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  1. #1
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    Feb 2006
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    Mind Trapped by: War on the poor

    Introduction/over view
    There is a war on the poor going on in America right now. It isn't any kind of official mindset, or a goal that was set out before hand. This War is one that is through unintended consequences. It is characterized by making the act of being poor, illegal and punishable, while also creating a social structure that is counter productive to the poor making progress. This is not an attack on the reasoning behind each step, rather it is to point out the collective effect it has against the poor.

    Back Story
    While I was watching a documentary on the great depression, it presented the story of a family who lost everything and was forced to live in a chicken coup with their TWELVE kids. The number of kids is of course shocking, but if you have ever been around chickens, a chicken coup is about the dirtiest place there is. The thought struck me that if that occurred today, the gov would remove the children from the parents and put them into foster care. Because today, it is illegal to raise children in unsanitary conditions. Which brought me to the realization, that as a society we saw that situation, said it was terrible (which it is) so we made it illegal. This is the war on the poor.

    Being poor brings with it some inherent dangers. We need only look at very poor countries to see how certain things, while horrible, are a necessary part of being poor. For example a single mother who needs to work in another country may leave their child unattended at home in order to make money. This is illegal here, effectively making it illegal to be that poor. There was a story of a single mother who got a job at Mc Donald's. There was a park across the street so she would drop her young child off at the park while she worked. Of course she was arrested for child neglect. (see link #4). At a different level, we have regulated child care so as to make it prohibitive to the poor as well. There was a local story of a "day care" that comprised of one older woman, with some 50ish kids in her home. It was bizarre, in that she had babies in one room, toddlers in another, and older kids in yet another. Each room in the house was dedicated to a specific age. The problem was that she was "caring" for them alone. That is where she broke the regulations. The effect was that the parents who left their child there willingly, were forced to quit their jobs as the reason the kids were at such a poor day care, was because that is all they could afford.

    This is the front line for the war on the poor. If the poor have no place to live, then they can never build themselves up. What we have done, is made housing unnecessarily expensive and thus prohibitive to the poor to own, and by consequence created mechanisms that keep them poor through higher rents (due to lack of low cost housing).
    This has occurred on two different fronts. The first is land. There simply is no public place, for those who own nothing, to be. We see this play out in tent cities under bridges, that the gov eventually goes and cleans out because it is illegal. But no pubic space is provided for the poor to pitch their tents. So it is just illegal to be that poor. Another, is in how zoning prohibits accommodation of the poor by private individuals. We see this play out in the realm of tiny houses. Where cities have made it illegal to have a home that small. Which means land usage is prohibited. (See link #1 & 2) This leads to the second part of housing that is targeted, that is prejudicial to the poor. While land usage revolves around total square footage, and how many or how close, and what type of homes can be built, regulations on "quality" of home are also prejudicial in the materials used. Suppose one wanted to build a home with no electricity. That would be illegal, because building codes have specific electrical requirements. While that is an extreme, in every aspect of building these regulations stack so as to make the minimum price of a home go from 10-20k to being more like 120-150k. The problem is even greater when one considers that alternative building material is simply not allowed. What I mean is that, in America all the codes for safety revolve around a traditionally stick built home(or other manufactured material like brick or cement). Which in effect makes alternative building materials illegal to use. Things like earth bag construction, Compressed earth block construction, straw bale construction, rammed earth construction etc (see links #3), because they are not directly addressed by the code, are viewed with hostility.

    It is illegal for grocery stores to give food away, that they wouldn't sell. So if a piece of meat is out of date, it must be thrown away.. it can't be "given" to the poor.

    Ultimately the problem is that there are aspects to being poor that are inherent with the condition. There are certain dangers and risks that inherently go with otherwise basic choices. The war on the poor, as outlined above, is at its essence that we have tended as a society to simply make those conditions and dangers illegal. If I were to forward some solution, I would say to change how we regulate things. Instead of making one form of building illegal, simply put grades, like we do meat. If you want to purchase or build a Grade "A" house, then you can. If you want to purchase or build a Grade "F" house, with no electricity or running water, then again you can. Provide public lands for the poor to build grade "F" houses. As for solutions to the parenting issues, I don't have any idea.

    Is the idea of the war on the poor well defined here?
    Any objections to the above?
    Is there another way that we have created hostility to the poor?

    -------------Links and sources-----
    Link #1
    Despite the growing enthusiasm for tiny houses, it still isnít easy to legally build them for full-time use. Zoning laws and building codes, by and large, require a minimum square footage for new-construction homes, and progress to reduce that square footage is slow.
    Link #2
    As he tows a 96-square-foot house around Des Moines, Joe Stevens is overwhelmed by the intense, sometimes tearful support he receives from churches, schools and service groups for his plan to use the trendy little structures to help homeless people.

    But when Stevens actually tried to create a village of the homes in Iowa's largest city, the response was far different.

    'We got shot down,' said Stevens, who leads a group that proposed erecting 50 tiny homes on a 5-acre industrial site north of downtown Des Moines. 'It was a sense of fear, uncertainty and doubt, a kneejerk situation.'

    link #3

    Link #4
    To serve man.



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