Sweeping the Undesired Under the Rug

There are roughly 554,000 people living on the street on a given night in the United States and mental health and homelessness are sadly being criminalized nationwide.[1]For far too long, people have thought that being homeless is a choice, when in reality it is a mere discharge option for our criminal justice system, foster-care system and even mental health system. In recent years, the substantial increase in the number of people enduring economic homelessness is becoming an alarming reality. All it takes is a minor crisis, such as an injury that inhibits one from working, which can result in an inability to pay rent leading to an eviction. In order to combat this issue, cities need to be more inclined to support funding of low-income housing to get people off the street. We as a society need to treat people experiencing homelessness with much more respect and put our efforts towards building more affordable housing, which has proven to be the key in eradicating homelessness in many communities.

To put things in perspective, in Seattle there are just 29 affordable unites of housing for every 100 households with an income below the national average.[2]Unfortunately, across the nation, government agencies have invaded encampments to “clean up” areas, often removing or destroying items vital to residents, including medication, documents, and photos. While some cities are taking progressive action by implementing housing with services and homeless prevention programs, other jurisdictions are treating people who are experiencing homelessness like second class-citizens that are less worthy of protection and respect. Many residents that resist homeless shelters are responding to increasing homelessness with a “not in my backyard” approach. Even advocates of the homeless who are in full support of efforts to expand services cannot fathom nor tolerate the idea of an encampment near their home. For example, in Seattle many people in the Magnolia neighborhood shiver at the thought of proposed affordable housing on Fort Lawton and residents have filed a lawsuit claiming the land to be a private park not suitable for such housing.[3]Harshly discriminating and harassing the homeless and creating a cycle of destroying their only possessions and even arresting them for being on the streets when they may have nowhere else to go is an extremely expensive and infective way to tackle these issues at hand. The city of Seattle spends $1 million annually on privately contracting cleanup services of homeless encampments, which in turn merely moves homeless people around and disrupts what little stability they have.[4]This othering of people, as well as ignoring the rights of people experiencing the hardship of homelessness, is very detrimental to our society.

The long-term solution to this crisis is not just services when applicable, but affordable housing for the homeless. Additionally, a study found that 49% of homeless adults had fallen victim to a violent attack and 62% had witnessed such an attack on people experiencing homelessness[5]. However, there is still an ongoing debate surrounding housing the homeless and while many argue it would cause or increase crime, in actuality it could mitigate crime. A study by the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles discovered that 50% of the women in skid row had been physically or sexually abused in the last year[6]. Studies show that homeless individuals, even those suffering from mental illness or addiction, have a lower rate of criminal behavior as soon as they receive housing. Therefore, by providing more shelters and housing, it will deter crime and protect people, but until then, the government needs to intervene and protect people on the street from violence – just as they would for any other city resident.

Some argue that cleanups of homeless encampments and simply criminalizing homelessness are the ways of truly solving the crisis at play. People who oppose providing services to the homeless, such as the building of shelter facilities, often take the “Not in My Backyard” approach. These individuals oppose the development of a shelter or affordable housing in their local area and argue that crime, violence, and litter will increase and often ignore the benefits for the residents of said development. Many opponents of homeless advocation argue that criminalizing homelessness will deter people from sleeping on the streets and “force” them to turn their lives around. This practice is extremely ineffective as cities are failing to address the underlying issues that cause homelessness. Instead, they should seek to provide sufficient affordable or permanent housing and mental health or substance abuse treatment. Criminalizing the homeless simply perpetuates the crisis by imposing fines and court fees on people who are currently unable to afford keeping a roof over their head.

Countless studies of communities that have eradicated homelessness showcase that providing homes to the homeless solves the problem. In addition, providing support services such as job training and education also help cut costs, but the data indicates that allocating homes to the homeless saves millions of tax dollars. Housing provides safety and security to people and offers stability from which people can obtain and hold a job, take care of their health and address their mental illness or substance abuse, if necessary. Furthermore, our nation needs an extensive nationwide commitment, both public and private, to ensure affordable housing for all Americans. Without housing, people are unable to lead both connected and stable lives and we must take action as housing should be considered a basic human right.



[1]U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

[2]Seattle Times, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/no-major-city-has-enough-affordable-housing-to-meet-demand-but-how-does-seattle-stack-up/

[3]Kiro News, http://mynorthwest.com/1035838/nimby-yimby-classism-seattle/?




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