March 12, 2011
Best Housing Blog in the World

Years ago the first assignment I gave to the first class I taught at Harvard (or anywhere else) was for my freshman students to find something new or interesting to them on the campus, inquire into the matter, and then write a paper on it.

Martha Bridegam (who doesn’t remember this, but I do) chose the blue lights she had noticed on the outside of buildings in Harvard Yard. These turned out to indicate emergency lines for students to call security. She could have stopped there, at the explanation university officials had given her, but instead she decided to check the system for herself. No one answered at any stations she tried. She had her paper.

Martha is still checking systems, and still finding out all too often that they don’t work. Today she is a lawyer and writer in San Francisco, advocating for the homeless. Her new blog is called Lodging in Public. Samples follow. Links to each complete post here, here and here:

By the way, does anyone else find this term “behavioral health disorders” a little creepy? In a way it goes beyond saying a person has an attitude problem, or a neurosis, or a personality disorder. It suggests that a person’s decisions in life have been objectively wrong and are to be dealt with as medical illnesses — rather than, for example, politically, or socially, or economically. Only a short step from there to these proposals for forcible medication of homeless people under conservatorships imposed for the purpose. It’s part of what SF State sociology professor Bev Ovrebo was predicting in the early ’90s, that the problem of homelessness would become medicalized…


I got to know Grimes Poznikov briefly, quite a few years ago, during an activist effort to document police harassment of campers in San Francisco’s southeastern warehouse district. He was as proud and independent as anybody gets. He was famous, in fact, for bringing out the worst in policemen by never knowing when to shut up. Even in that world of territorial personalities, he was an outlier. For a while he was living in a group of camouflaged hutches in a brushy vacant lot in the nearest thing our compact city offers to the back of beyond. On a day that had turned chilly, he gave me an old leather jacket. Gracious, though the jacket was mildewed and I had to throw it away…


Lately the UK Guardian is having to defend a film it made about the harsh living and working conditions of illicit migrants who grow salad vegetables in Spain for the north of Europe. In doing so, the paper notes that some years ago in Britain, similar abuses were similarly dismissed as the isolated crimes of a few bad apples. “Yet,” it notes, “by the time the Gangmaster Licensing Authority was established in 2005, it was clear that the problems were systemic. Inspections and raids on mainstream factories, packhouses and large farms found extreme conditions even though many had passed their supermarket audits.”

Such a useful term, “gangmaster”, pulled from the uglier older reaches of labor history, to match conditions that recall the bad old days. In the U.S. we apply polite words like “contratista” or “H-2A employer” and indentured or undocumented laborers go on working for low pay and living in barracks or worse…



Posted by Jerome Doolittle at March 12, 2011 02:26 PM
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I still don't think I did anything as brave as that alleged blue-light stunt, but thanks for the kind intro to my blog.

As for kids with futures, there was one in our Harvard class who rather bravely published a guide to faking IDs.

Chief regulation correspondent for the Financial Times now.

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on March 13, 2011 5:07 PM
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