Living Amongst America’s Homeless published in 2018 by Perry Castillo, is a blog post about homelessness and the best way to find effective solutions to extreme poverty and homelessness. I am mentioned in the discussion under the blog post:
“One thing I’ve noticed in the past two years of living indoors is that I am far from being the only ex-homeless person who is airing their views on the matter. I’ve tuned in especially to Ms. Adora Myers, whose recommendations on this pinned Quora post seem to me to be well worth considering, as well as is the detail with which she answered an offensive question without bothering to dignify it: https://www.quora.com/Should-homeless-people-be-rounded-up-and-forced-into-work-camps.”
Thank you Perry Castillo for the compliment and the link to my Quora posting!
If you are trying to help someone facing a serious financial crisis and potential homelessness, then this is the place to begin. This is part 3 in the 3 part series- how to help someone facing homelessness.
This information is divided into three presentations: Part 1 – What to do Part 2 – What not to do Part 3 – Seriously, just DON’T do this
This third presentation assumes the following: You already know the person surviving homelessness or the person trying to survive homelessness is not exhibiting behaviors that are dangerous to themselves or others.
Identifying dangerous behaviors means you have directly witnessed or experienced violent or dangerous actions taken by a specific person. This entire presentation focuses on the terrible things people do when they act on prejudices, stereotypes and gossip. Do not be that person.
By the same token, anyone who has survived the trauma of homelessness will tell you that it’s dangerous out there and a lot of predators hover around the homeless community because they know they can do pretty much anything they want to homeless people without consequence. When dealing with strangers, keep your prejudices in check and your street smarts turned on. If you don’t have street smarts then find a buddy with experience enough to keep both of you safe.
If you can’t find a buddy and you don’t have reliable street smarts – or if you’re unable or unwilling to keep your prejudices under control – then just walk away. Leave the people surviving extreme poverty and homelessness alone and keep your judgmental comments to yourself.
This third presentation – Seriously just don’t – contains a lot of fire imagery, which is appropriately symbolic. Doing any of these things is akin to finding someone desperately in need of help and choosing to douse them in gasoline and light a match.
We’ll begin with simple verbal abuse – It’s amazing what people feel compelled to say when they find out a person is either facing the possibility of homelessness or actively surviving homelessness. All of the following examples are pulled from my own experience – this is not a compete list.
This is based on the idea that some people deserve to be poor or are inherently different from the so-called ‘good people’ born into a higher financial class. This ridiculous and offensive belief that poor people are biologically suited to poverty generates backhanded compliments like this one!
I’m glad this happened to you and not me because you’ve been homeless before, so you know how to handle it.
Poor people are being punished by god and community – that’s why you’re poor. If you’d been good, you wouldn’t be poor! This nonsensical belief comes out in fun comments like these.
I don’t have that problem.
You must have done something wrong.
There must be something wrong with you.
People who believe the stereotype that casts all poor people as sneaky, manipulative, moochers will say things like this. Particularly if they are those special members of the upper class who like to keep a ‘poor friend’ in their circle for bragging rights or entertainment purposes. Confiding in a ‘friend’ like that about a current financial crisis will invariable produce a comment like this one.
I knew this was going to happen. My family told me you couldn’t handle living right. I knew you would be coming around asking for money. I never should have made friends with…one of you.
People who believe poverty only happens to people who are mentally ill or addicted to something, love to recommend ‘getting help’ without knowing anything about the person or their situation. Side note – Mental health isn’t free. A person who can’t afford a place to live isn’t going to have money for therapy. Regardless, the stereotype generates comments such as…
I know a great therapist. I’m sure they can help you address the real problem.
Extreme poverty is just a budgeting issue – who comes up with these things? Recommending a budgeting class to poor people is like telling a starving person to go on a diet. Yes, homeless industry professionals habitually say this:
Have you considered taking a budgeting class?
Our services require completing a budgeting class.
Everyone knows that having money automatically makes you more intelligent, better educated and more polite. Proponents of these opinions can’t help but be openly surprised by someone they thought was a peer turning out to be ‘one of them!’ Saying things things like…
I thought you said you had a college degree.
