Myth #2: The unconscionable number of homeless people on America’s streets is due to the conscious choices of the homeless themselves; in other words, the homeless choose the streets.
In our last transmission we saw that the entitlements we hear so much about are meager and no longer reducing poverty – even among the working poor. Those who qualify are kept ignorant of their benefits and refused them when they do apply. Those lucky few who get legal help and are approved to receive them often find it difficult to even pay rent…anywhere. Ask the next man, woman, or child living on your town’s avenues and boulevards who begs for your small change: I’ll bet they know at least one homeless person who gets some form of welfare (and, as we saw, since 1996 that increasingly consists solely of Social Security and Food Stamps).
Another thing people believe is that the poor (and, specifically, the homeless) somehow prefer their deprivation, are at fault for it, or choose to live under overpasses and bridges(for more, see: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/why.html). This is like believing that cancer patients choose their tumors. Only through a complete lack of empathy and compassion can someone honestly believe this. When your beliefs reduce your compassion towards others – and especially those different from you – then they make you less human. If they compel you to actually harm others, then no reasonable person would consider them valid…that’s why we codify prohibitions against ‘hate crimes‘ (as they are euphemistically called now). The belief that the homeless choose their plight is just as harmful to society as the belief that if you kill lots of innocent people whose faith differs from yours you will be rewarded in another world (think 9/11). Without this economic prejudice not only would there be no homeless Americans, but society as a whole would need far fewer (more expensive) prisons (http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/criminalization.html) and emergency rooms ( see: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/health.html) . The incidence of hate crimes against the homeless (see: http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/hatecrimes_factsheets/index.html ) would no doubt diminish if more Americans felt empathy towards them, instead of blaming them. There are many countries where homelessness is much worse than it is in America. The UN Center on Human Settlements estimates 1 billion people worldwide live without adequate housing (see: http://www.ehow.com/about_4578842_global-homelessness.html ). But most of these countries are considered poor or ‘third-world’ nations. Shouldn’t we be comparing ourselves to other ‘advanced’ nations? In the United States (according to HUD ‘s 2008 reported Estimate of Sheltered Homeless Persons during a One-Year Period, October 2006 to September 2007, about 1,589,000 persons used an emergency shelter and/or transitional housing during the 12-month period – about 1 in every 200 persons in the United States was in a homeless facility in that time period. (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homelessness) In the United Kingdom in one year (2005): 10,459 rough sleepers, 98,750 households in temporary accommodation (Department for Communities and Local Government 2005). The population of the United Kingdom was only 60 million in 2005, but that still makes their rate of homelessness only about 1 in 6,000 (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/5281360.stm). And their Gross Domestic Product that year was only $2,231,895,064,576, while ours was $12,397,900,201,984 (see: http://www.geohive.com/charts/ec_gdp1.aspx). To paraphrase one of our current President’s best lines: that’s not class warfare, it’s math – and it’s wrong. Blaming homeless Americans for their state can’t change the facts. At this time of year people seem to feel compelled to practice random acts of kindness, and that’s truly wonderful. But that twenty dollars you give to the first homeless American you meet on Christmas Eve won’t improve their lives for long, and on December 26th they’ll see you again, on your way to work, and you will most likely pass them without a glance. Charity alone will never eliminate homelessness in America, that’s the government’s job (and has been since about 1932 – see: any article about FDR, the Great Depression, or the New Deal). We should however remember that although charity begins at home it shouldn’t end there, too. Every little bit helps.
- 10 Myths About Poverty in America (Part One) (ghostlizard.wordpress.com)
- VIDEO: America’s homeless families seek shelter (bbc.co.uk)
- 70,000 Children Will Wake up Homeless on Christmas Day (ibtimes.com)