The only way to justify criminalizing homelessness is if you sell the idea that it is somehow a choice for the homeless person to be homeless. All around the country, this is happening.
People are criminalized for being too poor to afford housing. Yet our greed-driven society is responsible for pricing a significant number of sick, disabled, and older adults out of housing without care.
Disabled people, older adults, and people with young children are being forced to live on the streets or in tents or cars because of the housing crisis. Meanwhile, politicians are passing laws to consider these people criminals.
Since losing my last residence at the beginning of April 2017, I have watched the situation go from bad to worse to critical. We are at a point where this situation will not be fixed. Not now, not ever.
Criminalizing Homelessness Is Too Valuable to the Powers That Be
Private prisons rely on the labor of the incarcerated. There is profit in the modern prison system. By criminalizing homelessness, you also drive some people into the shelter system who had resisted it (often for a good reason). The shelters are paid for each head. There is profit in the shelter system and, therefore, less incentive to house those people.
There is no short-term profit in housing people. If you house a person and they get back on their feet, they may become a taxpayer working for a living, but that’s not a guarantee. And it’s less lucrative than tossing people into prison or a shelter.
Criminalization is profitable and has the added benefit of getting “unsightly” people off the street and out of the public eye. Since “out of sight, out of mind” is the actual goal, criminalization becomes an even easier decision.
So, what can an innocent person do?
Most of the people I’ve gotten to know who are in my shoes are either elderly or disabled, and none are drug addicts or alcoholics. They are either old or sick (or both) and cannot earn enough to live on.
In the case of seniors, during their lives, many of them weren’t able to earn enough to put money away. They lived “hand to mouth.”
Very few companies offer pension plans or any other retirement plans. So, when you are always broke, even while working more than full-time hours, tell me: how are you supposed to stash away money for retirement? If they are healthy enough to keep working, they might work until they die, having never retired. But what if they cannot?
I’ve heard it said that you can judge a society by how it treats its elders or the most vulnerable. This society is brutal and barbaric, lacking respect for elders and devaluing all but the wealthiest people.
Of course, none of this surprises me. Years ago, there was a show called “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” I remember my grandparents watching it, and it showed all these ridiculous houses and possessions of the wealthy. That was only one showcase of such living.
What about fiction? Shows from that period often centered around the wealthy. Dynasty, Dallas, even the daytime soaps (which to this day) feature super-wealthy families who solve everything on the fly with money as if it were no object.
The allure of this is obvious but also dangerous. We see today what it is to live in a society that worships the greediest people and devalues the hardest workers.
Most of us have no way to escape the spiral of homelessness and housing insecurity, and the situation worsens daily.
Once incarcerated, no matter how minor the offense, it becomes part of a person’s permanent record. The result is potential roadblocks to obtaining future work or housing. This alone should make lawmakers see the short-term “solution” of criminalizing homelessness as no solution.
I’m not talking about somebody who is committing crimes, such as selling drugs or weapons, and is homeless. I’m talking about women living alone in a vehicle or tent, priced out of housing, likely too sick to work, having no viable help or available handicapped accessible housing, and now being at risk of going to jail for it! What kind of barbaric, inhumane society would even consider a law like that?
It’s preposterous to think lawmakers actually consider proposals like the following: “Rather than help sick and disabled homeless people, let’s criminalize them. That will solve everything.”
Most humans are incredibly short-sighted. Even when warned repeatedly of the long-term consequences of their actions, they will ignore all.
Have people come together to make a profound and concerted effort to halt climate change? No.
Have they paused AI development to put safeguards and policies in place to protect humanity, even though warnings have been coming for decades? No.
Did they stop and think about how many generations of future people would live in a poisoned world when they decided nuclear bombs were a solution? No.
In countries where Housing First has proven an effective solution to homelessness, do you think American policy and lawmakers will examine that data and those models and then implement such a program?
No, that would be logical and humane. We certainly can’t have that now, can we (she says sarcastically)?
As I write this, I have no hope for or faith in anything ever improving, only in it all spiraling into depths of horror and despair. Most people look upon homeless people as little more than vermin.
Politicians have no interest in helping the disenfranchised, the poverty-stricken, and the non-taxpayers. Still, I wonder how many of them realize that the new face of homelessness isn’t the old stereotypes. In fact, many are the “working poor” who are paying taxes. Many of the current waves of homeless and housing-insecure individuals work full-time but come “home” to a vehicle and are lucky to keep that vehicle if they can.
Many people priced out of housing in 2023 never dreamed they would be at risk of becoming homeless, even a decade ago. It would have been unthinkable.
How many of those voting against housing and voting for criminalization are people who feel very secure that this could never happen to them?
What irony it would be if a climate, nuclear, or AI disaster were to happen soon, and those same people find themselves in a disastrous situation with no one willing to help them or their families. At the same time, multibillionaires eat caviar and relax in a luxury safe house somewhere.