BRINGING HOMELESS PEOPLE HOME
BY DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
If pious talkers actually practiced the love they so fervently preach, involuntary homelessness in our prosperous society would not exist.
If the ancient command, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, were extended to all humankind and actually practiced, involuntary poverty and homelessness would be eradicated in every neighborhood.
If the millions of Americans who profess faith had genuine faith, there would be no homelessness.
So let us be honest with ourselves: any truly faithful ‘fool’ would go out into the street right now and bring a homeless person home. And the most prudent faithful person would at least keep his family members or friends at home in the first place.
We are expected to lie in order to appear to be good, and to take care lest we offend someone’s religious faith or quasi-religious ideology. Nevertheless, if we really have faith in the power of truth, we should be honest from time to time, even if that means saying:
“I am a selfish person and I could really care less about homeless people except I’m afraid to be one. Maybe that’s why god put them there, to scare us.”
No doubt there are many charitable deeds being done by kind individuals and groups on a daily basis. Yet most of us are cultivated to be far more concerned about ourselves than about those who are much less fortunate, so why not just admit it? Indeed, the most honest approach for many of us would be to throw off the false political or religious piety and dispense with the pernicious propaganda, and state:
“I don’t give a damn about the homeless. Let someone else deal with them if they want to, but not on my nickel, or just let them die – the world is overpopulated with weak people, and they’re not my problem.”
Bookstores have many Self Help shelves filled with books, but nary a shelf labeled ‘Help Others’. Why would any red-blooded American individual trained in self-help voluntarily help the homeless? Apparently times have changed over the centuries in that regard: there was a pressing need for neighborly love in ancient civilizations although communities were much more closely knit than our own. Indeed, some historians believe civilization itself is based not on pseudo-Darwinian “survival of the fittest” or “might makes right”, but on protecting the weakest members of society – they believe the social and political status of women is a measure of civilization. Good Christians are credited with such an advance of civilization, but there are two sides to every coin, and for some people Christianity is a feel-good religious justification for exploiting one another, believing that if everyone is overcharged, somehow all will be enriched. Julian the Apostate complained about homelessness among Christians, whom he believed were selfish and anti-social and interested only in their own personal salvation, but he well noted and admired the lack of homelessness in Jewish communities – of course his flattery was in part due to the need for allies in the region.
A growing mass of people has subjected itself to the reign of greed and has contempt for the very idea of neighborly love and its “slave religion”, although many of them praise God in churches on Sunday. The idea of loving neighbors is repugnant to neighbors, particularly neighbors who prize the obsessive pursuit of private property. We are taught in the Great Nation of Ours to look out for Number One, to be Individualists; to replace war with political economics and compete in the latent-hostility business; we learn to love property and its abstract unit-of-exchange god at an early age.
Our friends and associates may run out on us when we run out of money and property. Our mates often flee as well. Many spouses and children are abused and even murdered when the little king of the castle loses the dignity of being able to support his family, and turns his self-contempt on his family members (when the conditions of unemployment were direst, during the Industrial Revolution, men occasionally murdered their families to save them from the degradation of life on the streets and in orphanages). And we should not forget how queens can drive kings to despair.
A current example of the worst effect homelessness might have on a fragile family was reported by the Associated Press and carried in Sunday papers on January 29, 2006 under the heading, Suicide rate escalates…. Hurricane Katrina threw Jerome Spears and his fiancée Rachel Harris out of New Orleans and therefore out of work:
“Spears shot his fiancée to death, severely wounded her 4-year-old son with a bullet to the back of the head, and then killed himself. The 5-month-old daughter, born amid the Katrina chaos, was unharmed but is now an orphan.”
Despite their compassion, the leadership has neglected the more vicious roots of the dominant political-economic ideology of the United States, the so-called ‘America Way’ of doing things, a way that includes, in South Miami Beach (2006) for example, hiring off-duty cops to kick down the apartment doors of tenants who cannot afford soaring rents elsewhere when their building is sold for conversion – some who were unable to come up with the equivalent of three-months high rent in advance for another apartment have been seen sleeping on the streets. In fact, the logical conclusion of the reign of greed exemplified by Miami will not be a pretty sight to behold; it can be foreseen now, for instance, sleeping in Washington Avenue doorways.
