Since 2005 Utah has reduced homelessness by 78% and it’s on track to end it completely by 2015. So what they do is offer extremely affordable housing for homeless people. So it starts off as free, and they also provide a social worker and a case worker to help them transition [back] into society; they’ll help them get a job, they’ll help them get any type of mental health care that they need, because a lot of people who are out on the streets, of course, need mental health care; some of the women that are homeless left their husbands because they’ve been battered by them, &c. So having a social worker is a key element of this. However, if they are unable to find work or make that transition, they can stay in that housing for free, for as long as they want.  And its actually a cost-effective way of doing it. By the way – if they do earn an income, they pay 30% of that income for the housing.

“The annual cost for Emergency Room visits and Jail stays for each homeless person is $16,667 a year. Utah found out that if you provide them housing, it’s actually much cheaper. The annual cost of providing an apartment and social worker for each homeless person is $11,000 a year.”


Gabrielle Lafayette is a journalist, writer, and executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
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