Is there a crime where homelessness is the appropriate punishment? I haven’t found one yet.
For those of you who may have missed it, I got a new job in November. I now am part of a team that gets homeless veterans into stable housing. It’s a great job, and I truly love to go to work every day. What has also happened, since I took this job, is I’ve been forced to reevaluate how I think about aspects of life. This is one of those aspects.
Before I fully address the headline of this blog, however, I’m going to ask you to consider something. What if we, as a people, have exactly the economy we have designed? If our normal way of thinking, that we are essentially powerless over how our economy goes, is simply a learned way of thinking and not actually true? What if, in the process of handing over the management of our economy to our government, we have forgotten that our government does actually manage the economy? And that, by working together, we have the knowledge and ability to change the economy in any way we see fit?
I’m going to assert that we do have the economy we have designed. I’m also going to assert that the powerlessness we feel over the economy is due to the powerlessness we feel over our political system. And that our political system has effectively declined to take effective action regarding our economy, or declined to obtain the knowledge to manage our economy as we see fit. Or declined to participate fully in the mechanisms that we use to make the economy work for us. That it is not a deficit of ability.
That homelessness is not an unhappy accident within our economy and society, but a feature. That homelessness could be a byproduct of the way we think about money, work, family and housing. It could be the byproduct of the broken way that we have all learned to work together.
So, if we consider that homelessness in one way or another is happening on purpose (even if the “purpose” is simply us declining to take action where we can), then my question is;
What does someone have to do to deserve homelessness? People who commit serious crimes (murder, rape, etc) get to be housed in prison. Not ideal housing, obviously, but they have a roof over their head. Do you deserve to lose housing if you default on a mortgage? I would argue no, you deserve to lose that house but not housing. Don’t pay your rent? Lose your apartment, sure. Housing? No. Medical issues that wipe out your finances? Absolutely should not lose housing. Break up with a significant other? Should not lose access to housing. Lose work and have trouble finding new employment? Should not lose access to housing. Struggle with addiction and/or mental disorders? Still shouldn’t lose access to housing.
At what point should someone lose access to housing? I haven’t found one.
On a practical level, this makes me wonder if there should be some sort of safety net. We have a safety net if you lose your job: unemployment. What about a safety net if you lose a place to live? What would that look like? How would that work?
But putting aside the practical for one more moment, there are deeper issues to address. Lots of homeless people at some point were made to be homeless. Maybe we should stop doing that to people. How we stop doing that, I’m not sure…