Why People in Positions of Power Choose Homelessness

BY Cynthia Griffith

|

Housing advocate Ben Miksch made the following thought-provoking comment on Twitter:

“People are right that homelessness is absolutely a choice. But the common mistake is not realizing that it’s a choice made by policymakers, not the people deprived of housing. It’s a choice made by those in power.”

This is an essential and often-overlooked detail in the struggle to end homelessness. The above-listed statement makes two claims:

First, people deprived of housing are not choosing to live that way out of defiance or personal failure. Secondly, people in positions of power are forcing this lifestyle on everyday citizens.

Here are some stats that support these claims.

The Leading Causes of Homelessness Stem from Political Policies, not Personal Choices

As you are likely aware, the top four leading causes of homelessness (lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, and low wages) result from policy flaws, not personal failures. In case this matter is unclear, here’s a breakdown explaining why:

Lack of affordable housing is a problem rooted in national infrastructure. 

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the United States is currently short about 7.2 million affordable homes. Forbes explains that the supply will never adequately meet demand at the current production pace, which is about 110,000 affordable units per year. 

When you adjust these estimates to coincide with zoning restrictions, land regulations, racism in the housing market as a byproduct of redlining, and a withering middle-class fading into the background of America, it’s clear to see that one lone individual could never solve this issue.

This makes it a flawed policy, not a personal choice. Every time a luxury high rise goes up in a place where an affordable home could have been, people in positions of power are choosing homelessness.

Unemployment

In the wake of the international COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people are out of a job. Unemployment rates are inching down, but that’s of little comfort to the 9.7 million currently unemployed Americans. Most of them were already living paycheck to paycheck when the national economy experienced a major shutdown.

According to The Balance, cyclical, structural, and frictional causes all play a pivotal role in the nation’s dwindling workforce. Reasons for unemployment range from technological advancements that replace employees with machines to outsourcing and low consumer demand. Even in situations where workers are voluntarily leaving the workforce (see The Great Resignation for more on this topic), they are doing so because they’re not being paid a living wage. Incidentally, this is number four on our list.

The current state of unemployment is evidence of a whole host of flawed policies, not personal choices. So, every time you see a toll booth operated by a robot or a manufacturer moving jobs out of the country under the NAFTA agreement, know that people in positions of power are choosing homelessness.

Poverty

We live in an alleged capitalistic society, which means poverty looks like a choice. It isn’t. Anthony P. Carnevale of the Georgetown Research Center on Education and the Workforce says his study shows that “to succeed in America, it’s better to be born rich than smart.”

His intense academic study, Born to Win, Schooled to Lose, used data collected from approximately 3 million households via the US Census Bureau and two other separate data collecting agencies and examined socioeconomic class analysis over multiple years. In his words, what was uncovered was the following disheartening truth:

“The most talented disadvantaged children have a lower chance of academic and early career success than the least talented affluent children.”

As you can see, poverty is not a personal failure but a policy flaw. This means every time a five-year-old child is named as a defendant in an eviction case or a new law is introduced to criminalize the poor, people in positions of power are, yet again, choosing homelessness.

Low Wages

Wages have remained devastatingly stagnant for four decades consecutively. Is this a reflection of poor work ethic?

Some claim we’re just a lazy generation. Statistics, however, are fickle things as the numbers simply don’t lie. According to the Washington Post and a study released by the Economic Policy Institute, “political decisions by elected officials are largely responsible for a collapse in pay for the bottom 90 percent of the labor market since 1979.”

Now, with housing prices and inflation rates vastly outpacing employment compensation, it’s clear that the housing crisis and the homeless crisis are not the results of individual flaws. They are a massive failure of public policy, falling like a house of cards. Every time you see a dilapidated building a few feet away from a homeless encampment, remember that this is further evidence that people in positions of power are choosing homelessness.

Individual Examples of Politicians Acting in Favor of Themselves at the Expense of the Homeless Community

In response to international health and economic emergency, the US government approved a jaw-dropping $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance funding. This would have been great if it had reached the people who needed it in time to save them from eviction. Sadly, when summer came to a close, approximately 89% of those funds had still not been distributed.

Today, minimal reporting is done on the subject, despite millions of Americans being at risk of eviction. This is one example where literally every political player from coast to coast and nationwide chose homelessness – for you, for me, for whoever happened to fall into the boiling vat of despair.

On a more hyperlocal level, there are abundant examples of politicians who could have acted in the best interest of the homeless community doing the exact opposite. Here are a few:

In October of 2021, Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom could have passed the first-ever piece of legislation that would have made medical care available to California’s massive unhoused population. The bill, entitled AB369, could have saved thousands of lives and millions of tax dollars, freeing up emergency rooms and preventing premature deaths. He vetoed it instead, unofficially signing the death warrants of thousands of unhoused community members.

Why do people in power choose homelessness?

In Austin, 2021, Governor Greg Abbott re-instated a public anti-camping ban that would criminalize the approximately 3,000 people regionally experiencing homelessness, making it illegal for them to engage in life-sustaining activities in public space.

Why do people in power choose homelessness?

In King County, Seattle, less than 1% of the 1,300 housing vouchers given as federal aid have been distributed to people in need. Political figureheads here continue to pass the blame from the state to the system, from the system to the strategy, until blurred lines give way to bureaucratic red tape.

Why do people in power choose homelessness?

With billions of dollars in funding available, millions are used to criminalize homelessness or lock it away in a jail cell or a metal shack the size of a jail cell. Take your pick.

Why do people in power choose homelessness?

People in Positions of Power Choose Homelessness because Voters Tell them To Do So

You probably thought this was a rhetorical question. In reality, there is a clear answer. Every time the general public is given a choice to provide free housing to those who need it, they scoff at the idea. When a tent encampment rises, it meets its match with a choir of opposition. When a new study proves that homelessness has more to do with poverty than drug addiction, there’s someone online who wants to rework the numbers. 

Yes, the negative portrayal of homelessness plays a part in distorting public opinion. However, the voters decide at the end of the day.

Sadly, the overwhelming majority of voters are not saying, “build affordable homes for our neighbors without walls.”

They are saying, “get these people off my lawn and out of my sight.”

Politicians are merely responding in kind, in favor of their own interests.

Homelessness has an image problem. Be a part of the solution. Contact your legislators today and demand safe, affordable housing available for all.


Cynthia Griffith

     

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

Related Topics

Awareness

Your support can create amazing change

Join the campaign to end homelessness by supporting the only newsroom focused solely on the topic of homelessness. Our original reporting — posted five to seven days a week — can also be found on Apple News and Google News. Through storytelling, education, news, and advocacy, we are changing the narrative on homelessness.

Invisible People is a nonprofit organization. We rely on the support of friends like you — people who understand that well-written, carefully researched stories can change minds about this issue. And that’s what leads to true transformation and policy change. Our writers have their fingers on the pulse of homeless communities. Many are formerly or currently homeless themselves. They are the real experts, passionate about ending homelessness. Your support helps us tell the true story of this crisis and solutions that will end it. Your donations help make history by telling the real story of homelessness to inspire tangible actions to end it.

Your donation, big or small, will help bring real change.

DONATE NOW


Disqus Comments Loading...