"There is a lot that happens around the world we cannot control. We cannot stop earthquakes, we cannot prevent droughts, and we cannot prevent all conflict, but when we know where the hungry, the homeless, and the sick exist, then we can help." - Jan Schakowsky
"People blame the homeless for being homeless, so that they can avoid coming to the disturbing conclusion that one only has rights in this country if they can afford to pay for them." - Kent Allen Halliburton
"There is, very simply, no justifiable human excuse for why homelessness exists this country, just none. This is not the kind of liberty and justice for all that I learned about in grammar school." - Raymond Joseph Halliburton (March 26, 1932 - June 22, 2013)
There is a serious problem facing this country. It is one that flows deep into the very heart and soul of what it means to be an American citizen. If left unchecked, it is one that will leave a sore mark on our spirits that will take generations to cleanse. It is both deeply heartbreaking and roughly sobering. It is both disgusting in its nature and a dark stain upon our humanity. The American people should feel the deepest shame possible for this atrocity that has been allowed to perpetuate itself, now, well into the twenty-first century. The general citizenry have allowed a vile plague to grow in this nation's belly, and if left unchecked, it could mean the untimely death of the American experiment in government of the people, by the people, and for the people. What is this plague to which such powerful words have been designated? What is this atrocity that threatens to permanently stain our humanity? It is homelessness. In modern human history there has not been another nation that has been able to match the United States in the production of raw wealth. The wealth produced by this country alone could feed the world for a century; yet, somehow, this nation is also known for some of the most glaring contradictions in modern human history. While this country creates the most wealth that the world has every seen, there are people living in the streets next to the buildings where that wealth is created. They are left to starve and rot in the cold, heat, and raw viciousness of the streets, while the rest of us go home to our warm showers, comfortable beds, and calm, peaceful, secure living rooms. They dig through the trash, beg on the corners, or wait in lines at shelters to get their food, while we hit the fast food joints, get seated at the fancy restaurants, cook on our hot stoves, and heat up our tv dinners in the microwave. While we are watching the latest television show on prime time cable, they are struggling to survive on what little they can manage to scrape together. Something has to give. Something has to change. What follows is an attempt to define the problem, so that people can begin to formulate effective solutions.
What is Homelessness?
Who is a Homeless Person?
In his piece, "Homelessness: It’s About Race, Not Just Poverty," published in City Limits, Ralph Da Costa Nunez pointed out that both Caucasians and African Americans are among the homeless population. He also pointed out, though, that twice as many African Americans are living in homeless shelters as their proportion in the general population. The opposite goes for Caucasians, as they are severely underrepresented in shelters around the country. He also noted that this can be almost exclusively linked to the mistreatment of African Americans throughout the past one hundred and fifty years. Charley James, in his piece, "Homeless Hispanic Families Fight, 'If They're Brown, Turn 'em Down,' published in LA Progressive, identified the Latino population as another big source of the homeless population. Their numbers tend to fluctuate frequently, though. It is higher in some seasons over others. The winter is a bad season for Latino migrant workers because when planting and harvesting are over, many men and women are left without work or any other means by which to support their families. James pointed out, this has a tendency to leave entire families homeless.
Next, because of social misconceptions, one must ask the question, are homeless people criminals? Randall Amster addressed this question in his piece, "Patterns of Exclusion: Sanitizing Space, Criminalizing Homelessness," published in Social Justice. In this piece, he pointed out, quite convincingly, that because of negative propaganda directed at the homeless, many people are certainly mistakenly convinced that the homeless are criminals or social degenerates. He began by pointing out a recent trend in how cities are dealing with the homeless. He found that trends in governance are bending more, now, towards restricting, regulating, and removing anyone from public view that could be or is classified as being homeless. Further, he noted that throughout U.S. history, the homeless have gotten a bad rap. In many old political cartoons, they were portrayed as a scary monster looking for children to steal and family heirlooms to loot. They have been routinely used as scapegoats for unexplained and uncontrollable breakouts of diseases. Amster argued that the homeless make an easy target because of this demonized stigma that has been placed on them by society. He also noted that they have routinely been the target of legislation designed to ‘beautify’ various cities. He argued that this was because of the fact that in many cases, the leadership of cities were more concerned about the cosmetic presentation of their city and less about the actual condition of their homeless populations. He showed how it has been common practice to do more to hide the problem and less to actually solve the problem. Essentially, cities felt it was easier to arrest and detain the homeless rather than giving them the treatment and rehabilitation they need to no longer be homeless.
