Homelessness: An Epidemic or Fault
Every city, in every state, in every country, in every continent has one thing in common: a large population of homeless people. The homeless are categorized into their own social group by most. Those more fortunate created this identity and do nothing to help them. Under the government's close supervision, this needs to stop happening. It is their responsibility to ensure that each United States citizen is able to practice the right to live in peace and feel as if they are secure while keeping their dignity. Scholars argue that the issue of homelessness has derived from a singular problem which most believe is impoverished beings unable to pay for necessities such as housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Humanitarian help is not the emergency response that this issue needs. It is in my judgment, upon closer examination, that poverty may be one factor but there is a combination of many issues that contribute into the part of homelessness all under the control of the government and leaders of the United States.
To begin, one key reason as to why homelessness has spiraled down the dark path it's in right now is due to the violation of human rights. National and local laws have wrongfully criminalized homeless people categorizing them as lawbreakers rather than protecting their rights. Many laws that are created purposefully leave homeless people invisible, kicking them out of the streets, and out of their makeshift shelters giving them this unrealistic label. Some laws even keep people from sleeping or camping out on any public or private property while others ban citizens from feeding the homeless. One is penalized for trying to help someone have a slightly better night than they are normally used to.
Everyone has a right to housing, somewhere to feel safe and feel secure. It is in the government’s interest and focus that this is followed through on. Seven ideal principles have been beneficial for the right to housing. They include security of tenure, availability of services/materials/facilities/infrastructure, affordability, habitability/decent and safe home, accessibility, location, and cultural adequacy (NESRI). These seven principles should be taken into account to when trying to build or find an ideal home for the less fortunate. There are several documents in which the right to housing is protected in, acting for different races and genders as well. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the American Declaration on Rights and Duties of Man (NESRI).
Each of these documents has voiced a common message: The right to housing is imperative in order for the United States to live up to its prideful equality. In order for each man to be equal, a roof to be under should be a priority. But that's not the case when there are hundreds of thousands of people living on the streets without a place to call home. When there are multiple documents protecting the rights of an epidemic countrywide, then the outcome should be significantly less than it currently is.
There's just not enough housing, or enough shelter to keep the homeless off the streets. There's a been a vicious cycle that the homeless experience: setting up tents, then law enforcers finding them and kicking them out. As a result, some land in jail for fines they can't pay, and others travel to the next location until the next police find them once again (Lee). An idea for lowering the costs of affordable houses was brought up and was even considered by cities, states, and the federal government. But it was quickly shown to fail because of the Low Income Housing Tax Credits that developers compete for. Because of this competition, there aren’t enough credits to build affordable housing for all the people who need it (Semuels). Every idea which is proposed is either disregarded or incapable of working. The leaders should put down a firm hand. If the competition is what is stopping the construction of affordable homes than those competitors should be penalized instead of being allowed to compete.
Discrimination, social exclusion, and criminalizing are all forms of human rights violations as well. The discrimination of homelessness is in terms of access to housing and land. Homeless people are denied opportunities to live in promising locations. Instead, they are told to live in remote, isolated and poorly serviced areas where there are no jobs opportunities. Many businesses have filed complaints when they see homeless people situated near their locations. They claim that they draw their customers away. Instead of ignoring their complaints, officers act upon it and move the homeless away. The sane and realistic option would be to help them and find a safer and more practical place to spend the night. It would make both parties happy. But the solution, as it mostly is, is the homeless suffering while the complainers are sitting pretty.
In addition, the United States has a corrupt economy and welfare system that plays a big role in homelessness. The economy was purposefully constructed to create poverty as well as inequality. In fact, out of every twenty dollars of new wealth created, nineteen of those dollars goes to the top one percent. The top one percent has more wealth than the bottom ninety percent (Fleisher). If the new wealth was evenly distributed then the rates of homelessness would go down significantly. This is where the United States’ corrupt welfare comes into place. If more money was put aside to help homelessness, the problem may slowly abolish.