The moral and ethical negligence is not the sole fault of war mongering compassionate neoconservatives and economic-inequality Texanomics unleashed on the unwitting nation: it was merely business as usual after the neoconservatives upstaged the compassionate neoliberals, who were riding high during the Dot.com boom.
For instance, in the paradisiacal State of Hawaii – a state rated highly for its health, wealth and natural beauty, and highly ranked for its “meanness” to homeless people – soaring housing costs coupled with low wages were privately applauded for “keeping the riffraff out.” Of course high prices and low labor costs were publicly deplored. Naturally a great deal of profit can be had in the difference between income and costs; to lower costs even further, taxes were depicted as spoiler – eventually Democrats turned out to be Republicans in sheep’s clothing.
Stanley Hong, past president of the Chamber of Commerce of the State of Hawaii, wrote a succinct summary of the predominant political-economic perspective under the caption, ‘The Will To Change’ – his article appeared in the Chamber’s Small Business On The Move ’98. Mr. Hong reiterated the usual business refrain, advising everyone to “adjust” to his premise, that the following steps would somehow have a salutary effect on small business: downsize both government and business while decreasing the size of government in proportion to business, and, at the same time, privatize traditional government functions. This arrangement would naturally leave business in charge of society, steered by unelected captains. He offered as “scientific evidence” of probable salvation the report of a Mainland investment bank. He admitted that some opposition did exist to his premise, but neither stated nor answered its arguments, nor did he advise where the opposition’s views might be found in the glare of megamedia advertising conglomerations.
Mr. Hong spoke well for the consolidation of business and the further concentration of wealth and other forms of power into the gigantic facilities of the major vested interests, but the political-economic policies advocated are unfavorable to small business development, better government, and social well-being. Social workers Sylvia Yuen, Barbara DeBaryshe, and Ivette Rodgriquez Stern at the Center for the Family at the University of Hawaii at Manoa pointed out, in a 1997 two-page spread in the Honolulu Advertiser, the social consequences implied by the policies represented by Mr. Hong: family violence, homicide, suicide, physical illness, depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse, not to mention homelessness. The authors presented a bulleted list of how victims should behave in order to adjust to their circumstances; the suggested behavior did not include political protest and civil disobedience. The advice given is, in many respects, entirely laudable, but Hawaiians were left lamenting the day when humanism became a “science” of describing and conforming to the status quo and its prevalent ideology. Nowadays “bullets”, blank vestiges of the ability to judge and evaluate according to priorities, have replaced the numbering of How Tos.
We do have social welfare for needy people, but not nearly as much welfare we have to defend the interests of the upper middle and high class – high military expenditures are required to maintain their welfare. Voluntarily paying taxes for social welfare is a form of “loving” at long distance, albeit not as charitable as we would like to think; for many, “voluntary compliance” with the tax laws is hardly voluntary.
As for the elderly, now that the society is growing older and the young are called upon to support more and more elders, the ungrateful young want to dismantle the social security programs so they will not have to support those who provided them with their platform – the younger voters elect rich old politicians to break the word of Uncle Sam and cut the throats of the poor and elderly.
We vaguely recall one of Thomas Hardy’s novels: A scandalously unmarried couple and their children stick together through thick and thin: he finally gets a job; they get married; husband and wife come joyfully home and find the kids dead, hung by the neck by the eldest; a note is tacked to the wall: WE ARE TOO MANY. Well, in our faith-based Jonestownian utopia, what’s left of the Social Security Administration hands out suicide pills to the elderly with a note, YOU ARE TOO MANY.
The political drift to carelessness is not altogether hopeless. Notwithstanding the leadership’s successful efforts, based on the politics of fear, to cut poor programs and to widen the gap between rich and poor, increasing homelessness by 20%, economic plans that might alleviate poverty are still being proposed by a few politically perverse diehards in Congress. But alas, even if the motions were not tabled, the legislation might fail given the corrupted Congress.
