Paul Boden on the Homeless Industry and the Criminalization of Homelessness

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Paul Boden’s Mantra: Be fearless. “There’s nothing worse than coming from the streets – what are you going to do to me?”

As a native New Yorker, Paul has a reputation for telling it how it is … in a colorful way. He is passionate about defending human rights and addressing social injustices. He demands equality, and he demands the truth. Total equality is saying what you know and what you believe to everyone, no matter where they are from. More importantly, he says: “Get over your shit and get involved.”

In this interview, Paul begins by talking about the federal government’s shift in focus, a shift based on corporate greed that led to skyrocketing rates of homelessness.

Prior to 1980, the federal government provided funding for affordable housing – approximately $54 billion a year in today’s dollars. After Ronald Reagan took office, the government stopped funding affordable housing and redirected the money to homeless services. This was a bureaucratic approach that dehumanized homeless individuals.

According to Paul, this current approach prevents us from solving homelessness. “The more we institutionalize it, the more we professionalize homelessness … the further we get away from ending it.”

What’s worse is the government also redirected funding away from those who needed it most to help those who didn’t. The Reagan Revolution, according to Paul: “We are going to triple our home ownership housing subsidies and eliminate our poor people’s housing subsidies because one is charity and therefore there’s no profit for corporate America. The other benefits the mortgage industries, the banks and the construction industry.”

As an Executive of WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project), Paul is extremely knowledgeable on homelessness and tells it like it is. And he has a lot to say in this interview – so many interesting tidbits.

Here are a few highlights:

“It wasn’t a lack of cops that created homelessness, yet they are the number one department addressing the issue.”

“It wasn’t closed parks that created homelessness, yet we close our parks thinking that will make homelessness disappear.”

On Mayors: “There is so much more concern about how the general public is impacted by the presence of homeless people and so little concern with the impact that it is having on homeless people themselves.”

On Educating the Public about Homelessness: “You keep changing the name and the fucking media reports on it like it’s a new initiative … The public education on this issue is so lacking.”

On Criminalization: “If you look poor and homeless in a cop’s mindset, if you look like one of them, they’re going to fuck with you. If not, you get a pass … I have never seen a family of shoppers with the little kids eating ice cream on the sidewalk get a ticket. Our argument isn’t that they should, our argument is that no one should.”

This is an important interview. I hope you will take the time to watch the whole thing. Sadly, the people who need to watch this video won’t ever get past the title. Whenever I bring up the “homeless industry,” people who work in the sector feel threatened and become defensive.

I honestly don’t understand how anyone remotely connected to homeless services doesn’t question from time to time: “WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE DOING?!” More committees are being formed every day, more research is being funded, criminalization is growing, and maybe a few shelter beds or housing units are created (Paul says he is sick of baby steps), yet homelessness continues to grow exponentially. SOMETHING IS BROKE!

About WRAP and Chronic Homelessness, a Post-1980s Phenomenon

I mentioned above that Paul is a WRAP Executive. According to the WRAP website, WRAP was created to expose and eliminate the root causes of civil and human rights abuses of people experiencing poverty and homelessness in our communities.

For example: Did you know that prior to the 1980s, there was no such thing as chronic homelessness? This phenomenon was created along with an industry to deal with chronic homelessness. Here are some stats from WRAP:

  • In 1978, HUD’s budget was over $83 billion.
  • 1981 President Ronald Reagan takes office and dismantles New Deal and Great Society social programs designed to assist the poor, most significantly the federal funding of affordable housing production.
  • 1983, HUD’s budget: $17.6 billion (in 2004 constant dollars); 77 percent less than 1978 budget authority. Contemporary mass homelessness emerges nationwide.
  • 1983 Emergency homeless shelters, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, open across the country.
  • In 1987, Congress passed the Stewart B. McKinney Act, providing $880 million in homeless assistance funding (2004 constant dollars).
  • Since 1987, annual McKinney homeless assistance has never been more than $1.4 billion.
  • Mid-1980s Local governments and police begin enforcing vagrancy laws and passing ordinances that target people experiencing homelessness.

For more information on the criminalization of homelessness and what you can do about it in your community, please visit WRAP’s website.

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