The United States is by far the richest country in the world who is home to, “262 billionaires, ten times that of its nearest competitor, and an astounding 3.8 million of its households hold assets valued in the millions” (Fleisher). But it can't be said that the government is doing all it can to end homelessness. While still $25 trillion dollars in debt, “Our state and federal governments spend upwards of three trillion dollars a year. Yet at the same time, the United States experiences, by the best estimates, 3.5 million incidences of homelessness a year” (Fleisher). The distinct division in society is abundantly clear when looking at the homeless in the context of equality and economics. The rich continue to get richer and the poor stay poor. With so many unsure where their home will be tonight, it is impalpable to witness the amount of money that all of the upper-class have. But those upper-class citizens believe that wealth is just the logical outcome of a free market system.
Most privileged associate the homeless as incapable humans who are jobless. This stereotype is in fact, one of the worst. Many families that do live in poverty have at least one working member (Fleisher). And most of these jobs are full-time jobs as well. These families aren’t to be considered lazy. But bills such as auto repair and medical do pile up. The savings that most families keep tucked away are spent trying to pay these bills. These poor economic factors disable the homeless’ ability to advance from their situations. And while working these people are most likely receiving a minimum wage which would not be sufficient enough to support themselves and their families.
It is to be believed that due to the financial crisis of 2008 the number of homeless has significantly increased. It was said to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and had affected many. The crisis was due to the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank which was active worldwide. It had affected the overall economy through banks, and federal, state and local government budgets. Unemployment rates increased while mortgage payments also increased past the amount that could be borrowed. That issue could not have been blamed on anyone. But because of it, less and less paid attention to homeless until the crisis was averted. Equal attention should have been given. Especially if the crisis of 2008 brought people into the category of homeless.
The United States is considered to have one of the weakest welfare systems in regards to homelessness compared to other countries. The United States has adopted a liberal like welfare system (Kahachi). The government sees the welfare system as housing provision and homelessness treatments from a narrow economic perspective. This means that they will most likely work on the homelessness treatment when it is beneficial and saves money. The programs also promoted to all Americans but those who can benefit and are paid are those with low income. Other Democratic liberal countries consider housing for the homeless as a human right while conservative countries view housing and proper homelessness treatment necessary, especially to achieve social justice (Kahachi). While the leaders of the United States continue to only think about their own benefits the rest of the country is suffering. Their intent may be vital in their eyes but in others, it isn’t. The government's job is to provide and protect its people while maintaining to protect the citizens’ rights.
In 1996 the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, PRWORA, was passed. It was voted to "block grant" welfare to the states (Fleisher). Some may say this is extremely beneficial and flexible, allowing each state to design its own welfare regime. But others do not believe the adaptable strategy will be successful. Doug O'Brien, vice president of public policy and research at America's Second Harvest, believed that PRWORA was an “unjust ‘transference of responsibility’. He believes that it is the responsibility of the government, as noted in the preamble to the Constitution, to provide for the general welfare of the people, and thus the government should ensure some minimum standard of living” (Fleisher). Others believe that this reform didn’t go far enough. Mike Tanner, director at Cato University believes that the government is just rewarding irresponsibility. Private charities, in his opinion, should offer short-term assistance in place of government handouts (Fleisher). But one must consider what the goals of PRWORA actually were.
If it was to reduce welfare rolls, then the reform was successful, but if the objective was to reduce an issue other than that, the reform has failed. The Welfare Reform of 1996 expected to diminish the problem but for a while now, it can be seen that it has been very ineffective.
The programs that welfare include are said to provide a safety net to families and individuals to keep them from going into poverty. But the safety net that is provided has been proved ineffective due to corruption because those who are eligible for beneficial programs are not receiving them despite federal law. Statistically speaking, “over 40 percent of homeless persons are eligible for disability benefits, but only 11 percent actually receive them. Most are eligible for food stamps, but only 37 percent receive them...Residency requirements, inability to obtain school records and lack of transportation are primary barriers to public education for more than 750,000 homeless children annually” (Fleisher). Those that are eligible for the programs don’t get them, then what’s even the point of them? The funding that does go in is a waste for those that are scammed.
