Who is Responsible for Homelessness?

Homelessness has become a huge problem all across the United States. Wages have not kept up with the economy, rents have skyrocketed and politicians have largely looked the other way.  Each year in our major cities the number of homeless continue to increase. It is the responsibility of each community to make changes to tackle this problem.

The number of homeless in major US cities continues to rise as rents become increasingly higher.  The cities with the most homeless, both outdoor and in shelters are New York with 76,501, Los Angeles with 55,188 and Seattle with 11,643.  Once known for its prosperity, the United States is beginning to look more like a third world country with the large number of its population without housing.  Many Americans are one paycheck away from living on the street with many major employers paying just above minimum wage, which is not a livable wage.

One of the misconceptions of homelessness is the actual definition.  One can have a roof over their head and still be considered homeless.  This can be a barrier to living in a permanent space. Communities often look to shelters as a solution.  In reality they are temporary and are often not a fix. Time in a shelter is limited and if one can not find permanent housing shelters put people back out on the street.  What shelters do is provide a place to sleep other than the street, but they are not a solution to homelessness. Communities would fare better if they came up with solutions for permanent housing.

There are many reasons people become homeless.  Many people live paycheck to paycheck and the loss of a job can result in losing ones home.  Major employers such as Amazon, Walmart and others pay low wages requiring their employees to seek public assistance.  Mental illness and drug addiction to cope with mental illness are also large factors in people becoming homeless. A major problem currently are increased rents, tenants not having rights which make it easy for landlords to evict for tenants who will pay higher rents.

Once one is homeless everything becomes more difficult in large part because of the stigma surrounding homelessness.  Employers do not want to hire people down on their luck choosing instead people who have not had this problem. Society tends to lump the homeless into one category regardless of the reasons people ended up in that situation.  The homeless are constantly on the move as police, business owners and the public force them to leave. It does not matter if you do not use drugs or alcohol, if you have employment or are genuinely trying to get back on your feet.  Being constantly forced to leave makes it nearly impossible to re establish oneself. Society complains that they do not want to see the homeless and are also the ones keeping people in that situation. Making it a lose, lose situation for everyone.

Politicians often use tackling homelessness at election time, making their constituents envision a city without the awful eyesore.  Once in office they realize the enormity of the problem and choose to focus on other things. They will enforce sweeps to clean the city up, but do little to help those in need.  Resulting in the homeless being moved from one place to another, but remaining homeless.

It is currently a crime to be homeless.  If you do not have a type of shelter in some areas the police issue tickets for being homeless.  This only raises money for the city and does nothing to curb homelessness. It results in the person not being able to afford to pay for the ticket and then spending jail time for not paying the ticket, making it harder to obtain housing as one now has a police record.

There is no easy solution to homelessness.  Communities would fare better by increasing tenant rights, making it harder to evict tenants, a huge cause of homelessness.  Large employers should be held accountable if they do not pay livable wages and constituents need to hold their politicians accountable for their promises to tackle the problem of unaffordable housing.

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My Time at Amazon

After seeing a job posting for Amazon on Indeed, I applied for a job in one of their warehouses.  At the time I had no idea what I was getting myself into as I had never worked for an organization that big.  I learned a lot, both good and bad.  In the end, Amazon will not have me as a customer, let alone an employee.

After filling out several online forms, I was ready for my job at a warehouse in Bellevue, Washington.  I was to work at the first Amazon Fresh, the Amazon food delivery.  For the first two weeks of work they had me in the “chill” department.  It was a section of the warehouse kept at 38 degrees farenheit.  Amazon provided large jackets and gloves to wear while working in this section.  They also provided packaged hand warmers for extra warmth.  I started there in November in Seattle, where the weather outside pretty much matched the temperature inside.  Our schedule was for 10 hours a day.  We worked 4 days on, 3 off.  We spent the entire time walking on cement floors, which make your feet begin to ache after about 5 or 6 hours.  I was living in my van at the time and it never seemed like I could get warm.

Working and sleeping in the cold eventually made me sick.  I asked to be moved to the warmer department and was allowed to work their sometimes, but often I would be called back to chill.  Several of my coworkers found themselves sick as well.  Amazon does have a nice system where one can take a generous amount of time off if needed.  Soon after I began working we had mandatory overtime as the holiday season was upon us.  The job was so physically demanding all I could do on my days off was sleep.  I asked my younger coworkers what they did on their days off and every single one of them said, “sleep.”  My feet constantly hurt, even on my days off.  I began to swim at the gym to loosen my muscles up, which helped a little.

