More and more people call the streets home
July 19, 2012
OPINION By NOOZHAWK COLUMNIST KEN WILLIAMS
Still again, harsh voices are raised against those who find the streets home. For some, there is an underlying assumption that the poor are, at best, a nuisance, and at worst, a threat. Certain people view those without homes outside of any historical, political or economic context. [Noozhawk]
Here are some basic truths. We are in the fourth year of the Great Recession, the deepest and longest economic contraction since the Great Depression. Millions of Americans have been without work for years, and millions more barely scrape by with part-time, low-paying jobs. And millions have seen their economic well-being wiped out — personal wealth obliterated, and their retirement savings and plans disappear.
We cannot overlook this most important of facts. Some seem to think that jobs are plentiful and only the lazy lack work. This, of course, is a great disservice, and an even greater insult to those unemployed and underemployed who bare not only the financial but also the psychological scars of this great failure of our economic system.
Millions of our fellow citizens lost their homes during the past four years. Federal funding for affordable and/or subsidized housing has been decimated during the past 20 years. So-called “welfare reform” has denied economic help to hundreds of thousands of families across the land when “term limits” were applied to the poor. Fifteen million children — more than 20 percent — live in poverty.
Do most locals know that the welfare benefit level for single adults (general relief) has been frozen for more than 20 years? Have rents? Fuel? Food or clothing? Can you imagine trying to exist on what your income was 20 years ago? Also, during this time, the stock of low-income rooms available to the poor — both working and unemployed — have seen a radical reduction. Seven low-income hotels with hundreds of beds that used to provide housing have either gone out of business or were converted to upscale tourist hotels. When the poor, who no longer have access to housing, turn up at homeless shelters, they and the shelters are scapegoated like it is their fault.
The societal infrastructure of our country — commonly referred to as the “safety net” — has been decimated. And still some cry for even more cuts as if hunger and homelessness are the only motivations that the poor understand.
One only has to look at the scandalous treatment of the mentally ill and veterans of our society’s addiction to war to see this lack of services to those who go without. Even after having worked the streets of our city for more than 30 years, I am still shocked, dismayed and extremely saddened when I walk down State Street and witness what the failure of our mental health delivery system for the homeless mentally ill means: an open air asylum. The other high-volume treatment center is the jail.
It seems that the best we can do is to criminalize a sickness and make criminals out of the afflicted. Perhaps we can employ this creative strategy next with diabetics, people afflicted with cancer or the blind. It makes as much sense.
And then there is the morality of treating a vulnerable group in such a callous and inhumane fashion. Let us break out of the “politically correct” paradigm of seeing the homeless as all being one. It may make us feel more comfortable with our prejudices, but it isn’t real.
Read the remainder of this editorial at Noozhawk.com.