Friday, December 29, 2017

Reinforcing Corporate Responsibility

Dear Chip, Ali and Sharon,
CC: Richard Deane, Sara Moore, David Hartnett,

I hope you have seen the amendments I have proposed. Essentially, because public health is a responsibility of the City, and the City has not before now recognized this responsibility, I am proposing a mechanism which will return granular, particular, information to the City, with regularity, bringing this responsibility into consciousness whenever the City fails, or succeeds, in some way, to fulfill that responsibility.

Besides providing information to the City about where there are and are not bathrooms for people to use, it is only just (as in "fair") that if someone violates the prohibition against elimination-not-in-a-facility, but there was no facility for them to use, that they are not faulted. In all reasonable compassion, what's a person supposed to do?

The Language I have proposed merely allows a court to dismiss the charge if there was no bathroom for the defendant to use. That's the biggest part of what it does.

The information part of this is that - whether the police decide to not give a ticket because there was no bathroom, or they do and it is successfully challenged in court - the City is reminded, and informed, that there are locations where bathrooms are not available. In the absence of allowing the charge to be dismissed, the City may be very enthusiastic about providing bathrooms, but not know where they are needed and not have much motivation to ensure city-wide coverage.

It's a fair trade-off. Waste elimination in a-place-that-is-not-a-facility is prohibited. Someone who does, where a bathroom is available, can be ticketed and convicted. Someone who does, where a bathroom is not available, is not punished, but the City is reminded that there is a gap in it's network of restrooms, and where that gap is.

The argument could be made that this amendment is unnecessary because the necessity defense could be used. Actually, the necessity defense would require the defendant to prove a negative - that there was not a single public restroom within a reasonable distance of the incident. How could the court be sure? By placing the burden of proof on the City, this proposal demands that a list be created, and maintained; that that list be available to the public; and when a defendant challenges a ticket, that the plaintiff only needs to show there was one, actual, restroom within an easy walk of the incident. the City would not need, as the defendant would, an inventory of closed restrooms. It will be far easier for the city to create and have such a list, than for defendants to prove there was not one restroom available. How could anyone ever be sure? But it is possible to know if one bathroom is open.

Already we hear that the Burlington Business Association wants to create that list. So even that part would not be very difficult. And this amendment, by placing the burden on the City to show where the public bathrooms are, would abet the development and distribution of that list.
The small part of what these amendments do is create a loophole for people taking a walk in the Intervale and needing to eliminate in the forest. You will read that I have tried to be clear that a developed, cultivated or tended location (such as a trail in the woods) is still prohibited. Only a location away from public travel would be excepted and acceptable.

I hope you agree this is a good idea. This amendment merely asks the City to take responsibility for this aspect of public health, and makes enforcement, of a necessary ordinance, just.

Richard Deane
Stephen -

Thanks for your communication. I agree that increased access to public facilities are a must, whether those restrooms are provided by the city itself or incentivized for inclusion in private development.

How do we address another group specifically recognized for public urination - students on their way back from downtown and using the neighborhoods as their toilet?

They are distant from public facilities yet should not be able to appeal a civil citation based on the 'too great a distance' provision.

Richard Deane

Stephen Marshall

Is the argument of your question that people wandering home from a bar at night don't need to pee? Should have known better and peed at the bar? Should have in their drunken state planned better? When you ask "What are we going to do about drunk students, wandering back from the bars at 2:00 in the morning?", you are acknowledging a problem. But this is not a problem that should be simple and easy to fix. If you have students who get drunk and pee on their way home because you accept that there are businesses that operate to sell beverages and the students avail themselves of those businesses, what are you going to do about the root causes of public urination? Close the business? You can't. Punish each next wave of students coming through the city, and hope it helps? You know that hasn't worked either.

The fact that these are difficult issues does not absolve the City of its duty to search for solutions. Public drunkenness is a difficult problem, and we accept the problems that come with it because the solutions are usually worse. I don't know how to improve this explicit situation, but this amendment proposal isn't meant to find solutions. It is meant to compel the City to search for solutions, and alleviate the injustice of needing to go, and being unable to find a facility. Now if the problem is that they have facilities and don't use them, you have another problem. And this amendment gives you information about that, too.

I am merely proposing that the City accept responsibility for the absence of answers to your question. Is it the responsibility of the individual to ensure that there are restrooms? Is it ok to make it a crime to engage in a behavior that is necessary to biological existence, without providing locations where it is acceptable to engage in that behavior? It is a simple logic of justice. How can a just society compel people to break the law? The complement of prohibiting public elimination is accepting the task of ensuring there are places where it is not illegal. That is the City's responsibility. These amendments merely codify that responsibility and creates a consequence for failure to fulfill it.

So the core of my argument is to compel the search for solutions, not to provide them. The core of the argument is that, as a public health issue, it is actually the responsibility of the city, through whatever strategies it deems potentially helpful, to grapple with these questions, and that the forgiveness option is merely the pin-prick of conscience to call attention to the absence of solutions. That it is difficult to find solutions to these problems is not a reason to not accept responsibility for the public health.

The problem wasn't invented by this proposal. That problem was invented when the community demanded, expressed through its law, that people "Do not do it in public.". Well, that is reasonable enough, in fact a matter of public health! But if you want to say "Don't do it in public.", you need to answer the question "Well then, where and when can I?". If you have the law, you must have the answer, and the amendments I have proposed simply remind the City to provide answers.


Stephen Marshall
I just reread your letter. I guess I don't think there should be any exception to the "Too great of a distance" rule. This proposal is about compelling the City to find solutions to a problem that needs a solution. There are plenty of creative things that can be done, but right now I want to focus on the logic of the proposal, and not on the ostensible solutions.

Richard Deane
So is there no role for personal responsibility?


There absolutely is a role for personal responsibility. The law prohibiting outdoor elimination is clear. According to this amendment, where there are restrooms, people are held accountable.
But what does personal responsibility look like where facilities are not available? What are you imagining people are supposed to do? The problem is that the existing law creates a natural conundrum. It holds people personally responsible where they have no recourse to a legal solution, which can only be created by public action. This amendment balances the personal responsibility with the corporate responsibility.

Your tone suggests that the police solution is a solution. But plainly it is not. Whereas enforcement may be effective if there are facilities, it means nothing more than criminalizing natural behavior (and generating animosity between the police and the public) where there are not facilities. The other solution is to recruit or build facilities. But what is the motivation of the city to do the work? and how does the city know where those facilities are most needed?

I suspect you are worried people will use the distance exemption as an excuse to eliminate when they might have held their waste a little longer, and found an appropriate place to eliminate. Playing the law in this way is possible and unfortunate. But there is a larger principle at play, and I wonder if that bit of gaming is sufficient to derail the larger purpose of this amendment. Let us remember that even if there are irresponsible people who would game the proposed law, there are responsible people being hurt by the imbalance in the current law.

The problem with existing law is that it enforces personal responsibility without admitting corporate responsibility. The point of this amendment is for the City to claim corporate responsibility. It is to balance the equation. If people "get away" with offensive behavior because of the distance exemption (a number that is adjustable), that is the cost that is intended to motivate the city to action. The point is not to undermine personal responsibility, it is to reinforce the corporate responsibility to ensure that facilities are available.

I am trying to persuade you that the present law is unbalanced, unfair, and doesn't require the City to attend to its public health responsibility. This proposal corrects that imbalance. When, due the motivating effect of the law, there are facilities available, personal responsibility will be the default status of any person who gets a ticket. This amendment gives you a chance to tell the public and the City that the public health and availability of facilities is its responsibility. Are they not? And can citizens really be expected to behave responsibly where the civil law contradicts natural law?