Wherefore we had better take faith based charity seriously, and reconsider the ancient commandment to love our neighbors as well as ourselves – if the current bipartisan leadership’s economic inequality program continues apace, many unsuspecting hard workers might find themselves on the streets without a private place to eat, sleep, or relieve themselves. We might start by making sure that we treat our own families and friends well, and make sure they have homes. We might become better acquainted with the poor and needy in our own neighborhoods instead of fearing, hating, and even murdering them with baseball bats. It is all too brutishly human to abuse the “enemy”, those who exemplify our worst fears – of poverty, weakness, infirmity, old age hence death, and so on. Perhaps only the truer or “foolish” Christians will dare to invite vagrants into their homes even if they happen to be family members, thus putting their property and lives at risk. But a list of a thousand other good deeds to give the homeless a hand up if not a handout can be easily devised.
Instead of repeating hackneyed half-truths and relying on false justifications for not taking personal responsibility, everyone can do something here and now, no matter how little it may seem, to help homeless people.
If direct contact with indigent persons is unwanted, numerous personal steps can be taken to help or even confront persons who are experts in dealing with the various issues – including the under funding and incompetent administration of social programs. Even then, we should be aware that one of our biggest social problems today is that we do not have personal problems any more – we have impersonal “issues.” Rather than personally solving real problems with effective personal action, we convert them into “issues” to be impersonally discussed in committee and impersonally handled with absurd forms, and latex gloves if any action is finally taken. Rather than helping the homeless people in our neighborhoods with little acts, we prefer to appoint others to raise funds to further discuss the “issues” – we avoid personal involvement and delegate the decision-making to representatives, who, in turn, often have the problems inadequately addressed, even if they are not wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Our representatives, including those involved in privatized charity programs, are sometimes too eager to prostitute themselves to organized greed. In politics, all sorts of specious arguments are made to justify the sociopathic tendency of large campaign contributors, including those who believe a political right to a job for those who cannot otherwise find one would destroy the American Way. When food and shelter is provided and numerous homeless people show up, the charity, the food and shelter provided, is declared to be the very cause of homelessness. Governmental and quasi-governmental agencies assisting the unemployed, poor, and downtrodden victims of abuse often do not cooperate or give people a hand up once they are designated “homeless”; public officials and private officers insist they do not have authority to assist homeless people, or that simply is not their job.
Relatively comfortable people, seeing the bottom rising as they are pushed down, will clamor for reform, playing into the hands of vested interests who would reduce them to penury as well if there were a profit in it. The beggar’s plea, “It could happen to you,” is true. Even then few people will care, for the cult of greed and gilded individualism has managed to thoroughly stigmatize vulnerable people, laying personal blame on them for not succeeding in the competitive war of all against all for the most money and stuff it can buy. And will the poor revolt? That is not likely, not in the absence of a small terrorist minority: human beings are resilient and will withstand terrible conditions, often because they fear losing what little they might have left. But their will be some revolt in the form of lesser crimes against the state than revolution.
There were too many to sweep under the rug, to hold in costly and ineffective institutions. Faith-based charity, given faith as we know it, does not work either. Now the visibility of homelessness in our neighborhoods demonstrates the personal-salvation selfishness at the core of bad faith, which is atheism, a contempt for humankind exceeding that of the fallen angel.
Yes, the primary objective was once to keep the real problem, the failure of society, out of sight; and to that end the police force, courts, prisons, and mental hospitals were ultimately indispensable. After all, the police power’s prime directive is to shield the power elite, among whom we find many decent men and women, who, besides paying taxes, voluntarily invest considerable personal time along with billions of dollars in social programs to help needy people overseas. Still, we cannot help but notice that many powerful people who profess faith and love and charity would be in prison if equality under the law prevailed instead of inequality under wealthy men. Mind you, however, that we should not be too hasty to condemn our idols, those whom we secretly and even openly emulate as we capitulate to the petty private capitalist within each of us, whose two-faced god is the bookends at each end of M-C-M. And the deleterious results of this lopsided formula will be rubbed in our faces, for “they are too many” to keep out of sight.
The government or any other abstract entity cannot solve our social and personal problems; only persons can restore a healthy balance to our social life. A person is a dynamic relationship of the individual or living unit, whose essence is the will to persist, and the community of individuals, who need each other for self-preservation, and who together, in moving conflict and consensus, constitute the social persona, each persona having its variations according to its perception and will. Now too many of us protest against the “liberal” or social side of the personal coin. Too many of us piously and unwittingly preach the half-truth dogma of the cult of gilded individualism, the popular political religion. It is a religion of materialism and atheism disguised by religious professions and political cults, often by those who protest the salvation-effect of Good Works and rely, instead, on the Anything Goes Faith of Feel Good Religion – the Christians call it ‘hypocrisy.’ It is a total denial of the natural world including society, a denial that issues a license to destroy the world and each other for a fleeting profit in the mere name of love. The mission heaps up individual gains while selfishly counting on individual salvation in a nebulous hereafter.
