Items

posted by Mike on February 14th, 2006

Today: webwatch, Institutional Linen demolished, snow, Allan McKeon, Malcolm Gladwell, local web traffic.

T&G webwatch: In her front-page story Feburary 12, “High schoolers just saying ‘no’,” Jacqueline Reis included the URLs of both Worcester Indymedia and Students Opt Out.

By mentioning two URLs in one article, both of them sites I’m involved with, Ms. Reis has “tested out” of the webwatch. She will no longer be awarded web awareness points. She “gets” the local web. Congrats!

Institutional Linen bites the dust: Today demolition began at the abandoned laundry two doors down from my house. This previous post has details on the row houses that will be built there.

There was a little event to celebrate the demolition, with lots of speeches from local pols that exaggerated the involvement of the neighborhood in the project.

I will be glad to have some row houses on the block in place of this abandoned building. When the project is done, property values and property taxes will rise. This is great if you’re hoping to move out of the neighborhood, and bad if you plan to say. I was surprised to find the other neighborhood residents at the event felt either ambivalent or hostile toward the development.


At the Institutional Linens demolition party. Left to right: Dennis Hennessy, Director of the City Manager’s Office of Neighborhood Development; Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, neighborhood resident for 19 years; Rev. Gene Dyer, neighborhood resident for almost 40 years. Photo by Kevin Ksen.

Snow: Philly news video of my goddaughter sledding. (She’s one of the kids wearing a pink jacket.)

Allan McKeon coverage: Taryn Plumb’s article on the vigil for Allan McKeon, who died homeless last week, included what the previous two T&G articles on this subject didn’t: a quote from someone who knew him. How lousy is it to write about a man’s death and include only quotes from cops and strangers?

Those who were at the vigil say that Mr. McKeon’s three homeless friends were in pretty bad shape, and that the TV cameras lingered over their weeping, making the whole thing uncomfortably exploitative.

The T&G captured this weeping in a weird photo:

Pictured: Three people clinging each other, wailing and teetering, one clutching a rosary and another wearing a Yankee Hater hat.

I was talking to a woman about Mr. McKeon’s death, and she asked me, “Isn’t somebody looking for people sleeping outside on cold nights?” I explained that there are an awful lot of known sleeping spots, and probably more secret ones. And there are a limited number of people who’d think that the best use of their time was spending hours a night on the coldest nights wandering the nooks of Worcester, with little chance of finding anyone but a high chance of being hassled by the police. (Not two weeks ago I was hassled while driving with friends looking for a homeless guy.)

But if we had unlimited resources, what would a homeless search system look like? How much of such a system could we put in place, with the resources we have now?

Malcolm Gladwell: has a typically great piece in the New Yorker on dealing with homelessness. He makes the point that a small number of homeless people are responsible for most of the problems and costs associated with the homeless population.

Power-law homelessness policy has to do the opposite of normal-distribution social policy. It should create dependency: you want people who have been outside the system to come inside and rebuild their lives under the supervision of those ten caseworkers in the basement of the Y.M.C.A.

A couple observations, keeping in mind that I know almost nothing about the subject:

  • It will be interesting to see if Philip Mangano’s radical approach to homelessness bears fruit.
  • Two things would solve most of the homeless problem: a cheap, effective cure for mental illness, and a cheap, effective cure for addiction. In other words, a couple miracles.
  • The article lumps soup kitchens and shelters together as homeless services. Soup kitchens serve many people who are poor but not homeless. I had my breakfast today at a soup kitchen, and I’m not homeless, and the people I ate with aren’t homeless.
  • The high medical costs of the homeless are as much the fault of our stupid health-care system as anything else. If you want free health care beyond what you’re going to get at a clinic, the best way to get it is by visiting the emergency room.

    I know a guy who was just let out of jail, without enough of his prescription medicine–it took him a couple days to get a doctor to re-prescribe the medicine, and then he had to find the money to pay his share of the cost at the pharmacy. So to tide himself over, he went to the emergency room. Turned out that because he hadn’t had his medicine for several days, his diabetes was acting up, and they kept him several nights.

    A related note: Each winter in Worcester, I meet homeless and very poor people who had to go to the emergency room after slipping on an icy sidewalk. Property owners are required to shovel their sidewalks, but many neglect this, and after a day of freezing and melting, the snow turns to a layer of ice.