Thank you for your engagement and willingness to challenge me. I hope I have answered your question.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Waste Elimination in Public: Proposal to Acknowledge City's Responsibility for Public Health

My vision for Burlington is undoubtedly your vision: a clean, prosperous, safe and relaxed city, a place that people like to visit and like to live in. Where serious people work and raise families, and people who want to have fun can, without concern for stumbling on human waste.
The city rightfully prohibits waste elimination in a public place. It has an ordinance which makes waste elimination in a public place a civil offense the first time, and a criminal offense the second time. And the City is considering an ordinance that would actually make the act of elimination a criminal offense the third time, not the second. So it is less severe, and it allows for “correction” through a restorative justice process. All good so far.
But the proposed ordinance fails to place responsibility for the public health where it belongs. According to this law, as it is and as proposed: someone with a full bladder who ducks behind a bush; someone who has walked five blocks from the restaurant where they ate a meal and were a customer, and only now feels a movement coming on; someone with Diabetes who has a sudden need to urinate; a homeless person who is not welcome in the restaurants and must choose between walking to COTS, City Market or City Hall, and decides to eliminate behind a dumpster or bush, is to blame if they cannot find a restroom within a short walk, while the City suffers no aversive consequences for its failure to ensure that facilities are available.
Under current law and proposed law, only the individual is punished, while for the failure to provide for the public health, the City suffers not at all. In short, current law makes no effort to acknowledge responsibility for the public health, but only imposes costs on the victim of a city without facilities. It is a duty of the government to ensure that facilities are available and open, because individuals cannot do that for themselves. And the law must be written such that there are consequences that pinch the City when the City cannot show that facilities were in fact available, when a charge is levied. The amendment proposed here corrects this imbalance.
The first paragraph of the proposed ordinance, with amendments, asserts*:
(a) No person shall urinate or defecate in any street, park or other public place [developed for human use] except in facilities specifically provided for this purpose. A person who violates this subsection commits a civil offense punishable by a civil penalty of $60.00 (with a waiver penalty of $50.00) for the first offense and $75.00 (with a waiver penalty of $70.00) if the offense occurs less than six (6) months after having been found to have committed the first offense. The penalty shall be waived upon the successful completion of a restorative or reparative justice program through the Community Justice Center. 

I propose to amend the new ordinance by adding here:
The penalty shall be waived and conviction reversed if by evidence the City cannot show that the above named facilities were available and open for use by members of the public without limitation within 150 feet of the prohibited act.
Furthermore, a clarification of public places is necessary to avoid the bizarre situation where someone eliminating waste in a wooded place would be ticketed. I propose to amend the governing ordinance further by adding:
c) For purposes of this section, “a public place developed for human use” shall not include those places not regularly maintained through services of the City or other entity, or is otherwise uncultivated, untended and wild.
Therefore, where there are no bathrooms available, there can be no convictions, and the city is chastised for its failure to provide for public health any time that it receives a complaint of public elimination. When the City has mounted that effort, and bathrooms are in abundance, the person who eliminates in a public place can be justly ticketed and held accountable. The effort to provide facilities would strongly conduce to the relaxed and comfortable place we would like Burlington to be, and effect the argument to any who relieve themselves outdoors “There was a facility for you to use”. We wonder how much of a problem it will be when bathrooms are easy to find.
* Amendment proposed by the Ordinance Committee; [inserted language proposed by myself]; indented: my proposed amendments.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Of Public Health and Waste Elimination. Proposal to address an urgent need.

The issue of public urination is a different kind of problem. It, and its sibling defecation, are biological necessities. The problem with prohibiting public elimination is that nearly every bathroom has been closed for public use. The homeless and those away from home have few choices, and those choices impose severe costs on those who do keep their restrooms open.
Because waste elimination is a biological necessity, unlike drunkenness and lewd speech, the City, indeed the community, has a responsibility to respond proactively to the need. The obligation is to provide facilities, easily accessed and abundant. Interestingly, these facilities already exist, and the City needs only to demand of the owners of those facilities, that they remain open, to remedy the problem.
When the man who was refused access to the bathroom urinated on the floor at Junior’s, he was not merely engaged in an illegal assault on the owner, it was an act of protest and civil disobedience. His act said “I am a human and I need a place to eliminate. Bathrooms must be provided.”
These issues have been part of the urban landscape for millennia. There is simply no escape from the imperative to provide a real solution. In San Diego this year, there was an outbreak of hepatitis A due to unsanitary conditions on the streets. The solution of the city, after cleaning up the mess, was to provide toilet facilities to the homeless who were living on the street. Burlington can provide porta-johns on every corner, or demand that its establishments of public accommodation allow any person to use them. Or continue to inspire the animosity of its homeless and away from home, who will naturally vent their anger in passive-aggressive use of the streets to eliminate their waste. 
It would be a tough debate to win. Support for individual rights is strong. But when individual rights are prioritized over the well-being of the community, it is only logical the individual would seek their private gain. No one person can justify the expense of this public health burden, when no one else is expected to. But when everyone is required to allow access to bathrooms, the expense can be distributed across all providers, and then the minimal cost can be justified. And when the community declares that all must act together for a common good, all can be better off, including those individuals. Because toileting is a public health issue, everyone must cooperate.
I have several suggestions to make it work. To distribute the costs where they come to rest, I propose a subscription cleaning service, contracted by the city to replace the cleaning that is already done by merchants, paid for partly by the merchants (they need clean bathrooms), and partly by the City (not every user of a facility is a customer). Every facility open to the public contributes to the service equally, but the service is delivered according to the cost of cleaning. Heavily used bathrooms that require more attention will get more attention. Those who allow bathrooms to be open will be rewarded for serving the public good by getting more attention for their bathrooms. Included in this service is regular pick up of syringes. People will be happier, no one will have cause to urinate on the street, and the merchants will find this an agreeable solution. Any place of public accommodation which wishes to opt out of the cleaning service may, but they may not opt out of allowing the public to use their restrooms.
Moreover, because vandalism is known to happen, and other plumbing problems can occur, an insurance policy would be made available, to insure against the expenses of damage to the facility.
Human hygiene facilities are a public health necessity. We cannot simultaneously prohibit people from eliminating waste in public places and also not provide publicly acceptable locations for doing so. We long ago put a stop to disposing the contents of bed-pans on the streets. We need to finish the public health job by making public waste elimination unnecessary. We must provide facilities. We have facilities, which are now closed to the public. We must make them open. We must mitigate the cost and risk for those who provide those facilities.
Whatever the opinion of the Committee on this proposal, public urination and defecation is not a behavior problem to be addressed by prohibitions. It is a public health issue to be addressed by providing facilities. I ask that this committee put in its proposal that all punishments for public urination and defecation shall be waived in any case where the city cannot show that facilities were available for the defendant to use.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Diversity Conversations

Public Safety Committee of the City of Burlington will meet Tues day night 6:00 City Hall CR 12 (1st Floor). You are welcome to attend, and there will be opportunities to testify. This is supposed to be a "working meeting", so I am not sure how restrictive they will be.

This committee is where the meaningful responses to the City Council resolutions will be discussed before the ordinances from the Ordinance Committee are debated.

(Some will remember that the City Council passed two resolutions on August 28, one to ask the Ordinance Committee to write a bill to stiffen penalties for misbehavior on Church Street, and one for the Public Safety Committee to consider alternatives to the Police response. They are thought of as operating in tandem by members of the Council, who want to consider them together as a package.)

