TIME cities

San Francisco Shower Bus Offers Hygiene to the Homeless

Nonprofit hopes shower bus can offer dignity to some homeless residents

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An old public bus in San Francisco has been converted into a portable shower station to provide hygienic bathrooms to the homeless.

The bus, converted by nonprofit LavaMae, contains two private showers and toilets and provides towels and soap. The creators say it’s more about providing individual comfort than ending homelessness.

But despite the fact that the showers could help some homeless people stay clean as public showers around the city close, they don’t enjoy unanimous support.

Some critics say that the buses, which are largely funded by big donations from companies like Google, are a perfect example of San Francisco’s widening gap between the super-rich and the very poor.

TIME Economy

Motor City Revival: Detroit’s Stunning Evolution in 19 GIFs

One year ago today Detroit became the largest city in US history to file for bankruptcy. See what changes took place in the city in the years leading up to the momentous declaration.

The Motor City, the former automotive capital of the nation, has seen a steady and precipitous decline in population and economic growth over the last half-century. The automotive industry’s move out of Detroit, poor political decision-making, and the collapse of the housing industry can all be viewed as causes for the city’s decline, among other reasons. On July 18, 2013, unable to pay its looming debts, Detroit became the largest city in U.S. history to enter bankruptcy.

However, this momentous step did not happen overnight. Detroit was hit with a housing crisis in 2008, a sign of economic trouble that foreshadowed the city’s bankruptcy. A major outcome of that crisis is the city’s ongoing blight epidemic. Vast stretches of abandoned residential property lay on the outskirts of the once sprawling 139-square-mile city.

As Steven Gray wrote in 2009, “If there’s any city that symbolizes the most extreme effects of the nation’s economic crisis and, in particular, America’s housing crisis, it is Detroit.”

While many of the buildings and houses within the city have disappeared, evidence of a former era can be found in the more than 80,000 blighted houses remaining combined with an estimated 5,000 incidents of arson each year, according to the New York Times Magazine.

Despite all this, the Motor City could have a bright road ahead. There has been a recent surge in growth, spurred by a sense of opportunity in the ever-evolving city. New businesses are popping up and property is being rebuilt and re-purposed for urban farming, startups and public art.

Google Street view images, compiled here into GIFs, offer a unique look at how Detroit’s landscape has changed over the past four to six years leading up to the city’s bankruptcy a year ago.

TIME cities

These Are America’s 10 Saddest Ghost Towns

Empty buildings and streets in downtown Cawker City, Kansas.
Empty buildings and streets in downtown Cawker City, Kansas. Mike Theiss—National Geographic/Getty Images

247-LogoVersions-114x57
This post is in partnership with 24/7 Wall Street. The article below was originally published on 247wallst.com.

By and

While there are a variety of options for homeowners in foreclosure, many have chosen to cut their losses and abandon their property. The housing market has been improving across much of the nation. However, some cities still have a long recovery process ahead of them as the market deals with a glut of homes in foreclosure, which can often stay in the system for several years. Meanwhile, many of these remain vacant.

In Wichita, Kansas, nearly half of homes in foreclosure were abandoned as of the first quarter of 2014. In six of the nation’s most populous metro areas, at least a third of homes in foreclosure were vacant. Based on data provided by housing data website RealtyTrac for the nation’s 100 largest metro areas, these are the cities where residents are abandoning their homes.

Median housing prices in all but one of the metro areas with the most vacant homes were among the lowest in the country. In addition, housing prices fell during the last 12 months in four of the 10 cities: Boise, St. Louis, Syracuse, and Wichita. Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, explained that this drop in prices creates a problem for both banks and homeowners because neither wants to hold on to a depreciating asset. This increases the likelihood that homeowners will abandon their homes and banks may find that foreclosing on the home could be more expensive than writing it off.

ALSO READ: Ten States with the Slowest Growing Economies

The length of the entire foreclosure process is a major contributor to vacancy rates because homeowners are more likely to give up on their homes the longer they have to wait for a resolution. Blomquist explained that as foreclosure processes stretch on for years and years, homeowners begin to believe they will not be able to save the house and decide to move on with their lives.

