Mayor Bloomberg's war against the homeless continues

The June 24th New York Times reported that, in yet another effort to apply a “market based philosophy” to the problems of the poor, NYC's Bloomberg administration would seek to decrease funding from nonprofit shelter providers unable to place their clients within 6 months.

By the same token, the clients could be ejected for infringements such as refusing to accept a subsidized apartment. Apparently this rule holds even if the apartment has poor conditions or isn’t large enough to accommodate the client’s entire family.

Mayor Bloomberg is running for his third term after ramming through city legislation to overturn term limits. Despite this, and despite his recent angry outbursts at reporters – one of which was aimed at a blogger in a wheelchair who accidentally dropped his recorder during a press conference – his campaign is widely considered to be uncontested. (He's spent over $19 million so far).

He has won endorsements from liberal celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg – who hosted a June 8th event billed as an “intimate, candid, one-on-one, tete-a-tete, no-holds-barred conversation with our favorite candidate for Mayor” -- and openly gay politicians like City Council Speaker Chris Quinn.

Today he snagged an endorsement from the Irish Voice, which cited his “incredible philanthropy” as one reason for the endorsement. (On the other hand, the Village Voice speculated that the lengthy interview that the press-adverse Bloomberg granted the Irish Voice could’ve had something to do with it.)

In the midst of all this, Bloomberg’s war against the poor and homeless continues unabated.

Deputy mayor Linda Gibbs tapped into the Bloomberg administration’s brand of sadistic neo-liberal psychology to explain their most recent policy move of decreased funding and eviction: “We want them to overcome homelessness more quickly. We believe they are in shelter far longer than they need to be.

Advocates responded that it’s probably not a good idea to throw people out in the street with no place to go.

To this Gibbs insisted that “the families need to understand that they can’t just thumb their nose at the rules and have no consequences.”

It was only six weeks ago that the City started trying to collect rent from shelter residents with jobs.

Homeless people and their allies know this is nothing new. That doesn't make it less infuriating.

Homelessness as a Disorder?

"They" should "overcome homelessness more quickly." How brilliant! As if homelessness were a medical or psychological condition, or an addiction, like gambling. Maybe our beneficent City managers should prescribe a drug for it!

And it's too true that the sad character of our times is boldly on display in this "election". The Council might bicker against the Mayor on this or that. Mainstream organizations might take issue with a policy of his. But when it comes down to it, these folks have always-already compromised their integrity and humanity and hitched their horses to Bloomberg. So the Council abolishes term limits, and there's a gleeful NARAL President on Bloomberg's TV ads now reminding us how confident she is that he understands and defends women's rights.

(On the term limits and election, the Indypendent ran a cool article proposing that - as Bloomberg is already guaranteed victory - we just bypass the formalities of actually having an election and instead demand the millions he's paying for ads and glossy mailings and robocalls go to providing needed public services in NYC. http://www.indypendent.org/2009/05/14/bill-the-billionaire/#hide).

Bloomberg represents, in stark form, something interesting about neoliberal ideology. It's pretty philosophical for him, in fact. The ideology can bend this way or that on the more social issues, and has no problem supporting some human rights in their narrow, legalistic form. The real thing for neoliberalism, as he reminds us all the time, is class. Or rather, neoliberalism's total erasure of class or structural inequality as a category of it's thought structure. It's all about choice, "opportunity", and the individual's rights and responsibilities.

A good example. In the 1960's LBJ, a Liberal of the classic variety, declared a "War on Poverty" and it was actually possible to talk about public and state provision of collective welfare programs. Cut to today, with a global economic crisis and unemployment at its highest levels in generations. And what does Bloomberg, a neoliberal, do? Opens up "financial empowerment" offices. Instead of public programs to provide meaningful support for people, we get people passing out shitty brochures in spiffy offices, "counseling" the poor and indebted on their need to make lifestyle changes, work and sacrifice harder, and "seize opportunities" for "financial freedom".

Old school liberalism minimally understood class inequality and at times was compelled to appeal to the poor with almost real programs. (Of course, only so long as profit margins allowed, and so long as the working class and poor agreed to never independently organize.) Neoliberalism, though, is contemptuous of the poor and the worker, actively strips away minimal supports from them, and vindictively punishes the dispossessed in order to reinforce the ideology of "individual opportunity" at every turn. It's actually possible for the neoliberal to say publicly, as Bloomberg did recently, that "one can argue that if you make more money, you deserve more money."

another example of poverty as pathology

I'm glad that we still have social services in this city, but the "financial empowerment centers" (described below) seem to understand poverty as a function of individual incompetence rather than as a social condition.

Credit counseling can be useful, but budget management doesn't mean anything when you don't have any money. And is anyone offering free counseling to notoriously mismanaged government agencies like the MTA?

Anyway, here's what the Mayor's press release said:

"At a time when many New Yorkers are finding it harder to make ends meet, the counselors at the City's Financial Empowerment Centers will help with money management, budgeting, financial planning, credit counseling, negotiating with creditors, finding affordable banking services, government benefit screenings and referrals to other services and organizations."

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