MY HOME isn’t the best at keeping out outdoor temps. Yet even as I try to coax peak performance from its HVAC system in the worst of winter and summer, I remember people throughout my city who live in tents or have no shelter whatsoever.
I kick in my widow’s mite with every paycheck. It does only a little to assuage my awareness of how much more I could do. Yet the United States has the wealth to ensure the basics of Maslow’s Hierarchy for everyone within its borders. I would gladly pay the trifling tax increase to cover the cost. Better yet, the U.S. could cover the cost with no increase at all by building fewer bombers, subsidizing fewer oil companies, or loopholing fewer obscenely rich people out of paying their fair share.
Either way, it is immoral that anyone should go without shelter, food, and medical care in this land of excess.
“I don’t want to feed and shelter drug dealers,” one person argued. I get it. Trouble is, carving out even one exception opens the door to more exceptions. As recent history makes clear, it wouldn’t be long before proudly Christian politicians moved to exclude swaths of people they deemed unsavory, such as addicts, the LGBTQ+ community, undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants from the “wrong countries,” people who “need tough love not enabling,” members of the “wrong religion,” people who “just don’t want to work,” and more. I would rather risk feeding the scum of the earth, even in perpetuity, than trust anyone with deciding who does and who doesn’t get to eat or keep warm.
No one in this country should have to do without shelter, food, and medical care. No one.
* * *
Empathy and the unhoused
“Homeless” versus “unhoused”
Sometimes on our walks, my dogs and I pass a row of tents. It’s not unusual for the dogs to try to nose their way in.
“No,” I tell them, pulling gently back on the leash, “that’s someone’s home.”
A sidewalk tent may not seem like much of a home to some, and it is almost certainly illegally placed, but it is nonetheless someone’s home. That’s one reason I like referring to its occupants as “unhoused” rather than “homeless.” Another is that I find “unhoused ” more humanizing.
I don’t pretend to have a solution for helping the unhoused. But it’s not hard to recognize non-solutions. Take the city of Portland, Oregon, my home as of two years ago. Last week, The Oregonian reported, “In mid-October, the city of Portland removed more homeless encampments than at any point since the start of the pandemic, sweeping 87 in a single week.”
The unhoused are not debris. They are people.
A few lines later was this gem: “It’s unclear where the people who lived in those camps have gone.”
Thus the city’s “solution” becomes clear. The objective is not to help the unhoused. It is not to address causative, systemic factors. It is to move the unhoused out of one neighborhood’s sight and into another’s, and, when the second whines, to move them again.
Move the man who fell among thieves out of view, and the Good Samaritan need not haunt us.
The laziness myth
I bristle at the likes of “they’re lazy” and “they just don’t want to work.”
I’d be curious to know how the glib condemners eliminate other possibilities, such as catastrophic health events, job losses and other economic factors, accidents, provider deaths, legal machinations, mental illnesses, or convergences of miscellaneous bad luck, to name a few.
They’re lazy? Really? Being unhoused doesn’t resemble a lazy person’s paradise from where I’m standing. Imagine: living in a tent, under a viaduct, or in a park; digging through trash for food and clothing; suffering through constant exposure to weather extremes; getting along without indoor plumbing, therefore no toilet, washbasin or shower; living without heating or cooling; putting up with public scorn; having no access to health care; having no car; having no electricity; having no online devices or access; and more. I don’t know anyone who would choose that lifestyle at all, much less out of laziness. I, for one, am too lazy to attempt it.
Some unhoused are employed. In this country, employers are not required to pay a living wage. Holding a full-time job is no assurance of being able to rent, much less buy, a home. Think about that if you scorn the unhoused and oppose raising the minimum wage.
Imagine you’re an employer. Now stroll through an encampment or past unhoused persons roaming the street. Which ones would you hire? To do what? What’s that, you say? No one there you’d hire? Then maybe it’s not as simple as “They don’t want to work.”
The they’re lazy / they don’t want to work rhetoric serves only one purpose. It makes being unhoused a choice, a morally defective choice at that. Thus to help is to enable. What they need is tough love! That is how you turn “helping” into “not helping” and “not helping” into “helping.” It is how people feel righteous about reacting to the unhoused with scorn instead of empathy.
Victim-blaming, which this is, is nothing new. “They’re lazy” and “they don’t want to work” are victim-blaming dressed up in well-worn, hand-me-down clothes.
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... where I share thoughts about writing. I don’t consider myself a writing authority, but that doesn’t keep me from presuming to blog like one. Oh, and I reserve the right to digress when I feel like it.