In fact, several of these cities with the most abandoned homes are in states with very lengthy average foreclosure times. Palm Bay, for example, is located in Florida, where the average foreclosure process took 935 days to complete in the first quarter, the second-longest time among all states.

While lengthy and exhausting foreclosure processes encourage some homeowners to abandon their homes, in other cases, people intentionally move away early because they don’t fully understanding the process. With changing housing laws in many states, “homeowners may have more options than they realize to avoid foreclosure,” Blomquist said.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 metropolitan statistical areas with the highest vacancy rates among homes in foreclosure, based on data provided by RealtyTrac for the 100 most populous metropolitan statistical areas. RealtyTrac also provided metro-level median home prices, population, and foreclosure rates, all of which are for the most recent available period. 24/7 Wall St. calculated 12 month average home prices and year-over-year percent change from May of each year. RealtyTrac also provided the average length of foreclosure processes in each state, as of the first quarter of 2014. We also reviewed income data from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, and unemployment rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are the cities with the most abandoned homes.

5. St. Louis, Mo.-Ill.

> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 34%
> Total vacated homes: 847 (27th highest)
> Average home price: $96,083 (14th lowest)

The number of vacant homes in the St. Louis area dropped by nearly 50% between the second quarters of 2013 and this year. Despite this, still more than a third of the area’s 2,500 properties in foreclosure were vacant as of the second quarter. Residents of the St. Louis area are subject to either Missouri’s non-judicial foreclosure process or Illinois’ judicial one. The average lengths of proceedings in both states, however, are exceptionally high and have been on the rise in the last year. A complete foreclosure process took roughly one year on average in Missouri and more than 800 days in Illinois, both among the longer proceedings compared to other large metro areas. Long foreclosure procedures in both states likely contributed to the area’s 34% vacancy rate.

ALSO READ: Ten States with the Fastest Growing Economies

4. Kansas City, Mo.-Kan.
> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 36%
> Total vacated homes: 305 (47th lowest)
> Average home price: $150,717 (42nd highest)

While housing prices in the country rose over the last two years, housing prices in the Kansas City metro area declined 9%. Additionally, the foreclosure rate in the first quarter of 2014 declined by more than 50% from the same period in 2012. Despite the drop in owner vacated homes and the falling foreclosure rate, home prices in the Kansas City metro area fell 9% since 2012, one of the higher declines in the country. Declining home prices may explain why more than one in 10 foreclosed homes in January 2014 failed to sell at auction and were repossessed by the bank, one of the higher rates on this list. This may be a sign that the housing market has not fully recovered.

3. Birmingham-Hoover, Ala.
> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 37%
> Total vacated homes: 428 (43rd highest)
> Average home price: $149,682 (44th highest)

The Birmingham-Hoover region was the only metro area on this list where the unemployment rate rose between the first quarters of 2013 and 2014. High unemployment may, in part, contribute to owner vacancies rising 19% between the first and second quarters of 2014 as owners who lost their jobs may have been afraid of going into foreclosure, as Blomquist suggested. In the first quarter of 2014, it took just 193 days to complete foreclosure proceedings. And while area home prices rose in recent years, they still remain among the lowest in the country.

2. Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, Ore.-Wash.
> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 37%
> Total vacated homes: 804 (30th highest)
> Average home price: $251,888 (12th highest)

Low, declining home prices can lead to higher vacancy rates, as owners are more likely to give up on a property depreciating in value. Prices in the Portland region, however, are exceptionally high. Over the 12 months prior to this past May, a home in the area sold for more than $251,000 on average, among the most compared to other large metro areas. And prices are rising — the median home price in May was up 22% from the same period a year before, one of the larger increases among metro areas reviewed. While the region’s vacancy rate is second only to Wichita, there are signs of improvement for the Portland area. The average length of foreclosure proceedings in Oregon fell 20% over the year prior to the first quarter, which may make homeowners less likely to abandon a property.