But you seem so smart.
But you seem so nice.
Where to begin? It is annoyingly common to hear homeless industry professionals and government workers saying this. There are quite a few stereotypes and prejudices tied up into these comments. Poor women are sexually loose, can’t maintain a relationship or are poor because they had children or were simply to ugly or stupid to land a rich man. Leading them to confront women with questions like…
Where’s your man?
What kind of a woman are you if you can’t even land a man who can pay your bills?
Please pay attention. Most homeless people HAVE jobs. The vast majority of those who don’t have jobs are trying to find work that pays a living wage. Actually, those that HAVE work are often trying to find another job – that pays a living wage. Asking Have you tried getting a job? Only proves you don’t know what you’re talking about.
Have you tried getting a job?
Variations of this can crop up among religious people of all kinds, but the ‘negative energy’ concern is most often used as an excuse to ostracize someone in the new age, pagan, feminist or womanist communities. Basically, you’re bringing uncomfortable truths into their daily lives and they aren’t allowing it. ‘Energy’ has nothing to do with it.
Your energy is really negative. I just can’t have that in my space.
I am a very sensitive empath and I have to protect my space.
Until you get rid of this negative energy, you’re just going to have to keep your distance.
Surviving homelessness means living in a state of ostracism. It’s an unfortunate and highly traumatizing fact.
The most common and vicious attacks against people dealing with a crisis, homelessness included, come in the form of backstabbing gossip.
Gossip never dies. When I was a kid, my family went to public places and collected recycling to help cover the bills. We also pulled things out of the garbage, cleaned them up and sold them at flea markets for the same reason. I personally have had co-workers triumphantly throw in my face the fact that I was one of those ‘trash kids’ and then proceed to make sure everyone else knew what I ‘really am’, which actually created some hostile work environments.
During the years that I followed the standard employment advice to keep my experiences with poverty quiet, this happened multiple times – and I mean 10, 20 even 30 years after the fact. I discovered that posting details about my experiences surviving poverty to my blog and online forums about homelessness lessened the power of this kind of gossip, but it did not eliminate the issue – And I am not unique. This is a sadly common problem.
Outing homeless people – what does that mean?
When the general public hears the word ‘homeless’ they usually think of the ‘visible homeless. These are the people who are begging on street corners, clearly intoxicated or severely mentally ill. This is actually a very small percentage of total homeless population in any area. The vast majority of people surviving homelessness are indistinguishable from anyone else on the street. They are parents with children, single adults, teenagers and kids trying to survive the streets entirely alone. They’re invisible because they go out of their way to hide their circumstances and just blend in.
In many cases this invisibility is an important protection from predators or thieves and a key part of their strategy to escape homelessness. It’s incredibly common for employers to fire employees for being homeless or refuse to hire new employees after they discover the candidate is homeless. Therefore, secrecy is very important.
The people who are notorious for outing homeless people are 1) volunteers at homeless shelters, soup kitchens or food banks; 2) members of religious organizations that provide benefits to people surviving poverty, homeless or not, and 3) librarians at the local public library.
It takes a very small number of vicious gossips to effectively destroy the efforts of a large number of homeless people just trying to get back on their feet.
The moment a family member or friend is surviving homelessness, someone will make it their mission to disclose every secret or embarrassing detail they know. Often, they will follow these betrayals with musings about how much they regret ‘trusting or ‘believing’ or ‘being friends with’ someone who is now homeless because – obviously – something must be wrong with THEM. This is cruel. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s just plain cruel.
Defamation is a legal term so let’s take a look at the definition.
Defamation: The oral or written communication of a false statement about another that unjustly harms their reputation and usually constitutes a tort or crime.
The key element is the false statement – lies, insinuations and exaggerations – that harms a person’s reputation. Outing a specific individual as someone who has survived homelessness and then suggesting that certain stereotypes, such as 1) mental illness, 2) addiction, or 3) criminal behavior are true for that person BECAUSE – and only because – they were homeless…that is defamation. It’s illegal.
