There is a commonly held belief that homeless people remain homeless because being homeless is easy.
Excuse me while I laugh, and then get really pissed off.
It has gotten old, this seemingly futile effort to explain to people the difficulties of being homeless, and why no one in their right mind would choose to be homeless.
The physical, psychological and emotional toll on every human being who becomes homeless is extraordinary, living homeless for any extended period has additional costs to the person, and actually overcoming homelessness is the most difficult thing a person will ever accomplish in their life.
Unlike jail, where 80% or more of inmates have been to jail more than once, most people who become homeless once and successfully overcome it, never become homeless again. Those homeless people who continually cycle in and out of homelessness, the “chroncially homeless” account for less than 20% of all homeless people. What I’m saying is, being homeless is actually worse than being incarcerated. The hell that is homelessness is something no person ever wishes to repeat. (yes yes, I know that some homeless people say that they like being homeless, that they choose to be homeless. But remember what I said about “people in their right mind”. There are a lot of homeless people with severe mental health issues, emotional issues, that clouds their judgement and distorts their sense of reality)
Just look at the faces of people who have been homeless for an extended period of time. Do they look healthy? Refreshed? Capable of enjoying life? Or, do they look weary, haggard, exhausted?
For the homeless there is no real place to rest, ever. Even living in a shelter is stressful. Forever carrying one’s possessions, never having privacy, every service given to you requiring to wait for hours to receive, and often the promise of services is broken. It is easy to lose hope and trust in those who say they will help.
Then come those people who believe that the homeless have life too easy, so in their quest to rid the world of homeless people, they take measures to make life even more difficult for the homeless – believing that such efforts will give the homeless motivation to overcome homelessness. (sometimes these efforts appear to work, but actually they only cause people to leave the area (temporarily), not leave homelessness.
Consider all that it would take for a homeless person to overcome their homelessness. To gain employment would require a homeless person to be well rested, so to perform the work assigned to them by their employer, would require them to be showered, wearing clean clothes every day, to secure reliable transportation, to be able to feed themselves regularly, etc. And then to maintain this pattern of living while sleeping on the streets, not just until the first paycheck comes, but for 3 months or more while they attempt to save up enough money to move into an apartment. And consider just how difficult it would be for a homeless person to secure an apartment when potential landlords ask for a list of previous residences, and references, and a credit check.
Still, the cops come and harass the homeless on a regular basis. They tear down homeless encampments of people who are trying to create a stable life for themselves, so that they may overcome their homelessness. And that’s just when the cops do things fairly. I’ve also seen cops who stop and question homeless people merely because they are homeless, (which is nerve racking in itself) and then once determining the person to be indeed homeless, the cop confiscates the person’s ID, not give it back, or breaking their ID, redendering it useless. This allows the next cop who stops this homeless person to take him to jail, (for not having verifiable identification). The first of many problems caused by this is that a person needs ID so to secure employment.
It is time for all of society, if it is truly desiring an end to homelessness, to reverse gears, and to stop tearing homeless people down, and to begin lifting them up – to provide more opportunities to overcome homelessness, not remove their hope, to create a clear path out of homelessness, and not build more obstacles.
The latest effort of the San Diego Police is indicative of this. Being that there are not enough shelter beds in San Diego for all the homeless here, the law says that the city must allow the homeless the right to sleep on public property. So the city has religated that privledge to sidewalks from 9pm until 5:30am. BUT, the police, believing that sleep on sidewalks is too good for the homeless and must be made more uncomfortable, have declared that homeless people cannot use tents while they sleep – this measure makes the homeless even more vulnerable to harassment, by the police, by hateful citizens, by street predators, by theives, and by the weather. As nice as the weather is here, there’s enough fluctuation in it to cause illness in those exposed to it.