A large homeless population does not scream economic opportunity to many businesses or other high profile investors. This is the reason that Amster argued is the main reason cities handle the homeless the way that they do. He rejected, outright, the myriad excuses that cities come up with to explain the rise in regulations and restrictions against the homeless, from health and public safety, to aesthetics and economic viability. He ended by contending that the legislation and regulations passed most recently are intentionally discriminatory and designed specifically to criminalize the homeless. Thus, by all measures, the homeless are slowly, by legislation and regulations, being turned into another criminal category. The only thing that Amster failed in was his lack of attention to women; otherwise, his argument that the homeless have been criminalized is on point. Understandably, though, Amster's study was generalized, but women do deserve to be noted as members of the homeless population. In their piece, "The Health of Homeless Women: Information for State Maternal and Child Health Programs," published by the The Department of Health and Human Services, Gilliam Silver and Rea Panares pointed to varying studies which indicate that roughly twenty to forty percent of the homeless population is female at any given time. Their study further indicated that a great many of these women are homeless along with their entire families. In their piece, "Permanent Homelessness in America?," published in Population Research and Policy Review, Richard Freeman and Brian hall argue that despite this fact, the numbers still show that on the average, the majority of the homeless population is male, ranging from ages thirty to sixty. They noted, however, a very unfortunate gap in their numbers. Their data does not account for the very young or the very old because of parental supervision, orphanages, social security, or mortality. They did not suggest checking the morgue, but perhaps that was a bit too morbid for them. Overall, the lesson to be garnered here is that the homeless are people too. They are not criminals, they are not riffraff, they are not faceless degenerates to be ignored or dealt with harshly. They are living breathing human beings, and they not only need, but they deserve the help of their nation in their desperate hour of need.
Why are People Homeless? – The Scholarly Answer
Not too much longer after this, getting back to Freeman and Hall, a central question in their paper was, "Is there permanent homelessness in America?" Their main goal was to determine how many people, exactly, were homeless at the time of their study, but they did also note some of the causes along the way. They also wanted to determine how many of those people were most likely to remain homeless. They identified economic loss, mental illness, drug abuse, and even a criminal record as causes of homelessness. They found that drug abuse and mental illness were the most likely things to make a person permanently homeless. They also noted that age is not usually a determinate of homelessness because of the high mortality rate among the homeless population in the United States. About four years later, in their piece, "Structural Determinants of Homelessness in the United States," published in Social Problems, Marta Elliot and Lauren J. Krivo did a study focused on empirical sources to determine the primary causes of homelessness in the United States. They avoided discussing the demographic data on the issue because they felt that sufficient attention had already been given to that avenue of research. They found the general explanations for why people are homeless to be a lack of sufficient low cost housing, high poverty, poor economic conditions, concentration of minorities and single-mother headed families, and insufficient access to proper mental health care. These were all important causes, but they analyzed the available data in their study and determined that the two primary causes of homelessness were the lack of sufficient low cost housing and insufficient access to proper mental health care. Diane Sweet, in her piece, "Ratio: 3.5 Million Homeless and 18.5 Million Vacant Homes in the US," published with Info Wars, marked it a good thing that the lack of sufficient low cost housing was on the top of most lists enumerating the causes of homelessness. She argued, however, that this was bogus and cited some fairly disturbing statistics. In a review of 2011 raw census data, Sweet found that the home to person ratio in the United States was an estimated 3.5 million people to 18.5 million vacant homes. Even though the source is Info Wars, the point still remains that if less than a million people are counted as homeless now, with these numbers, there should not be a homelessness problem in this county. Yet, here, again, this discussion continues. The numbers clearly show the imbalance that exists.
