Sociologist: airports used to house hundreds of people

Perhaps Tom Hank’s role in The Terminal wasn’t that unusual. In an excerpt of a new book about airport security, sociologist Harvey Molotch cites some sociological research about people living in airports:

For people much lower on the social totem pole than appliance dealers and closer to our own time, airport openness served another function. Airports sheltered the homeless. According to the research of sociologist Kim Hopper, hundreds of people once lived in airports. It was a plausible solution to a host of practical problems. Airports have heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer. They have running water and bathroom facilities that are mostly empty for long periods of time. And there is also a good supply of free food, cast off by restaurants or left behind by hurried passengers. Also, sleeping at the gates is common enough to allow homeless people to have a rest without being too obtrusive. But now without a boarding pass, homeless people cannot get very far. They were living in the interstices, and interstices are inimical to security regimes.

Considering airport security today, it is hard to imagine this. But it would be interesting to hear some of these stories. How long could one live in an airport? What exactly was the standard of living in such a setting?

If this is true, did the homeless live in other public settings? Like The Terminal, perhaps the story of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is also not too unusual…

Sociologist: even the homeless need a phone to access social network sites

Here is an example of how prevalent social networking sites have become: a sociologist argues the homeless need a smart phone to be able to access such sites.

Art Jipson, an associated sociology professor at the University of Dayton, says the homeless may not have a place to live, but the one possession that’s becoming somewhat indispensable is a phone to connect on social networks.

“Our posts become the commercial property of corporations that will do everything possible to generate revenue in the form of value for the company and stockholders rather than for the users,” Jipson said. “But, for homeless users of social media – which is a growing population – the value is for the online community itself, which is very egalitarian.”Jipson’s inspiration for the project came by happenstance. Also a researcher of the sociology of music, Jipson has a weekly radio show on the campus radio station, WUDR. When Jipson asked for one caller’s name and location, he was surprised to find the caller was homeless but has a cell phone. Jipson later contacted the caller and found he used the phone for social media – checking and writing messages on Facebook and Twitter.

He also found Facebook was necessary to solve practical problems — the next meal or a warm place to sleep.

He also found homeless people who are tired of defending the fact they’ve got a cellphone.

This makes sense as access to information and online communities is quite helpful today. The homeless aren’t the only ones who need this these tools: recent studies have shown that some users even have physical withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have their smart phones with them.

I wonder if we could take this further and ask where smart phones or Internet devices rank on the list of necessary items for life today. Water, food, shelter, clothes…and then something that allows you to connect to the Internet? I suppose you need electricity (unless someone invents some endless batteries) before you can have functioning devices…


Naperville’s ongoing problem with 1 homeless man

Naperville in the last decade has been a celebrated place: named one of the best places to live in the country plus a growing population plus a vibrant suburban downtown. But one homeless man has created an ongoing set of issues:

A Naperville psychologist and others asked the Naperville City Council Tuesday to do more about what they say is continued harassment from protester and squatter Scott Huber.

Kathy Borchardt, a clinical child psychologist who is suing Huber after a 2010 confrontation that resulted in disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing charges against him, said she was frustrated more has not been done to stop Huber’s infringement on business owner’s rights.

“This sort of bullying behavior by Mr. Huber has given him more power in this community than any business owner or official,” she said, adding that an ordinance passed by the council banning camping on sidewalks in the downtown area caused Huber to move outside her business, leading to the confrontation.

Huber frequently sets up a makeshift, mobile protest site on Ogden Avenue and in other areas of the city with signs calling for the boycott of Borchardt’s practice and claims about her ethics…

City Attorney Margo Ely said the encampment ordinance that was put in place was a legal remedy the city thought would hold up if challenged in court. Expanding the ordinance to the entire city — instead of just its downtown — or establishing “free speech zones” would be a lot less likely to withstand a legal challenge. She also cautioned that the city cannot act to limit the free speech of an individual.

Councilman Bob Fieseler said the issue could be handled immediately by enforcing laws on the books giving the city the right to confiscate property left unattended on public sidewalks…

But Police Chief Dave Dial said he — nor patrol officers — have seen Huber blocking walkways or leaving his property unattended.

This story has been going on for quite a while now. This is not an issue – a homeless man creating trouble – that typically plagues suburbs but Naperville is no normal suburb due to its size plus affluence.

Throughout the coverage of this case, I don’t remember reading about efforts by the City of Naperville or Naperville citizens to help this man stay off the streets (beyond city efforts to enforce or create ordinances). And if there is one homeless man on the streets, how has the city of Naperville dealt with this issue? Is this affluent community prepared for big-city type problems?