I feel very strongly about this.
The only way to make significant reductions in the homeless population is by accurately defining homelessness. And accurate definitions of the causes of homelessness are rare. I believe this happens mostly because people in the homeless industry come to it with preconceived ideas, either on political, or religious, or other cultural demagoguery. Not only are these people working on homelessness unable to end it, they have the ability to cause a great deal of money and resources to be wasted chasing after shadows.
Although a person can live in poverty his/her entire life, and yet never become homeless, part of being homeless means doing without and living in poverty. And once a person leaves homelessness most likely he/she will still be in a state of poverty. But, poverty itself does not cause homelessness. Poverty is only the environment in which homelessness exists.
Any person who loses a job can get another one. A person who misses a rent payment can implore upon the graces of his landlord for leniency. A person without any money can borrow from family or friends or government or lending institutions, or can begin selling off personal property. Eviction from one's residence requires a court order, which takes 3 months or more to process. For other personal items, like food and toiletries and laundry, there are many organizations that supply these items to those in need. And one does not have to wait until they are homeless before receiving such charity. If the issue is solely an economic one, a person can stave off becoming homeless long enough to reestablish themselves financially, and thus avoid homelessness.
When it does appear that financial ruin caused a person to become homeless, a closer look will reveal that money issues were only a symptom of other problems. The person might have anti-social tendencies that prevent them from keeping a good paying job, or from making adequate bonds with people, people would normally bail out a friend during difficult times. Or they may have addiction issues that actually cause the person's financial downfall. These are the things that can, and do, lead a person to homelessness.
When a person cannot get himself rehired after losing a job, it's not because of the economy, it's because he's fallen into depression over having lost his job - and thus has developed a mental health issue. Homeless addicts and alcoholics have reached the point in their illness that they spend all the money they make on their addictions. So, it would not matter if the addict had a job making 10, 20, or 50 bucks an hour, and free rent - all their money would go towards drugs and alcohol and they would have nothing left for a place to live. And a mentally ill person is just not going to have the personal, or job skills to call on, so to get, or maintain a job.
So, yes, if you haven't already guessed, the idea that people are a paycheck or two away from homelessness is a myth.
Yes, homeless people do deserve sympathy and help overcoming their homelessness. But misleading people about the nature of homelessness is not going help anyone in the long run - regardless of how much sympathy or funding it generates.
Of course, once a person becomes homeless, the state of the economy will effect how quickly and efficiently a person will returned to a housed situation. But that is an entirely different matter.
Don't get me wrong, poverty is a terrible thing, and should be eradicated as much as possible. But even if there were no poverty, there would still be homelessness.
The reason so many people are drawn to the idea of homelessness being an issue of poverty is that the solution becomes both simple and impersonal. In other words, it's easy. How efficient, and sterile, would be the process, if all we had to do to end homelessness was to create a more equal and balanced economy. Pay people more for their labor, and not charge them as much for rent, utilities, and food. Best of all, this approach would allow us to keep our distance from actual homeless people. We would not be required to be their teachers, or mentors, or friends, or anything else to the homeless.
to be concluded...
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Poverty Does Not Cause Homelessness
I feel very strongly about this.