What if I told you we could end homelessness, solve world hunger, and break the endless cycles of global poverty? What if I said you’ve been lied to? That we’re not overcrowded or under-resourced? In truth, here on planet Earth, we have enough. All we’d have to do to fix the scales of justice is give some people some things for free. Would you do it, or would you turn away?
Let’s talk candidly about homelessness. How does it happen, and why haven’t we been able to fix it? Your senses (and the media) will tell you it’s complicated. There are so many different pathways into it and so many different bridges we need to build out of it. Wouldn’t we all love to believe this? Unfortunately, it simply isn’t true.
Yes, homeless people fall into this circumstance in a myriad of different ways. There are all different kinds of homelessness – mobile homelessness, street homelessness, hidden homelessness, and the list goes on. It is true that some (although certainly not most) homeless people are battling an addiction or a physical or mental health disability. It is also true that most people who are homeless wound up this way due to a lack of affordable housing.
But here’s the kicker. There is a common denominator despite all these varying circumstances. There is one thing that 100% of homeless people need to end their homelessness. In case you haven’t guessed, that one thing is a home.
Do we have enough of them? Yes, we do. In fact, we have so many houses that we could, theoretically, give every single homeless person in the United States 33 residential properties.
Instead, we choose to let these homes remain vacant eyesores taking up space and polluting the air. So, on the one hand, we have homelessness, a growing problem that has unleashed itself as a full-blown crisis. On the other, we have a 7.2% increase in vacant housing units.
In response, I pose the question: how important is it to us that we don’t see anyone get anything for free, ever?
The pandemic has done much to open our eyes to how quickly infectious diseases can spread through unhoused communities. When this situation posed a grave threat to everyone’s health, we opened our minds and hearts to innovative solutions like housing people in hotel rooms rather than stuffing them into overcrowded shelters.
Now that the general public’s health does not appear to be immediately threatened, we are asking members of the homeless community to hurry up and return those hotel keys. Never mind that health disparities within the homeless population overburden our hospitals and healthcare centers with or without a pandemic. Disregard the fact that Medieval plagues are experiencing an underreported revival due to the congested conditions of homeless encampments.
How important is it to us that we don’t see anyone get anything for free, ever?
The adverse effects of homelessness are endless and certainly not confined to individuals. Homelessness places economic hardship on whole communities, giving way to all of the following societal ills:
As Homeward Bound explains, homeless people “generate expense, rather than income, for the community.”
From this perspective, it becomes clear that our greed is essentially the root of our poverty.
Again, I must ask, how important is it to us that we don’t see anyone get anything for free, ever?
Homelessness is a human tragedy, but it has huge environmental implications. The National Low Income Housing Coalition concludes that homelessness, and even more specifically, the criminalization of homelessness, is connected to grave environmental injustice. Some of the environmental hazards associated with it include:
It is true that by denying our neighbors the most basic of human needs, we are poisoning our water supply and exposing our entire planet to unprecedented environmental hazards. Is it any wonder that California, a state notorious for homelessness, is literally on fire? Have you ever wondered why the air in New York City is so polluted it has claimed 3,000 lives?
Ending homelessness would do amazing things for our environmental footprint, making a massive dent in the climate crisis.
The next time you see a public park brimming with tents and harboring homeless people’s belongings, look inward. We are paying a huge price by refusing to solve this crisis with the easiest, most readily available, most cost-effective solution, which is to give every homeless person a home.
Contact your legislators and tell them that housing must be a human right in 2021.
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