Quick bit of trivia: “The first use of the phrase ‘blacklist was in the 1639 tragedy “The Unnatural Combat” by Philip Massinger.
A blacklist is a list of people who have been who are punished or boycotted. It’s unethical, at best. In the United States blacklisting is also illegal in some states – under certain circumstances. The reality is that this happens to everyone experiencing homelessness – because they are homeless – the reasons behind their current crisis are often irrelevant.
From the moment a person becomes homeless they will find themselves blacklisted by people they trust Friends, family and members of the community they previously participated in. This is part of the ostracism and dehumanization process. The blacklisting itself usually manifests in the person trying to survive homelessness being cut out of family gatherings, blocked from community events, and isolated from everyone.
As people talk and it becomes clear family and friends are spreading the word that this person is homeless and warning people against interacting with or assisting this person – intentionally or not. Others will take it a step further and start cutting the person off. Landlords will refuse to consider renting to homeless people. Some businesses will start following the person around and accusing them of shoplifting, provide a noticeably bad haircut or sell them food that has been tampered with.
This can spread to the services provided by the homeless industry, medical professionals, and similar services. As people talk a person can get labeled as ‘underserving’ and when those rumors reach the individuals controlling access to gov’t benefits and non-profit resources, it can influence their decisions and actions, effectively cutting the person off from what little social safety net currently exists.
God blocking refers to clergy or lay members of a religious organization blocking people from participating in religious services, taking volunteer positions within the organization or socially ostracizing a person for ‘religious reasons.’ Usually, the people doing the god-blocking will justify their actions with theories about how they are doing ‘what God wants.’
That brings us to the end of Part 3 – Seriously, Just DON’T when helping someone facing homelessness. Please check out parts 1 and 2 and, as always, thank you for listening.
If you are trying to help someone facing a serious financial crisis and potential homelessness, then this is the place to begin. This is part 2 in the 3 part series- how to help someone facing homelessness. This information is divided into three presentations:
Part 1 – What to do Part 2 – What not to do Part 3 – Seriously, just DON’T do this
This second presentation reviews common actions taken by those who claim to be helping people surviving homelessness. Some really believe they ARE helping. Just to be clear, none of these things are helpful. Most make the situation worse.
Platitudes. When a person is facing a crisis, the only thing they should be focused on is securing real, practical help. Responding to their concerns, fears and requests for help with platitudes like ‘it will all work out,’ ‘god has a plan’ and ‘think positive’ isn’t particularly helpful. Before you speak, stop and think: who are you trying to comfort – the person in crisis or YOURSELF?
Accusations. The widespread stereotypes that try to fault poor people for the existence of poverty has created a deeply embedded culture of blame. Surviving poverty, homeless or not, means dealing with a steady stream of accusations – most of which have no basis in reality.
Looking for ways to make poor people feel guilty about being poor is common among volunteers and professionals within the poverty and homeless industry. Some admit to (or even brag about) the behavior while insisting it’s ‘for their own good’ because that is what ‘motivates people to change.’ It’s an activity tied to the highly illogical belief that ‘poor people just need to stop being poor.’ While this accusation allows the accuser to feel superior it does nothing to help alleviate poverty.
It’s common for volunteers and poverty industry professionals to keep tabs on homeless people within their programs. This often includes using a gossip network to watch all purchases made at local stores and businesses. Simply walking into a tavern to use the bathroom or buy dinner can quickly escalate into accusations of drinking and alcoholism. This is tied to stereotypes about poor people being drug addicts, lazy and irresponsible.
Shopping for supplies at the local department or grocery store can result in a lecture about budgeting or buying things the family doesn’t need – in the opinion of strangers. A parent who purchases a few balloons and a present for a child’s birthday may find themselves being lectured like a teenager who stayed out too late on a school night. And, yes, poor families are reminded that birthdays are a luxury – basically, poor kids don’t deserve parties. All of this is tied to the stereotypical belief that poor people are inherently stupid, uneducated, immature and irresponsible.
