Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Needed in Salem "Housing First” Helps Keep Ex-Inmates Off the Streets (and Out of Prison)

"Housing First" Helps Keep Ex-Inmates Off the Streets (and Out of Prison)
// Next City Daily

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Many of the roughly 10,000 inmates who exit U.S. prisons each week following incarceration face an immediate critical question: Where will I live? While precise numbers are hard to come by, research suggests that, on average, about 10 percent of parolees are homeless immediately following their release. In large urban areas, and among those addicted to drugs, the number is even higher — exceeding 30 percent.

"Without a safe and stable place to live where they can focus on improving themselves and securing their future, all of their energy is focused on the immediate need to survive the streets," says Faith Lutze, criminal justice professor at Washington State University. "Being homeless makes it hard to move forward or to find the social support from others necessary to be successful."

Although education, employment, and treatment for drug and mental health issues all play a role in successful reintegration, these factors have little hope in the absence of stable housing. Yet, few leaving prison have the three months' rent typically required to get an apartment. Even if they did, landlords are given wide latitude in denying leases to people with a criminal record in many states. Further, policies enacted under the Clinton administration continue to deny public housing benefits to thousands of convicted felons — the majority of whom were rounded up for non-violent offenses during the decades-long War on Drugs. Some are barred for life from ever receiving federal housing support.

As a result, tens of thousands of inmates a year trade life in a cell for life on the street. According to Lutze, with each passing day, the likelihood that these people will reoffend or abscond on their parole increases considerably.

Lutze and a team of researchers recently completed a comprehensive assessment of a Washington State program that aims to reduce recidivism by providing high-risk offenders with 12 months of housing support when they are released from prison.

The study tracked 208 participants in three counties and found statistically significant reductions in new offenses and readmission to prison. It also found lower levels of parole revocations among participants.

While housing is the immediate goal of the program, the Re-Entry Housing Pilot Program (RHPP) operates in concert with the Department of Corrections' Community Justice Centers to provide a range of reentry support services.

Participants live in heavily subsidized apartments, often with roommates, and are required to engage in treatment, secure employment and work toward self-sustainability.

Lutze says stable housing not only reduces violations of public order laws related to living and working on the street, but it increases exposure to pro-social networks and provides a sense of safety and well-being conducive to participating in treatment and other services.

That not only improves community safety, she says, but it "reduces the economic and human costs of ex-offenders cycling through our jails and prisons just because they do not have a safe place to live."

While this seems like a common sense strategy, programs that place housing at the forefront of prisoner reentry are actually relatively scarce in the U.S., and have historically been driven by a handful of pioneering non-profits.

Since the 1990s, the New York-based Fortune Society has graduated hundreds of ex-offenders from its transitional housing facility in West Harlem, known as "The Castle." The program has been so successful — with recidivism rates as low as one percent — that the group received city support to open a second facility, Castle Gardens, in 2010. A similar program run by the Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco, offers housing and support services to drug addicts, many of them ex-offenders, in six cities.

For all their success, access to these programs is limited, and demand regularly exceeds supply. But governments are starting to catch on.

As part of its Returning Home Initiative, New York's Corporation for Supportive Housing joined with the Department of Corrections and several city agencies to launch the Frequent User Service Enhancement (FUSE) program, which provides apartments to roughly 200 homeless people who had both four jail and four shelter stays over the previous five years.

By limiting trips to jails and shelters, the program generated savings of $15,000 per individual according to a two-year evaluation of the program released in March.

The program is now being replicated in nearly a dozen other cities, including Washington D.C. and Chicago, with a number of other cities in the planning stages.

If its past performance is any metric, in the coming years, FUSE is likely to help thousands of inmates across the country establish roots in the community, stay off the street and, ultimately, keep from going back to prison.

A eulogy for my father, Yehuda Nir (1930-2014)—Holocaust survivor and beacon of hope

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Awesome goodness: The Gratuitous Injustice of American Tipping Culture

Don't buy Whirlpool-made anything

With US makers having already made the Energy Star program as weak as can be (other nations require makers to keep upgrading efficiency year after year to meet the standards set by the best to maintain a special status such as Energy Star), now makers like Whirlpool want to avoid being called to account for misrepresentations anyway.

Whirlpool seeks ban on class-action suits tied to Energy Star program.

