I’ve seen headlines about different levels of government starting to “crack down” on homelessness. I haven’t read the articles, but I assume that the crack down has to do with treating those experiencing homelessness as criminals. Can’t have homeless people hanging around you know. It might raise some uncomfortable questions. And then people might have to acknowledge that there is a problem. What a great way to solve homelessness. Not!
What contributes to an increase in homelessness? Lots of things. Too often we concern ourselves with direct reasons – what did this person do to end up homeless? Those type of questions have their place. But they are not the best questions, or really the only questions that we should be asking.
By focusing on these direct, personal, issues, we ignore some deeper reasons – the systems in place that are hidden from our sight. Homelessness is a big challenge because there aren’t nice easy, neat, solutions. The causes of homelessness are many.
Last night I was talking with one person who is experiencing homelessness and he used language like “being stuck no matter what I do.”
I often describe homelessness as something similar to a black hole. Often people who are homeless try their best to get out of homelessness. They make the phone calls that need to be made. They work. They follow the rules. They do everything they are supposed to. They may even start to move in the right direction. And then Bam! Something happens that sucks them back in. Their vehicles breaks down, or they get sick – and a vicious cycle smacks them hard.
Let’s say their vehicle breaks down. How do they get to work? What if they get sick? What are they going to pay and what are they going to not pay? What about the added stress of this? If they can’t get to work, how will they earn any money? If they have no money, how will they have food? Or pay for what limited shelter they do have? Miss a “rental” payment to the motel you are staying in? You get kicked out and it is reported on your credit. This knocks down your credit, impacting where you can stay next. And this means you have no permanent address either, which impacts what services you can receive and what financial support you can receive too.
While the direct questions feel satisfying, they don’t solve the problem for most people. And they allow us to avoid the bigger questions. Questions like this – why does homelessness exist at all in the world’s richest nation in history?
There seems to be plenty of housing – but not necessarily the right housing. We are awash with upper income housing in our area. Landlords are often weary about renting to the poor. I get it – they have been screwed out of rent money. I described the situation above.
People don’t want affordable housing or shelters or anything like that built near them. Not in my backyard! is the response. People know there is a problem and agree that affordable and low income housing is needed. They just don’t want it near them. There are almost too many stereotypes to fight against concerning people in poverty – drugs, violence, crime, laziness, etc.
There are areas that, through policy and through other practices, avoid the recognition that homelessness exists. It is too uncomfortable for people to acknowledge. It is much easier to wave it away and pretend that all is well. If it is present, we might have to do something. And we don’t really know what to do, so that gets awkward.
Experts in poverty are now saying that the elderly who experience homelessness will double in five years time and triple by 2030. This is serious problem that is not getting better by avoiding or ignoring it.
I wish there were simple solutions to homelessness. Oh how I wish there were. I would implement each simple answer. We’d solve the problem in no time. Instead, it seems as though the problem keeps getting worse in proportion to the the headlines about how great the economy is.
Yet, the great economy isn’t working for everyone. In fact, it’s screwing some people over.
Maybe it’s time to ask some deeper questions. Maybe it’s time to reconsider what we value. Maybe it’s time to look at the actual problem.