Minimize The Pain. Trying to downplay the severity of the circumstances is not helpful. Yes, it really is that bad. Stop a moment and ask yourself, are you trying to make them feel better or are you trying to make YOURSELF fell better? Learn to accept the discomfort because this reality isn’t going to change overnight.
Religion. The way people use and approach religion is a huge problem within the homeless industry. It will be explored in more depth during a future video. For now, remember this much à If hearing that someone is dealing with a serious crisis, like homelessness, immediately sends you into a flurry of Bible quotes and time-to-convert-the-sinner behaviors – stop. Just stop and walk away.
Now that you’ve taken a step back try – really TRY – to understand that poor people are NOT being punished by god. They are dealing with a very physical, social – secular – problem. If a person surviving homelessness or poverty specifically ASKS you to pray with them, or talk religion or study a holy book, then AND ONLY THEN is it appropriate to do so. Leave the preaching for church. If you’re committed to helping someone trying to survive homelessness, then you have to respect their boundaries and their beliefs. If you are unable to do that, then you need to find a way to help from a distance because you are making the situation worse.
Try to Fix It. If you’re a fix-it person – someone who wants to make everything all better for everyone around you – then it’s time to pay attention. Be careful about what you promise to do – or even imply that you might do – for someone surviving homelessness. There is nothing worse than false hope, particularly when it is immediately followed by the complete disappearance of the ‘friend’ who realizes they can’t handle the reality of poverty and homelessness and just vanishes. POOF! Like magic.
If you are a fixer by nature, keep your mouth shut and your ears open – there will be plenty of opportunities, usually on a smaller scale. It is your responsibility to focus on identifying those things you truly have the power to change. Accept reality and be brutally honest with yourself about what you can (or cannot) do.
Wait for the opportunity to help. Yes, that means sticking around.
Be prepared to be frustrated by the system. The reality of homelessness is complicated at best. There will be a lot of times when you will see a simple, seemingly easy solution to one of the challenges holding your friend in poverty and every one will be stymied by homeless shelter rules, government requirements for eligibility, the way society treat homeless people, lack of resources at local non-profits, landlord prejudice and on and on. Prepare yourself because the minute a person becomes homeless nothing…and I do mean NOTHING…has an easy or simple fix. The person surviving homelessness can be the most sane, well-adjusted, trustworthy and well-educated person you’ve ever met and getting out of poverty will still be extremely difficult and complicated. That’s just the reality of homelessness.
Hold a Fundraiser. This may seem counter-intuitive, but fundraisers and requests for private donations must be kept to a minimum. I’ve mentioned the importance of being considered a member of the ‘deserving poor’ several times already in the first presentation. Asking for donations has to be done carefully because the risk of being labeled undeserved and then blacklisted is very high.
Eligibility for access to any form of assistance is often restricted to people who can prove they have been homeless for at least 30 days and have no assets. Government benefits like food stamps or low-income housing are based on total assets and total income. Every penny received during a fundraiser will be removed from government benefits and could render a person ineligible. Eligibility for long-term benefits must be considered when collecting donations because even a successful fundraiser will only provide a one-time payment and that money will only last so long.
The general public is accustomed to fundraisers run by huge non-profits, where a donation is made once or twice a year, an official thank you is provided with assurances that this donation has helped solve the problem, and everyone continues on their merry way (until next year). This is what the public is trained to expect from fundraisers. When donations are collected for an induvial, there’s a very high probability that the donors will be expecting tangible, positive, and immediate results. This means there could be backlash generated from a) accepting charity and b) not being able to escape poverty – we gave you money, why isn’t this fixed? This can be extremely damaging over the long-term.
If you choose to hold a fundraiser then keep it restricted to very specific and targeted goals. For example, paying back rent or a hotel room, child support, getting a drivers license, medical bills or fixing a broken-down vehicle.
That brings us to the end of Part 2 – What not to do when helping someone facing homelessness. Please check out parts 1 and 3 and, as always, thank you for listening.