All persons who truly care about others and therefore themselves, whose faith is life and not death, will do something every month without fail to help those homeless people who want assistance and are willing to accept it. Again, a thousand good deeds can be done, or 999 deeds short of actually bringing homeless people into your own home.
irishma416: This is well written and well thought out. I checked disagree because I think there are other ways to help besides bringing a stranger into my home. I do donate quite a bit of my time, money, and as many material products as I can to shelters and other donation points. I don’t have the room to have someone move in with me and frankly don’t think I’d risk my family to do so. Perhaps I read you wrong on that point. * Bobbie
tjodray: You know how I feel about this issue my friend. Very well done!
aardy: Of course time. money, and materials donated will be very helpful.
boykev: hmmm. New York before Rudy…New York WITH Rudy…I’ll stick with Rudy. It’s much cleaner now.
white_lace: awesome writing, and hitting it right where it is.
derwriter: I have learned first-hand what it is like to be homeless. In our case, I simply did not have enough money to go around, and once it happens, it takes a great deal of perseverance and refusal to become embarrassed over the situation to get past it. Another of my life-changing teachings. Don’t think I will write to Hillary, however, about any of it. I consider her to the Black Queen.
andyk: The ambivalence and insensitivity towards the homeless, as you so eloquently point out in this article, is the largest contributing factor in our seeming inability to stem the tide of people being forced onto our nation’s streets. Whoever knows anyone that is living from paycheck to paycheck in this country, including themselves, must recognize that this crisis not only affects them on a societal level, but on a clearly personal one, as well. I hope that well-written and informed articles such as this, will serve to open people’s eyes and hearts to this ever-increasing problem.
rorajoey: I’m not surprised that homelessness is an increasing problem, with the price of homes (and everything else!) going up so high. When did society first begin to willingly put themselves into debt for 5 years to buy a vehicle, or for 30 years to buy a home? And what happens when our employer “downsizes” or declares bankruptcy, or simply decides we’re no longer fit for employment? I’m saddened by the fact that, in spite of our increasing population, an exponentially decreasing percentage thereof can actually hope to realize “the American dream,” no matter how hard they work.
dcoyote: Welfare is not dedicated to the eradication of poverty, nor are government agencies that ‘deal’ with the homeless. Every one of those ‘agencies’ are devoted to expanding their budgets and even further entrenching their civil service jobs. Can anyone seriously tell me that welfare workers are trying to put themselves out of work? ‘The system’ is designed to survive. The entire system is “tax welfare”.
mareeroe: I’m not from your Country but homelessness is a problem in our Capital City too. I drive every morning through an area where there are homeless people in doorways and on sidewalks near a homeless shelter and a mental home. I don’t do anything except wonder how can they live like that, pity them, and think to myself that they are mostly drug or alcohol dependent or mental patients. Some of them scare me but you have made me think.
jmk444: One area in which I appear to disagree with you is over your inference that people “selfishly” going about their business (working to take care of their families) are somehow directly or indirectly responsible for the homelessness of others. I don’t believe that is in any way the case. //// There are indeed many causes of homelessness (various mental illnesses, substance abuse, etc) – skilled, ambitious people who merely lose their jobs can usually find another. Are there are unfortunates who get burned out of their homes or lose their source of income in a strange city – these are the easiest ones to help and the ones most likely to get out of this predicament fastest. The idea of taking an alcoholic, a drug abuser, or someone with mental health problems into our homes is an unrealistic one. All of these people need help, not merely love. They need specialized medical care that can only be administered in an institution. //// Fine writing despite our differences of opinion.
