Talk and finger-pointing about homelessness rears its head periodically. You have to read the paper between the lines to know that the press releases which substitute for news are all about building public sympathy for a homeless shelter. But rather than just speak the truth, they use subterfuge.
Blaming landlords for substandard apartments has always been good sport, because we all know that landlords regularly sneak inside their apartments after they’ve rented them, punch holes in the walls, throw garbage around the rooms, bring their cats in to pee on the rugs, and, oh, just for fun, as they’re going out the back door, break the windows and knock the smoke detectors off the ceilings because they’ve started that annoying chirping.
But now there’s a new villain on the block: the “rich” who bought dilapidated buildings, put their hard-earned money into them, and have the audacity to actually live in them! Gentrification, and those who gentrify, are the new bogeymen.
Unfortunately, it’s easy and p.c. to blame landlords and the rich, yet it’s suicidal to even imply that the homeless are to blame in any way, or even that their problems are self-contained. In reality, the problem is not “the poor”, i.e. people without money. People who are chronically homeless have other problems – drugs, alcohol, mental -- that cause them to use up all their chips and end up on the street.
And while it’s easy to vilify “slumlords”, those same slumlords usually provide the housing of last resort for people who would otherwise be homeless. And I can verify that throwing an apartment at the chronically homeless is not the solution.
I give you Exhibit A: Homeless Abe.
I was contacted by Abe’s court-appointed guardian. She was frantic because Abe was living in his unconverted school bus, surrounded by his beloved old tires. It was getting cold, and the court required her to find Abe more suitable winter quarters.
I rented her a brand new apartment for Abe, complete with dishwasher, wall-to-wall carpeting, the works. But, try as she might, she couldn’t get Abe to stay in there for more than a month. He felt too “confined”, and was back in his unheated bus before the snow flew.
So, was it lack of housing that made Abe homeless?