Solving Extreme Poverty and Homelessness in the USA
This presentation describes a potential solution from a big picture perspective. These ideas are being presented as a starting point for discussions on poverty and homelessness. I am inviting fellow poverty survivors – people with lived experience surviving poverty, particularly homelessness – to participate in this discussion. If you have never experience poverty directly, your support is appreciated but please be respectful and allow people with lived experience take the lead in this conversation.
Big Picture, Big Steps
Three (3) different plans with overlapping goals implemented simultaneously. This presentation covers the objectives of all three plans and then looks at the five-year plan in more detail.
The 5-year plan.
The objective is to meet the immediate needs of people currently surviving extreme poverty or homelessness, those in danger of slipping into poverty and people escaping catastrophic events,
To this end, the 5-year plan focuses on providing emergency support to those surviving poverty, universal support to everyone and the establishment of emergency facilities and basic infrastructure to support providing for a large population a catastrophic event.
The 50-year plan.
The objective is to address the root causes of social inequality, financial inequality, global warming and environmental destruction.
This requires digging deep into complicated issues like systemic racism, global warming, environmental destruction and crumbling infrastructure.
The objective is to address long-term problems through multigenerational planning.
The 500-year plan lays the groundwork for making changes while fostering a culture of identifying and evaluating potential risks and consequences across many generations.
5 Year Plan
Now for a more detailed look at the five-year plan.
On its own, this is an ambitious band-aid for out-of-control homelessness and poverty in the United States, designed to keeps people alive while facilitating a transition into the 50-year plan.
Emergency support is a lifeboat, not a final destination. It consists of an expansion of both the resources available and the number of people eligible, while simplifying the process for accessing necessary resources.
Food, housing, transportation and childcare make up the most basic benefits already available. They also address some of the most basic necessities.
Modifying the existing program is simple:
1) increase the amount of all resources made available to each person,
2) increase the annual income requirements to include the middle class,
3) simplify access – For example: automatically enrolling everyone whose tax returns indicate eligibility, and
4) Expand benefits to cover more key issues faced by people surviving poverty, such as student loan forgiveness and free legal assistance
As the title implies, these resources would be immediately available to everyone.
Universal Basic Income (UBI)
Universal Basic Income or UBI checks providing a reliable monthly payment to everyone over a certain age, regardless of income, living status or participation in other government assistance programs. Cash in hand goes a long way towards establishing nationwide financial stability and ensuring the basic needs of the population are met.
Universal Health Care
Five (5) years of Universal health care, covering all aspects of mental and physical health care at no cost to the patient, including medical programs normally addressed outside of hospitals, like dental, eye and chiropractic care.
Universal Photo IDs
The universal ID would be designed to be entirely free of charge, reasonably easy to create, centrally managed and regularly updated. To that end, a new ID could be based on anything from standard identification documentation to information provided by the individual verbally or select biometric data types.
The objective is to get everyone into the official universal photo ID system, including people who already have other forms of government ID, thereby making it commonly available and useful.
This may require connecting it to a specific purpose, such as voter identification, a centralized medical records system, or the universal medical benefits program.
Emergency facilities are distinctly different from existing resources available to people during a crisis. They are designed to provide refuge to a very large population of people, pets and property during anything from a personal emergency to a catastrophic event or a mass evacuation.
The resources currently available have three (3) possible formats: 1) a cold site, 2) a warm site, and 3) a hot site.
A cold site takes time and effort to set up and may require additional supplies to get up and running. Examples include bomb shelters, remote summer cabins or an RV only used for vacations.
A warm site is used on a limited basis or has a primary purpose that makes it reasonably easy to modify quickly. Either way it is partially up and running and mostly operational. Examples include schools, community centers, churches and stadiums.
A hot site is fully functioning and continually operating. Examples include hospitals, hotels and homeless shelters. Unfortunately, currently operating hot sites are not equipped to handle a large-scale emergency.
Homeless shelters struggle to meet the needs of people surviving poverty on an average day.
Hospitals and hotels are neither designed nor equipped to handle a large population for an extended time.