homelost: Perhaps “mental illness” as officially defined may run as high as 2/3 of a homeless population in JMK’s neighborhood, where residents are known to exaggerate statistics to justify their callousness; however, recent studies indicate that the overall fraction is about 1/4. In any case, when speaking of mental illness, we should keep in mind that, although there are some seriously ill people out there who require professional care in institutions, nosology or diagnostic definitions are produced by the psychiatric industry, which is supported by the government; nosology is in fact a method often used to define people in order to control them, in order to imprison them in institutions instead of taking them home. Yes, there is drug and alcohol abuse; however, there is a high incidence of that in the population who have homes (pity the man with a $500 monthly bar tab is afraid a wino might have a drink at the public expense!) And, we should not forget that around 38% of homeless people do have jobs. To view information about the homeless including statistics, go to the National Coalition for the Homeless’ site: nch.ari.net
victorbuhagiar: Once I was Malta’s representative on the FAO in Rome. Everyone agreed people needed help. Action: NIL. I was relieved when the Government appointed someone else.
aardy: The inference referred to by my friend jmk444 is his, not mine. And there is some unavoidable truth to it.
erinys: There are several problems that bleed into the “homelessness issue”. One is that everywhere in North America, mental health facilities are under funded and neglected. (This is especially true in the United States, where the military industrial complex demands an unbelievably huge share of the taxpayer’s pie…) A great many people become homeless after being turned out of hospitals, live-in clinics, and halfway houses. These places are constantly being closed or downsized for lack of funding–even when the inmates are blatantly unable to function normally and take care of themselves. Can we take these people into our homes? Don’t be absurd! The average citizen, no matter how compassionate and well meaning, cannot possibly care for a mentally ill person in his or her home: we don’t have the time, the medication, or the training. It would be stupid and dangerous for all concerned. Of course, not all the homeless are mentally ill; there are other homelessness-related problems. Drug and alcohol abuse cannot be discounted–this is the sort of personal problem that keeps people out of faith-based shelters, very often, and also keeps them from being able to bootstrap themselves out of homelessness. Again, it isn’t the private citizen’s job to take a drunk or a drug addict into his home: it’s dangerous and stupid for all concerned. Let’s face it: junkies and drunks are not trustworthy houseguests. They’re liable to steal from you or harm your family; it’s not your moral obligation to give them the chance to harm you. In the United States, of course, there are a lot of other problems which are far less common in Canada…especially with the working poor, who are often forced to live out of their cars because they can’t find safe or affordable shelter. Decent, safe, low-income housing is in EXTREMELY short supply in the USA! Housing projects in America are a very low priority. They are deliberately built in the places where real estate values are lowest, and then they’re poorly maintained, badly policed and always over-crowded. You build a housing project in America, you instantly create a slum within a slum! And even given how depressing, unhygienic and violent these places often are, many people would be grateful for a chance to live there: they can’t find a spot. There’s not enough room in those slums–much as someone might like to spend a pitiful paycheck from a bad service job on rent, they simply don’t get the chance! In Canada, by contrast–most particularly in Vancouver, BC, where I’ve been living for the last five years–low-income housing projects are a big priority. Not only do they build a lot of them, but the buildings are attractive, well maintained, and scattered throughout the city in a wide variety of neighborhoods. They are not isolated in the poorest areas or segregated by race, their denizens deliberately kept far away from a proper police presence, decent schools or public parks: on the contrary, they’re often built in extremely desirable locations. The nearest to me personally is within a stone’s throw of one of the most beautiful green areas in the city, Queen Elizabeth Park, and the surrounding neighborhood is full of upper-middle-class homes and rolling green lawns. A poor person can live there with a little dignity and maybe even a glimmer of hope for the future.
aardy: A woman gave up her inexpensive rented house here and moved in with her boyfriend, at his behest, along with her furniture. She was in an accident and could not return to work. Her boyfriend, a wealthy man, kicked her out of the apartment because he was seeing other women. She was flat broke. She wanted to commit suicide, but was worried about her dog. She called her hairdresser to ask her to care for her dog. The hairdresser took both of them in.
trinity: I think the biggest thing is fear – everyone knows it could be them – there is a serious problem with our Mental Health policies and there is a sense of apathy from everyone on that issue..
comebackkenny: When asked, some homeless people admit that they want to be left alone, free food and free clothes. They do not want responsibility, to pay taxes, bathe, or be told where to sleep. One such homeless was thrown out of a public library for odor problems sued the city for $40,000 and won. He is still there.
