I was born and raised in Los Angeles, so for me, homelessness has been a familiar site all my life. And even when I moved thousands of miles across the country, I found myself sharing New York sidewalks with sleeping bodies on daily commutes. The housing crisis is full blown, and that was the case even before the coronavirus ravaged the economy. As homelessness continues to become a dominating issue in the wealthiest nation in the world, I know that the only thing that separates me from the subject I write about is a few missed rent checks or one or two missed paychecks; I don’t take my privilege lightly, yet I still feel a sense of indignance at how shitty the system is and at how most people are victims of America’s wealth, rather than gainers of it.
One of the more effective homelessness initiatives, the “Housing First”approach, doesn’t require homeless people to accomplish sobriety before receiving accommodation. Sam Tsemberis, who founded Pathways to Housing, saw a significant percentage of people stay housed through his program, keeping these same people out of the streets or out of other expensive health and law enforcement systems. Using data from multiple studies, they found that it’s less costly to provide housing and the necessary services for these people, rather than allowing them to bounce within the cyclical system. See it as an investment of $25,000 to keep a person safe and stable, rather than enabling a person to be homeless, for upwards of $150,000.
If you still don’t believe in the “Housing First” model, then know this: The federal government could effectively reduce homelessness, making it brief and nonrecurring through housing for the homeless. The money is available, as Congress could shift billions in annual federal subsidies from rich homeowners to people who don’t have homes, but instead, they, like most people, choose to treat homelessness as a sad fact of reality. The fact that thousands of adults and children cannot afford a place to live in the wealthiest nation on earth is pretty fucking sad, and if that doesn’t make you check your privilege, I don’t know what would.
The reason why many people as well as policy makers put little faith in the “Housing First” approach is that the perception of homelessness on a general scale has been oversimplified and distanced. Oftentimes, the rise of homelessness is portrayed as a series of personal misfortunes, a result of bad luck or bad choices, essentially a personal failure. This is problematic for many reasons, as it implies we view adequate housing as a privilege, rather than a fundamental human right. For so many people like myself, reading this from the comfort of their homes, whether lux or not, we are adequately comfortable. Living in LA, I know that’s not a sentiment many people living on the streets can share. California alone was the largest contributor to the increase in homelessness across the nation in 2019.
The housing instability and homelessness are closer to all of us than we realize. At times, it seems the dire reality of the situation falls on deaf ears; maybe it’s easier to ignore the gravity of the issue, then to try and comprehend it, but here’s the truth. You and I are no better than the young thirty something year olds I walk past every morning in Hollywood, sleeping in the small slivers of shade on the sidewalk. The only difference is that I’m blessed for now. Homelessness is nothing to ignore; it’s a certain future for many, but we have the power to change it, as long as we act now.
Click here to donate to Union Rescue Mission to combat the crisis of homelessness.