Emergency Facilities are hot sites specifically designed to handle the worst-case-scenario by meeting the long-term needs of an extremely large population during a crisis – whether that crisis affects a single person or involves a mass-evacuation.
Emergency facilities provide a place to live, a place to die, the resources necessary to live, and the ability to access at least one facility from anywhere in any state in the country.
They are 100% handicap accessible because an evacuation event requires fast and simple processes. Able bodied people can used handicapped accessible housing without modification or difficulty. The same cannot be said about people who are handicapped or injured being placed in standard non-accessible housing.
A facility that is 100% handicapped accessible can provide housing and basic resources to anyone at any time – without delay. Simple. Fast. Efficient.
The facilities, supplies and the public transportation connecting them MUST be designed to meet the needs of 150% of the total known population of the entire state.
That number includes the housed, unhoused, and temporary residents.
Why 150%? First, it’s an emergency facility. During an evacuation, everyone is moved out of the danger zone and into a safe place no questions asked – there MUST NEVER be a moment when people are stopped and evaluated for access.
Second, if the entire population is evacuated to these facilities at the same time and the total population count is off by 10%-25% or more, then there’s still plenty of room for everyone, including emergency transfers from other facilities.
Which brings us to Emergency transfers. These are pre-established plans for moving people to different emergency facilities when the local facility is compromised, destroyed or at capacity.
To illustrate, try to imagine the states of California, Oregon and Washington on a map. All three states share an ocean coastline and problems with regular natural disasters, such as earthquakes, wildfires, floods and drought.
In this fictitious scenario…California has three (3) emergency facilities, Oregon has one (1) and Washington State has two (2). A wildfire rips through Oregon, forcing the evacuation of a large portion of its population to the emergency facility. This works until the fire changes course and starts heading for the facility itself
Despite planning, prevention and firefighting efforts, the fire gets dangerously close, and the Oregon facility must be evacuated. Per the plans already in place, the entire displaced population is sent to emergency facilities in California and Washington State via specially designed public transportation, such as a high-speed rail.
When transfers arrive, they are immediately provided living arrangements and access to all resources. Housing and assistance continue for as long as each person or family needs.
When the Oregon facility re-opens, those who remain at the emergency transfer locations are given the option of being transferred back to Oregon. Transfers are always free of charge and, outside of an emergency evacuation, they are voluntary.
An emergency facility requires comprehensive medical resources. Because this is a continuously operating facility, those resources are available – free of charge – to anyone who needs them 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Nursing Homes and Hospice Care
A mass evacuation event is going to generate serious injuries, some of them fatal and others requiring long-term care. Evacuations also include nursing home residents and hospice patients in other regions of the state. Therefore, the emergency facility must be prepared to handle the needs of these patients.
Homelessness among the elderly is becoming more and more common. Serious illness often causes financial ruin that leaves individuals and families at the mercy of the welfare system and homeless shelters. Therefore, facilities must be prepared to continuously accommodate the needs of people dealing with a family or personal crisis.
Catastrophic events do not adhere to a political calendar. Citizens evacuated to an emergency facility still have the right to vote in all elections – local and national. Voting options must, by necessity, be made available to all citizens residing at a facility for any length of time.
Basic communication resources include reliable high speed internet connections and universal cell phone towers designed to allow the entire population the ability to contact family and friends, or to remotely connect to work and school.
This facilitates communication between individuals, families and government agencies during a disaster. It also helps to encourage people to leave an area in anticipation of a known pending disaster, like a hurricane.
Education and More
Getting back to normal after a disaster takes time. Most likely, people forced to rely on an emergency facility will live there for several months or even years. Life continues.
Children must be educated, and college students need to finish school.
There are religious events and cultural holidays to observe.
Athletes and arm-chair warriors alike need to continue their training.
Opportunities to participate in both sports and the arts relieves stress, builds community and helps people continue living their lives. Which, in turn, helps people recover from a traumatic experience and get their lives back on track.
