Monday, May 16, 2016

All This and a Chop Shop Too?

Unless you own something big, have wealth or massive earning power, ever get this nasty little feeling that you could lose it all or wind up with a whole lot less? Ever pass a homeless person and wonder? PhD? Drug addict? Both? Mentally ill? But for the grace of God??? Notice the little populist movement in this country? Think it’s coming from a good or happy place? Most of us have this little nagging feeling that we just might not have enough to live out our lives in even adequate comfort. Savings? Most of us don’t have any. Retirement plan? Lots have Social Security and nothing else. Call it fear of the future and doubt in the present. Too many of us feel it way down into our bones. Some fear the cultural takeover of traditional rural American values. Others fear the rage of traditional rural American values. But we all see change… in a bad way for most.
And there are the little signs… not so little if you live in the middle of such torn communities… that constantly remind us of our individual vulnerabilities. We fear ISIS and cyberattacks most say the pollsters, but we’ve been living with downward mobility for so long that it just nags at us every day; we’ve gotten used to it. Experts are suggesting that it’s time for another recession, more modest that the recent Great Recession, but one that will greet the next president no matter which party gains the White House. If you haven’t noticed, real estate prices in most markets have stopped rising; they’re even beginning to fall in some major markets. The Great Recession represented a rather significant “reset” in both economic realities and expectations, changing America forever. What will the next recession do? Who gets kicked off the bus next?
There is a lingering pain from those filtered out of our society from the Great Recession, people with little or no hope, perhaps participating in what I will call the Great Escape from Reality: the incredible escalation in hard drug addiction. According to, “More young adults aged 18 to 25 are using illicit drugs, up from 19.6% in 2008 to 21.5% in 2010.” But it is the nature of the rising tide of addition. Cocaine use is down. Heroin use is skyrocketing, often laced with the synthetic opiate fentanyl (which makes the heroin much more powerful… and increasingly lethal). 
“Heroin use has been rising since 2007, growing from 373,000 yearly users to 669,000 in 2012, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Heroin overdose deaths have also spiked, increasing 45% from 2006 to 2010, according to the most recently available data from the Drug Enforcement Administration. And the geography of the drug’s users has also expanded. Once considered a largely urban problem, law enforcement and public health officials are seeing an uptick in suburban and rural users.”, February 4, 2014.
Whether it is escaping reality or finding economic salvation through illegal activity, there is another America growing throughout the country. And Las Vegas just might be the picture postcard of this lingering and escalating failure. “Squatters have descended on every corner of the Las Vegas Valley, taking over empty houses in struggling working-class neighborhoods, in upscale planned communities like Summerlin, and everywhere in between. And they often bring a trail of crime with them.
“While some unauthorized tenants are families seeking shelter, police officers here say they are more frequently finding chop shops, drug dealers and counterfeiters operating out of foreclosed homes. One man who the police say was squatting has been charged with murdering a neighbor during a burglary.
“Even as construction cranes have returned to the Las Vegas Strip and unemployment here has fallen to single digits, the situation is getting worse: the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department has received more calls about squatters each year since it began tracking the problem; there were more than 4,000 complaints last year, up 43 percent from 2014 and more than twice as many as in 2012.
“Residents say the explosion of squatters has shattered their sense of security, leaving them wary of any new neighbors at a time when the city is still trying to climb back from the depths of the recession.” New York Times, May 14th. Some of these squatters are truly sophisticated, sporting well-drafted but bogus leases, making their removal that much more difficult. The Nevada legislature even passed a new law making squatter removal easier.
But this blog is not about Las Vegas; it is a national problem, particularly acute in communities in and around Detroit as well as several cities in Florida. Is this a plague that must be eradicated? Or the tip of the iceberg reflecting growing economic disenfranchisement, downward mobility? Sure, these folks are the extreme examples, but there is this feeling rippling throughout the land, insecurity like we haven’t seen for a very long time. More and more people are sliding into this marginal lifestyle, some mentally ill but way too many others who have just given up, terrified of life, unable to find a place to fit in. And a whole lot of us are just getting used to living a lot closer to that line of economic chaos than we have seen in decades.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we do address the problem of this marginal segment of society from their perspective, aren’t we just fixing ourselves as well?

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