One popular view has it that the homeless problem is caused by a lack of jobs. I don’t agree. I think that it is our fears that make us so ineffective in dealing with the homeless, our fears that we might wind up homeless too if we lose our jobs. It is a major role of government to ease fears of citizens. So far, governmental bodies, private agencies and the citizenry have been squabbling ineffectively without making any changes that would remove citizens’ fears of homelessness. Such inaction keeps our fears alive and the homeless problem unsolved.
The homeless problem is aided and abetted by those of us with apartments or homes. The inhumanity of not providing shelter for our citizens is obvious. Why do we put up with it? It is essential that this shelter provides three things: warmth, dryness and safety. Yet we are squabbling over down-the-road items such as whether drugs/ alcohol, joblessness, or failed families are the root cause. The root cause is not relevant for people who presently are cold, wet and in danger of being mugged. We must provide the opportunity for shelter first. Solutions are not that difficult, but they involve allowing housing in NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) locations, and small rooms that don’t meet minimum size requirements of local building codes.
Our society traditionally had shacks on the edge of town. With our building codes we have eliminated most of these shacks and placed their occupants on the streets. We cannot afford to solve all their problems or to provide spacious housing. Two-way construction is one solution, providing the homeless with small rooms that could be converted back and forth between use as housing and use as storage during times of less homelessness. Many homeless people rent storage spaces today. We can afford to provide small, warm, dry, and safe housing for every person who wants it. If we did, this would enable perhaps 40% of today’s homeless to solve their other problems themselves at no further cost to society. It is up to us to tell the homeless advocates, our NIMBY neighbors, the building code legislators, and the idealists who want each homeless person in a spacious apartment, “Quit bickering and solve the problem effectively, humanely. Start doing it now.”The possibility of homelessness is leading many of us to (1) unhappy compromises of integrity concerning work, (2) lying and cheating behavior and (3) a wealth of fear. All three of these contribute strongly to the climate of violence, not just out there in the streets but in our homes as we teach our children to be fearful and unethical.
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