By Valerie Rice | October 22, 2020
I read a local news story about a small brushfire that had broken out in an empty field behind a grocery store. The amount of hate in the comments was appalling. Why, you ask? The field wasn’t empty; it is a homeless camp. One that police have been “fighting” to clear for months. As if the homeless are an invading army and not members of our society, or some insidious enemy to destroy. This sickens me to my core. There are so many people who have an “Us vs. Them” or a dehumanizing view of homeless individuals that I fear for the lives, and rightfully so, of these individuals. I also realize that the police department is not the appropriate agency to be dealing with this population. So I have decided to provide you, my readers, with some insight and a closer look at these hate comments and the misinformation that leads to them.
WHY DO WE HAVE SO MANY HOMELESS?
This is a complex question with many answers. Like any societal problem, there is not a simple solution. But I will do my best to outline the basics. The first problem we have is that the cost of living has increased dramatically compared to our wages. People tend to think of our economy in terms of our stock market, but this does not reflect how the average wage earner is doing. Very few people actually play the stock market game in real life, especially now that the middle class is shrinking.
- LOW WAGES
- HIGH COST OF LIVING
- LIMITED SOCIAL SUPPORTS
- UNTREATED MENTAL ILLNESS
- DISCRIMINATORY HOUSING POLICIES
The real indication is not even in our unemployment rate, which only shows how many people apply for unemployment benefits, which not everyone qualifies for. For a more realistic picture of how we are doing, look at the percentage of people who are on food stamps, WIC, utilizing food banks, and underinsured. THAT will tell you just how difficult it is to get by. Another problem is mental illness. Like the which came first conundrum, it doesn’t matter which came first, because one begets the other. It is a vicious cycle, especially in terms of depression, substance abuse, and anxiety. Another reason is renting and housing qualifications. These are very often discriminatory or difficult to attain for the average worker, young people, or families. Have you ever lost a job? Tons of people, especially during the pandemic, have. Losing your job often leads to eviction, which makes you no longer eligible to rent or own a home.
IGNORANCE IN THE COMMENTS
Let’s look at some of those comments, shall we? “If people stopped giving them money, they would go somewhere else” J.L – Facebook. Well, sorry J.L., that is not how it works. In fact,many homeless people have money, they just are not allowed, or do not have enough, to get their own home. There is also the problem of home availability Not every community has enough homes for their population. I used to live in Boise, Idaho. I was homeless. Why? Housing crisis! The city had more households than houses, and even the homeless shelters had waiting lists. Additionally, these people have nowhere else to go. And why should they? They are members of your community. “The bottom feeding, homeless scum, strike again.” M.K – Facebook. Okay, really? Many homeless people have jobs, so “scum” is a little harsh; and they only eat from the bottom because they have no way to store and prepare food. So yes, the rotten and moldy food handed out in soup kitchens IS bottom feeding, but oftentimes the only option. “They need fire to light their joints” N.L.- Facebook Uh huh, and so do you. The vast majority of people in Colorado smoke pot, for both medicinal and recreational reasons.. What’s your point? It is one of our largest industries. It is completely unrelated to housing status.
A LITTLE TRUTH
Being homeless is expensive. Yeah, it is. So I told you a lot of these people work, sometimes more than one job. They pay their taxes just like everybody else, and are spat upon by the majority of society. But they are members of society just like everybody else. Did you know that it costs $3 every time you need a shower? Yes, it’s true, unless you are lucky enough to have access to a shelter with shower accessibility. You can pay the YMCA for each member of your family. For me it was $18 a day to get everyone washed up at the Y.
Did you know you have to pay every time you need to use the bathroom? Also true, because businesses have no public restrooms, so you have to become a paying customer. If they will let you. They have the right to refuse service to anyone, and looking homeless means you are probably going to be denied service. This is not just for stores, but public spaces, like libraries. You can get ticketed for sitting on a park bench. It’s called loitering, even though that’s what the park and benches are for, most people don’t like the look of homeless people so you have to keep moving. If you want to wash your clothes, you have to buy your laundry soap every time you wash. Which is expensive. Those convenience sizes cost a ton over time.
But you have no way to store your possessions, so you have to cut back on what you can carry. Which reminds me….you get robbed. A lot. And so you constantly have to buy clothes, shoes, toiletries, and replace medications. It is incredibly dangerous, and not just because of the people. You are more likely to die from exposure, dehydration, and untreated illness.
Look, there is a lot that goes into being homeless, and I have yet to meet a person who actually wanted to be in that position. It truly is a sickness of society, and only through a social effort can we cure it. We DO NOT need police, we need social supports, higher wages, and housing regulations. We DO NOT need rampant ignorance and judgement. Hard work on the part of the homeless is not enough to solve the problem. That is a myth perpetuated by certain groups who do not feel like lending a helping hand. In fact, the harder you work the worse you are treated, in my experience, and the less your wage. So maybe, JUST MAYBE, we can erase the stigma, advocate for our marginalized members of society, and improve the lives of everyone.