You are welcome to submit your ideas in writing before the meeting, and then testify at the meeting. Please let me know if you need help being heard, this Tuesday or at any other time.

By Tuesday, some or all of my proposals will be posted on the City's web site. Finding these documents can be difficult, so I will try to get link. Again, please get in touch with me if you need help.

When I submitted my proposals to the City Attorney, I added a new proposal in the email cover letter. Referring to the previous Ordinance Committee meeting, I wrote:

As witnessed at their meeting, there really was no room to discuss the merits of the using the police power to approach these issues. That undoubtedly will come up at the City Council meeting over the proposed ordinance, and by implication at the Public Safety Committee.

Meanwhile, many folks are waiting to see what the Public Safety Committee will do. Language I heard more than once at the Ordinance Committee was "Correcting Behavior", which seems necessary for some behavior, but puts on display the privilege of deciding what is acceptable and what is not. I want to address these issues not through control, but through conversation and healing.

The City is both powerful and powerless. It's primary modality of effect is the police power, the right to make law and enforce it. And yet despite enforcement, people continue to do things contrary to the public safety. (In fact , the City has found that there are numerous socially offensive behaviors which cannot be regulated, and must be dropped from the City's code.) The resistance of our community to use of the police power as a first response to socially offensive behavior is both amazing and powerful. We have an opportunity to explore solutions which are not coercive, and which are not degrading, but seek to build relationships and healing between people who do not understand each other. While the country on whole enhances police powers and criminalizes homelessness, we have a chance to steer in a different direction.

The issues we are facing call for a public conversation about what it means to live in a community with other people; with people who are different in wealth and culture; people who come from different places, and have learned different ways to survive; with people of different educations and levels of education; it calls for diversity education across economic tiers, and it calls for us to address each other as persons, as members of the community, with respect. We are a diverse community in our way; we need to talk with each other if we want to remain a community.

I propose Diversity Conversations over a period of years, led by a working group which gathers activist, faith, non-profit, for-profit, and public sector, leaders into a group that can plan multiple events and conversations. It could include conversations about how the community and the government work, what people expect from each other, how the institutions that are meant to serve people can also hurt them, and so forth. The City's own NPAs and CEDO, the Peace and Justice center, the Community Justice Center, the various faith groups, the refugee resettlement program, and numerous others, are doing similar sorts of things, and with all of them and us working as a community, this effort could scale up to include all of the sub-communities of our city.

The point of these conversations is to bring diverse and sometimes alienated communities together to get to know each other, including but not limited to the Community of the Poor and the City's wealthiest. We want to make ourselves human to each other, so that we can change the focus of City life from merely living separate lives within a set of laws, to participation in a community within a shared sense of belonging and mutual respect, and thus address some of the marginal and unfortunate behavior through positive relationships, avoiding the use of the police power, which is so limited in what it can really do.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Quality of Life - For Whom?

The Ordinance Committee of the City of Burlington will meet again on Tuesday at 5:30 at the Fletcher Free Library, in the Community room, to discuss "quality of life issues" and the ordinance they were directed to write.

The City Attorney and the Chief of Police have agreed they already have the powers they wanted, so we can't prevent them from making the law stricter. In fact, as a result of their review of the law, they have asked to remove numerous infractions that they find to be unenforceable, and to rewrite some laws to make them clearer, and make convictions easier to get, and making the laws, arguably, more just. The police chief even argued, to bring Burlington Law into conformity with national trends among other cities ("sister cities" Houston and San Fransisco!), to increase the number of civil infractions required before transitioning to criminal code, from two (as is now the case) to three or more. This is all good.

But we need to watch the details. Jay Diaz of the ACLU has identified some issues. And there 
are many who are cynical enough about city politics and law enforcement to argue that this is a charade to get us to drop our guard. Therefore we must be watchful and alert. Without cynicism, I agree that we must remain vigilant. Please be at the next meeting of the Ordinance committee, to hear what the members are thinking.

So the community of the homeless and its advocates have a fight in principle, not in law, and the Ordinance committee is not the only place for us to argue these principles. Numerous advocates, including Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, Democratic Socialists, the ACLU, and folks on the street, have responded (to the push to give the police more power), that more power is not needed, that coercive responses are counter-productive, and that the most helpful responses provide better services.

My argument generalizes this thinking. Use of the police power is inherently destructive to the social fabric because it inserts violence into the relationship between the person being subjected to that power (with a ticket, citation or arrest) and the community the police hold the power of. There are legitimate reasons and instances to use the police power, but because of its corrosive effects, it must be used sparingly, as the last resort, after all other responses have failed. In contrast to "legal", I label these alternative methods "cultural" and "social", and in contrast to "coercive" and "corrosive", describe them as "healing". As the first resort, I advocate "Cultural and Social" responses.

Cultural and social responses to "quality of life" issues are proactive, bring respect for every individual to the conversation, and support the integrity and right of choice of every individual. They seek healing and compromise, and seek to restore members of the community who are otherwise under-resourced, alienated, and angry, to full membership in good standing. They assume that everyone is a member of the community and wishes to be a positive force for the well being of the community, and they provide resources to support that membership. Not everyone will respond to cultural and social treatments, but this is a discussion of first responses, not whether to use the police power.

The City is, like all governments, a creature of law, and that institution to which we entrust the police power. And that place that receives the police power will be the government. If it is democratic and responsive to its citizenry, if it does those things which justify its existence, the government will address their needs and express their highest interests, and will be that place where the one, entire, community gathers to take care of itself.

But it is in the natural way that people are, that when you are the legal entity with police power, that when as a leader you sought power to have an impact on people's lives, that when among the constituents you converse everyday are not the poor and disenfranchised, that when your habit everyday is to talk to powerful people, you may tend first to think of enforcement, before you think about services. You might first think "How do I get rid of these quality of life nuisances?", before you ask "What can I do differently to get a different result?" or "What are the legitimate needs of this community?". Probably, such introspection is not natural when your days are awash with the details of governing, and balancing an always over-tight budget. Our introspection might be that if the government speaks first of "correcting behavior", through enforcement, then we might wonder whether our leaders are fully mindful of their democratic responsibilities.

Every person, whether poor, angry, un-housed, mentally ill, enmeshed in criminal culture, addicted, un-lucky, disabled, gender non-conforming, is still a citizen and member of the community. Our first, proactive choice, must be to ask how to heal the relationship between that person and the community in which he or she resides, and even, "How can I improve the quality of life of those who live in poverty and scarcity?". Every democratically elected or appointed leader must ask "How can I achieve my goals without using the police power?". It will have a dollar cost, and the benefits will be measured in the quality of life that we all enjoy. (I have numerous proposals to answer this question, not posted here.)

It is our duty, as citizens, to demand cultural and social responses, that we do not allow the government, the City, to apply coercive methods before it has made a full-fledged effort to address the social and cultural issues that become "quality of life issues". You have an opportunity to remind the City of these principles Tuesday night (12/5). These meeting are lightly attended. You can have a big impact.

Then watch the City calendar at for other meetings where they discuss the business of the people. Go to them. Be a reminder of democracy in action. Commit to  attending one meeting per year, per month or per week. Whatever works for you. Our lives will improve, and you will feel more like a member of your community. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Homeless Create Conundrum for the City

October 19, 2017
On October 18, Vermont Public Radio Broadcast this news segment:

And this is my response:

Thank you for a newscast which substantially expresses the feelings and thoughts of those who were interviewed, and the facts on the ground. I would like to develop a few points.