Why are People Homeless? – The Public Perception
In their piece, entitled, "The Stigma of Homelessness: The Impact of the Label 'Homeless' on Attitudes Toward Poor Persons," published in the Social Psychology Quarterly, Jo Phelan, et. al, discussed the unjustified and socially destructive stigma that follows homeless people and the chronically poor. They pointed out that while some people are still compassionate towards the homeless and understand that they do have personal problems that are controlling them; they do not necessarily agree that they are not to blame for their condition. In surveys taken from a random sample of the population, they found that people say things like, "They did not have to take the first hit off that pipe," or "They are the ones that couldn’t put the bottle down," or "They are the ones that can’t get their heads on straight, the government should not have to help them do it." Further, some people do not think they should be able to get help at all. Some people were quoted as saying, "I do not appreciate the government using my tax dollars to help someone get out of a problem that they got themselves into." This attitude confused the authors a bit because, at the same time, these same people recognized that there were multiple factors that could make a person homeless that would be outside of that person's control, like economic down turns. They argued, thus that the stigma that is stuck to the homeless is unjustified. They argued that the worst part of the situation, however, was the fact that this stigma tends to become permanent and can lend to the perpetuation of the homeless condition. In their piece, "American Nightmare: Homelessness," published in Challenge, Peter Dreier and Richard Appelbaum argued that most people do actually want to solve the real social problem that is homelessness. They do not like the look of it, for the economy and for the nation’s reputation. However, Dreier and Appelbaum argued that social awareness is not the primary motivation behind this desire to solve the problem. They have noted that as people see more and more people homeless in the streets, they are reminded that the same thing could happen to them. It actually really scares people. Thus, they argued that the main real reason that people want to see homelessness resolved is because the thought of being homeless scares them. They argued that this suggestion that people fear homelessness is very compelling, as it has the potential to breed action; though, they did admit that some of the actions taken may not be all that kindly.
In Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, and Policy, Gwendolyn Mink and Alice M. O'Connor discussed the soup kitchens that began to emerge just after the Civil War. The concept was brought to the United States from Ireland by immigrants who had stood in line at similar establishments established by the British to help feed victims of the Potato Famine. In Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America, Todd DePastino discussed the role of soup kitchens in more detail. They did not operate living quarters, unless they were run by an almshouse. Thus, soup kitchens were, essentially, an alternative for those people who did not wish to experience the religious sermons in the almshouses again. It got to the point that they eventually replaced almshouses, entirely, as one of the early primary means by which to deal with hunger among the homeless and poor. In Republic of Dreams Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960, Ross Wetsteon showed that soup kitchens evolved over time. In the 1880s, soup kitchens and similar establishments began to be referred to as bread lines This began as the result of a New York City bakery, Fleischmann Model Viennese Bakery, instituting a new policy. At the end of each business day, instead of throwing away their unused baked goods, the bakery distributed them to the homeless and poor in the neighborhood surrounding the bakery. In a photograph entitled, "Soup Kitchens," on the website of the Social Security Administration, soup kitchens or ‘bread lines’ are shown to have taken on the appearance of what they had really actually become by the time the Great Depression hit in the United States, a permanent fixture in American cities.
In a text entitled, The Black Panthers Speak, edited by Philip S. Foner, an important collection of writings from the Black Panther Party for Self Defense were brought together. In this text, one can hear the actually voices of Panther leaders and get the stories about what they were trying to do from their very own perspective. One of the things that one will learn about is their Community Food Program. Their center of operations was in Oakland, CA; however, similar programs were set up in multiple cities from the west coast to the east coast. They were run and funded by the Panthers and members of the local community. This program is mentioned in many scholarly journals but is rarely something that the general public is aware of. The trials of Dr. Huey P. Newton, the Chicago Eight, and the Panther 21 made it enormously difficult for many Americans to distinguish the propaganda from the philosophy; and further, the media's indifference to the Panthers' free breakfast programs, and other programs, like neighborhood health clinics and liberation schools, only complicated the problem. The actions discussed, so far, can be considered homelessness policy because of the absence of any meaningful action on behalf of the government. Meaningful refers actions meant to deal humanely with the homeless, as opposed to rounding them up and throwing them in jail or just beating them to death for no good reason. Absent assistance from the government, private organizations, both religious and secular, step in with either the silent approval or begrudging disdain of the government. Despite all of this effort, however, homelessness still exists. Additionally, for a while now, governments at the local, state, and federal levels have begun to see homelessness as a social problem that has to be dealt with. Unfortunately, not all governments have responded to this issue with care and understanding; though, admittedly, some have tried.
