Helping the Homeless
The problem of homelessness in America is one which affects many diverse groups of individuals. The fact that such a wealtthy country as ours bases itself on an economic system which allows millions of its inhabitants to go without adequate shelter is appalling. Far too many people, especially elected officials, seek to downplay this problem by blaming the victims of this system for being responsible for their own predicament. They are perceived by many as being too lazy, alcohol or drug addicted to hold steady employment which could lift them from their poverty and enable them to lead more normal lives which include adequate housing for themselves and their families.
The oversimplification of the causes of homelessness is exacerbated by the desire by many to want to ignore the problem by making the homeless people disappear. Laws are increasingly being passed in many localities which make various activities which are hard to avoid doing if one is homeless illegal. Making sleeping in public parks, parked cars or other public places illegal is one example. Not making public restrooms available or refusing to allow people to provide the homeless with food is another. The result, intentional or not, is to force the people to leave the municipality, face jail time or fines that they cannot afford to pay. Homeless shelters and soup kitchens are often inadequately funded or staffed to meet legitimate needs of the homeless community in any given area.
To place the blame so squarely on the shoulders of the victims is to make light of the very real reasons that many, if not most, of them find themselves without a home. Lecturing an alcoholic or other addict about their moral failings is fine, as long as services are made available to help them turn their lives around – services which would need to include shelter, food, health care (to include mental health care). Blaming a lack of education or training without providing access to those services would likewise be an inadequate response.
Blaming the victims also neglects to address the fact that so many of the individuals covered by the term “homeless” would be held totally blameless by the vast majority of us were we to be made aware of what led to their homelessness. Well over a million of them turn out to be children. Whatever caused their parents to be unable or unwilling to provide for their needs is not their fault, nor do we expect children to be self-sufficient. Current safety net programs do not adequately meet their needs, either – or there would not be so many living on the streets.
There are also thousands of homeless military veterans – people who we often give lip service to supporting, until times get tough for them. Some suffer from PTSD or other mental or physical traumas, suffered in the service of their country, which are not allowing them to adequately adjust to life back home in the aftermath. VA assistance doesn’t reach all of those who need it, obviously. More resources need to be provided to allow all these people the ability to become more self-sufficient and to better meet their basic needs as human beings.
All this costs money. Calling for this all to be provided by charities has proven to be an inadequate response throughout recorded history. Sure, various charities throughout the country do fantastic work with homeless people of all sorts. They do particularly important work when natural disasters strike. They also provide assistance for some of the substance abuse problems and helping with short-term assistance when people may just need a temporary boost to return to better financial situations. Charitable donations simply are simply inadequate to achieve the derired results.
The problem of homelessness is not one which should be pushed off on charities or hidden from view by laws that allow homeless and otherwise destitute individuals to be “out of sight and out of mind”. Our responsibility to care for our fellow human beings should not end at the Salvation Army kettle outside the Mall or local grocery store. People should not be turned into criminals for merely trying to care for even the simplest human needs the rest of us take for granted with at least a modicum of dignity. People trying to help them by providing food for them should not likewise be jailed for trying to nourish others. These are people, equally deserving of our respect as such.
I walk a lot. Everywhere I go I see numerous vacant houses and other buildings. We do not have a shortage of housing, clothing or food in this country. The problem, as I see it, is not a shortage of resources to adequately meet the needs of all our people, but an unwillingness to see the fundamental unfairness of our economic system and rectify the current misallocation of available resources so that each of us has what is required to live fulfilling lives. Surely we can meet the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and health care for each of our people. Placating the desires and greed of some when it requires us to deny satisfaction of the basic needs of others is morally repugnant
Despite the efforts and creativity of some in our society to address these needs on a local level, there remains a need to do so on a society-wide scale. Instead of moving the homeless around from place to place by forcing them to leave using punitive measures such as those discussed above, resources should be adequately allocated where and when they are needed. Allowing people to feel the problem does not exist by turning the victims of the inadequacies of our society into silent, invisible, others who live somewhere else and deserve their fate should stop be a viable option. Nobody should be allowed to go around stealing from or killing others. Nor should they feel they need to take such drastic measures just to keep themselves or their children alive.
Fix the peoples’ problems. Nobody deserves to live in the extreme poverty that we as a nation have come to allow so many of our fellow people to live under for so long. Rectifying the situation will require actually dealing with people as individuals and helping them when they need assistance, not just lumping them into a broad category of undesirable, disposable people to be swept under the rug and forgotten. If a few less people end up owning second, third and fourth homes so that others have a small apartment, so be it. Nobody deserves to live like royalty, anymore than anybody deserves to live in the gutter or under a bridge. Rather than continually cutting programs that strive to alleviate these conditions, we need to increase funding and adding programs that will make for a more just society with true equality of opportunity and social justice for all.
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