Laws and policies governing emergency facilities must be consistent across the entire network to ensure that a flood of people traveling between facilities during an emergency transfer can complete the move as smoothly as possible. The fewer details people are trying to figure out during an emergency, the better.
Community and Culture
Many people will stay at a facility temporarily. Some will take a job and settle down permanently. There will be students who come seeking a free education and individuals who simply choose to remain long-term – these are all good things.
Anticipating the establishment of a permanent community and actively working to foster a culture that is conducive to the unique nature of life at an emergency facility will help ensure smooth operation over the long-term.
Big Picture, Big Steps
That’s the basic overview of the primary components of the five-year plan à Emergency support, universal support and emergency facilities.
Solving Extreme Poverty and Homelessness in the USA
Homelessness is unhealthy. In the United States poverty, extreme or otherwise, is unhealthy. For many middle-class families, simply being underinsured in unhealthy. Health care is a wide-reaching issue but the cost of health care, with or without insurance, is frequently financially devastating and potentially deadly.
Doctors don’t work for free. If you can’t pay the bill and the insurance company (assuming you have one) won’t cover the expenses, then medical care and medication are cut off. That’s the way things work.
For people trying to survive extreme poverty (homelessness), the conditions of day-to-day life exacerbate medical issues. The lack of health insurance all but eliminates health care. Trying to find work or other resources necessary to get off the streets is difficult under the best of circumstances, add an illness into that scenario and ‘extremely difficult’ becomes ‘near impossible.’
Universal health care would address the financial devastation that pushes middle-class families into extreme poverty (homelessness) when a loved one falls ill.
Universal health care would provide extremely poor people access to much-needed resources and services. Simply being able to address an illness or injury makes finding a job significantly more possible, which makes escaping homelessness possible – not easy or guaranteed but possible.
Universal healthcare would begin the long and arduous process of addressing the medical resource caste-system currently built around government-provided Medicaid and Medicare programs. People who receive health insurance through an employer have significantly more options and receive markedly better care. There are large numbers of doctors and medical care providers who refuse to accept patients reliant on government-provided benefits – unless they are government employees, in which case they receive the same care as people in the private sector. Since extremely poor people are overwhelmingly dependent upon these programs, this creates a prejudiced resource distribution wherein people at the bottom are treated very differently from people who have more social and financial ‘value.’
A true universal healthcare system would help to place all Americans on equal footing within the medical care system. It would place every person under the same medical payment system, giving all citizens access to the same medical resources without fear of financial devastation.
The social stigma surrounding extremely poor people will take significantly more time and resources to change. Medical professionals who harbor an aversion to interacting with extremely poor people (homeless or housed) will continue to shun these individuals, provide substandard care or participate in abusing vulnerable populations for the same reasons that racists treat the objects of their hate in the same manner.
Legal problems can, and often do, force people into extreme poverty, homelessness included. A court case can take over a person’s life, draining time, resources and funds. Depending on the reasons behind the case, it can cost a person their reputation, job and family – justifiably or not. Any involvement with the legal system is costly and winning is often the result of simply having more resources to devote to the process. If the issue at stake is important enough, people will (and have) devote every last resource to the fight, leaving them financially destitute.
Surviving extreme poverty (homeless or housed) is a legal quagmire of vagrancy laws; restrictions based on lack of a permanent address; illegal evictions; and accusations of theft, fraud, trespassing and simply existing (e.g.: sleeping in public). Attempting to report violent attacks or rapes is practically impossible and police brutality is not uncommon.
Those are just the most commonly known legal issues facing people trying to escape extreme poverty.
Any form of legal entanglement is devastating to impoverished families. Criminal cases are common and many of them are based on racial profiling or ridiculous laws specifically designed (and selectively enforced) to criminalize the existence of poor people because those with power don’t like seeing extreme poverty in public spaces.
I wish I could say that last sentence was an exaggeration or an analogy or even representation of worst-case-scenarios that pop-up through the country. Sadly, it is the cold-hard-reality faced by people surviving extreme poverty everywhere in the United States.
