Homelessness is not a crime

By Harry Shelton

November 19, 2018

It is easier to become homeless than you’d imagine. It can take just a couple of difficult moments; you get let go from a job at the time your landlord sells the apartment in which you live and without a job, you don’t get another rental. Abracadabra, homeless.

It is considerably harder to move in the other direction

The visibility of homeless people in our cities has increased in recent years. Most towns now have more people on the streets than we have seen before and they come in all shapes, sizes, and ages.

There is a lack of real information about what people can really do. We are given contradictory messages; don’t give to the individual person it does not help the problem, do help the individual. Homeless people choose to be homeless – though I suspect that people who say that have never spent a night on the street.

Shelters

The response has long been a homeless person can go to a shelter and if they don’t it is because they are a drug user.

It is not true that all drug users are homeless, neither is the reverse true. But some people do try and avoid shelters for reasons of personal safety, perhaps wanting to avoid the violence that can flare in a moment, or the need to be constantly on guard to avoid being taken advantage of.

Some choose to avoid the smell and perhaps the rules which are instituted by a well-meaning religious association.

The approaches to dealing with homelessness

The basics are the most essential: Somewhere to eat, to get clean, to get clean clothes, some personal space and some safety. Homeless people especially long-term ones are unable to break the cycle because they cannot get the basics and without those, there is no prospect of a job.

San Francisco which has a marked discrepancy between the have’s of Silicon Valley and the have-nots has embarked on a huge program recently. Getting people off the streets and then into affordable housing has been the cornerstone of their plan. But what makes it different is their watchword is persistence.

They deal with each homeless person as an individual and identify a person to help get them off the streets. It is necessarily a slow process, but it has been shown to work even with people who have been homeless for years.

New York City has recently constructed a shelter which has over 100 units of affordable housing in the building as well. Commentators note that it is a step forward, but also identify a risk of ghettoizing the homeless and therefore deepening the issue.

What we can be sure of is the problem is not going to go away and as central government moves increasingly away from compassionately based assistance, the problem is only going to escalate.

The number of people who are officially homeless has risen since 2016 and is going to continue to do so. We need to find a collective answer.

About Harry Shelton