The claim attributed to Mayor Weinberger that "city staff have visited the encampment to speak with the people living there, and to help them find options for housing." suggests that everything was done to get the residents into housing. But the City has one staff person who has visited the camp, and she does not work in the housing field - she is liaison for the police department. The fact is, the city's resources are extremely limited. There isn't enough housing, and the City knows it. My position is that the best course of action for the City is to create a legal right of occupancy, so that services can be delivered, and accountability can be individualized.

Readers not well acquainted with this story will want to know why "individualized" is important. The order to close the camp was signed by the City Attorney pursuant to several incidents, including destruction of the property of one camper by another camper, and possession of a firearm by a visitor. But without evidence of a specific crime, the City has no power to remove one camper, to stabilize the camp. Their only option, to remove the danger from that location, is to close the camp. A sort of group punishment.

But the City in moving campers out of the camp is playing a dangerous game. A hybrid of musical chairs and Russian Roulette. They have no idea where the campers will choose to go. Right now they live in Joan Shannon's district, and she wants them moved because her constituents are scared. So if the campers are scary (they are not a threat to the community, but the neighborhood doesn't know that), they will land in - Dave Hartnett's ward? Kurt Wright's ward? Moving campers around isn't helpful. It's irresponsible.

The best response creates a landlord relationship. Mark Flynn, another homeless advocate, has said he would manage a non-profit to create a safe and sanitary environment for campers, by renting directly from the city and using the sovereign rights of a property holder to hold campers accountable. But the city could change it's ordinance that says the campers are trespassing, and create a zoning allowance which permits the city to provide "emergency accommodations for persons lacking permanent housing". By embracing the radical challenge of allowing homeless camps, the City would gain the power to regulate who camps where, and provide the safety, dignity and services that homeless persons deserve and want as much as anyone with the good fortune to be housed.

The irony is that the campers have solved this problem in their own way. They have moved to the vacant and derelict parking lot next door. Now the problem for the city is what to do with the stuff that was left behind. Keeping their pledge to not discard the possessions of campers, the City is faced with the problem of what to do with the stuff. Earlier this year, I asked Brian Lowe, Chief of Staff to the Mayor, for trash pickup and hygiene facilities. He asked me "What am I going to say to the North Ender who says to me 'I pay for my trash pickup?'" I reminded him, "Right now the campers want to move the trash out. By the time you close the camp, the City will have to do all the work, and it will cost more." Don't let me conflate trash and personal possessions. But a cooperative relationship would have done much to eliminate this problem.

I don't envy the City its task. Why does this burden fall on Burlington? It's a county problem, a state problem, and a national problem. Most homeless are Vermonters, but not from Burlington. They come here because this is where the resources are. The proper arena for this discussion, since we don't have county government in Vermont, is the State Legislature. All of the communities of Chittenden County owe something to this problem, and funds should be flowing from the wealthier communities to state funds which can be used for trash, hygiene and safety.
But the City has the job, and it could be a leader, it could change the conversation away from the criminalization of homelessness toward the restoration of homeless people into the community up a ramp that begins, for some, in a publicly sanctioned homeless camp. Then it could, by walking the walk, demand regional solutions which includes resources from other towns.
Stephen Marshall

Tuesday, September 12, 2017



Like most Americans, I have dreamt of having my own home with room for hobbies and family. Like many Americans, I was downwardly mobile, and rather than finding a productive place in the world which would afford me the home I wanted, I have found myself getting behind on the rent, behind on my bills, and homeless. While I respect and admire those with a modest home their achievement, I have not understood how my poverty makes me undeserving of respect and aid. How have I become not a member of my community? I have always believed that it is in the interest of the community to ensure that the floor of poverty includes an adequate home, health care, a decent education and opportunities to be self-sufficient – generally in the form of employment. The homeless are members of the community, people who would like a safe, dignified place in the community, and a job, who have had bad luck, ill health, trauma, or mental illness. That our society fails to provide this floor and fails to respect the humanity of these poor, is the basis of my advocacy.

I became an advocate for the homeless in the spring of 2016, when I was invited to bring “lived experience” to the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance, where half of my advocacy energy is spent advancing these values. Our major project right now is “Coordinated Entry”, which endeavors to house homeless clients with the least hassle possible. I have also proposed a project I call “Everyone Known by Someone”, to create a network of local committees across Chittenden County to know and help the homeless members of our communities. The other part of my energy goes to being in the homeless community, and helping individuals when I can.

Besides being a voting member of the CCHA, I am active in the Governor's Council on Homelessness. I currently work at CVOEO, where I provide customer service, and have previously worked at Burlington's Community and Economic Development Office.

Stephen Alrich Marshall 9/12/2017

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Everyone Known to Someone: A Proposal to the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance

September 7, 2017

A proposal to the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance to develop a network of local committees to reach and assist the homeless members of the communities to get services, find housing, be registered in the HMIS, and be counted during the PIT Count.

The vision of ending homelessness is a bold and audacious one; in the context of a society which uses hard-wall housing and property to promote security and stability, it proclaims the right of every person to security and stability, through housing that is safe and confers dignity, a right that has never previously been achieved in American history. Such an audacious goal deserves an audacious plan.

Core Vision: Everyone is Known To Someone
Every homeless person in our county will be known to at least one other member of the community, who as a member of a local Everyone Known to Someone Committee, is a human face from the community, inviting the homeless person into a fuller relationship with the other members of the community, its resources, and the opportunities that are available. Denominated by respect and compassion for a fellow community member, these relationships provide the possibility of a dignified passage for the homeless person back into full membership in the community, including having a safe, secure home.

Core Model: The local committee
To provide support and structure to those who would be engaging with homeless persons and families, local committees would be recruited or created. These local committees will be town-specific, autonomous and self sustaining. They will be drawn from the local pool of compassionate persons who are willing to volunteer their time to cultivate and maintain these relationships. There are many ways to find these volunteers, and many of them are already organized and serving the homeless community. Being locally autonomous, local committees could engage in local publicity, make their own decisions about how to identify and how to approach homeless persons, and build on their existing systems of supports, such as meals and food shelves. Our task would be to create a clear structure and provide supports to achieve their goals and ours. They in turn would have a relationship with us, and help us to deliver services, get folks into the HMIS, and do the PIT count. The “Everyone Known to Someone” group would strategize with the local committees to connect the homeless candidate with an HMIS licensed provider for data input and case management, and give them training in how to do the PIT count.

Time Line and Action Sequence
Timing in the initial stages of the outreach effort will be significantly impacted by recent events in Burlington. The Burlington City Council has passed motions to address issues attached to homeless persons, setting up a study group to propose ways to address these issues. It has been proposed in Alliance meetings that the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance might wish to respond to these motions.

Outreach to establish the town-based committees and to address the opportunities of the study group, in some cases, would be congruent and for identical purposes. We will want to be alert to unexpected opportunities and unanticipated obstacles, avoid being distracted from our plan by racing events, and yet be mindful of how to advance our plan if circumstances seem propitious.

When the pace of events slows, we will need to revisit our intended time-line and action sequence.

Building on existing relationships
The strategy for building this network recognizes existing networks and relationships. To build a sustainable network we will need and want the buy-in of the existing political structures of each community, so that they can validate our work to the members of their communities. We will have demonstrated respect by going to them with our plan first, and build respect between the Alliance and the towns we are mandated to serve. So while members of the Alliance can provide informal notice to members of their own networks, including those in the towns in which they live, the Alliance, as a county-wide entity, would formally approach the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, and establish a relationship with it, first. Then through its relationships, the CCRPC will connect the Alliance with town Select-boards, police departments, rescue services, and libraries. The police and rescue teams are very likely to know the homeless members of their communities, so it will be helpful to the local committee to have working relationships with these public safety entities. The libraries are hot-spots for activity of the self-sufficient homeless, so their participation in the local committees will be essential.

