Homelessness and American Priorities

by Allan Timke, Social-Justice

Contrary to popular belief, the problem of homelessness in America is growing, not subsiding, and there is a glaring contrast between the supply and demand for decent affordable housing. Housing is a human right, but we Americans:

  • Refuse to set priorities based on that principle and on the inescapble fact that just, efficient and adequate housing policies are going to be very expensive;
  • Moralize about the victims of various aspects of our housing problem, using policies and funding levels to punish them, thus pitting us against one another;
  • Continue to accept the the “magic of the marketplace” is the solution, rather than one of the primary causes of the problem;
  • Refuse to accept the idea that the most just and cost-effctive solution to our housing problems lie at the federal level;
  • Pass on the creation of policies and the funding of solutions to the state and local level where existing and potential resources are wholly inadequate to address the real problem;
  • Define the problem away by, for instance, only counting people in shelters, people with mental health problems or with physical disabilities, or other artificial criteria;
  • Declare victory when some relativel small part of the problem is addresed as the overall problem continues to grow.

There is a set of facts, principles and policies that would address the problem, but they require that we reassess our priorities. First, there is no one-and-done solution. Meaningful solutions must entail a set of permanent policies and programs, adequately funded.

More affordable housing units have to become available; wages have to rise; and housing costs to individuals and families have to be contained.

A rising economic tide will not lift boats, when not everyone has one and the boats of those that do are leaky, in need of repair, and actively held underwater by public and private sector policies, practices, and priorities.

Priorities. That’s what it gets down to. If the right to housing is to be realized, public and private sector priorities have to be subservient to the needs of individuals and families taken as a whole, not the other way around. Housing and homelessness problems are not part of the natural order of things. They are the result of priorities and policies that are chosen. Of course, some of us have more power to make those decisions than others do, but we can choose to take the initiative and change that. We have to choose, and soon!

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