In 1987, in response to the rising homelessness in America's inner cities, Congress passed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. This law provided funding for education programs to help the very young and older troubled teenagers, who had previously performed poorly in school or had not attended school because of the nature of their living conditions. This law was an effort to help children to get off the streets and to reintegrate them into society before they got lost in the criminal justice system. It also outlined the conformity rules for the act. States could run the program at their level, so long as their programs met a basic standard of conformity to federal law. If they failed to comply, they risked not just losing the education funding, but also having funding in other related areas cut. This was usually something that would cause the majority of states to comply; however, there were some states that failed to initiate the program within their jurisdictions. These tended to be states with more conservative governments at the helm. In 2009, another piece of federal legislation was passed to help the homeless and poor. It is the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act, or the HEARTH Act. Before this bill passed, there were already a ton of grant programs that were available for various government's to take advantage of to help resolve their local homelessness problems. Most of these grants had been established by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act; however, their administration had been spread out over various sub departments. The HEARTH Act centralized these programs. It also created a Rural Housing Stability Assistance Program to combat rising homelessness in rural communities. It also simplified the requirements for a family to be assigned public housing, increased funding for homelessness prevention programs, increased staffing in the HUD, and introduced performance standards for agents of the department, so that the housing application process would speed up, and hopefully, decrease the amount of people living in the street while they wait for public housing. The legislation also altered the government's definition of homelessness, the responsibilities of the various levels of government, and the jurisdictional boundaries of those various levels of government. The Department of Veterans Affairs has also recently developed a program to get the homeless back on their feet. They have a twenty four hour hotline that homeless veterans can call for help with healthcare, housing, drug addiction, and many other general issues. Their focus, of course, is on veterans, but they give referrals to people who call them them but are not veterans. The problems with this program are, like many others, awareness and access.
A particularly interesting case at the state level is the homeless legislation passed by the state of Washington in the latter half of 2004, the Homeless Housing and Assistance Amendment to the Washington State Code of Law, also known as Chapter 43.185C RCW. This law initiated an aggressive campaign against homelessness in the state of Washington, with the goal being able to house everyone without a home and to assist them in social rehabilitation. This included providing them with mental health services and proper physical health care. The law outlined the entire process, from income and residence requirements, to the establishment of the Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness in the state's Department of Commerce. The amendment also provided for and outlined the responsibilities of field operatives whose goal it would be to get the word out about the new program to homeless persons across the state, from Olympia to Seattle. Though this a great program, its ultimate effectiveness has yet to be determined. There are also efforts at the county level to help the homeless. The John Peter Smith Health Network in Tarrant County, Texas operates a Behavioral Health Program that is designed specifically to attend to the mental health needs of the poor and homeless. Though these programs are well intended, they are not necessarily used as often as they should be, as it is difficult to get homeless people signed up for JPS Healthcare. It is even more difficult, as of recently, because JPS has begun to require that people obtain an AHA insurance policy if they wish to qualify for services from JPS Behavioral Health. This effectively eliminates the homeless from the program.
There is also, of course, the matter of rehabilitation. The most common form of assistance provided to the homeless is drug rehabilitation, including alcohol treatment, as addiction has been determined to be a prime cause of homelessness. The idea behind such programs is that if the homeless can be successfully rehabilitated from drug use, then they can become productive citizens again. One such program is the Methadone Clinic. These clinics are funded both privately and publicly. In most cases, the services provided by these clinics are available to homeless addicts at little to no charge to them. The hope is, once again, that rehabilitation will lead to productivity. In his piece, "Clash in US Over Methadone Treatment," published in the British Medical Journal, Dr. James Ciment, argued that the problem is that Methadone, itself, can become addictive. So, rather than being rehabilitated, clients are potentially just trading a strong opiate for a weaker one, and in many cases, getting it for free. These programs, in some form or another, are known to be administered at the local, state, and federal levels of government. The other issue with many rehab facilities is that if they receive part of their funding from a religious organization, they are allowed to require patients to attend religious services while they are being treated. In his piece, "Drug Withdrawal and Coping With Lonliness," published in Social Indicators Research, Ami Rokach, pointed out quite clearly how such requirements can make retaining patients a challenge for some clinics, as a great many patients do not like being proselytized.