With these relationships initiated, at least at the elected official level, we would begin out reach to those who are delivering, or would like to deliver, services to the homeless. Candidates include fraternal organizations and churches. There are many people of compassion who would welcome a structured relationship with homeless folks and the Alliance, especially with a promise that the homeless would get services, because it will provide an enhancement of their own mission-driven efforts.

There are many ways to reach volunteers. The Alliance members will have more ideas than comes to the mind of this writer. Certainly, we could ask local media to tell the story of our outreach, we could possibly get VPR to do a radio segment about our outreach, and we can post on FPF and Craigslist, just to name a few. Alliance participants themselves could be part of local committees, providing a live connection between the committees and the Alliance.

PIT Counts
PIT counts (Point In Time counts) punctuate the implementation of this plan. The time before the next PIT count in 2018 is now less than five months, an amount of time that could be sufficient for: review, revision and passage of this plan; initial outreach to the CCRPC; development of a web presence for this effort; and possibly beginning to reach out to some of the Chittenden County towns. Since most of these actions are sequential, we will do what we can and review the Action Sequence at a future date. A corollary activity not dependent on this sequence is upgrading the PIT count technology. More on this below.

The year between the 2018 PIT count and the 2019 stands up the remainder of the work proposed by this plan. The “Everyone Known to Someone” working group will be charged with managing relationships with the towns. With guidance as needed from the Steering Committee, the work group will make strategic decisions about when to reach out to a given town, and what resources to commit. Resources will be mostly in the form of members of the Alliance using their time to contact, engage, and develop relationships with towns, police and rescue departments, libraries, churches, fraternal organizations, and who ever else steps forward. This proposal envisions some participants of the Alliance assisting the working group in the towns of their residence. The working group will be charged with negotiating these relationships, and developing the local committees, which will provide the sustainable and self-sufficient group for interacting with the Alliance.

Presuming a successful introduction from the Planning Commission to the towns, the work group will want to act quickly to solidify its contacts at the town level, and presuming that the work group cannot move forward with all towns simultaneously, maintain living relationships with the towns with which it will plan to engage later. Development of the local committees will most likely follow a “low-hanging fruit” pattern, in which small investments from us will result in some strong and active local groups. The committee must take advantage of such opportunities, and be mindful it does not ignore less ready towns. It might set goals which include development of committees at different places on the scale of difficulty. However, these are strategic decisions that belong to the working group.

If committee development proceeds very quickly in some towns, by 2018 a local committee might be ready to do a PIT count, but this would be a precocious development. By 2019, however, we would expect many of the local committees to be equipped to do the PIT count. In the meanwhile, Coordinated Entry will have been implemented, and many of the homeless persons these committees get to know will have been entered into HMIS. (As an autonomous decision making body, some committees might report having housed some of their homeless without passing through Coordinated Entry. As a method for building relationships and community, this would be a good outcome.)

Training for the committees will include: social-emotional education from experienced outreach workers, on how best to develop relationships with persons who are un-housed or precariously housed; what information is needed for the HMIS, with the possibility of pre-collection; and how to execute the PIT count. It is hoped that through coordination with the HMIS data base, the PIT count can be simplified and made more accurate. Discussions are underway with ICA employees on how this can be done.

Coordinated Entry
According to the emerging Coordinated Entry process, a simple screening tool will be used to direct homeless clients to a “Hub”, where they will receive assessment and prioritization. Local committee members will be trained to screen homeless persons for which assessment hub to use. Committee members can also be asked about resources available in their communities, to incorporate into the Coordinated entry system.

Youth, Veterans, DV, Families
Members of local committees can be trained to recognize members of these groups, how to offer aid, and how to provide initial screening. Referral to professionals in these fields can be as slow or quick as the client seems to need.

Local committee members and homeless persons will need protection by a code of ethics. Examples include compulsory anonymity, prohibitions against inviting the homeless person into a private home, and prohibitions against providing loans or grants. This system of ethics can be developed from recommendations from the existing street outreach team and in reflection on the differences between street outreach and local committee services, in an active conversation during the development phase of the local committees. Ethics will also evolve from experience.

The Maintenance Phase
Depending on the experience of the working group, the year following the 2019 PIT count could be the year that relationships with the local groups reach equilibrium. We must expect these relationships to be dynamic and in cycles of growth and decay. The “Everyone Known to Someone” (EKS) working group can be expected to have developed its operational tool kit, literature, website, visitation patterns, support tools, etc., and be settled into its routines of training and support of the local groups. Hence, the development phase of this plan would feather-off sometime in 2019. The plan then enters its maintenance phase.

Once local committees are established, each town and local committee in Chittenden County will be in relationship with the Alliance through its local committee. This proposal contemplates: an annual conference of the local committees to discuss best practices and to develop relationships; participation in Alliance meetings by some members of local committees; and local committee members being active in the “Everyone Known to Someone” working group. The EKS group will: maintain relationships with local and county authorities sufficient to achieve the goals of the Alliance; monitor the needs of local committees; provide training as needed; and facilitate collection of HMIS and PIT count data. This proposal envisions collaboration between autonomous entities who share related or congruent goals, and presumes that these relationships will be in flux and require ongoing attention from the EKS working group.

Local Committees will largely have their own identification. The Chittenden County Homeless Alliance will facilitate their work and its own by providing a badge or icon the local committee can add to its literature, store front, library, church or other publicity. Combined with Alliance marketing efforts, the local committee identified by the icon or badge will be understood by the community members, homeless and housed, as the place to go locally to get help.
The paper and input technology currently in use for the PIT count is slow, labor intensive and allows poor quality of data. I propose to adapt our technology to allow, in 2018, data to be input directly into a smartphone version of the existing questionnaire. I further propose that, with BoS, we investigate new technology to make the PIT count efficient, and accurate, and in full accord with HUD requirements, to be implemented in 2019 or 2020.

Housing Precarious
In its discussions, interest has been expressed by Alliance participants to understand the volume and nature of the precariously housed population. How and whether to do this is a larger conversation, but the local committees can be expected to provide important support to any effort we devise.

Local Committees In Burlington
While this proposal aims to organize across Chittenden County, in an effort to provide human scale relationships to members of the homeless community where they are more dispersed, it may be Burlington where this effort is most needed. Since it is Burlington where the most resources are concentrated, the “Everyone Known to Someone” strategy may need to be modified. I propose to learn from the experiences of the local committees, to understand best practices, and turn this strategy toward Burlington at some unknown future date, when lessons from this strategy seem ready and helpful.

We do not know how many homeless persons are populating the rural and suburban domains of Chittenden County, and this effort will help us to ascertain that number. However many there are, this effort will: fulfill our mandate to deliver services with equity across our assigned geography; assure us that, to the extent possible, someone has reached out to homeless persons and families where ever they are; provide a tool for assaying the precariously housed population; and create, in communities which may be hostile to homeless persons, an institutional device to extend compassion, impelling the local communities to become familiar with the human dimensions of homelessness and poverty, potentially altering cultural attitudes toward this population. While our goal is to “End Homelessness”, this plan reaches further, to “End Community-less-ness”. Each implies the other, each supports the other. We can strive for both.