As the holidays drew near, it began to snow outside.  Towards the end of our shift we had to load the trucks with the totes of food which meant working in very cold conditions.  One night I worked in chill, had to load totes while it snowed outside and then sleep in my van which did not have any heat.  The wages that are paid the warehouse workers are just slightly above minimum wage, making housing a hard thing to come by.  When I could I stayed in a modest motel to be warm and safe.

At the warehouse I worked in it was very difficult to get a hold of human resources if you had a problem, as our representative was not there during our shift.  Amazon did however have a medical office for minor injuries or safety hazards.  Having served on the safety committee at my union, I decided to join the safety committee at Amazon.  The employees seem dedicated to making the workplace safe.  There are numerous hazards working in a warehouse.

Things at Amazon are always in constant change as the company is always looking for ways to improve processes.  As the weather began to warm up, temporary workers were hired to load the trucks with the totes and the regular workers no longer had to do so, eliminating having to work in the evening cold.

I made a lot of good friends at Amazon and for the most part everyone got along.  Matt was one of my supervisors and let me pick the jobs I wanted to do for the day.  He had a great sense of humor and made the job fun not only for me but for everyone around him.  His younger brother worked in the warehouse as well and they were very close.  One day my friend Camron said he wanted to walk back with me to my department.  He seemed to insist.  I agreed, but thought it was strange.  As we walked past a bulletin board I saw a notice about Matt.  He had committed suicide and there was a card to sign for the family.  I was crushed.  Having lost a lot of friends already, I dealt with it fine, but was sad.  Amazon did provide counseling for those that wanted to take advantage of that service, which I did.

During my first months at Amazon I noticed that a coworker seemed to always be on my bus.  I never took the bus at the same time each day.  Sometimes I arrived right before shift and sometimes I arrived a couple of hours early so I could eat a meal and relax before our long shift.  One day I decided to test him and I arrived 3 hours early.  He was on my bus.  I decided to complain to security.  They did not seem to take it seriously and said there was nothing they could do about things that happened away from work.  Having had a female friend murdered, I take being stalked seriously.  One morning he showed up where I was having breakfast.  At that point I went to Human Resources, but no one ever did anything.  At the time I did not contact police because the man who was stalking me was homeless and I did not want to be responsible for someone losing their job.  Had I a chance to do it over, I would call the police.  He would also taunt me during the work shift.  His harassment and stalking continued while I worked there.  I felt Amazon did not care about the safety of female employees.

Amazon announced that the warehouse would be moving and the current warehouse would close in June.  They offered a transfer to another warehouse or one could move to the new one.  I wanted to attend school in southern California, so I asked for a transfer.  I requested Los Angeles, but was offered a job in San Bernardino.  I researched the distance to LA and found that the light rail went to downtown.  I agreed to move and was promised $3,000 in relocation money.  I researched the cost of housing in the San Bernardino area and found that it was plenty to make the move.

Upon arriving in San Bernardino I checked into a motel for a few days.  I spent my time researching apartments and made a few appointments for dates that were after my first paycheck.  I could take the bus to a distance about a half a mile away from the warehouse.  It was summer in San Bernardino and some days were 110 degrees.  By the time I reached the warehouse I was ready to pass out.  I worked a few days and on the day my pay check was to go into my account, nothing was there.  I went to Human Resources and they said it would come by check to the warehouse, even though I requested it to go into my account.  My paycheck finally arrived but my relocation money was not included, as promised.  After several phone calls I was told it could take several days. I told them it was not acceptable as I had moved from out of state and was told it would be on my first paycheck.  They finally posted the money to my account, but when I checked I had only received $1600, when I had been promised $3,000.  I was told I was given half that day and would receive the rest the next day.  I was anxious to get a place to live as motels are expensive.  The next day the money did not arrive.  I called to find out what happened and they told me $1600 was all i was getting as the rest was taken out in taxes.  This left me unable to rent an apartment.  I was able to stay in the motel I started out in.  I realized money was going to be tight and the bus was expensive, so I used some of the money to buy a bicycle to make sure I could make it to work every day.

My coworkers began to harass me about not living in an apartment. I was ganged up upon on a daily basis.  The managers did as well.  I spent the first 3 weeks of employment at that warehouse in Human Resources trying to stand up for myself for all of the things that were going wrong.  Even though I had documented proof, I was always told nothing could be done.

My co workers continued to harass me on a daily basis in many shapes and forms.  I was the only Jew in the warehouse that I knew of.  I was also older than most of my coworkers, which had not been the case in Seattle. I felt like I was a walking target.  I complained to managers, but nothing was done.  I began going to HR, but nothing was done.  I began to miss work as I could not take the harassment any longer.  Then I was fired for missing too much work.  I appealed the termination.  At the meeting with the warehouse manager, he provided me a sheet of my attendance for the entire time I worked for the company.  He stated that my attendance had been great until around the  second week of August.  I told him that is when the harassment began to get really bad.  I told him I had made complaints to management and HR.  I lost my appeal.  I had one more recourse.  That was to go to the ethics committee.

