Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Homelessness: Action or Complicity?


With the recent revelations that the homeless population in New York City is now at its greatest numbers since the Great Depression, we are again face to face with a public health crisis of astronomical proportions.

 While some pundits and politicians may argue that homeless people are in their current predicament due to laziness or some level of ineptitude for which they are solely responsible, housing advocates and poverty experts know that the fastest growing sub-group within the American homeless population is women and children. Yes, entire families face homelessness (as well as food insecurity) on a daily basis, and the numbers of homeless children is again on the rise.

In New York City, housing advocates demonstrate clearly that the relative cost of providing affordable housing subsidies for a homeless family is as much as one-third of the cost of housing a family in a city shelter. Still, the current mayor is ending housing subsidy programs that have allowed thousands of poor New Yorkers to have adequate affordable housing, even those with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
Here in northern New Mexico, homelessness is rampant, and non-profit agencies catering to homeless youth and families are overwhelmed by the numbers and the need. This is not unusual, and these catastrophic numbers are replicated around the country.
Health, Housing, and More
In thinking about homelessness, one can tend to understandably focus on the issue of shelter, which, by nature, is one of the basics central to human survival. Having said that, homelessness is a symptom of a more global situation wherein the individual or family in question is most likely simultaneously struggling to put food on the table, find adequate and weather-appropriate clothing, locate essential services, and find access to education and health care.
One can clearly deduce that a significant number of homeless children are behind in their education, potentially struggling with learning disabilities, lacking in terms of primary health care, and are very likely nutritionally deficient.

It is also easy to deduce that preventable diseases and chronic illnesses are more consistently untreated in homeless children and adults, and the societal and individual costs of these illnesses are catastrophic.
When it comes to homeless adults, it is also not a simple calculation of housing being the answer. Housing is indeed key, but training, employment, primary health care, education, and other needs are equally important to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as outlined by our “Founding Fathers”.
Housing as a Right
In many developed nations, housing is seen as a right, not a privilege, and here in the United States, there are many who still tend to view housing as a privilege to be earned through hard work and personal fortitude.
In light of the current (and apparently continuing) economic and housing crises, housing is one of the central keys to making sure that the vast majority of Americans are able to have adequate shelter, a need that provides security and a basis for the acquisition of education, employment, proper nutrition, and even preventive health care.
A homeless person or family subsists on a level that keeps them subjugated to the desperate search for the day-to-day necessities of shelter and food, often precluding the search for health care and education.
In my mind, there is no excuse for so many Americans---many of them women and children---to be suffering the indignities of homelessness and poverty while others reap the rewards of corporate malfeasance and nefariously nuanced economics. 
Action or Complicity? 
The homeless are no less deserving than the rest of us, and when we see that poverty-stricken individual or family on the sidewalk, we should always remember the age-old adage, “there but for the grace of God go I”. And once we think that thought, we should then be naturally called to inspired action rather than stunned into silent complicity.
                                                                                                                           
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