1. Wichita, Kan.
> Pct. foreclosures vacated: 49%
> Total vacated homes: 146 (30th lowest)
> Average home price: $131,292 (39th highest)

There were only 301 properties in foreclosure in Wichita as of the second quarter of this year. Nearly half of those, however, had been abandoned by their owners, the highest vacancy rate among the nation’s largest metro areas. Like many metro areas where residents are abandoning their homes, Wichita is located in a state with a judicial foreclosure system, which tends to lengthen the proceedings. The average foreclosure process in the first quarter took 524 days in Kansas, up 34% from the same period a year before and among the higher wait times among major U.S. metro areas. Another factor contributing to the region’s high vacancy rate is likely low and depreciating home prices — as the value of a home decreases, the financial pressure of an unpaid mortgage will go up. Home prices in Wichita were 3% lower in May 2014 than they were in May of last year.

For the rest of the list, go to 24/7Wall St.

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TIME health

Watch Shoppers Smash a Hot Car Window to Free Trapped Toddlers

The mother pleaded with witnesses not to call the police

A group of shoppers in a Katy, Texas, parking lot took it upon themselves to break through the window of hot Jeep on Monday to free children trapped inside.

The children’s mother had left the two young kids, a boy and a girl, locked in the car while she got a haircut, WUSA 9 reports.

“The kids were in there crying,” said Gabriel Del Valle, who shot a cell phone video of the incident. “I mean you would understand. It’s real hot.”

Witnesses said the mother pleaded with all involved not to call the police and said she had made a terrible mistake. The children reportedly appeared unhurt and authorities were not contacted.

[WUSA9]

TIME cities

Mayor Aja Brown: If Brooklyn Can Change, So Can Compton

Compton Jr. Posse 7th Annual Fundraiser Gala
Mayor Aja Brown attends Compton Jr. Posse 7th Annual Fundraiser Gala at Los Angeles Equestrian Center on May 17, 2014 in Los Angeles. Keipher McKennie—Getty Images

No one wants to be Brooklyn

Mayors from around the country want their cities to be more like Brooklyn — but they also don’t.

During a discussion on urban planning during the Essence Musical Festival on Saturday, mayors from Atlanta, Compton, Baltimore and New Orleans used the example of the New York borough to talk about a touchy subject facing their cities: gentrification. Essence is owned by TIME’s parent company, Time Inc.

Compton, California Mayor Aja Brown said she wants her city, known as a rap hotbed, to experience a renaissance similar to that seen in Brooklyn — the hometown of Jay-Z and Biggie Smalls — which is now known more for its artisanal goods and hipsters than its once-gritty streets.

“If Brooklyn can change its image, I’m sure Compton can too,” Brown said. But Brooklyn’s new “image” has come much to the disdain of some notable residents, including director Spike Lee, an outspoken opponent of Brooklyn’s gentrification process.

“I grew up here in Fort Greene. I grew up here in New York. It’s changed. And why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the south Bronx, in Harlem, in Bed Stuy, in Crown Heights for the facilities to get better?,” Lee said in February.

However, Brown, who was elected in 2012, says with strategic planning cities can reshape blighted areas without sacrificing the identity of a community or excluding long-time or poor residents. That’s exactly what she’s working to do as a part of her vision for Compton, she said.

“Gentrification is a problem of poor planning,” Brown said.

The United States is on a path of increased diversity, expected to be mostly made up of various minority groups by 2050. Cities are the center of that growth — about 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas of 50,000 residents or more, according to the 2010 census, and a recent Brookings Institution report says minorities have made up 98% of the population growth in the country’s biggest cities over the past 10 years.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu leads a city that has long prided itself on its inclusion and diversity, despite some residents’ uneasy reaction to rebuilding post-Katrina. Landrieu said Saturday that communities’ shifting attitudes toward diversity could cool tensions as neighborhoods shift.