The New York Times (7/21, Wald, Subscription Publication, 9.79M) reports that Whirlpool, a leading manufacturer of home appliances, is lobbying Congress to ban consumer lawsuits that claim its "Energy Star" labeled products fail to deliver promised energy efficiency. The proposed bill comes after government testing "showed that scores of consumer products carrying the Energy Star label did not deserve the listing." The Times adds that Whirlpool "is threatening to withdraw from Energy Star, an Environmental Protection Agency program, unless it gets its way," but notes that and Energy Star distinction may boost a product's desirability, adding that "an E.P.A. survey found that the Energy Star logo was influential among 91 percent of consumers." The bill, introduced by Rep. Robert Latta (R-OH), whose district is "home to several Whirlpool factories," would "prohibit class-action lawsuits if the E.P.A. came up with a remedy, like reimbursing consumers, for products that did not live up to their billing." The Times reports that Shannon Baker-Branstetter of Consumers Union, the organization that publishes Consumer Reports, disagreed. "E.P.A. and D.O.E. can't be out there all the time," she said. "Consumers need that backstop of the courts to get redress." The Times also quoted a spokeswoman for the American Association for Justice, who said, "By eliminating consumers' access to the civil justice system, corporations will not be held accountable in court for swindling customers."

Friday, July 18, 2014

What our transportation agencies, city officials, and planners ought to be doing instead . . .

. . . Of building more of the same.  Since Cherriots is going broke and cutting services, the time is now -- we need to build a supple, augmented, 24/7 system of fixed-route buses integrated with tools that support walking, biking, carpooling, jitneys, and shared use of private motor vehicles.

Over in Helsinki, Finland, the local government has announced a bold transportation venture that every Sightline employee can cheer. By 2025, the government aims to integrate shared and public transit into a single network, and the end goal would be to make car-ownership wholly unnecessary.

Why the modern bathroom is a wasteful, unhealthy design | Life and style |

Open primary = final step in total corporate takeover of elections

The "open" primary -- brought to you by the very same people who have made politics so toxic and so soul-sucking -- should really be called "closed general elections, only corporate favorites need apply."  This is like the guy who sells tires throwing tacks and nails all over the road -  causing the problem and then hoping to profit off the fix.

To see how stupid this is, think about this:

Why don't we Ask the makers of Bud Light and Miller Lite if stores should be allowed to offer all those off brands of craft beers, or if they should be forced to poll their cities and then only stock the two most popular brands (as determined mainly by people who don't much like beer and who never try anything but the big brands)?

Of course the big two breweries will love it if each store could only stock the top two brands as  determined in a poll of mainly apathetic folks who really don't care enough about beer to have a distinct preference.  Yup, the two "Love in a Canoe" brands would think its a great idea -- after all, their heavily advertised brands of swill seems fine in comparison to the other, and each one starts with billions of dollars of preformed advertising advantages that ensure that they will always be in the top two, no matter how insipid the product. And if they could outlaw craft brewing entirely, they would.

And both would really prefer not to have to compete against distinctive brands that stand out and offer a memorable flavor or mix of unexpected tastes.

That's exactly what the so-called "open primary," does -- it opens the door to complete corporate takeover of all elections, and it lets their servants in the two big parties completely hardware themselves into power, protected from any meaningful competition forever, while letting the rich have even more control of the result than they already do.

If you want to make sure all voters have the same say in determining who gets into office, the obvious way to do it in Oregon is to take advantage of our state constitution, which already allows ranked choice voting (called preference voting). Instead of a primary and a general, paying for two elections to do the work of one, let's just have a single election round in the general election, with each party's nominee on the ballot.  We would let voters rank their preferences 1, 2, 3, and so on. Then all voters get the same power when it counts, and the members of each party can pick their candidates.

Tim Nesbitt: Open primary would be a game changer for Oregon politics
// Politics & Elections

By Tim Nesbitt"Game changer" is an overused term in politics. But a ballot measure that changes the way our elections are organized certainly deserves that billing. And the one that just qualified for the Oregon ballot in November may change...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Librarians leading

Subject: In Balance Newsletter: New American Dream Poll, CommunityShare Workshops, Eugene's Sharing Revolution, and more

Maryland Librarians Say "Yes!" to More Sharing

From seed libraries, to produce swapping, to time banks, how Maryland librarians are leading the way in flipping the traditional notion of a "library" on its head.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Paul Krugman on reducing the number of cars needed

Krugman's blog, 7/15/14 | Marion in Savannah
This is what SKATS and ODOT should be working on for Salem -- how to recapture all the wasted value we squander building infrastructure for 2-3000# vehicles that haul 200# loads around in the 3% of time they aren't sitting around depreciating.