Another reason as to why homelessness has gotten out of control is because of the unequal attention that is given by leaders of the United States. After the Hepatitis outbreak was in full swirl, San Diego's leaders thought that it was the time to act upon the homelessness crisis due to those on the streets with Hepatitis. The idea of bridge shelters, the first step to permanent housing, had been circling around on discussion tables but had only been reinforced when the Hepatitis crisis emerged (Lee). Starting up tents and shelters seem like the easy way out that the city leaders are taking to temporarily try to contain the homeless situation. While these solutions will not solve the issue, it is better than people sleeping on the streets. The Hepatitis A epidemic emerged in San Diego forcing the government to take control over the homelessness problem. But is this what it took to get everyone's attention? In the government's mind, it seems as if they are all thinking “it's time to fix this issue so the rest of the community doesn’t suffer”. But the outbreak of Hepatitis A shouldn’t have been the awakening call. More should have been done and the outbreak shouldn’t have been the catalyst. The mayor of San Diego couldn’t even fulfill his promise. He had said that he would reduce homelessness and it would be his, “No. 1 social service priority”. But the time never came. The plan never went through and was left on the drawing boards (Lee). Consistency is vital when trying to overcome any problem. Divided attention can leave so many quality filled ideas untouched. In general, if more reserved attention was given minor instances of homelessness can be solved eventually leading to the entire problem itself being solved. For example, starting with San Diego and then moving on to a bigger pool.
As mentioned before, the right to housing is protected in many nationally published documents. While these documents specifically cater to children, men, women, and different races, the government fails to recognize the other forms of homelessness. For example, chronically ill and veterans are their top priority. Data shows that the homelessness system prioritizes certain types of homelessness over others. Their focus is on the chronically homeless especially those who have a good employment record. Because of this the other majority of homeless are unable to access and benefit from the full welfare system which is provided (Kahachi). A chronically homeless person is an unaccompanied person with a disabling condition who has been homeless for a year or an unaccompanied person with a disabling condition who has had four or more occurrences of homelessness in three years (Kahachi). The government has set benchmarks throughout the years, each one hoping to end a sector of homelessness. They are ending homelessness for veterans by 2015, chronic homelessness by 2017, and homelessness for families with children and youth by 2020. While it is biased to prefer one type of homelessness to end sooner over another, what they had hoped for did not succeed.
On the other hand, it's not as if the government hasn’t done anything to try and fix this issue. After the crisis of 2008, they realized more steps need to be taken in order to minimize it. If they didn’t step in the wealth system may have collapsed sending homelessness to a whole different level. Policies and strategies were taken into account to stop the pending issue (Kahachi). The steps that were promised that were being taken is the first indicator that the government was trying to help in 2010. Their strategy is called “Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness”. Their four prioritized goals were to prevent and end chronic homelessness, homelessness among veterans, homelessness for families, youth, and children in ten years; and set a path to ending all types of homelessness (Kahachi). But what is the actual value of these steps? On the long term, the goals that the government has will probably make a difference. But on a short term, the issue is still at hand. Having this vision that will hopefully be realistic in 10 years is very unrealistic to imagine in the present.
Some also believe that housing is the solution to homelessness. To this idea, many proposed building more shelters.
The McKinney Act of 1987 is a federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs. Tipper Gore, the wife of the former vice president and advocacy for the homeless, believes that there are solutions to everything and the issue of homelessness is not an intricate problem. All that needs to be done is to allow for more funding (Fleisher). The funding that is given is very low and the time that most residents spent there is not ideal. In fact, many homeless people would say they would prefer staying on the streets than in a shelter. Residents at shelters experience violence, theft, and other forms of abuse. An astounding 826 cases were reported (Semuels). Monthly operating expenses are high and are inconvenient in the eyes of some as well. Many shelters also don’t allow the homeless to bring their own belongings when they check in. This forces residents to leave behind valued items and items of necessity (Semuels). What the homeless need is a stable home-like environment where they feel safe. Not somewhere that can be potentially dangerous and unwelcoming.
To conclude, the numbers of homelessness are constantly growing and the government hasn’t done enough to stop them. They violate human rights, allow for a corrupt welfare and economic system, and don’t maintain a sustained focus when given a problem of homelessness to deal with. While small things like buying someone a meal can make someone's night a life a lot more enjoyable, it will not end the problem of homelessness in the long run. If the government does more for the cause and realizes their mistakes, this ongoing issue will not be an issue anymore. The streets would be happier as would the rest of the citizens affecting the overall moral of the country. If the government truly has interest upon the well being of their citizens, they should be doing more and changing their many mistakes to try and end homelessness.