Since my forays into the realm of homeless service provision began, it has been in vogue to assert that homeless people are not to be blamed for their situation. Service providers frequently claim that homelessness happens due to many different determining factors. The reason for stating such a perspective is noble; service providers rightly hope to dispel the myths of laziness and unwillingness to work as the cause of homelessness. Of course, by default, this means homelessness happens due to external factors. The agents that produce homelessness run the gamut; they cannot pinpoint one or even a few reasons; or at least that is what the service providers claim. They claim to not want to blame those who are homeless, while at the same time failing to even coming close to giving a clear answer as to why it happens. A common answer would be, “there are so many factors…it is complicated.”
These service providers carefully craft these statements in order to hide and obscure the reality of the current religio-politico-economic1 structure. By spreading the blame, providers exonerate the system. They fail to isolate and indict the root forces that put people on the street. At times unintentionally but often with intention, they promote blurred, complicated reasons for homelessness because they possess a prominent stake in this system. To actually identify the cause of homelessness is very difficult because it would take a complete rearranging of perspective. Still, the truth stares us all in the face.
The cause of homelessness is private property. It is exacerbated by the ability to accumulate wealth from the ownership of homes and other property through the charging of rent. A religio-politico-economic system in which the community builds, owns, and distributes equitably all property in spite of perceived, imbued importance could not possibly produce people who are forced to live on the street, yet 100,0002 people live on the street in Los Angeles alone. How does this happen?
In the current system and climate, homelessness is not an unfortunate occurrence; it is a mandated necessity. In capitalism, the primary goal is the bottom line. To make money is good; to make lots of money is better; and to make more money than anyone else is the best. Additionally, one must possess particularly high means in order to own whole buildings. Houses and apartment buildings require large amounts of resources to build. Plainly put, those with money own buildings; those without much money must rent. People who possess the skills to work high-paying jobs, which are most often those who possess the means to pay for a college degree, afford ownership. Anyone relegated to working low-paying jobs cannot buy property. They must rent from those who can afford to own buildings. In addition, those with severe mental health issues that inhibit their ability to work become stuck receiving small sums of money from the State, while others suffer from addictions that consume many of their resources3. Both of these populations clearly cannot afford to own buildings. They, too, must rent.
As stated above, in capitalism, the ultimate goal is to maximize profits. This is done by limiting access to resources. Those in power limit access by increasing prices. In this way, they keep supply at a point where their profits are maximized according to the level of demand. Everyone has a demand for housing. Since the system mandates some people own and some people rent, those who lease their property to others (landlords) hope to charge the highest reasonable price. This provides low incentive for people to construct housing affordable to the very poor4. Consequently, cheap housing becomes immensely competitive and limited. Those who suffer severe mental health issues or addictions already struggle to fulfill all the social obligations surrounding tenancy. When renting to folks of this nature, especially when they often lack the monetary means to meet rental demands each month, evictions run high. In fact, evictions and therefore homelessness become inevitable. There will always be people who hit a point in their lives in which they can neither afford nor maintain a stable housing situation. The truth of this claim is irrefutable. Homelessness is not a mishap. It is built into our current religio-politico-economic structure.
Why do service providers tell us that homelessness comes from many different sources? If they were to identify the true genesis of homelessness, they would have to advocate for a total social revolution in order to house everyone. Since their whole livelihood depends on people being homeless and since in the current system they live and move and have their being, they construct statements that remove blame from people living on the street while exonerating the system that puts them there.
In sum, housing profits run highest when access to housing is limited. Those who cannot manage to adequately navigate the expensive system of tenancy end up without homes. These are particularly vulnerable people such as the mentally ill, addicts, single mothers, etc. Furthermore, any problem these people might have in housing only become exacerbated while on the street. People living on the street are not responsible for their situation. We are.
1Ancient civilizations understood religion, politics, and economics to make up one concurrent system. Since then, enlightenment and capitalist thinkers have purported to separate the three. This separation is patently false. Churches and other religious organizations function just like businesses, politics are completely dominated by varying faith beliefs, and the economy is entirely entwined with the political system. I therefore do not entertain the thought that they are somehow separate.
2Another startling statistic is that 10 million people in the United States have had their homes foreclosed on since 2007. This creates a housing crisis, yes, but as the banks sell more and more of those foreclosed homes into the hands of the wealthy elite, more and more property becomes concentrated into the hands of a powerful minority.
3For years a stereotype of folks living on the street is that they are addicts. Faulty logic suggested that their addictions caused their homelessness. Of course, this leap from addict to homeless would seemingly make millions of people homeless, especially since addiction to expensive, chic drugs like heroin and powder cocaine run rampant in wealthy circles and that is not to mention alcoholism! Hence, we must conclude that addiction does not cause homelessness.
4Of who, not surprisingly, are increasingly single mothers. Single mothers must pull the double duty of working jobs and raising kids, a task which becomes evermore expensive. Sadly, the population of homeless single mothers is large and growing daily.