Monday, August 28, 2017

What to do about the homeless

August 28, 2017


The Promise of America is prosperity for everyone who is willing to work for it, that with a strong work ethic and responsible citizenship, a person can live a secure, fun, comfortable life. An implied promise is that a prosperous economy can afford to take care of its less fortunate. Thus the incantation, “So let us all pitch in, work hard, participate, and prosper together!” If you are sick, a divorce divides your property, you are a veteran with PTSD, you suffered persistent childhood trauma, you suffer from schizophrenia, someone hit you with a bat and left you with permanent brain damage, the prosperous economy can afford to keep you in that minimum of safety, dignity and comfort which might command your loyalty and love of the community in which you live. It is to this that the Pledge of Allegiance bonds us.

So here we are. We have that prosperity. Burlington’s economy is hot. Everywhere we shop there is a need for cashiers, wait staff, and salespersons, and we hear of companies which have hired someone who cannot find a place to live because the rents are so high. And the unemployment rate is below 2.5%.
But something is wrong. Whose life feels secure? Who feels happy that their business is safe from the broken and destitute members of the community? Who can afford another dollar of taxes and who can really afford to raise the family they have or dream of? Who among us celebrates that there are members of the community whose lives have fallen to such disrepair that they live on the streets and salve their pain with alcohol and narcotics? Who among us wishes for a life so at risk, that they feel a need to carry and use weapons? What happened to the promise that a prosperous economy would work for people throughout the economic spectrum? 

Here is my riddle: How is it Burlington is so prosperous, yet people feel so uncertain? Who in fact benefits from this prosperity? At what point and in what manner is this prosperity harvested to meet the needs of those who are not at its apex?


In 1987 McKinney-Vento was passed with a mandate to house the homeless. The fact that homelessness was seen as a problem is a great step forward toward a just economy and society. Today, the goal is to end homelessness. Imagine this vision in its totality: All people would be housed. Through whatever means are required, everyone will be inducted into possession of a secure dwelling. Has America ever seen a day when there were not unlucky, sick, broken, men, women and children treading the streets and back-woods in search of a secure place to dwell? What an audacious vision! The end of homelessness! Imagine! An America that is one community, in which everyone is welcome. Astounding and historic in its potential.

But let us remember what that means: The broken and sick, the formerly criminal, the unlucky and those who are victims of domestic violence, need help. They must be assisted, and some of these members of the community must be supported for the remainder of their lives, because damage to their psyches or bodies is so severe. It is the promise of assistance and support, the promise of the dignity of membership in the community, indeed, the promise of love, which gives us, the mentally ill, the sick, the unlucky, the alienated, the once incarcerated, reason to love our community, and seek its tranquility. It is the promise of assistance, safety and dignity, in ways that are sustainable for everyone, that generates healing, that calms the social soul, that induces the communal tranquility which our constitution promises, and is our shared aspiration.

In a narrow conception, the end of homelessness is seen cynically as a simple bribe: “We (the responsible citizens) will give you (the destitute and dangerous) housing, and in exchange, you will stop committing crime, you will stop threatening us and our comfortable lives.” But in fact, being welcomed into housing, housing which is safe, secure, sustainable and imparts membership in the community, undermines this cynical interpretation.  When we make the effort to initiate our destitute into community, we remove the causes of alienation, anger, and hate. So it is not merely a bribe. Housing is a treatment for divided community.

Mandate of the CJC

In fact, the city of Burlington already embraces the principles of One Community. In its contract with Vermont’s Department of Corrections, the City agreed, through its Community Justice Center

To develop community capacities for addressing crime, conflict and dispute resolution [and] strive to enhance community safety, improve quality of life and increase citizen participation in the criminal justice process. 

Based on principles of restorative justice. In fact, the homeless many times occupy the position of victim, and we can reasonably include the homeless, and the impoverished, as citizens whose participation is to be lauded. Thus since

      The Grantee will champion and incorporate the following restorative justice principles:
      •    Place those who are harmed affected at the center of the resolution process
      •    Seek to understand the harm done
      •    Work to repair the damage
      •    Re-build relationships, to the degree possible, with all people involved
      •    Recognize the solution as a community responsibility
      •    Give choice and opportunity to speak and be heard, especially for victims
      •    Recognize that stakeholder participation is voluntary
      •    Use collaborative methodologies to resolve conflict and crime

The city has already agreed to principles whose purpose is to build community, invite healing, and emphasizes the responsibility of the community to implement these principles. And again, most homeless members of the community can be placed on the victim side of this equation, not automatically as victims of a crime, but as victims of the human condition. In a list of methodologies, the contract includes:

citizen panels, group conferencing, family group decision making, circle processes, mediated dialogues, Circles of Support and Accountability (COSA), mentoring, etc.

Which all emphasize the compassionate response to injuries to persons and the one community, and again, can be applied to healing the lives of the homeless.  Given that most homeless people are not criminals or former criminals, these principles may seem not, at first, to apply to the homeless. But the homeless are stigmatized, and the recent crimes in the downtown contribute to the impression in the larger community that the homeless community is a group of dangerous people, the proper response to whom is more control. In fact, this is an uneducated conclusion. Homeless people are largely people who would like to participate in the life of the community by having a safe home and a secure job. These principles of compassion and restoration can be extended to everyone who is homeless, understanding the homeless person as the victim who is in need of restoration to secure, dignified housing. Whether a homeless person has committed a crime or not, the goal is and remains restoration to full, dignified membership in the community.

Vermont, Freedom and Unity

From its founding as a republic in 1788, the people of Vermont have held to a unique and paradoxical vision: we would respect each other’s freedom, while responding to each other in need. As a result, the people of Vermont demand from their government uniquely compassionate policies. As an advocate working inside the system, I have seen this compassion in operation, and observing the policy making in Montpelier from a distance, I feel proud that the legislature decided to fund services for the homeless. We, the people of and the State of Vermont, have largely chosen the path of taking care of each other and of building one community. This is in marked contrast to most of the rest of America, where the poor are not helped, homelessness is criminalized, and an aspiration to living in one community is absent. I ask you to stay focused on the principles which have made us a compassionate people who strive for justice.

The Proper Response of a Compassionate People

There is no good response to the recent crimes and violence. We live in America where we do not put enough  resources into the social safety net, and inevitably there are people who are angry, alienated, and have not learned how to live with the tensions of conflict and betrayal without recourse to violence. But violent assault is already a crime. The perpetrators of these crimes get arrested and will be subject to our justice system. Our best response, as a community,  is not to apply more police power, in an attempt to disperse the perpetrators, an effort which cannot succeed, but to double up our commitment to social healing.
As a response, social healing is slow answer. But it is the only response that holds the promise of maintaining freedom next to unity in the structure of our community. Is the only response which holds the promise of healing, and building one community, in which everyone can live with dignity, with as much freedom as the community can afford, for everyone.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One Community, One Home.

August 16, 2017

Property and its holding has been the source of human conflict and misery from the first moment anyone was jealous of another for the food they were eating. Yes, the desire to possess land is intrinsic in the order of nature, and in our instincts

But to say that our drive to take land, and the taking of land, is fate, is necessary, implies we have no choices, no power to alter our values, and no power to alter our behavior. To say we must follow the pattern laid out for us by nature is to say we have no free will. To say that the holder of wealth has a right to use it to control the resources that another people needs - the definition of fascism - is mere self aggrandizement. Convenient for you if the ability to grab land from others is within your reach. To say that competition for land is the only way to allocate that essential resource is to say that humanity is a simple species with no imagination, with no alternative social instincts, and no desire for a better outcome

So you may be accustomed to driving at seventy miles per hour on the interstate, with a powerful engine at your command, and enjoy all the benefits of getting quickly, in comfort, to where ever you are going, but if you are heading for a cliff, you may prefer to change your behavior. And if you find there are no more roads and there is no more fuel, you will need to abandon the luxury of this form of transportation.