The second post yesterday was "Life Without Cars:"

I've been following some of the discussion about Uber, Lyft, and all that, and I have a few unoriginal thoughts. Well, strictly speaking they are original, in the sense that I haven't read them anywhere else — but surely they're out there. So this post is partly a bleg for references.

Anyway: the big benefit from new IT-mediated car services will come if they make it possible for lots of people — and not just people in Manhattan — to live without owning their own cars. And if you think about it, you can see how that might work.

Right now, if you live in places without exceptionally good public transportation, it's very difficult to manage without a car. Yet when you think about it, for most people owning a car is quite wasteful. It's an expensive item of equipment that sits idle most of the time; it requires parking (and often a parking structure) both at origin and at destination; it requires maintenance and is a big hassle all around.

So reliable, quick-response chauffeur services could free many people from the need to tie up all those resources in a consumer durable that they only use now and then. And from a social point of view it would avoid the need to tie up so much capital that sits unused most of the time.

There is, however, an obvious problem: rush hour. Peak car use comes twice a day, and that would seem to dictate that we have nearly as many cars as we do now even if they're supplied by the likes of Uber.

But here's where surge pricing comes in. If traveling during peak hours is more expensive than off-peak, people will have an incentive to shave off those peaks. People who aren't commuting to work will avoid travel at peak hours; some people will find other ways to travel; some people (and businesses) will rearrange their schedules to take advantage of cheaper off-peak travel. So you can imagine a society that still relies mainly on cars to get around, but manages to do this with significantly fewer cars than we need at present.

Cars aren't the only consumer durable where something like this might work, of course. People in New York don't need refrigerators (and in particular freezers) that are as big as those in the suburbs, because it's so easy to pop around the corner for groceries; online ordering and delivery could produce a similar effect outside the city. But cars are surely the big prize.

Again, I'm sure this has been worked out by someone somewhere. But I'm having fun thinking about it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why Higher Fares Would Be Good for Public Transit

The Cherriots board all need to read this and consider it carefully.  We've made the grievous mistake of "protecting" the poor from high fares so well that they're all pretty much protected from being able to use transit at all, given the collapsed economics of the transit district. 

Once you starve the transit service enough that you aren't running on weekends or late enough to support the second shift service job workers, you force those people into the misery of needing cars they can afford, and the cars that they can afford are mostly crap sold by dealers who have, at best, a very flexible moral sensibility.  There is nothing that prevents a low wage worker from getting a leg up in life quite so effectively as a used car, with its insatiable demand for money at random moments; add the amorality of the used car market and you have a perfect recipe for bleeding people endlessly, and turning them into folks who won't support transit because they feel so burdened already.

What Salem needs most in transportation is a complete rethink of the whole enterprise, starting with the recognition that all users of roads, including public transit riders, should be funding the roadways, not the property taxes.  We need to recognize roads as a network utility just like water, sewer, and electricity, and develop methods for pricing network usage that makes the heavy (literally) users pay the most, and rewards light users with an end to subsidizing the heavy users.

Alas, getting Americans to think rationally about moving around is like getting Japanese politicians to think rationally about whaling.  In theory, it's not that hard, but the reality is that theory is a piss poor guide where deep cultural rituals are concerned, and there is no ritual more assiduously performed than American politicians and planners bowing and scraping to the idea that auto mobility is an American birthright, and that there's something vaguely suspicious about any young person who doesn't place driving in the center of life.

Portland city government is busy having its head handed to it over street fees by the populace unfamiliar with and unfriendly to the idea that there is no free lunch. In Salem, the powers that be, desperate to free up funds to promote more sprawl on the periphery, proposed on-street parking meters only in the downtown core, a partial solution that would work about as well as taking a partial course of drugs for TB: in other words, it would only make the disease worse and impossible to cure.

Some decades ago, however, Salem washed its hands of transit, fobbing the job of providing this basic essential service off on a transit district, allowing the city to get back to what it likes to do, promote sprawl development that cripples the transit district.  Worse, the politicians bowed to the Chamber of the 1% and crippled Salem's mass transit district at birth by forbidding it from levying a payroll tax, which is yet another reason Cherriots is the basket case of Oregon transit.

Payroll taxes are less than ideal, but until we have a rational network-utility model for funding roads (including by persons in transit vehicles), they're a stopgap. It's past time for Cherriots and Salem and Keizer to go to the legislature and demand a fix that allows the system to raise the revenue necessary to become a realistic option for people to rely on for the necessities of living. In that struggle, perhaps we can develop a better model that taxes neither houses nor jobs, but only road usage.
Why Higher Fares Would Be Good for Public Transit