When I was a kid, I didn’t understand the complexities of homelessness.
I just assumed that homeless people were all lazy and irresponsible. It couldn’t be that hard to get a job and take care of yourself, right? When you’re young, life is simple like that. No one ever explicitly told me this, but it was just a general understanding. Either you work hard and have a nice life, or you’re careless and end up homeless.
Being born and raised in Las Vegas, you’re surrounded by wealth and reminded of poverty constantly. When you’re driving down the Strip, it’s hard to imagine that just a few miles away, people were living in worn-down tents and sleeping on scalding sidewalks.
It didn’t make sense.
As I got older, the black and white method of childhood thinking became a multitude of grays, and I began to have a grasp on the issue.
When I was 15, my dad and I went on vacation to San Diego, California. One of the nights we were there, the two of us went to a gas station that was near our hotel and bought apples, bananas, individually wrapped sandwiches, and bottles of water. We walked around for a couple of hours, handing them out to the homeless people that lined the San Diego streets.
I’ll never forget that night. I’m not bringing this up so I can get brownie points for helping people out. I’m saying this because that night after we went back to the hotel- I was disgusted. Disgusted that so many people could be sleeping on the street, and no one was helping them. I was discouraged as well because I knew 15-year-old me couldn’t pass out food to everyone or give them all a place to stay. I knew homeless people existed before then, obviously, but it’s easy to put blinders on and go through your day to day and not think about them. I haven’t had those blinders on since.
Again, I saw two sides of the same city. The same city with stunning beaches, great nightlife, and a fantastic food scene had people crammed underneath bridges trying to survive another day.
Las Vegas is only one example of a glaring duality many metropolitan cities across the world are facing: constant urban innovation while purposefully ignoring the epidemic of homelessness.
The issue with homelessness is not the individuals that are homeless, its the lack of empathy and understanding from people that are not.
The stereotype of the typical homeless person is a lazy, alcoholic/drug addict that has no drive in life. Even if that was true of all homeless people (which it isn’t), does that mean they don’t deserve empathy? Not having a place to sleep that is safe from the elements should not be a punishment for “unsavory” life choices.
Societies would instead erect structures using ‘hostile architecture’ to prevent homeless people from sleeping or camping out there rather than helping them out. Such as:
Raised Grate Covers
All of these ‘innovations’ are telling all the homeless people in the area: “screw you.” This is a global problem as well, not just in the United States. Homelessness is not a naturally invisible epidemic, we have edited the landscape to make homeless people invisible.
Homeless people are not the problem. Homelessness is.
Who are the people included in the homeless population?
Mentally ill individuals whose family cannot afford care or who have no family to speak of.
and so many more.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness has a ton of information on the subject, including racial and gender demographics of homelessness. According to them, a total of 552,830 [American] people were experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2018. It’s a somber gathering of info but gives you an idea of the scope of the problem.
The reasoning behind mass homelessness is always structural. The most successful trope ever conjured about homelessness is that homelessness is always brought on by the individual. Anecdotally, sure, but when millions and millions of people are in poverty and/or homeless? Absolutely not.
Again, even IF they were homeless because of their own choices, so what? To say someone doesn’t ‘deserve’ healthy food, clean water, efficient healthcare, and safe housing because they ‘didn’t work for it’ or have ‘made bad decisions’ is absurd.
Even Alcatraz abided by that mantra.
Why is the response to homeless people that of hostility and disdain instead of compassion? The demonization of the poor.
In April of 2019, Tucker Carlson said during a segment on his Fox News show:
“California’s poor, meandering, trash-filled streets right in the middle of the city, block after block. Homelessness encampments on the sidewalks blanketing downtown LA.”
“They weren’t clustered along a single road either, it wasn’t just like skid row, it was like many skid rows. We drove down three completely different blocks and the encampments just continued. It’s America’s second-largest city.”
“LA’s a sanctuary city in a sanctuary state.” “Every politician there with any ambition will denounce our border as an atrocity and immigration enforcement as an abomination.”
Ignoring Tucker’s reptilian reasoning skills and racism, he sounds annoyed. How dare these people cluster up on these LA’s city streets? How dare they be visibly homeless?
Homelessness is not merely an inconvenience other people have to ‘deal’ with. Human beings are affected by this. Millions of them. And we should all care.
So what happens now? What are the solutions to this?
According to the Congressional Budget Office on the Trump tax cuts of 2017:
“On the basis of estimates prepared by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) for that analysis, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the combined effect of the change in net federal revenues and spending would be to increase deficits allocated to all income groups of tax-filing units in 2019, 2021, 2023, and 2025. In 2027, that combined effect would decrease deficits allocated to lower-income tax-filing units and increase deficits allocated to higher-income tax-filing units.”
That is legal speak for: “These tax cuts heavily favor the rich and severely punish the poor.” The taxation of the rich has been on a decline in America since 1963, with a 91% tax rate. As of 2018, the rich pay 37% of America’s taxes. After 1981 (when Reagan took office) taxes on the rich saw a deep decline. It is evident that during times of a prosperous America that the rich carry the weight of taxes. If we were to increase the taxation of the rich to 70%-85% and remove the burden from low-income people, the economy would prosper. If millionaires and billionaires around the world were taxed at rates above 65% and that money went into community enrichment programs & welfare? That’s one way to shrink the homeless population.
Raising the minimum wage?
Focusing on America here, the current minimum wage in 2019 is $7.25. Seven dollars and 25 cents for one entire hour of labor. Washington, DC, currently has the highest minimum wage of $14 an hour, but that is still not enough. 2009 was the last time the minimum wage was raised. It went from a measly $6.55 per hour to a-still-measly $7.25 an hour. Before 2007, the minimum wage had been stagnant at $5.15 per hour for ten years.
The term minimum wage has lost its luster.
“Minimum wage” is not a synonym for “How little can I pay people and get away with it.” A minimum wage is how much someone can make and still have money for their needs meaning food, water, clothes, housing, and some spending money. America is very much into the demonization of the poor, and with that comes the idea that people that work minimum wage jobs do not deserve to live comfortably. This idea is violently classist and punishes people based on how much they make, not their worth as a person.
With that being said, keeping inflation in mind, the federal minimum wage should be between $25 — $40 an hour. It seems like a lot, sure, but when there are CEOs of multi-billion dollar companies having pay gaps between themselves and the average worker larger than 1,000 to 1? $25 is child’s play. Who is paying for all this? CEOs take dramatic pay cuts, the U.S. institutes a wealth cap, and the rich pay the most taxes, which are then reinvested into the majority.
Millions of people are one unforeseen event away from homelessness. This is a bigger problem than many people think. Empathy is key here. Showing that you care goes a long way. Even if you can’t enact systemic change, giving money, food, water, coats, blankets, or sanitary products would help someone out there enormously.