Out of Sight
many cities, being homeless is against the law
By Kari Lydersen
the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released an intensive,
three-year study on homelessness in December, it proved what the homeless
themselves have long known: Homelessness will continue to plague this
country as long as cities fail to provide adequate shelter and social
pay rent on the meager wages he earns as a day laborer, Larry
Barnes spends his nights on the Santa Clara Valley Transportation
Authority's Route 22 bus. The only bus in the county that offers
24-hour service, No. 22 is a warm place for many homeless people.
Paul Myers/Impact Visuals
The study, which involved the efforts of 12 federal agencies and thousands
of interviews, showed that approximately 2 million people are homeless
at some point during any given year, a third of whom had slept on the
street or in some other public place within the last week. Families are
the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population, and more working
people are becoming homeless because of rising housing costs and a lack
of living-wage jobs. Two-thirds of the homeless suffer from chronic or
infectious diseases, and 39 percent are mentally ill.
HUD offered one positive spin on the information: When the homeless do
hook up with social service organizations offering drug and alcohol treatment
and job counseling, a large percentage succeed in finding permanent housing.
"Homeless people are locked out of America's prosperity, but we have the
key that can let them in," HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo said. "Assistance
programs can replace the nightmare of homelessness with the American dream
of a better future."
The "key" to helping the homeless rests in the hands of city governments.
But instead of looking for real solutions, politicians all over the country
are more concerned with maintaining an image of prosperity. Playing down
the homeless problem means finding new ways to "clean up" the homeless,
whether by police action or through more subtle maneuvers.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani has become infamous for his overzealous prosecution
of "quality-of-life" violations, ranging from jay-walking to public drinking.
Even tourists and wealthy residents have been arrested in the crackdown,
but it is the homeless who bear the brunt of Giuliani's law-and-order
mentality. In November, he threatened to arrest anyone sleeping in the
street, saying "Streets do not exist in civilized societies for the purpose
of people sleeping there. Bedrooms are for sleeping."
In These Times ©
Vol. 24, No. 14