sekhmet: One of my very best friends, who now works for the screen actors guild in recruiting, was also homeless. He still *serves* (operative word) the homeless. Maybe we should look at helping other people as serving them – then maybe there might be a bit more compassion in the world. Well written, my friend.
tuggy: I almost ended up on the streets with my illness(physical) and no family support. A couple of times I had to go to shelters.
aardy: I was homeless three times in my life, once for two years. Believe me, the “homeless people want to be homeless” excuse does not wash with me, though there are some who prefer it.
christine doiron: I agree with what you say about most of the “faithful” not actually being faithful, but just kidding themselves. However, it would be irresponsible to bring any stranger into our home off the street. I wouldn’t do this any more than I would pick up a hitchhiker, or walk through Central Park at 2am.
aardy: The second time I was homeless was after I was robbed in a hotel room where I was staying over night. I had flown into town with my whole savings in cash, and planned on renting a place the next day. So I was on the street. Alan and Karen, two complete strangers, took me into their luxury condominium, because they overheard me telling my story. They were writers. We wrote a script for Hawaii Five-O. After I got on my feet and got an apartment, they came and asked me to move back in with them.
moongazer: Well written and thought provoking.
moviegeek: Good article.. though the title could use some re-wording — my first thought seeing it was that someone was being satirical, the idea of “blowing away” the homeless 😉
blutwilight: Well written! I’ve known a few people who would have been homeless without the help of their friends and family. I wrote a story about one of these people. Some people I’ve known had drug problems while others had mental problems. Some children I’ve cared for and taken in alot because they didn’t have food, electricity, etc in their home. I used to see a ‘bag woman’ every morning on my way to work. One day I left her a whole bag of food to put in her cart she pushed around. She ran away from it. I hope she went back after I left though. She changed her route after that and I didn’t see her anymore. Once a man knocked on the door of where I was working and told me he was hungry and needed money. I told him I didn’t have any money and I gave him my lunch I had made for me that day. I went out about an hr later and he had thrown my lunch on the ground without touching it. So many different types of homeless people. Sometimes it’s hard to know which ones really need help, but we can do our small part in our little corner of the world.
cathy: very well written, and unfortunately alot of truth here. I think the people who are so comfortable, and smug in their lives don’t realize how quickly it can disappear. Many hardworking families are one paycheck away from the streets.
aardy: My first experience with homelessness was when I ran away from an abusive home at age 12. I wound up on the streets of a town in the Midwest. I was starving. The Indians on the street helped me get a job with a wrecking crew; based on that job promise, the Indians helped me get a meal card at a restaurant and one-week’s credit at a flop-house (one wall of my “room” was taped together newspaper comics). A few weeks later I was stopped by the police at midnight while walking back to the hotel from a second job I got carting cement around to construct a grain silo. I showed them my father’s ID which I had taken with me; they did not fall for it as he was three times my age. Hence back home until the time I ran away for good.
andre: Well said. Though politicians won’t do much. The homeless are an insignificant voting constituency. The letter should be sent to ALL senators. It’s not just a New York problem .What can i do?
WhatCanIDo?: Alot of homeless people have mental illnesses. They need professional help, too bad no one in their right minds would want to take this matter in their own hands. Especially with children. If they ever legalize bud, there would be enough jobs to seriously reduce homeless people, and give them a job.
witchhazelnut: sad, really…I work in social services and the gov’t barely pays US a living wage, so you know they’ll never fund the homeless issues..
aardy: Only once was I harmed by taking in a homeless person; ironically, I became homeless for a few days as a consequence. See my essay “Being Rolled” for my account of that incident as well as a fuller account of the incident above.
tinakrause: Excellent points here, and an excellent article. Makes one definately think.
aardy: I accept the National Coalition’s definition of homelessness. As I said above, I was once homeless for 2 years: I lived on the streets of Chicago from a bit over age 13 to almost 16–I had no permanent shelter and often slept in parks, libraries, subways, bus depots and train stations. although someone occasionally took me in. I wonder if anyone would be so charitable to accept that as a fair definition of homeless, or does one have to be over 18?
helgar: Awesome, articulate and powerful article. Thanks for raising consciousness about this complex problem. I admit to being of two minds when I run into it, far too frequently, here in Toronto. I will be disposed to be more helpful and less judgmental, in future. Homelessness is a disgrace to the neighborhood!