Homelessness Is a Systemic Problem, not a Lifestyle Choice

Homlessness Is a Systemic Problem

Recently, I found myself among a group of upper and middle level managers from an internationally known Fortune 500 Company. Somehow our conversation drifted away from business and the topic of homelessness came up.

I was utterly shocked, but ultimately not surprised to learn the men and women I found myself sitting with, in that plush and well-appointed board room, actually believed homelessness in the United States has nothing to do with society, and everything to do with the mistakes and failings of individuals.

They believed that homelessness, incarceration, addiction, poverty and a whole range of multi-pronged issues were not the result of failed systems but instead the logical and anticipated result of lifestyle choices taken by those simply lacking the mental and moral fortitude to know better.

As someone coming from a social work background, this was not the first time I found my view points at odds with those of my colleagues in the business world.

Nonetheless, this conversation, forever etched in my mind, simply serves to reinforce my central premise about homelessness in the United States: we all come from different backgrounds, have different opportunities and ultimately different experiences as U.S. citizens.

Homelessness Is Driven by Inequality

For some, homelessness is only something that happens to those people. You know, people not like me, not like us, or our family. Other people.

Others like myself are able to see themselves in the other. If certain things had gone differently in my life, I know I might not have enjoyed the same relative safety and security. I know that I am no better than those that are homeless. I know that on any given day, I could lose it all and find myself struggling to survive.

Not everyone sees homelessness in this way and that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their own perspective. However, I hope that those who view homelessness as a choice consider the following:

The U.S. is the wealthiest, most powerful economy in the world. Despite this, wealth inequality has grown at an exponential rate for decades. Our system of unbridled capitalism has created the perfect conditions for inequality.

Homelessness is a reflection of the values at the core of our society.

No One Should Be Homeless in the United States

Under our current system, there is not equal access to education, medical care, safety or security. Instead, some members of our society have to work much, much harder to attain the same benefits enjoyed by other demographics.

While it is possible to become socially mobile and to make more of oneself than their parents or other relatives, it is extremely challenging and perhaps even impossible for someone born into poverty to achieve the same levels of opportunity as those born into the wealthiest and most opportune of circumstances.

Homelessness is not the result of individual choice but instead of the complete failure of systems driving our modern society. Instead of choosing to ensure all members of our society have equal access to the benefits enjoyed by the few, we have enshrined a system which rewards greed and barbarism.

Driven by inequality, a myriad of interlocking systems are causing homelessness.

Conditions Perpetuating Homelessness (three very broad categories)

  • Income-related issues including low income, unemployment and precarious employment, and limited income opportunities due to low education and skills
  • Lack of supports and services including those geared towards addressing such problems as ill health, mental illness, substance abuse, and social isolation from family and friends
  • Those related to housing factors including eviction, and vulnerability due to living in crowded and/or unaffordable housing

By offering all citizens equal access to the means of mitigating the above mentioned conditions, homelessness would be eradicated. This is achievable within this lifetime. It would require an elevation of compassion at the expense of reducing systems promoting greed and inequality.

There is exorbitant wealth, excess and waste at the core of the United States capitalist system. It is always challenging to discuss improving the conditions for one segment of society without mentioning taking something away from another. But we don’t need to take anything away; rather we need to make better use of what we already have.

True equality on a national and international level will transform human societies and create a paradise on Earth.

The Future Is Bright

As a nation we stand on the precipice of greatness. The only thing holding us back is the system of inequality. It is what makes it so hard for members of our society to achieve the same success as others. We need to create a more just and equitable future for all citizens in the United States.

While we cannot change the past or escape the conditions which brought us to the present moment, the future is ours to design. It is essential we address the issues leading to societal problems such as homelessness.

Join me today in the fight to end homelessness in the United States. The future is bright when we work towards shared goals benefiting all members of our society. Together we can ensure no citizen experiences homelessness ever again.

John Heinz

John Heinz


John Heinz is a masters level social worker, educator and writer who helps businesses to remember the communities they serve.

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