    Last year, I had to go to the emergency room afterI slipped on the ice and hurt my shoulder so bad it stopped working. The visit cost $1500. When this happens to a destitute person, the person ends up getting free care, and the “system” ends up paying for it.

    This is insane. For the cost of one poor person slipping on the ice, you could pay for 200 man-hours of sidewalk shoveling. Many day laborers around here get $50/day. For $1500, you could hire 30 of them to spend a day shoveling the sidewalks outside lazy people’s houses.

    An even better use of the money would be for a few cop-hours of cracking down on unshoveled walks. Make examples of a couple lazy people, and everyone else will fall in line and keep the sidewalks clear.

  • Gladwell makes the point that we should devote extra resources to the most troublesome people, because if they’re ignored they’ll cost us even more. In my experience, people are less likely to want to spend their resources on the tough cases. As an individual or organization, why throw your effort down the toilet? Why not concentrate on helping the people you think you can help? After all, when a troublesome person not in your care racks up medical bills, those costs are distributed across society. But when you devote lots of effort to helping that person, and he robs you and goes on a bender, those costs are your own.

Local web traffic: Do local print mentions generate website traffic?

Not in our experience. When a Pie and Coffee item is highlighted on Volcanoboy, it gets an extra 40 visitors, spread over a couple of days. Since we’re averaging 60 visitors a day, this is noticeable.

When Pie and Coffee is mentioned in Worcester Magazine’s blog log, there’s no noticeable change in traffic. Many more people read Worcester Magazine than Volcanoboy.

The URL for our new opt-out site was mentioned in a front-page story in the Sunday Telegram & Gazette. The same day, it appeared in an article highlighted on the US Indymedia page.

On Sunday, site administrators visited the site 4 times. There were 12 other visitors: 2 from previous publicity efforts, 5 via Indymedia, 3 via T&G, and 2 unknown. On Monday, there were 2 admin visitors and 2 via Indymedia.

So having your URL mentioned in a front-page, Sunday article on local education (a topic most people are interested in) will get you 3 hits.

In the 1999 edition of Philip and Alex’s Guide to Web Publishing, Philip Greenspun wrote:

The first time http://www.webho.com/WealthClock was mentioned in the Times (both print and online editions), the reporter called me up eagerly to ask if there were a lot of extra users that day. I brought the access log into Emacs to scan the referer headers, then replied, “Yes, there are quite a few extra today, but five times as many are coming from some online magazine in Finland as from CyberTimes.”

…What does work? When Netscape put http://www.webho.com/WealthClock on its What’s New list, linked from a button right at the top of every browser, the page picked up two extra users per second.

(This section was edited out of the 2003 revision.)

(Don’t be sad that the Opt Out site is getting so little traffic. It’s really a project for the fall; I foolishly rushed to get it done in anticipation of the T&G mention.)

Published in: Items | on February 14th, 2006 | Permanent Link to “Items” | 5 Comments »

You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On February 14, 2006 at 22:46 Adam (Southern California) said:

    I noticed you said, “addiction.” Do you just mean drug/alcohol addiction, or in your experience do other addictions cause homelessness, too? Have you had any guests at the CW house who lost their money to gambling debts, for example?

  2. On February 14, 2006 at 23:21 Mike (Worcester) said:

    Adam–Yes, I know people who have become homeless from gambling addictions.

  3. On February 15, 2006 at 14:21 Adam (Southern California) said:

    How do you feel about forced institutionalization? What’s the real scoop on the emptying of the mental hospitals in the 1970s and 1980s?

  4. On February 15, 2006 at 21:30 Mike (Worcester) said:

    Re: forced institutionalization. Outside of my own experiences with homeless and mentally ill people, I don’t know any more than the average educated person. After reading the Gladwell article I’ve vowed to read more about theories of abolishing homelessness, and reevaluate my own work in terms of both compassion and effectiveness.

  5. On February 17, 2006 at 17:25 jason said:

    I’ve found similarly underwhelming responses when my site shows up in media reports. Keep in mind, though, that most people read the T&G in print instead of online. That means you’re less likely to see them coming from telegram.com; it also means they’re less likely to go at all, since it requires them putting down the paper, going to the computer and typing in the url. That’s a surprisingly tall order. My site was once mentioned on CNN — it was displayed on TV, but no link appeared at its website — and traffic only spiked by about 200. That’s pretty dull, considering CNN’s audience size.

Leave a comment