“I think you can actually rebuild neighborhoods and actually produce diversity,” Landrieu said. In the past, “people thought isolation and distance brought them happiness, but now they realize diversity makes us smarter and better.”

But Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said it’s up to citizens to hold mayors accountable for the ways in which neighborhood shifts come into fruition.

“Impose your will and stop letting mayors off the hook with gobbledygook that they don’t know what’s going on,” Reed said.

TIME cities

WATCH LIVE: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed Speaks at Essence Festival

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Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is taking the stage at the 20th Essence Festival in New Orleans at 11:15 am CT.

Reed began his second term in January and has championed fiscal reform while increasing core city services. Reed has reduced Atlanta’s spending during the recession and chairs the Transportation and Communications Committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

TIME cities

New Orleans Says City Is Safe for Essence Festival

Bourbon Street Shooting
Blood stains are seen on the sidewalk at the scene of a shooting that happened early Sunday morning, June 29, 2014, on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Nine people were injured, one seriously, according to New Orleans Police. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) Gerald Herbert—AP

Heightened security after last weekend's Bourbon Street shooting

Deputy Mayor of New Orleans Judy Reese Morse says attendees of the 20th annual Essence Festival can rest assured that the city will keep them safe in the wake of last weekend’s shooting in the French Quarter.

“For this weekend, we’ve got what we need to make sure that the city is safe and that the city is secure,” Morse tells TIME. “[The shooting] was a very, very unfortunate incident. It’s something that we focus on every day, not only in the French Quarter, but in neighborhoods across the city.”

Morse said the city has increased security as a result of last weekend’s shooting, which left one dead and nine injured after two gunmen opened fire on the ever-packed Bourbon Street in the Crescent City’s famed French Quarter. The shooting was the third in the past three years on the famous street, the Associated Press reports, but it couldn’t have come at a more inopportune time—just days ahead of the 20th annual Essence Music Festival, where headliners like Prince and Lionel Richie are expected to bring thousands to the city.

As a precaution, 30 state troopers have reportedly been deployed in the city and Morse says the city is working to reassure festival-goers and New Orleans residents that they will be safe.

“We’ve got the security in place. We’ve informed all of our hotels,” Morse says. “This is a great place, it is safe and they’ll have a great experience this weekend.”

Though the focus of the Essence Music Festival is family fun and empowerment, there will be moments throughout the weekend that address the violence that plagues New Orleans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has overseen a reduction in the number of murders from 193 in 2012 to 155 in 2013, thanks in large part to the city’s community outreach through the NOLA for Life initiative. But Morse says there’s still a lot of work to be done, and that the Essence Festival is the perfect time to address the issue.

“New Orleans is going to be 300-years-old in 2018, but we’ve got a situation right now that we’ve got to get our arms around and that is bringing down the rate of murder, particularly among African American men,” Morse says. “There’s no better time or place than Essence to take that issue head on.”

TIME cities

This Is the Hardest Place in America to Buy Fireworks

Fireworks Are Sold Ahead Of The Fourth Of July
Owner Glenda Tinnin stands in front of Hee Haw Fireworks in Goodlettsville, Tenn. on July 1, 2014. Bloomberg/Getty Images

Buying fireworks is tough in some places, easy in others

Looking to buy fireworks ahead of the Fourth of July holiday? Good luck if you live in Provincetown, Mass.

Massachusetts’ ban on firework sales means at least a four-hour roundtrip drive down from the tip of Cape Cod to Rhode Island, the closest state that permits the pyrotechnics.

For those trying to catch a bit of the fireworks action on the holiday, the assortment of different laws on fireworks sales from state to state mean vastly different experiences in the way people purchase and view fireworks.

Phantom Fireworks, one of America’s largest consumer fireworks companies, operates stores in 16 states. Company Vice President William Weimer describes them as “showrooms” that resemble Walgreens drug stores complete with families roaming the aisles with shopping carts casually pulling fireworks options from the shelves and asking associates for advice.

“I don’t care how old you are, what you do for a living what religion you are, what color you are,” Weimer says. “You walk into a store, your face lights up, and you become a kid again.”