Despite these efforts, homelessness still exists, and the most recent responses to the issue, in the case of local municipalities, have not been at all promising. Referring back to Amster's piece, he also pointed out that the recent trend in homeless policy has been for cities to criminalize the homeless. To do this cities have passed vagrancy laws, anti-assembly laws, or beautification laws, and the like. The idea is to remove the homeless from the streets in areas that a given city does not approve of the homeless setting up residences. Consider the recent actions of the city of Denver, Colorado. Not only did city officials approve of the forced removal of people from a downtown tent city, they used money donated to the city to feed the homeless, to fund the removal. In her piece entitled, "Downward Spiral: Homelessness and Its Criminalization," published in the Yale Law and Policy Review, Maria Foscarinis offered commentary on the subject. She opened the article with the description of a recent case where the city council of Santa Ana, California passed a formal policy banning the homeless from their city. One city memorandum described a plan to continuously remove homeless people, which they call vagrants, from the places that they were frequenting in the city. In what a local court called the city's, War on the Homeless, two police officers conducted a harassment sweep of local homeless hangouts. People were handcuffed, transported to an athletic field for booking, chained to benches, marked with numbers, and held for as long as six hours before being released to another location. Worse, the charges against them were for ridiculous things like dropping a match, kicking a leaf, tossing a piece of paper, or jaywalking. Rather then helping to end the homeless problem, many cities are now using what they call, justified force, in their efforts to alleviate the problem.
There is particularly interesting court case that is important to this discussion. In the case of Edward Jones, et. al v. City of Los Angeles, No. 11-56240 (9th Circuit 2014), six homeless individuals unable to obtain shelter for the night were cited for vagrancy and arrested. In response to this, the ACLU filed an Eighth Amendment challenge to the enforcement of the City of Los Angeles Ordinance, explained in the linked article, which the officers were enforcing. The law criminalized sitting, lying, or sleeping on public streets and sidewalks at all times, and in all places, within Los Angeles' city limits. The group sought limited injunctive relief from enforcement of the ordinance during nighttime hours, i.e., between 9:00 p.m. and 6:30 a.m., or at any time against the temporarily infirm or permanently disabled. The case was to decide whether the Eighth Amendment right to the freedom from cruel and unusual punishment prohibited enforcement of the law, as applied to homeless individuals involuntarily sitting, lying, or sleeping on the street due to the unavailability of shelter withing the city limits of the city of Los Angeles. In a long decision, the judge, ruled that in fact, the city was violating the rights of those homeless men. He also ruled that their justification for their actions was ridiculous and in no way, was the law ever to be considered enforceable. The judge ruled that the men were, in fact, protected under the Eighth Amendment because the city of Los Angeles was punishing these men for their own shortfall in public assistance. The city of Los Angeles' response to this ruling was not entirely productive, at first. They rounded up all of their homeless veterans and put them into an unused, but refurbished, shopping center. When the city did this, they did not entirely know what they were going to do next. However, at the end of this past May, the city announced that they will begin remodeling old motels and turning them into housing projects for these veterans and other homeless citizens within the city. This seems, however, to be nothing more than another stop gap measure, in a long line of unfulfilled promises and expired efforts to put the issue out of people’s minds when it is necessary. While what the city is doing is a good thing and is going to help a lot of people, the solution is only treating a symptom, homelessness. Hopefully, the city will soon announce that this new housing venture will be accompanied by free physical and mental healthcare. This way, they can treat the causes themselves and work to end the problem for good.
Is There a Working Model?
Next, the solution needs to involve people from every possible area of interest, regarding homelessness. Local businesses need to be brought on board, as well as, medical associations, involving both general physical health and mental health. It also needs to involve local level drug assistance programs that are designed to be permanently rehabilitative, who are known for effective long term treatment methods. Next, local government officials have to be for the program, law enforcement needs to be much more cooperative, and concerned individuals need to start speaking their minds. So, what do they all need to get on-board with? The plan, in a scholastic setting, is fairly easy to outline. First, identify the homeless and extremely impoverished persons in the city, and get them involved in a community wide effort to get the entire homeless population to a general meeting, where they will need to be enlisted in the effort, as well. In fact, they need be the primary people doing all of the work. Here is where a little boot strap philosophy is going to come in. If an entire city, and possibly even an entire country, is going to come together to help them get back on their feet, then they are going to be intricately involved in the process. This may even require the beneficial use of force at times. This is especially so with those people who suffer from severe mental illnesses. In many cases, they are not aware of what is going on around them, at all. Getting them treated and involved will not necessarily be easy, especially when they fight it, even though what is being done for both their own good and for the improved welfare of the community.
