Homeless shelters and answers to homelessness
By now, many peole have gotten used to and accept homelessness.
Homelessness is becoming more prevelant
Homeless shelters and camps are a reactive solution offered in the face of economic collapse that is driving millions of families out of their homes. They are an alternative offered, usually in an inadequate and insufficient way to an emerging crisis in America. There have always been homeless people, but now there are more than ever. They have arrived in three successive waves. The first wave has existed for several decades and resulted from many causes like substance abuse, dysfunctional families, mental issues and the like. The second wave started in the 1980s with the destruction of the social safety net. The third is now emerging from the fallout of the sub-prime mortgage catastrophe that has made more than a million families homeless in 2008 and now threatens a further 48 percent of the rest of the sub-prime mortgage holders who are late in payments or in default. This is a huge body of emerging homeless people that will require some kind of shelter.
Many solutions offered are reactive ones to an existing problem, when we should be concentrating on proactive ones as well to prevent homelessness in the first place. Locally in BC, the latest count suggests 2,660 homeless people live in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, many people including the Provincial Government; say that it is much higher. An unofficial census puts it at 8,000. Homeless people can be put into two groups; those without homes and couch surfers. Existing shelters are insufficient to meet the need and there are always those left out in the cold; even in sub-zero weather on Christmas day, such as Christmas 2008, which was an especially cold winter with more than average snowfall. Not all people who are now homeless are drug addicts, alcoholics or are mentally challenged. Unfortunately, whole families with children, seniors and the physically handicapped are now found in the mix. This is even truer in the US where whole families find themselves homeless shortly after a job loss and default on the mortgages that follow this.
The fact that we have homelessness at all is a reflection on our political lack of will and desires to resolve the issue once and for all. Homes after all; are for profit and not for human need; at least in our society. Take the case of a recent challenge where eviction over pets was addressed to city hall in Vancouver, BC. Within days the Provincial government stepped in with a $10,000 fine and/or one year in prison under the new Elections Advertising Act, applied loosely to tenancy law. This very reaction is serving to force seniors into homelessness in time for the Olympics. It also demonstrates the collusion between city hall and the provincial government and a lack of will, contrary to expressions to the opposite to end homelessness. At its worst, this is the loss of freedom of speech and complete censorship that follows the example of the loss of civil rights in the US under the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act. There is no attempt to solve homelessness here and there. Quite the antithesis; there is a push in the opposite direction by such acts of collusion under the censorship and fines of the Elections Advertising Act. Even though in the Vancouver example there was a reopening of church space for a homeless shelter, this was a mere allowance of something formerly closed by the same level of government. No new spaces have been added, except a remodelled auto repair garage that has gone out of business that has added a "whopping" 40 spaces. As of March 3rd, 2009, we are given to understand in the same context that the city and province can no longer support the cost of housing 500 homeless people who are set the hit the street at month’s end. Further, due to the lack of an operating sprinkler system in one of the government buildings, 100 people have landed on the streets. This brought the total of 600 new homeless at months end. The trend continued into 2010 and homes for the poor and homeless in the former Olympic Village never materialized as promised. There are similar stories playing in other cities due to the collapsing economy drying up funds.
Homelessness has been around seemingly forever, and thought there have been attempts at a solution, they have not been put into practice simply because of the “Not in My Back Yard” syndrome. No neighbourhood, no matter how seedy, wants a large camp of homeless people hanging about. In fact some communities have outlawed feed-ins to discourage the congregation of the homeless in parks, stairwells and parkades as they "disturb the neighbours and scare off tourists". Ever more money is allocated to "Street Ambassadors" in the Vancouver case to chase the homeless from one community to another and back again with no attempt to help and house. Recent news suggests that the "Ambassador" funding is drying up and this is likely to the foundering economy.
