It is always a challenge to differentiate between rights and privileges. Every so often, however, governments will step in to clearly define what constitutes a right and what must be privately earned or deserved. In the United States, it appears that we are finally beginning to seriously consider more and more rights that every citizen is granted, or at least ought to be. With healthcare recently being added to the shelf of rights and tuition-free public colleges in the talks, it is possible that there will only be more to add to this ever growing collection. But why is it then that not all of our most basic needs have been addressed? Why is it that nearly 1% of US residents, including 1.35 million children, have been homeless for a significant period of their lives?
I want to focus this piece on the way we go about talking about the issue of homelessness. It seems as though it ought to be apparent enough why adequate shelter is an essential ingredient to survive for nearly any sentient being, including, of course, human beings. But even after pointing out the obvious, it seems as though some are still under the impression that not everyone “deserves” to live in a house.
This sort of implicit logic is seen in the qualifier used when talking about homelessness in America. The rhetoric used by politicians too often revolves around homeless veteran populations. There is no question that this is a serious and pressing matter, as nearly 12% of the adult homeless population in the country are veterans. However, this sort of statement seems to imply that veterans, as opposed to other homeless individuals are somehow more deserving of living in a house. If this is not the case, then why not simply state that homelessness is the issue at large that must be addressed?
Before proceeding, it is necessary to pause and clear something up. I have previously been critical of using the phrase “All Lives Matter” in lieu of “Black Lives Matter” as I believe this seriously detracts from a specialized issue that we ought to be directing our attention towards. Of course all lives matter. No one is disputing that, for the most part; however, the point here is that the lives of black individuals must be reemphasized because of a systematically disadvantageous justice and law enforcement system. To stand and proudly declare that “All Lives Matter” is, as has been equated in the past by others, similar to arriving at a Breast Cancer event only to begin hollering that “All Terminal Illnesses Are Bad.” It’s nonsensical. It takes away from an important issue that otherwise would not receive coverage and the attention it needs and deserves.
How then can I justify saying that we ought to focus on homelessness as a larger issue than only speaking of it in terms of the veteran population? I propose that the issue of homelessness in and of itself is an underexposed issue. There is absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on homeless veteran populations, just as it is important to look at other groups that are disproportionally affected by homelessness, such as African Americans and trans people.
It is indeed a noble cause to vouch for specific minorities that are severely affected by homelessness; however, the rhetoric surrounding the entire issue seems to be based on some preconceived notion that not all are worthy of living indoors, unless they have served and defended their country by risking their life. This type of logic must give way to a more humanitarian approach, one that recognizes the importance of giving homes to all individuals needing them, while also allowing groups and organizations to step up and acknowledge those populations that are at a greater risk, shedding light on socioeconomic issues resulting from a larger societal problem.
In a country where there are nearly five empty homes for every one homeless person, it seems like a waste of space to leave these homes empty, especially in light of the fact that there exist millions without homes. Many of these vacated homes, however, are in their present state because of an untimely foreclosure. As such, it is the banks that technically own the homes, oftentimes opting instead to demolish them to then sell the land to the respective city. While it has been pointed out that banks do play a significant and unfortunately, preventative role in accessibility to indoor living, we must remember that simply acknowledging the root of the problem isn’t enough.
We ought to recognize homelessness and the role of megabanks as a product of a broken economic system, a capitalistic regime under which we are valuing profits over people.
This article was written by Amar Ojha, founder and writer at dusk magazine.