Capitalism needs poverty.
As long as poverty is profitable, homelessness will not go away. In fact, “housing and homelessness have been problems for the poor and working class throughout history. Even in the beginnings of capitalism in England, peasants kicked out of their land were forced to rush to the crowded cities and sell their labor to the new factories in order to survive, with the resulting problems of slums, squatter settlements and homelessness.”
The rich need homelessness to be visible. They need it so they can use it as an example of what will happen to you and your family if you can’t (or won’t) sell your labor.
In Homelessness: One of Capitalism’s Many Inevitable Products, author Gus Bagakis tells us that:
“The fear of homelessness helps capitalism maintain its power. In the days of industrial capitalism, the unemployed were used by the ruling capitalist class to signal to the workers that they were lucky to have their jobs, and if they rebelled, they could be unemployed. Now, after the 2007-8 recession, as we move further into post-industrial capitalism, the homeless are a warning to those potentially rebellious workers unhappy with their loss of wages, lack of stability and benefits, and to students of the zero generation: zero jobs, zero hope, zero possibilities, zero employment, who are in debt for their schooling. The message is: Accept the declining status quo or end up homeless.”
And perhaps that’s all a part of it.
That’s why we’ve been conditioned to look down upon poor and homeless people. That’s why we call them lazy and turn a blind eye to the criminalization of homelessness. We are okay with seeing the poor and homeless disciplined, punished, and arrested. Why?
Because they aren’t being the ideal, perfect, obedient cog in a machine that’s designed to exploit you.
Because they aren’t making rich people richer. And that’s a big no-no.
I know that is a rather bold, and quite frankly, pretty defeating thought. But I hope you can let it empower you, rather than cripple you. That’s what I did. Well, eventually.
Ironically, while I was homeless, I had no greater desire than for things to “return to normal.” I wanted to become the person I was before – return to the path that led me to where I ended up: homeless.
However, by the time I was finally housed again, my feelings changed drastically. I no longer wanted to participate in the rat race. I didn’t want to give my money to capitalists anymore and I wanted to live differently. And so I sat down with a few formerly homeless anarchists, and I suppose the rest is history.
“Homelessness exists not because the system is not working, but because this is the way it works.” — Peter Marcuse
The interesting thing about homelessness is it completely strips you of your former self.
It completely destroys your identity – not only who you are, but also your place in the world. Although terrifying, it had left me almost a blank canvas. Suddenly I was a shell of a person with all of these new, rather shocking and perspective-altering experiences to rebuild from.
To be completely honest, I don’t think I feel comfortable or even safe with those who aren’t formerly homeless or don’t align themselves on the left. I don’t think they would truly understand where I’m coming from. And I don’t think I could trust them to be a real, honest and true ally against class warfare, which all homeless people are up against.
In the span of five years – the time it took me to evade homelessness, become homeless, and recover from it – my entire world changed. Today, I am strongly anti-capitalist, anti-fascist. I share a lot of views with anarchist philosophies, especially those in regards to community efforts, inter-community reliance and building connections within your neighborhood. These philosophies greatly encourage mutual aid and direct action, which were both instrumental in my own survival. They are how I interact with the homeless community today.
The two most important lessons I’ve learned through homelessness is it that:
- You can’t rely on the government to solve your problems. Even more so, you shouldn’t wait for the government to solve your problems.
- You should look, find, and build solutions from outside of the system, specifically, within your communities and from your neighbors.
Of course, it’s much easier said than done. I still have to pay rent to my landlord every month to prevent myself from becoming homeless again. Everyday, I have to go to my job so I can earn a paycheck to pay that rent.
However, this time around, I don’t rent from a millionaire slumlord who lives two hours off the cost of Long Island. And I wouldn’t have even realized the significance of such a difference if I weren’t homeless in the first place. Obviously homelessness has also taught me insane survival skills. I can stretch a dollar better than anyone I know. Taking that a step further, I left the chain grocery stores behind and opted for food co-ops. I chose a stable union job at a progressive university instead of a big firm. Sure, the firm could have paid me twice the salary, but they probably wouldn’t care very much about me.
Some have asked me if this is resistance. Every time I answer, yes. But it is also my way of saving myself. At this point, I don’t think there is any other way to save me.
And, you know, all of these experiences, all of these decisions, have made me a terrible consumer. But I think, homelessness largely put me on this path. And I truly don’t think I would have found myself where I am now without first experiencing homelessness.