In spite of a “Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness,” a combined city-county outlay above $50 million annually, and more than 50 programs (and easily 2,000 staff) providing shelter, counseling, case management and services, the number of homeless continues its steady climb upward.
Despite such extraordinary effort and expenditure, why does the problem continue to grow?
Most “homeless experts” point to multiple factors: mental illness, addiction, poverty, foreclosure, criminal record, bankruptcy, disability, family discord. They paint a portrait of an intractable problem.
Mental illness, addiction, poverty, etc., are not causes. These are conditions that make certain groups more vulnerable to homelessness. If anything, they are conditions exacerbated, if not actually resulting from the loss of one’s home. For those on the edge, the loss of housing pushes them over it.
Changing the focus
Speaking of their "pathologies," defining them as "the underclass" allows us to think of the homeless as “others,” not like us. This scapegoating winds up legitimizing policies of containment and social control and policing, instead of forcing us to look inward at ourselves and the actions of our locally elected leaders whose policies continue to cause a dramatic loss of affordable housing.
Homelessness has not always been with us — that assumption is wrong and self-fulfilling. The term was not even coined until about 30 years ago. Before that, the problem affected a relative few and was confined to downtowns and traditional skid rows.
Homelessness exploded with the dramatic loss of single-room-occupancy units in downtown cores — more than a million and a half in the early ‘80s nationwide.
In Seattle, the 1960 Census recorded a stock of more than 25,000 low-income units in our downtown core. By 1980, it had fallen to 10,000, with another 4,000 lost by 1985. Today, there are less than 6,000 such units in the core.
This loss was a direct result of decisions by elected officials to promote office, retail and condominium development without regard for the impact on our housing stock. MORE (PAGE 5)...
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Seattle: "Homeless has one cause: the loss of low-income housing"
John V. Fox and Carolee Colter (City Living Seattle-Page 4)