The Criminalization of Homelessness in America

All one has to do is look around them or turn on the news to see that America is not what she once was. The old girl is suffering greatly as the piranhas of ¬†politics, greed, and hate take huge chunks from her once healthy flesh. If you’ve kept your shades drawn, your TV muted, and remained cut off from the world, living in blissful ignorance, well, I hate to break it to you, but our country is diseased.

And to further burst your patriotic bubble, the economy and other horrifying factors that are forcing families into substandard housing, or worse, homelessness, is thriving. And ever so slowly those who can’t claw their way to the top are being forced out of society altogether. I am talking about the homeless population.

I realize that when I say ‘homeless’ there are some narrow minded people who immediately default to ignorant statements like, “Well, if they wanted to live in a home they would,” or “If they would stop being so lazy and get a job they would have a place to live” (as if a home magically appears once someone gets a job – I want that house fairy’s number). Then there is my personal favorite, “They are homeless because they want to be homeless.”

Yeah, compassion is sorely lacking in our culture today.

But, let’s examine these idiotic statements. First, most people who are homeless do not want to be homeless. They usually lack sufficient resources to get into a place even if they can afford the monthly rent. I live in a pretty poor state, so let’s take a fairly low rent in this area – $500 a month. Now, usually the landlord wants first and last month’s rent up front. Some want a deposit on top of that, $200 is what I have found to be typical. Then there is the $150 fee to turn on the utilities and $50 or so to turn on the water. This puts us at $1,400 just to move in. If there is gas heat then that is even more money and we also have to consider food and furniture. Even if you go to Goodwill for furniture, you are still looking at upwards of $2,000 to get into a small, cheap apartment.

The family that is homeless is likely crippled at just $1,400. They just can’t do it.

Now, let’s say that dad was laid off of his job and mom’s company cut back and she lost her job. They now have no income and can’t pay their rent. They try to come up with the rent but it just doesn’t happen. They talk to the landlord about getting out of the lease, but it is a large corporation and they refuse the request.

Next thing you know, the family is on the street, evicted and now have a judgment on their record. This basically blacklists a person when it comes to renting anywhere. They don’t care why there was an eviction or judgment, just that it is there. This family is not going to be able to rent in many places even if they can come up with all the deposits.

Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?

Well, it gets better.

Now the family is homeless, living in their vehicle. All the shelters have waiting lists a mile long and family is either unwilling or unable to help, so the vehicle is their only option. They got a $20 a month gym membership so they can take showers. Maybe they got a small storage space to store some of their items so they don’t have to carry everything around all the time. They park somewhere at night and sleep but it isn’t a peaceful sleep because in their vehicle they are subject to attacks and burglary. It puts them out there as prime targets for crime.

Still, it gets even better.

They have to be careful of where they are homeless because in some areas it is illegal. Yes, circumstances can force you out of your home leaving you with nowhere to go – but you better have somewhere because if you don’t you’ll wind up in a situation like the homeless in Columbia, South Carolina. There, the homeless get shipped off to a “shelter” that is outside the town. It is guarded by armed police and the “residents” cannot leave without permission. Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like a homeless prison to me.

But Columbia is not the only anti-homeless state. This list of the Meanest Cities in the US will chill you to your bones. We live in a heartless, self centered society that has lost all compassion for those less fortunate.

There are some shining stars, though. Washington, D.C. looks out for its homeless. I received this alert in my email just this evening – wouldn’t mind moving back to that area. It sounds like there are some humans left.

Cold Homeless

There are a few other areas that are trying to help the homeless. I found this article about an Occupy Madison Project that built tiny homes to provide shelter for the homeless. They wanted to provide a safe place to sleep as well as an area for showers, restrooms, laundry facilities and such. If you are interested in joining the effort or voicing your outrage, Brave New Films has started a movement to end criminalization of homelessness.

I am sure some of you will blast me for standing up for the homeless while others will agree with me. Quite frankly, I don’t care what you think. I know what is right and shunning the homeless, criminalizing homelessness is just plain wrong. It is fueled by hate, self centeredness, and intolerance. And, yeah, if you are standing on “that” side then you are all of those things and worse.

Just remember, one day you could be the one living in your car, facing the animosity of a society that honors the bourgeoisie and somewhat tolerates the proletariats until they lose their shaky footing and fall into such dire situations as homelessness and abject poverty. Then this lovely society just damns them.

What is the homeless situation like in your neck of the woods? Do you agree with it? Disagree? Are apathetic? What do you think cities and communities can do to aid this increasing problem?

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