There are free legal aid programs, but they are inundated with requests for help, run by a small staff of volunteers and universally refuse to even discuss anything that is considered criminal. Legal representation provided within the court system is also overloaded and poorly managed.
As the experts in mass incarceration have pointed out, simply being part of a targeted racial group almost guarantees problems with the criminal justice system, regardless of your commitment to living a good and honest life. The same can be said for people surviving poverty – particularly those faced with extreme poverty and homelessness.
Extreme poverty and homelessness will not be significantly reduced, much less solved, until prejudiced and predatory laws are eliminated, all people are provided access to quality legal assistance and addressing an issue through the court system does not require being either extremely wealthy or a willingness to face complete financial devastation.
There’s a lot of work to be done here.
I don’t have a clean or easy answer.
It must change.
“Get a job!” is one for the most common insults screamed into the faces of homeless people and individuals begging for change. Extremely poor people are stereotyped as being lazy, unreliable and unwilling to hold down a regular job. In reality, a significant number of extremely poor (homeless and housed) people hold down multiple jobs, working between 40 and 80 hours a week, month-after-month and year-after-year. The problem is not the ability or willingness to work – it’s the extremely low wages being paid by the vast majority of available jobs.
All over the country, the struggle is the same. Good paying jobs are inundated with applicants and almost every other opportunity pays less than the cost of living. Simply paying rent on a full-time minimum wage paycheck is impossible. Add in other expenses and holding down 2-3 jobs may not bring in enough cash to simply live.
The irony of this is the fact that there is plenty of work to be done and plenty of resources to go around. Take a walk around your neighborhood. How much would the 2-3 blocks surrounding your home benefit from a crew of people dedicated to simply cleaning, maintaining and fixing things? Expand that to the entire town or city. How much work needs to be done? How much of it get’s pushed aside year after year?
Then consider the number of small family businesses and start-up companies that struggle to survive in a market where large corporation not only dominate but reduce prices to the point where it’s impossible to compete. Providing people to work at small, local, businesses at a reduced cost to the business while paying the worker a living wage could help boost the local business economy.
A very simple program that simply provided a living wage job to any and every person who applied would go a long way toward reducing poverty (extreme or otherwise), preventing homelessness, and providing homeless people a much-needed opportunity to move into long-term housing.
Couple this program with standard employment assistance services and people who have been out of work for a long time will be provided a much-needed opportunity to return to the workforce. Even if every person working is doing low-skill manual labor, the possibility of being hired for completely different work significantly increases because it’s always easier to get a job when you have a job.
Also, presenting yourself in an interview becomes both difficult and complicated when you are stressed about finding your next meal, a place to sleep, the possibility of being evicted, or the overall safety of your children. These are things that employers consider liabilities and reasons to remove a person from consideration – if they should find out. They are also things that make remaining cheerful and pleasant a challenge.
A significant number of the seemingly insurmountable hurdles faced by extremely poor people could be addressed by simply providing a job that pays enough to cover the cost of living to anyone who wants one, regardless of their work history, background, criminal history, skill set or age.
This program would have to provide opportunities for teenagers, including those who are trying to help their family pay the bills, trying to care for siblings on their own or simply surviving without the help of a family. An education is crucial, but being open to helping these kids cover the cost of living through a job (full or part-time) presents a multitude of opportunities to address things like obtaining a GED.
Providing people with a criminal record or a less-than-perfect background with work that covers the cost living – guaranteed – helps to reduce criminal activity because it makes crime less necessary. When people have the ability to choose to live a good honest life, then making the decision to pursue criminal activity is more complicated because they really and truly do not have to break the law just to survive.
Making work available to anyone who needs it, at all times, also acts as a safety net for individuals who:
Lose their job due to cutbacks or a large corporation shutting down.
Quit a job due to a hostile work environment.
Leave their spouse due to abuse or a crumbling relationship.
Were forced to close a small business.
Are faced with the loss of work and/or income for any reason.
The bottom line is simply this, providing a living-wage-job to anyone both willing and able to work benefits everyone in a specific geographic region and goes a long way toward reducing homelessness overall.