Next, the people administering the program, these being state and local government officials, need to identify the most dilapidated parts of their cities. They, then, need to place the homeless in these areas with the appropriate tools, supervision, and logistical support to allow them to rehabilitate the area and make it livable according to local, state, and federal housing regulations. From businesses and single family homes, to community buildings like churches, entertainment facilities, as well as, multi-family housing structures, the people that will be using the new community need to be the ones to repair everything. When the work is done, they are the ones that need to be in charge, with the appropriate training, of all of the local businesses, government offices, public safety departments, community watch groups, and neighborhood associations. They need to give their own sweat, and they need to work with their own hands to the point that their new neighborhood takes on a private and personal role in their lives. To ensure the survival of this program, this all needs to be accompanied by single payer drug and alcohol addiction services, mental health facilities, and general medical clinics, which will be free at the point of consumption. This program also needs to be timed in such a way that people are able to pursue their social reintegration into society in at their own pace, so long as positive progress is being made. There also needs to be a free education system instituted for both children and adults. For the children, the standard public schools will be available, but they will also be just as heavily funded as they would be if the students were going to a school in a wealthy community. For the adults, there needs to be both free college classes and free vocational training.
Finally, the effort should not be just another stop gap measure. It needs to operate with the understanding that progression will be essential, and it needs to be cannon law that the general public's well being is a prime concern. The programs will be closely supervised, with professionally trained workers assisting with operations at every level of the project. Further, people having a difficult time with the transition should be given all the assistance that they require, no matter how long their recovery takes. This is, of course, with the understanding that the goal is for them to become a productive self-sustaining member of society again. The individuals involved in the program will also be responsible for the maintenance of the community, as regards both its physical operations and its outward appearance. They should also be responsible for preparing it for permanent rehabilitation and reintegration into the greater social and logistical network of the city, state, or country. What good would this all do? This program would do a great many things all at once. First, while it would not end homelessness or poverty entirely, it would dramatically reduce the homeless population and put a great many people back on the road towards economic viability. Second, it would inevitably reduce crime, as fewer people are being arrested for petty crimes passed to simply remove them from sight, and fewer people are being arrested on drug charges. The drug rehab and mental health programs will be the primary reasons that a reduction in drug crimes will be seen. There will be fewer people buying, and thus, fewer people selling. Third, such a program would create millions of new jobs. The idea is that most of them will be taken by the people moving through the program, but what of all the logistical assistance that will be required? What about all of the new teachers? What about all of the additional medical professionals that will be needed? There will also be an increased demand for administrative personnel in the government departments that are administering the programs at each level of government. Finally, the last and most important thing that this program should do is engender in the people rebuilding these communities, a sense of community and friendship, which will help to keep them grounded. It will also, hopefully, give them something to believe in again, so that they will be less likely to return to the lifestyle that they were living before they entered the program.
This idea can definitely be criticized. First, how much would such a program cost? Second, who would be doling out the cash for the venture? Who exactly would be chosen? Would there be any discriminations made that might lead to the rejection of a specific group of people? Would the government be able to control the flow of drugs into the community? How would they maintain that control? How will the neighborhoods look ten years after implementation of the program? Who is going to deal with the ‘eye sore’ then? Will all of the homeless cooperate with the effort? What will happen when some people refuse to be a part of the program? Will they be arrested or removed from city limits? What does the program do about squatters, or people that are not registered for the program who find their way into a friends domicile? Should each member of the program be issued a specific form of identification? What are the social implications of such tight government control of a program? Who will do the direct policing in the community? What will be the consequences of criminal actions committed by citizens while in the program? What will be done about domestic violence? What does such a program mean for the civil rights of the homeless? What will become of the people who succeed in the program? Will these people be part of a life long follow up program? Does such a program as this have the potential to change how this country views the fates of its citizens? Will governments continue to foot the bill fifty years from now? Finally, what does it say about our country that this discussion has to even be taking place in the supposed land of the free and home of the brave, the greatest country on earth, if you will? Hopefully, someone will come along that cares more about the problem than they do the politics of it. Perhaps, then, something substantial and effective will be done. Until then, society must be satisfied with, to date, lazy, half-hearted, and disingenuous efforts to make the people think that the government or the major corporations actually care about ending the problem.