The ethics committee is an outside agency that Amazon hire.  I told them my story in detail and it was determined that Amazon had wrongly terminated me.  An HR manager was to help me find a job near Venice, where I eventually moved.  I applied to openings but quickly was denied.  I kept in contact with the HR manager and he kept telling me he would see what he could do.  Losing my job had made me homeless and after a few months I realized Amazon was not going to do anything to help me and I gave up.  So Amazon has left me homeless.

Nothing about working at Amazon, not the pay, not the location, not the perks made working there worth while.  The company is so big that pursuing any legal action is pointless, leaving workers with no recourse.  My advise to those left at the warehouse would be to unionize.  As a union the employees have means to fight against things like that which was done to me in both Seattle and San Bernardino.  Without a union, Amazon will continue to pay low wages and rob their employees of their rights.

The Cadillac Hotel

The Cadillac Hotel in Venice Beach, California was built in 1912.  It sits along the boardwalk with an incredible view of the beach.  Located on Dudley Avenue, it also houses a bicycle rental shop and Titanic, a shop with giant robots sells hats and other items.  Reportedly the Cadillac Hotel was a popular destination for Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Charlie Chaplin.

The Venice Beach Bar

The Venice Beach Bar is located on Ocean Front Walk near Dudley.  It sits opposite the large parking lot off of Rose Street.  The building was built in 1922 and currently houses a bar and eatery.  It is one of the historic buildings in Venice with a lot of history.  It is legend that the music group The Doors hung out here.

The bar is currently closed for remodeling, but will open soon just in time for the good weather.  The views of the beach and sunset are unparalleled.  If you happen to be visiting southern California be sure to give the Venice Beach Bar a visit.

Amazon Has Left Me Stranded for the Holidays (as an employer)

Last fall I began working for Amazon.com in one of their warehouses in Bellevue, Washington.  It was an Amazon Fresh warehouse and the food delivery had really begun to take off, so much so the warehouse needed to move to a larger space.  At the time of the move the company gave us the opportunity to move with them or to transfer to another area.

I chose to transfer to California where I have applied to enter a college program.  In June of last year I was transferred to San Bernardino.  The move to San Bernardino got off to a bad start right from the beginning.  I was promised by Amazon to receive $3,000 in relocation money, enough money to move into an apartment.  I was to receive the money with my first pay upon arriving.  The money did not show up on my first paycheck and when I finally got them to pay me I only received half.  The company told me this was due to my relocation pay being taxed as a bonus.  This detail was never explained to me before I moved and should have been made clear.  As a result of only receiving half of the relocation pay I was promised I could not afford an apartment.

Instead of moving into an apartment which would have cost first and last month’s rent plus a deposit, I had to try and make ends meet in an economy motel.  I was not always able to afford to stay at the motel and sometimes had to sleep outside.  The people I worked for gave me a hard time about my living arrangement, which was caused by the company.  My co workers began to harass me for the entire 10 hour work day.  Prior to the harassment my attendance was considered very good.  Once the harassment began my attendance record began to suffer.  I made several complaints to management and HR about the harassment.  Amazon has a strict policy against harassment, according to them.  I had a manager witness the harassment and began to give them specific names and details about the coworkers who were bothering me.  I am Jewish and was the only Jew i knew of working at that particular warehouse.  I let management know this as well.  When my attendance continued to suffer I was fired.

I appealed the termination and had a meeting with the man in charge of the entire warehouse.  He brought my attendance record with him into the meeting.  He showed me how good my attendance was until a certain point.  I told him that is when the harassment began.  He made the decision based on all of the information that my termination should remain in place.

My last option was to go to the ethics committee.  I told them my story and they told me they would give the information to someone at the warehouse.  I told them the story of the man in charge of the warhouse and requested that the case be brought to HR outside of this particular warehouse.  A man from regional HR called me and said he would look into my allegations.  I eventually won my rehire eligibility back and was told that they would try to find me a job in the area in which I now live.  That was months ago.

I have now been homeless since the company fired me in mid September.  Human Resources knows that I am homeless and living in the cold this winter.  I am left wondering why we allow companies to treat their employees this way.  Amazon has to many class action lawsuits filed against them from former employees that going to an attorney will get one no where.  All I did was follow company rules and the company let me down.  I am now looked down upon in the community in which I live because Amazon is dragging its heels.  These people probably bought most of their gifts from Amazon, the same company that does not care if it makes its employees homeless.  So while Amazon will be bringing great joy to thousands of Americans this holiday season,  I am living outdoors in the cold.