In other states, like California, most fireworks are sold through partnerships with local charities like churches and little leagues, according to Weimer. California state law prohibits for-profit companies from retailing fireworks.

Massachusetts, New York, Delaware, and New Jersey ban consumer fireworks outright. Despite the ban, even in Provincetown, it seems that people find ways to get their hands on fireworks. Police in the town of 3,000 responded to several complaints about the pyrotechnics during the Fourth of July season last year.

TIME Crime

Oakland Launches Pimp-Shaming Website

Images of four men convicted of soliciting prostitutes, intentionally blurred so they could not be recognized, are seen on a billboard on June 2, 2005, in Oakland, Calif.
Images of four men convicted of soliciting prostitutes, intentionally blurred so they could not be recognized, are seen on a billboard on June 2, 2005, in Oakland, Calif. Ben Margot—AP

Officials say the problem of human trafficking has never been worse

In an effort to combat prostitution and sex trafficking, California’s Oakland police department is engaging in a brand of public humiliation: pimp shaming.

On a new website, the department lists the mug shots of alleged pimps and johns, along with their names, dates of birth and charges against them. The pictures come with the disclaimer that while those in the photos have been arrested and charged, they “are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

Lieutenant Kevin Wiley oversees the department’s human-trafficking operations and describes Oakland as “the hub of the West for child prostitution.” Oakland and Eastern counterpart Atlanta, he says, tend to be entry points into “the circuit,” a human-trafficking ring that cycles victims around the country.

While it may seem controversial to publicly display individuals’ photos alongside abhorred crimes before they’ve been convicted, Wiley emphasizes that at the arrest stage, the information is already a public record. The department, he says, waits until the Alameda County district attorney has investigated and charged the individuals before brandishing their likenesses on the Internet.

In 2005, the Oakland police department conducted the controversial “Operation Shame” campaign, using blurred-out images of johns on billboards, with the tagline “How Much Clearer Do We Have to Make It? Don’t ‘John’ in Oakland.” City officials said the images were a warning and that faces would not be blurred “next time.” Other cities have printed the names of those soliciting sex in newspapers or broadcast their mug shots on community TV.

“We want to get the word out ahead of time,” Wiley says, “We’re out there picking up people who exploit the communities.”

Wiley describes the problem of human trafficking as being at an “all-time level” in Oakland. Prostitution is becoming more violent, more closely associated with shootings, homicides and the illegal drug market. So far in 2014, the Oakland police have made 295 arrests related to prostitution and conducted 30 operations through outlets like massage parlors and the Internet. “We don’t have a lot of resources,” he says. “But the ones we have, we dedicate 110%.”

The FBI’s San Francisco field office, which works with the Oakland police on human-trafficking operations, says the website is a “proactive” measure, comparing it to their “Wanted” announcements. “They’re really drawing from the hip to raise public awareness,” says FBI spokesman Peter Lee.

TIME cities

Millionaire Found Dead Was a ‘Hermit’

The 79-year-old man had no heating or plumbing

George Konnight could have lived a lavish lifestyle, but instead he lived like a hermit.

The 79-year-old man was found dead Tuesday outside his home in Ramapo, N.Y., The Journal News reports. Police said he had lived alone since his sister’s recent death and described him as a “hermit.” The home, a small house in the woods where Konnight and his siblings grew up, had no indoor heating or plumbing. But Konnight was not poor—in fact, he chose this simple life.

He gained $3 million from the sale of about 31.5 acres of his family’s property in northern Ramapo to a New Jersey company, JIEM Properties, last November. Konnight’s sister Alice was listed as the seller.

Ramapo Detective Lt. Mark Emma said Konnight’s skeletal remains were found at 11:52 a.m. Friday in the woods on his property.

“He lived a very simple life, hermit-like,” Emma told The Journal News. “He was alone.”

The Rockland Medical Examiner’s Office is doing an autopsy to determine Konnight’s cause of death, but it is not considered suspicious.

[The Journal News]

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