Par­ents Ar­rested in California for Be­ing Too Poor

Trillions - - Contents -

On March 1, a San Bernardino County sher­iff’s deputy ar­rested two par­ents liv­ing on their own land just out­side of Joshua Tree Na­tional Park. The charge was sus­pi­cion of will­ful cru­elty to their three mi­nor chil­dren.

Au­thor­i­ties dis­cov­ered the fam­ily of Daniel Pan­ico, 73, and Mona Kirk, 51, liv­ing in a trailer next to a hand­made shel­ter. That shel­ter’s roof was made of plas­tic pieces from an old chil­dren’s pool and metal pieces scav­enged and as­sem­bled to give it rigid­ity. The room was pro­tected by mat­tress pad­ding and stuffed with twigs. The to­tal size of the box-shaped place was only 200 square feet, and it was just four feet high. The trailer was also used as a shel­ter.

The three chil­dren liv­ing with their par­ents were 11, 13 and 14 years old.

The prop­erty was ap­par­ently owned by the par­ents.

The land and fa­cil­i­ties there had ex­posed hu­man fe­ces and garbage. There was no run­ning wa­ter, so there was no pro­vi­sion for clean­ing any­thing on the premises. There was also no elec­tric­ity there.

The shel­ter did con­tain a camp­ing stove and canned food as pro­vi­sions. Bikes, chil­dren’s books and some toys were stored in the shel­ter.

In com­ment­ing about the ar­rests, Cindy Bach­man, a spokes­woman for the Sher­iff’s De­part­ment, said: “Chil­dren should not have to live like that. As par­ents, they have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide the ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties for their chil­dren to grow up and be healthy and safe.”

That may be true un­der the law, but Cap­tain Tre­vis Newport of the San Bernardino Sher­iff’s De­part­ment, Morongo Basin Sta­tion, quickly stepped in to make some clarifications. He said that the chil­dren were not be­ing held cap­tive and that there was no ev­i­dence of abuse other than be­cause of their ex­treme poverty. “They’re home­less. It’s a shel­ter, the shape of a box … nowhere near what it sounded like,” he added.

In con­trast to what the ini­tial re­ports said, those who know the par­ents said the cou­ple ap­peared to be tak­ing care of the chil­dren as best they could. De­spite their home­less­ness, they were re­spon­si­ble par­ents who took care of and had an in­ter­est in their chil­dren, and they pro­vided home school­ing for them be­cause of their lack of ac­cess to the pub­lic schools. That school­ing in­cluded tak­ing them to the lo­cal li­brary and the Hi-desert Na­ture Mu­seum, ac­cord­ing to neigh­bor Linda Klear in an in­ter­view with the Los Angeles Times. The home ed­u­ca­tion was suc­cess­ful to a point, ap­par­ently, as Klear also said the old­est boy was an avid reader.

The par­ents also reg­u­larly took their kids to com­mu­nity gath­er­ings and sup­ported them by be­ing part of Scout­ing.

The fam­ily had a small fixed in­come and un­for­tu­nately could sim­ply not af­ford any­thing bet­ter than where they were liv­ing. Neigh­bors re­ported that the cou­ple had in­tended to build a home on their land but med­i­cal bills and other ex­penses ate up the house bud­get. They also ac­tively re­fused as­sis­tance out of pride, ap­par­ently, some­thing that those who know them hope will change now that they risk pro­longed prison sen­tences and los­ing their chil­dren.

Leanna Mon­roe, who has known the par­ents and chil­dren for nine years, agreed that the par­ents had been do­ing their best and that they were not in­ten­tion­ally cre­at­ing prob­lems for their kids. “The Sher­iff’s De­part­ment is pun­ish­ing these kids for be­ing home­less,” she said.

This is not a case where a charge of will­ful cru­elty should ap­ply.

Home­less­ness has be­come a ma­jor prob­lem for the re­gion and in­deed the en­tire state of California. Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus Bureau’s Sup­ple­men­tal Poverty Mea­sure, a cal­cu­la­tion that in­cludes the costs of hous­ing, food, util­i­ties and cloth­ing, plus non-cash govern­ment as­sis­tance as a cash-equiv­a­lent adder, California has the high­est poverty rate in the coun­try.

Ap­prox­i­mately one out of ev­ery five res­i­dents in California is poor un­der this mea­sure.

Part of this comes from the slow dis­in­te­gra­tion of what used to be called the “so­cial safety net.” After the ex­pe­ri­ences of the Sec­ond World War and the Great De­pres­sion be­fore that, nu­mer­ous sup­port sys­tems were rolled out to cover ev­ery­thing from ed­u­ca­tion (re­mem­ber the G.I. Bill?) to health care, food and low­in­come hous­ing. Ed­u­ca­tion was sup­ported for those in need by many states and by the fed­eral govern­ment.

Since the 1990s and start­ing with the wel­fare re­form move­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, that safety net has all but van­ished. Cut­backs in med­i­cal care, ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, hous­ing al­lowances and food stamp ben­e­fits have con­tin­ued. There was even the para­dox­i­cal re­quire­ment that in or­der to get ben­e­fits in some ar­eas, one had to work first. This fol­lowed the ir­ra­tional logic that those who were home­less or in dire need were lazy and just wanted a free hand­out.

In the In­land Em­pire area, where San Bernardino is lo­cated, the aver­age monthly apart­ment rental cost in 2017 was $1,393. In Or­ange County, Calif., the over­all cost of liv­ing is 43% higher than the na­tional aver­age. Those costs are so high that of­ten even em­ployed peo­ple can­not find af­ford­able hous­ing.

This is part of why more than 1,000 home­less peo­ple had taken up res­i­dence in a ma­jor en­camp­ment near An­gel Sta­dium in Ana­heim, Calif., up un­til a short while ago. That group even in­cluded for­mer IT em­ploy­ees, some per­haps vic­tims from past tech-com­pany lay­offs, and pub­lic-school staff who could not af­ford any­place else to stay. Un­for­tu­nately for them, they, too, were evicted from their own makeshift sur­round­ings in Fe­bru­ary by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

On March 2, par­ents Daniel Pan­ico and Mona Kirk were ar­raigned at Joshua Tree Court­house. They could not af­ford an at­tor­ney and asked for the court to ap­point one for them. The court en­tered “not guilty” pleas for them as part of the pro­ceed­ings.

The par­ents are now be­ing held in Morongo Basin Jail be­cause they could not af­ford the out­ra­geous $100,000 bail re­quire­ment the court levied for their re­lease.

Child and Fam­ily Ser­vices is cur­rently tak­ing care of the three chil­dren as the case pro­ceeds.

While California can­not (or will not) pro­vide af­ford­able hous­ing, it al­ways seems to have the money to im­prison the poor and is able to main­tain the world's largest prison sys­tem, and the U.S. fed­eral govern­ment al­ways has plenty of money to wage sense­less wars.

The real “will­ful cru­elty” in this case is not what the par­ents were do­ing. It is the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of poverty and the gross in­equal­ity as the rich be­come ever richer and ev­ery­one else be­comes poorer.

To read more on this sub­ject, please see “Mak­ing Amer­ica Poor Again” and “UN Ex­poses Ris­ing In­equal­ity in Amer­ica,” both pub­lished Jan­uary 9, 2018, in Tril­lions.

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