Reducing Homelessness Not a Priority to Majority of Mayors


US Mayors Claim Insufficient Funds Is the Primary Reason They Can’t Solve Homelessness

There is a tried-and-true statement that if you want to understand a society, you should look not to what the people at the top are treated to but rather to what the people at the bottom are treated like.

Here, in the United States of America, where the top 20% of earners spend double the national median household income, it’s difficult to focus past the towering luxury lofts and multimillion-dollar yachts to see the truth. Once you can do so, the harsh reality that hundreds of thousands of locals are so poverty-stricken that they live in roadside tents or underground sewer systems hits hard.

For better or worse, homelessness strikes approximately 2.5 million school children every year, not to mention the almost 600,000 adults who can be seen experiencing homelessness on any given night.

What is behind the ever-growing crisis of homelessness in America? If the media is trusted with the story, they will quickly turn to footage of Kensington Avenue in Philadelphia and blame the majority of the problem on the opioid crisis. This is duplicitous because it conveys a partial truth. Illegal drug addiction plays a secondary role in causing homelessness in reality.

If politicians are trusted with the story, they will zero in on secondary causes and temporary solutions, shifting their focus to the misleading notion that homeless people are “service-resistant” and that living on the streets is a conscious choice. In reality, temporary shelters do very little to end or even reduce homelessness as many of the people ushered into warming centers each winter will eventually be turned right back onto the streets, hence fueling a perpetual cycle of misery, not one of fulfilling base desires.

In a candid poll conducted by Boston University entitled “Mayors and America’s Homelessness Crisis,” city leaders revealed several shocking truths related to this ongoing dilemma. Perhaps the most telling one was this:

73% of US Mayors Perceived Themselves as ‘Highly Accountable for Addressing Homelessness’

When city leaders participating in the Menino Survey were asked what level of accountability they felt they had in addressing the growing countrywide crisis of homelessness, they claimed to be highly accountable.

Yet, even though they perceived themselves as acquiring a high level of responsibility in this regard, it doesn’t mean they felt prepared to make any actionable, positive changes. 60% of the mayors surveyed claimed they lacked resources and public support for the housing initiatives necessary to solve the issue. According to their testimonials, government funding was one of the top resources lacking.

More Money Can Solve the Homeless Problem, But Only If We Spend It Responsibly

As housing becomes increasingly less affordable, homelessness, of course, increases. From a technical standpoint, this is one social problem you could theoretically throw money at and make go away. The issue here is the money has to be spent on making housing affordable.

Right now, most of the money in the homeless sector is being spent on making homelessness illegal. From prison cells to pallet shelters and everything in between, finding boxes to put people who can’t afford housing in is not a solution. Arguably, it is the creation of a new problem. The new problem is just as expensive as the old problem.

Until now, politicians appeared to be willfully ignorant of this formidable truth. The BU pole, however, shows they are aware of the harmful effects of criminalizing homelessness.

Associate Professor Katherine Levine Einstein, who co-authored the survey, explained this with the following statement:

“…we, unfortunately, know that all too often when you bring the police into the picture, the possibility of [a] more punitive response comes into play. And I think the police would be the first to say that they’re not social policymakers or implementers. And so I think it creates real problems, the extent to which we’re relying on the police to implement our homelessness policy.”

75% of Mayors Surveyed Claimed Law Enforcement Had More Influence Over Policies Related to Homelessness than Homeless People Themselves Had

This report confirms that politicians act primarily on behalf of the people they represent in the polls. More than half of the participants said the general public expressed staunch opposition to the prospect of housing and shelter construction.

Preferring to cast negative opinions on the people experiencing homelessness instead of the policies that create the crisis is nothing new. The question is, where does the NIMBY-ism stem from?

According to the mayors taking part in this study, law enforcement officials represent a massive influence over public opinion. Their very presence in a homeless situation adds a perceived criminal element to the encounter. This distorts public perception, which, in turn, creates an aversion to policies that would protect homeless people instead of criminalizing them.

60% of the 126 Mayors Surveyed Are Not Actively Motivated to End or Even Reduce Homelessness

For the longest time, we have suspected that negative stereotypes surrounding homelessness create a stigma perpetuating the vicious cycle. This study serves as proof.

Due, in large part, to a lack of funding and general support for affordable housing policies, an astonishing 60% of mayors did not even have homelessness reduction as their definition of success in addressing the matter. Many of them were more concerned with reducing residential complaints.

As study co-author Einstein explained, for most Americans, the visibility of homelessness is all that matters. City leaders are merely acting per this sentiment.

Make Your Voice of Advocacy Louder than the Nimbys by Contacting Your Legislators Today

As we speak, policies are being passed to further criminalize people enduring the horror of living unhoused. NIMBY hate groups, and business owners are bombarding city officials with complaints that will worsen the crisis.

Now is the time to make your voice of advocacy louder than theirs. Contact your local legislators and let them know that whoever represents you should be drafting laws that make housing a human right for all.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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