I want to start out by saying that I understand the frustration a lot of communities feel when it comes to the homeless, on both sides of the issue. I also want to state that there are a ton of questions and issues surrounding the homeless and I don’t think I have a single answer to any of them. It’s a big problem and generally speaking, I’m a very small minded kind of guy. So please keep that in mind as you read this.
In practicality, I understand your frustration with homeless camps. That said, in spirit, I agree with johnnyFive’s sentiment that this is unjust. For the record, I was the one that tagged this #humanrights. In fact, I tag every article I see about the homeless that, because I believe that the struggles that they face are very much a human rights issue. It is my opinion that every person has the right to physical and emotional security, food in their bellies, and a safe place to lay their head down to sleep. I don’t think any honest and good hearted person would argue otherwise.
The homeless in general and homeless camps and tent cities in particular create some real concerns. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. However, I am of the opinion that criminalizing homelessness and aspects of homelessness will not fix the issue. Sooner or later, they’re going to run out of places to go. Worse yet, it’s going to make their already difficult lives that much harder. The homeless are at high risk of being victims of crimes ranging from theft to rape to murder and they’re at higher risk of catching infectious diseases and normal health problems getting worse because they don’t have access to adequate health care. All of that is awful and once again, I don’t think any good person would argue otherwise.
I honestly think tackling some of the causes of homelessness and creating legislation focused around that would do much more good, if not in the short term, in the long term. Mental health and substance abuse is very common among the homeless (in fact, if I remember right, the homeless population took a jump after all of the mental health hospitals closed down in the ‘80s). I think looking at embracing social programs around affordable mental health care and realistic drug treatments would help. What they’d look like? I don’t know.
Affordable housing is another core cause of homelessness. Around the same time that all of the mental health institutions were shutting down, SRO’s started disappearing. I’ve been told that this trend was a huge contributing factor to the growth in the homeless population. How significant of a factor, I don’t know, because I’m not an expert on homelessness. The fact is though, housing of all kinds gets more and more expensive every single year and if you don’t have the money, you’re gonna get evicted or the bank is gonna take your house. The people at the bottom of the social ladder, who lack safety nets, tend to get hit first and hit hardest and they often have nowhere to go.
Homeless people, due to mental health issues, lack of decent education, past criminal records, and so on and so forth often can’t find and/or keep quality, stable work. I could go on and on and on, but I don’t know what else to say. All of these issues are just so intertwined it’s like the majority of these people are in the middle of a massive knot and while people can point to various strings and say “Yup, that’s a problem” very few people are pointing at the knot and saying “Let’s figure out a way to untangle this.”
Criminalizing homelessness? It’s another string on a knot that has way too many already. Like I said, I don’t know how to address this problem. I do think though, that maybe adding another string doesn’t help.