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June 15, 2003

"Urban nomads"

This article on "urban nomads," wandering youth that have dropped out of society, is pretty interesting. My small town in Imbler seems to have a lot of these kids (and older types too) hanging around the main drag doing the Portland-San Francisco circuit (we're about equidistant along the I-5 route). They're kind of irritating because they basically squat right along major sidewalks taking up a lot of space on both sides and swarm so as to almost be a physical menace. Also, some of their dogs aren't cute little things, but rather large strong-jawed creatures that glower at you as if they want to take a bite out of your shank. Additionally, they don't always stay satisfied with one dog but seem to accumulate packs. Anyway, I'm libertarian enough not to want the police to round them up (after all, where will that sort of thing stop?), but they can be a pain-in-the-ass sometimes, though that's probably their raison d'tre.

Posted by razib at 01:11 PM

Did you catch that Julie had a "Godless" tatoo. Nice. Plenty of 'em in New Orleans, where they are quite properly referred to and self-referred to as "gutter punks." "Urban nomads" is just ridiculous.

Posted by: martin at June 15, 2003 05:29 PM

When I was in the dorms, a guy in my hall had a penchant for letting such people stay in his room, even going so far as to copy a key for them. One of the stray men he picked up used to wander up to the girls' floor to do Buddhist chanting in our lounge.

Posted by: duende at June 15, 2003 06:45 PM

Where are the Stalinist "labour camps" when we need them?

That's why there were no "homeless people" in the Soviet Union; the local authorities would round them all up and ship them to Siberia.

I know, it's not an alternative in a liberal democracy.


Posted by: friedrich braun at June 15, 2003 10:51 PM

Razib, I disagree about what ought to be done about these folks. You ought to read the Broken Windows article on causes of crime.

Posted by: Randall Parker at June 15, 2003 11:25 PM

sorry, I don't trust the government to police such things. However I do trust market forces - entrepreneurs don't want to scare potential customers away but they also want a safe atmosphere. the solution is to privatise major thoroughfares, roads, etc - perhaps sell them to local shopkeepers

Posted by: Jason Soon at June 16, 2003 12:56 AM

I happened by at random in the course of doing a survey. Could I ask you how you named your blog? If you like, there's an official survey and everything:

Posted by: blogal villager at June 16, 2003 03:32 AM

The ones interviewed seem pretty harmless. One interesting note in the article - very few of these people were over 30. I think most of them settle down and a few of them die, given time - homelessness is a physically wearing lifestyle, whatever freedoms it might afford.

Posted by: bbartlog at June 16, 2003 09:54 AM

Oh, I see, the homeless are just trash that needs to be moved out of sight.

Ivory tower indeed, you guys wouldn't last a week on the streets.

Posted by: David Mercer at June 16, 2003 11:49 AM


I'm afraid that if all the homeless people start getting free roofs over their heads and free meals... it will be Welfare Abuse part deux.

There was an interesting TV program sometime back.. i can find a link to that program if people want... where they interviewed people at a soup kitchen in NYC... i think it was Harlem though I'm not sure... and it turned out that all the "poor" people who were eating at the soup kitchen lived in apartments nearby and had things like TVs and VCRs etc... basically they were eating there because it was free and were spending their money on things other than food...

I fear that this kind of mentality will extend to a point where people will feign homelessness to get free homes and food so that they can spend their money on things like baseball caps and movies...

a large no. of people are just too damn freaking lazy... IMHO

Posted by: marinara at June 16, 2003 05:02 PM

Hey godless: I've been on the street before, curiously during both Bush recessions.

To make several very long stories short: If you can keep from getting adicted to alcohol or the Big Three (heroin, cocaine and meth), there's hope for you. If not, there's not.

If you you're mentally ill, you probably failed that hurdle, and if not, aren't getting proper treatment and support (not like the junkies and drunks are, either).

To give those left a fighting chance, all they need is a pager with voice mail, a po box (any non-general delivery address), interview clothes, showers on demand and proper documentation for work. Note that a number of these are nastily catch-22 interdependent, which more often that not shoots you down. If you wanna crawl up, food and shelter will just happen, as you're hungry and on the hunt. But those basic prerequisites for work can be mighty tough sometimes.

Posted by: David Mercer at June 16, 2003 06:26 PM

i had a land-lord who used to be a lawyer and owned two houses who would eat at a soup kitchen because it was free (he has "homeless" clothes so he fit the part).

he cashed big by being a drug lawyer for mexican dealers in SoCal.

not typical, but prety weird!

Posted by: razib at June 16, 2003 07:06 PM

Duh, he didn't eat there to eat, he ate there to meet prospective clients/mules/whatever.

Posted by: David Mercer at June 16, 2003 07:17 PM

At what point did we go from "bums" to "homeless youth" to "urban nomads"? Am I still on Airstrip 1?