So the drive to accumulate property and wealth is not unnatural. It is not automatically wrong. But as we experience the world as full, as we contemplate the ecological destruction of the Earth, as we ponder the fates of our families, communities, humanity, and our planet, we have to ask whether there is a better way. In human history, despite the ravages and misery wrought by our wars, the Earth and its ecosystems have persisted. Ozone has protected us, Oxygen has been generated, fish have filled the oceans and forests have regrown when we allowed them to. The Earth's ecosystems are not identical to what they were before humanity, but never before have human depredations threatened to extinguish civilization and most of the life we know. In an existential crisis, existential values come into question. And the root existential question is whether we will compete or share

I am a student of history, of ecology, of anthropology, among other subjects. The time scale for these subjects is hundreds and thousands of generations in depth. We see patterns at these scales that we do not see in our ordinary lives. One of the most profound, to me, is that humanity evolves, innovating new strategies for survival to accommodate changing conditions. Already, we have invented agriculture, the concept of evil, plumbing, and writing and reading. We have invented health care, and made large families unnecessary. Already, people who raid, rape and pillage are marginalized in the international system, being accused of “war crimes”. Already we have established an international system of sovereignty which upholds the principle that nations are not allowed to invade each other and take each other's land. No, it doesn't work well enough, and the raiders now use money and corruption to do their dirty work, but humanity, and civilization, have come a long way. And we can do this. We can change the root values of the global human experiment.

We now enter that phase of human history in which we choose between a world in a perpetual state of war and destruction, and a world at peace, in healing. If you want to change the world, if you want to live your life on a healthy planet, if you want to have children who grow up in healthy communities, and have children of their own, consider this your charge: Value all children, not just your own, value every life, not just those you consort with, value the ecosystems of the Earth that sustain us, not just the neighborhood you live in, value solutions which benefit the global community, even when it costs you more. Value sharing. Value cooperation. Value doing things together. Ultimately, we must make property available to all for personal well-being, and available to none as an investment.

Don't be a martyr. There are cheats and selfish people who will take advantage. But keep your eyes open for opportunities to change how we think, and explain ourselves to each other, and look for ways to make all lives better. Look for opportunities for healing.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Central Formulation

August 13, 2017

Humanity faces crises brought on by a full Earth and by its failure to view humanity and the Earth as one community. Too many people believe that the solutions to their problems require hoarding of resources and too many others lack any, and feel ignored and unvalued. Hoarding is ultimately going to fail as a personal strategy (thus it is a waste of effort!), and by definition is not a community strategy, and so will help to destroy the Earth.
The most visible incarnation of this hoarding is the continuing process of the wealthy getting more wealthy while the poor get poorer and the middle class gets hollowed out. The law is written to support the preservation of wealth, for those who have it, even when it means driving the unlucky poor further into debt. The economy is organized to foster the upward migration of wealth, to those who are already wealthy, while limiting the obligation of the most wealthy to share their wealth with those who have none. It is a self-ratcheting process of wealth begetting wealth, through the power the wealthy have to demand laws which protect them, while the poor have little such power, and the community barely arouses itself to protect them from the effects of their systemic vulnerability. The benefits of this system go to only 20% of the population. As the wealthy get wealthier, there is less and less revenue to the government to support the inadequate patchwork of social safety systems, because the middle class pays taxes, and middle class is over stretched, balking at more taxes, and simply shrinking.
The failure to act in the common good and put our community wealth to work to build healthy communities and a healthy planet, results in the entropic default, ecosystem collapse. Another obvious incarnation of the permission we give to hoarding wealth is our continued devotion to the principle that individuals have a right to get ever more wealthy without limit. As if the communities in which they live, the nations which claim their allegiance, and the planet which is their only home, can sustain their demands for resources, without limit. As if the planet were limitless. As if every one of seven billion people could prosper while some “statistically insignificant” number of individuals holds more wealth than, essentially, the other seven billion people. Unlike the past, when chiefs, kings and emperors engaged in diplomacy, politics, war and betrayal, to gather wealth and power, and the Earth could absorb the blood of human beings killed in service to their ambitions; Unlike the past when wealth builders could exploit workers and their families without risk to themselves; Unlike the past when the Earth could scoff at the ecosystem and habitat destruction of the wealth seekers because these depredations were always local and it, the Earth, was so large; Unlike the past when the dangers of natural human ambitions for status, wealth, power and fertility, for all of the miseries they caused, would not threaten the life of our planet – today they do. Today we couch the violence of the past in the invisible systemic violence of a body of law that protects private property hoarding, over the value of the people and the community. Preservation of life on Earth, in any form familiar to us, or that includes us, is at risk, while we continue to devote ourselves to the principle that the needs and wants of the individual take higher priority than the health and well being of the communities they belong to and Earth on which they live. Only those most wealthy individuals actually have a vested interest in protecting this system.
While individual rights are held in higher esteem than the obligations of individuals to the community of humanity, while ecosystem degradation proceeds unchecked, while the injustice of the wealth of each community being siphoned off by a few, persists, we are on the path toward global economic and climate chaos that makes the ravaging of the Earth inevitable. Yes, I am connecting wealth hoarding with global ecosystem collapse. The resources exist for us to address the needs of humanity and the planet, but we give permission to some few to hoard those resources, while we fail to hold them accountable, and we fail to change our expectations. Chaos follows from hoarding, and in Community, the eternal strategy of sharing makes it possible for us to act on behalf of the life on Earth. Human communities have always thrived by learning to share. This is our ultimate test.
Indeed, wealth is really only an act of faith, the faith that there is a system that will honor that claim to wealth. If the system collapses, all that will remain will be natural, wild human communities. And then power will be back in the hands of the war-lords and armies. And our dystopic fantasies allowed to flourish.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Check out Sustainable Economies Law Center

July 23, 2017 
I want to help to "change the narrative". I believe that culture building is the foundation for lasting, sustainable change. We must introduce new stories for people to tell each other about how and why things are the way they are. New stories with different outcomes.
I today stumbled on a group that is doing what I advocate doing, so I am putting up a link to their website here. 

This is their graphic for one of their blog posts.
Can you say "Global Enslavement"? 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Principles for the next stage of human history

July 8, 2017

I have consolidated and commented some thoughts I put on my Facebook profile. They are presented here for access.
I need to confess to a tone of certainty. I do not speak with the modesty of self-doubt. But I do not assume you will believe me. I assume you may agree with me, or not, but that you will reflect on your own experience when you evaluate the validity of these ideas. I make no apologies for having clear ideas, forcefully expressed. I am equally capable of listening to arguments of elaboration, difference and contradiction. I trust you will use these ideas as a foil against which to express your own ideas.

Key principle #1: I understand that for me to be safe, I must make the world safe for you.
Corollary 1: Fences, walls, guns, police forces, armies, and other forms of violence, create safety for some at the expense of safety for others.
Corollary 2: We are only truly safe when we conduct our affairs as members of a single community, in which the safety and well being of every member is a core value.
Corollary 3: There is only one thing we need to agree on: We don't hurt each other. Everything else can be by majority rule.

Key Principle n-4: If you want to avoid fascism, you need to use democracy. You need to convince a majority of the people that your ideas are the right ideas.