We can continue to wring our hands and make pompous speeches in a public relations exercise ad infinitum, but after this there should be some commitment instead of the usual inaction to a real solution. Though there are promises of social housing, such as in past and one wonders if these will also fall through as in past. We are given to understand that the US is enacting a solution in the form of some 800 relocation facilities under FEMA to house people such as victims from Hurricane Katrina. Some people are highly critical of these camps, calling them nothing more than concentration camps complete with barbed wire and gun towers. In Vancouver BC, we look at the history of the Woodward's social housing fiasco. For almost two decades, the building stood empty except for the rare occupation and surrounding encampment that resulted in the city government providing spaces for a couple of months. Promises of a social and economic mix went nowhere. Otherwise nothing besides police intervention occurred. Finally the site is being developed into high end condos with no provision for social housing. The worst slum in the industrial world is being gentrified and pushing out the homeless to adjoining communities. One wonders if this is a form of "block busting" where the poor, prostitutes and drug pushers are being used to downgrade a community so that legitimate residents flee and then the community is redeveloped after a police sweep. It is being built in an area where more pressure to squeeze out the poor is being applied. The Anti-Poverty Committee has tried to no avail to get tent cities, spaces in empty city houses, warehouse space and so on and nothing permanent has come of it.
Therefore, to solve homelessness, proactive solutions must be taken that consist of keeping rents in line with income so that people like the working poor, seniors, mentally and physically challenged are not forced into the street. Redevelopment should not come at the cost of hard working families and from those who seek to profit in a volatile economy. Social housing was needed a long time ago and is still needed more than ever now with the world economic collapse bearing down on all of us. Even though we in Vancouver, BC hosted the Olympics, it was an exercise in forcing out long term tenants for a short term profit, as was the case in Expo '86' with the result that some people committed suicide. Is this the cost of the Olympics in addition to several billion dollars? Are many more of us to become homeless because of a lack of political will? The answer is likely yes as we follow the money. Where there is money there is motivation and a lack of it merely results in useless public relations propaganda to appear that something at least is being considered.
Homeless shelters as they exist are usually run down, pest infested and are in short supply resulting in a competition of first come first serve, leaving the late comers out in the freezing cold and rain. Every city "boasts" of those who died of exposure on the streets. In Vancouver, BC, a homeless woman got burned to death while attempting to remain warm on a freezing night with a lit candle under a sleeping bag. Homeless shelters are avoided by the veteran homeless as they are places where people have their property stolen when asleep, or end up being assaulted when most vulnerable. These places are not dignity conducive and are often run like a military barracks with curfews, wake up calls and hit the street times. These veteran homeless are found where they can find shelter in bum proofed cities such as in sewer and subway systems where possible, in parks under bridges and culverts, inside abandoned vehicles, sometimes in parkades and stairwells and other inventive solutions. As a rule, they are discouraged from squatting in abandoned buildings or making shantytowns. Many other homeless "couch surf" by staying at friends' apartments and homes as long as they are welcome.
Warehousing or moth-balling "surplus people" is not the answer to the homeless question, despite the fact that under capitalist mode of production, labour is just another commodity. The working people are more than just another product that waits on shelves waiting for a buyer to purchase and use and then throw out in the trash when no longer required. Reorganizing our priorities and economy is which includes all people. Under the current profit seeking system, this is an impossible demand, for in order for a few to win, everyone else must give up something. For some it is cut-backs in pay, others it is their homes and for some, it is sanity itself.
The reorganization of the economy must be such as to include all instead of the contemptuous one that does, which by the existing attitude, holds nothing but contempt for those who have fallen through the cracks or have been pushed through the cracks. The natural dignity of people is offended by being boxed into a warehouse compartment when not required due to a build-up of surplus value. The existence of surplus value currently means that the "owners of that surplus value" go on a prolonged vacation; while the labour that created it through advanced production techniques; hit the streets in a prolonged bout of homelessness. It happened in the 1930s and now its repeating in the 2000s of this century. Sweeping the problem under the carpet and out of view solves nothing and is an affront to natural human dignity and rights!
The sub-prime new homeless in America
A disturbing new trend of homeless mothers with children and laws banning feeding of homeless people
- Activist Post: Feeding The Homeless Banned In Major Cities All Over America
Several major US cities have enacted laws prohibiting of the feeding of homeless people. Among them is Philadelphia, the city of "brotherly love". Excuses range from health concerns and drawing too many homeless to city centers.
Homeless tents in abundace in 2009 Sacramento
Homelessness in America
This DVD investigates the causes and reasons behind homelessness as an emerging new crisis of poverty in one of the richest countries on the planet. It gives some standard reasons and dispels some common myths.