Posted by: Sociopathocracy at June 16, 2003 07:32 PM

I read that amongst homeless teenagers a disproportionately high number of them are gay/lesbian. They were either kicked out by their parents or ran away because they knew their parents wouldn't be supportive. Gay teens are also much more likely to commit suicide or use drugs (and drug use being another reason for their parents to kick them out or for them to run away). These are the casualties of a culture that tells them they are sick and wrong for being the way they were born.

Although I think most homeless adults are responsible for their situation and can get off the streets if they put their minds to it, I have a lot of sympathy for homeless teenagers as they are pretty much screwed. Legally they can't get jobs, go to school, rent apartments, etc. without parental permission.

The foster homes or institutions these kids would end up with if they went to the authorities for help are frequently abusive. Even if it is a small percentage, those are the ones you hear stories about (I have heard tons of stories about foster parents and institution staff that beat, raped, starved their charges, stole and sold their possessions, etc.). So you can see why many homeless teenagers, after hearing those stories, would be reluctant to seek help. Plus the risk of being shipped back to your parents and whatever abusive situation you left in the first place.

Also, minors aren't allowed into the adult homeless shelters, and there are not enough teen shelters.

I think the solution would be to lower the age of adulthood (for everything) to 16, with a procedure for younger teens to become legally emancipated. (And not a catch-22 process like we have now -- to be emancipated you need to show you can provide for your own housing, financial, health, and educational needs, but to provide for those needs first you need to be emancipated.) In other cultures and other parts of the world 16 year olds are fighting wars, working jobs, raising families, etc. I don't understand why we keep our teens stunted in their maturity. I also don't understand why we still hold their parents legally responsible for their actions long after the parents have any means to control them. (You really can't make a 16 year old do anything, and once they figure that out, watch out!!)

When I was a teenager I had numerous friends who were homeless. All of them are now off the streets and have their lives together, more or less. Turning 18 was the magic event that changed their lives -- once they finally legally had control over their lives they were able to get it together.

Posted by: Jacqueline at June 16, 2003 09:00 PM

Here, I found some statistics:

50% of all gay and lesbian youth report that their parents reject them due to their sexual orientation. (2)

26% of gay and lesbian youth are forced to leave home because of conflicts over their sexual orientation. (1)

In a study of 194 gay and lesbian youth, 25% were verbally abused by parents, and nearly 10% dealt with threatened or actual violence. (12)

Approximately 40% of homeless youth are identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. (3)

Service providers estimate that gay, lesbian and bisexual youth make up 20-40% of homeless youth in urban areas. (18)

In a study of male teenagers self-described as gay or bisexual, 27% moved away from home because of conflict with family members over sexual orientation. Almost half had run away from home at least once. (2)

Approximately 28% of gay and lesbian youth drop out of high school because of discomfort (due to verbal and physical abuse) in the school environment. (2)

In Seattle, 34% of students who described themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual reported being the target of anti-gay harassment or violence at school or on the way to or from school, compared to 6% of heterosexual students. (16)

More statistics and sources:

Posted by: Jacqueline at June 16, 2003 09:08 PM

When I was homeless a couple of years ago I found my fellow homeless to be more 'sane, literate, drug-free, and law-abiding' than the rest of the population, as well as being more informed about the state of the world (all that spare time to read newspapers!). Do you know any homeless, godless? Or are you're opinions based on fear and ignorance?

Incidently, the homeless have about the same IQs as the rest of the population - http://www.nrchmi.com/search/detail.asp?Control=8576

Posted by: fredrik at June 18, 2003 12:47 AM

First time: hit job market in recession of Bush I admin., computer industry in total slump, 3 years on the street/road. Goodly portion spent meditating in the woods, until Internet started to take off (which I'd been waiting for for YEARS). No family support, as I'm a black sheep among hard-core Mormons.

Crawl up through ISP tech-support, move to being admin at startup hosting company, move up to being Operations VP back at ISP, then found network infrastructure consulting firm: fly elite admins to trouble spots all over Western Hemisphere for banks, stock exchanges, etc.

Near simultaneous suicide of co-founder, divorce, and stock market crash, leading to company insolvency when consulting market dries up = one year living in the car (savings pre-emptively sucked up by ex-wife via alimony).

Crawl back up ladder as independant consultant, now mulling over starting The Next Startup(s).

Not that I was SOBER during those stints at homelessness, but I never let myself become an addict (No Needles, and Don't Buy White Powders).

Oh, and shelters are a crock, they are nasty institutions that just teach you how to survive whilst a street alcoholic, much as prison teachs you how to be a better criminal. I personally can't support them except in cold weather climates during the winter. If you aren't a drunk when you hit the street, shelters will teach you how!

And most shelters are no good to you if you aren't single, or have a pet, or need to work late/early, or need an address/phone number to get a job, etc.

Oh yeah, and fredrik has a point, very many homeless are quite well read, libraries are free. Reading a lot and not having TV tends to make you hate the vapid culture we have created even more, and not want to suck it's ass at a minimum wage job (which is all most homeless are gonna get...no matter how nice you appear on paper and in person, a multi-year gap in employment is VERY hard to overcome in the hiring process).

Posted by: David Mercer at June 18, 2003 07:59 AM