Finally, as has been noted, despite these understandings and the efforts to end homelessness, the issue still plagues the social conscience of the United States to this very day. In his book entitled, Gimme Shelter: A Social History of Homelessness in Contemporary America, Gregg Barak traces the history of homelessness in the United States, along with some of the measure that have been taken to address it. Homelessness and poverty aid have been a part of American society since before this country’s inception. Considering this reality, it seems that there may be something else that is the real cause of what can only be referred to, now, as systemic homelessness. In his piece entitled, Neoliberalism and the Regulation of Global Labor Mobility," published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Henk Overbeek makes a perfect argument about the real cause of homelessness in the United States. The very deepest root cause, he argued, is not drug addiction, mental health, gender preference, religion, or whatever other general circumstance that one might imagine. It is, in fact, a very basic and fundamental economic problem. What sort of problem is it then? Basically, a for profit economy, in this case Market Capitalism, is not designed to attend to the basic needs of the entire population. Despite what many capitalist defenders will say, the social and economic inequalities of market capitalism are well known and heavily documented. Further, in the never ending pursuit of increased profits, companies take whatever measures are needed to ensure the security of their corporate and even private financial solubility. From automation to layoffs or even job emigration, human labor becomes nothing more than a commodity to be traded for, with the lowest bidder getting the contract. This depresses wages, devalues productivity, and damages the public’s confidence in the economy, leading many to just give up and begin drawing from social programs for their living. This is most prevalent among older workers. Workers are, thus, stripped of a face and a voice, which makes it easier for companies to treat them as just another dispensable commodity to be discarded when it no longer suits their needs. Such behavior only serves to worsen the situation, making a permanent solution to the problem seem more and more impossible to find. This ultimately leads to an overload of the social safety nets established by market capitalist societies, giving rise to homelessness and its associated problems.
In a paper entitled, "How to Sustain Growth in a Resource Based Economy? The Main Concepts and Their Application in the Russian Case," published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Rudiger Ahrend discussed the basic facts of what is known as a Resource Based Economy. This is an effective alternative to the Market Capitalist economy that now disregards people like they were garbage. This economic model is one in which every citizen has equal access to all available resources and all products produced from those resources. Interestingly enough, this is accompanied with the embracing of complete mechanization of the entire physical economic process. From one side of the spectrum of supply and demand to the other, requiring minimal supervision of the entire process. Demand trends would be monitored by computers at the point of consumption, requisitions or orders for replacement stock would then be placed by computers, and so forth, and so on. This would go all the way down to the production floor in every major factory, where the only workers on the floor would be machines. Now, the fear of what this could entail is legitimate; one-hundred percent unemployment, but this is alleviated by the universal access to all resources and products that is granted to each and every citizen, based solely on their basic intrinsic human value.
This resource based economic model would instantly decommodify human labor, as people would no longer be working to provide for their basic necessities. People would no longer be working to survive. Their work could now focus on the self-improvement aspect of labor. It would also serve to continuously spark new ideas and innovations because people would have the time to focus on perfecting their crafts. Reliance on the market would be obsolete because machines would do the work, while humanity worked to expand its intellect. This, of course, as a policy, would over time, slowly begin to eliminate the problem of homelessness forever, as all of the conditions that exist to create homelessness would no longer be present. One must admit, though, this comes off as almost paradisaical in its presentation. The theory seems to operate on the assumption that all would go well and that everyone on the planet would be compliant. Though it is far from perfect, this model comes off as the only thing that can truly eliminate issues like homelessness from institutional memory. This issue is certainly never going to be resolved as long people are commodified and treated like economic units, whose production is to be bought and sold like cattle. What is more likely to happen, is that more people will end up like the homeless communities in cities like Denver, criminalized and desperate. This is a humanitarian issue, and one that regular people can fight for. Granted, they do not have to get involved if they do not want to. They can just let the situation worsen by the day and watch as the world crumbles around them. Or, they can stand up and act and help to prevent the stories that have to be told by people like Jacqueline Buffington-Vollum, who in her piece entitled, “Deliberate Indifference: Mental Illness and the Criminal Justice System,” published in the book, Failed Criminal Justice Polices, edited by Frances P. Reddington and Gene Bonham, Jr., tells of the true injustices that are committed against the homeless in this country every single day. When is enough going to be enough?