Key principle n-3: Revolutions are anti-democratic and typically are used to install power-hungry people, who are willing to kill people, increase misery, destroy the systems we need to produce food and housing, and destroy the institutions we need to make things happen. Revolution is acceptable to those who prioritize their own needs over the needs of others, and are satisfied with relationships defined by violence.
Privilegism began to operate early in human history. From the earliest roots of humanity, the dependence of each person on the intact social fabric, and the lack of significant differences in wealth, kept in check the selfish who would use their advantage to gain more advantage. Privilegism was controlled by the community through social processes.
But at some point, when farmers began to control their own land and more food than other farmers, and have larger families; when nomadists could increase their own herd or flock,and have larger families; when riders of horses could steal from non-riding peoples, and have larger families, the way of privileged action could not be resisted, and those who adopted Privilegism dominated their societies. Early in the history settled communities, the many remained part of the community decision making, but as the wealthy and powerful were able to use wealth and power to take more and make more, they hired goons and built armies, and used coercion to control and ultimately exploit the many who did not have the wealth, status, or resources, to resist. History is replete with examples of people using their resources to acquire resources by taking them from others, and examples of peaceful peoples being attacked and exploited by those who would use violence.
Thus today Privilegism is ubiquitous and persuades even those whose lives are made worse by it. Some societies control it better than others do. But to resist it is to resist natural selection, nature’s own mechanism for choosing winners and losers. The question, for those of us who choose to resist it is “Why we would choose to resist a force of nature?” We might also ask, “Why do we resist Privilegism?” What is the aspiration that arouses us to fight such a powerful force? And “From what equally powerful principle do we get our energy and ability to appeal to the consciences of others?” “What change in the course of history do we think we can make?”.

Key Principle N-1: There is sufficient wealth for every person to have their needs met, and for communities to be healthy and places of joy. 

Key principle N: Let us say that the wealthiest members of the community have been entrusted with the wealth which represents the productivity of the community, and that that wealth is owed to the community, and must be used to bring up the quality of life for every member of the community. Wealth implies an obligation of care and stewardship.

Key principle N+1:
The "normative income". This idea declares that the preferred economic status of every person is in the middle range of all possible wealth and income. It is a range of incomes defined by their ability to support a family which can pay a reasonable share of taxes, in comfort, with adequate health care, education and housing, It provides enough wealth to allow people to take vacations without fear of losing their homes, and to participate in the economy as fund-holders, but leans against that much wealth that permits a second home (while others are homeless), or to avoid ever needing to take a job.
The key idea of Fascism, of the left or the right, is that those who have power are entitled to use it for the benefit of what ever cause happens to be their cause. This key idea produces the idea that wealth belongs to the wealthy, poverty belongs to those who are poor, and there are no responsibilities of individuals for the other members of their communities. The Fascists were most explicit about the right to use power for the benefit of those who possess it, so their label is the label I use, but don't forget Stalin. Stalin used power fascistically.
In America, the most familiar expression of this principle is the individual accumulation of wealth for retirement. We do have Social Security, which the fascists would love to destroy, but there is the constant drumbeat in the media of Planning Your Retirement. We rely so much on the personal retirement system because we do not have an adequate social safety net.
Hence, in this principle, everyone is supported toward a middle income through good community planning, and everyone who is uber rich is hampered from being super rich through good community planning.
Hence there is one community, not a rich one and a poor one.

Key principle N+2: An economy built on a single model doesn't work. You need conflicts. For example:
A1: All wealth belongs to the community.
B1: Wealth is controlled by individuals.
We need to mix these ideas
A2: Pure Capitalism results in Tyranny
B2: Pure Socialism results in Tyranny
We need to mix these ideas
A3: The community is the source of all well being.
B3: The community is where freedom and self-expression reside.
Which is worse?
A4: Tyranny of the few?
B4: Tyranny of the many?
I could go on.
This principle draws on the observation of ecologists that diversity improves the resilience of the system, and on the political theory idea of “checks and balances”. I am trying to invoke the idea of the mixed economy. We need multiple levels of government with degrees of sovereignty, and degrees of accountability. We need large scale businesses to perform large scale projects, and small scale businesses to meet the needs of people. We must strongly advantage common ownership, to limit how much wealth any one person can acquire*. Their degrees of privilege must be regulated to prevent them from exploiting the advantages of wealth and power. We achieve this control through active legal and economic systems of checks and balances.

*This idea deserves elaboration. A way to distribute wealth is to raise investment funds in small bits from many people. We can limit the ownership of any business to one share per person, as co-ops do. When an ambitious and energetic person builds their private business up, they can reduce their wealth taxes by sharing their profits with their employees. There are many ways to correct the effects of privilegism. All who oppose these corrections must remember that everyone benefits from a healthy community. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I am revealed


[Friends arriving here for essays on economics are welcome to skip this, which is quite personal. But public, and they are welcome to read this also.]
If I had not this tortured, fragmented consciousness, if where cruelty, anger, and despair cascaded down from prior generations there had been respect and comfort, there had been love for the legacy that children are, the powers of my mind would have been applied to the grand mysteries of the cosmos. I might have applied myself to any of physics, philosophy, political science, sociology, economics, ecology, the human condition writ large or small, in articles, novels, book-length essays, by teaching at university or running for political office. Instead I disassociate. I decline to experience the comradery of my peers, I cannot sort out my priorities, my mind cannot absorb the meaning of words as I read them, and those mysteries filter slowly into my mind where they are malnourished, finding a habitat riven by trauma and a desperate, hostile hyper-vigilance. Because I cannot attach, feel friendship, think clearly, offer love, I am shunned and deprived of the social stimulation that might help me. For three decades of adulthood, I anguish over my isolation, insecurity, rootlessness, and raw self-loathing. I long for love and don't know how to receive it. I don't know that my “traumatic stress reaction” is real. Is more real than I imagined. Is the description of my mental illness, and the reason I have foundered. To have a name for it and to know this, is the first time I feel hope of recovery. 
A decision in the last decade to engage socially has altered this trajectory. Those who know me may feel the person I am describing is not the person they know. I have done much healing work. But I continue to feel pain, fear of people, unable to attach, and a fragmented mind. I am old enough to compound the cognitive dysfunctions of Post Traumatic Stress with the actual effects of aging. Or are these memory lapses the effect of staring into the eyes of trauma? I don't care. I want , with what is left of my life, to repair my damaged self, and release into the world that mind that might have cracked some of nature's secrets, but wishes today just to do the work I might still do. With love and tranquility. 
I ride the growing wave of awareness of trauma. I see myself in it and I want to act boldly, because with a long life behind me, life ahead looks short. I have contrived to get an evaluation at the Trauma Clinic in Brookline Massachusetts. The cost is $5900. I cannot imagine earning and saving this much money in a timely way. It feels unachievable, and I must achieve it. Thus, I ask for help. 

Of this cost, I expect to contribute $2000 out of personal savings. I hope to get some siblings and friends to contribute. And I am trying to raise money on the crowd funding sites. I will need to see the money before I can schedule the evaluation, and I need to discuss with them how much in advance they need to schedule, but I picture this as something I do in the fall of 2017. 

I am expecting the evaluation and diagnosis to be a significant healing event, in its own right. The number of therapies offered, and their effectiveness, is quite astonishing, given the nature of the injury, and this evaluation will propose which of these is likely to be the most productive. So my companion goals are 1) to engage the deep process of healing, through the evaluation, and 2) to leave with a confidence in my therapeutic pathway. Of course we don't know the outcome, but I trust in my ability to respond positively to treatment, and to build a future lived in love and not fear.