Who is Responsible for Homelessness?

Homelessness has become a huge problem all across the United States. Wages have not kept up with the economy, rents have skyrocketed and politicians have largely looked the other way.  Each year in our major cities the number of homeless continue to increase. It is the responsibility of each community to make changes to tackle this problem.

The number of homeless in major US cities continues to rise as rents become increasingly higher.  The cities with the most homeless, both outdoor and in shelters are New York with 76,501, Los Angeles with 55,188 and Seattle with 11,643.  Once known for its prosperity, the United States is beginning to look more like a third world country with the large number of its population without housing.  Many Americans are one paycheck away from living on the street with many major employers paying just above minimum wage, which is not a livable wage.

One of the misconceptions of homelessness is the actual definition.  One can have a roof over their head and still be considered homeless.  This can be a barrier to living in a permanent space. Communities often look to shelters as a solution.  In reality they are temporary and are often not a fix. Time in a shelter is limited and if one can not find permanent housing shelters put people back out on the street.  What shelters do is provide a place to sleep other than the street, but they are not a solution to homelessness. Communities would fare better if they came up with solutions for permanent housing.

There are many reasons people become homeless.  Many people live paycheck to paycheck and the loss of a job can result in losing ones home.  Major employers such as Amazon, Walmart and others pay low wages requiring their employees to seek public assistance.  Mental illness and drug addiction to cope with mental illness are also large factors in people becoming homeless. A major problem currently are increased rents, tenants not having rights which make it easy for landlords to evict for tenants who will pay higher rents.

Once one is homeless everything becomes more difficult in large part because of the stigma surrounding homelessness.  Employers do not want to hire people down on their luck choosing instead people who have not had this problem. Society tends to lump the homeless into one category regardless of the reasons people ended up in that situation.  The homeless are constantly on the move as police, business owners and the public force them to leave. It does not matter if you do not use drugs or alcohol, if you have employment or are genuinely trying to get back on your feet.  Being constantly forced to leave makes it nearly impossible to re establish oneself. Society complains that they do not want to see the homeless and are also the ones keeping people in that situation. Making it a lose, lose situation for everyone.

Politicians often use tackling homelessness at election time, making their constituents envision a city without the awful eyesore.  Once in office they realize the enormity of the problem and choose to focus on other things. They will enforce sweeps to clean the city up, but do little to help those in need.  Resulting in the homeless being moved from one place to another, but remaining homeless.

It is currently a crime to be homeless.  If you do not have a type of shelter in some areas the police issue tickets for being homeless.  This only raises money for the city and does nothing to curb homelessness. It results in the person not being able to afford to pay for the ticket and then spending jail time for not paying the ticket, making it harder to obtain housing as one now has a police record.

There is no easy solution to homelessness.  Communities would fare better by increasing tenant rights, making it harder to evict tenants, a huge cause of homelessness.  Large employers should be held accountable if they do not pay livable wages and constituents need to hold their politicians accountable for their promises to tackle the problem of unaffordable housing.


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I am a freelance writer and artist living in southern California.

5 thoughts on “Who is Responsible for Homelessness?”

  1. A glimpse into homelessness you have not experienced first hand.

    I unlocked the door and walked into a sky-blue room with a single rotting, memory-foam mattress leaned against the wall. Nearby, the far side window had a jagged break taped up on the non-opening side. I had a view of Washington and 2nd Ave from my solitary room where no floor tiles are in the center. It’s a mismatched TETRIS block of wooden space among scuffed and paint-dripped tiles that date at least to the 60’s; the building even older: the edges of each tile slightly curled at the side. It is a soft blue that covers the four walls and the mouse shit on the phone outlet is copious just as the sodden pile of cat shit against the same baseboard is wretch inducing. I park my street bike in the corner near the opened window and a faint outline of more well rested shit, that was picked but not scrubbed, stains the tile where my front tire is set against the corner. A film covers those windows just as sure as nicotine stains the drop ceiling tiles and white inside of my heavy wooden front door. There is a closet just inside to the left. It’s a deep cubby with a collection of usable white plastic clothes hangers on a bar crossing over at eye level. There is no drop tile inside and the ceiling is 10 feet high with a copper pipe running out of a hole in the corner which disappears down into the floor. A shelf above the hangers is tilted forward and a can of tuna is set near its edge; I check its expiration date; good until 2020. I left the tuna where it was judging it good for 2 more years. The fresh, Einstein Bros. Bagel hat next to the can of fish was a reminder of a time so painful I’ll avoid it for now: I left it next to the can of food. I took a blue blanket and covered the junkie’s mattress to avoid sight of tiny black bug shit, cigarette burns and black carbon smears from a bubble pipe being wiped by gods know how many Tweekers before I showed up and took ownership. Own it I would. I had no replacement for it nor would I seek one. It will be my bed for the duration of my housing grant: 3 months. One room with a closet, window and ragged-out mattress: Home.
    I’m homeless
    I’m an addict
    I’m bipolar.
    I have anxiety seizures
    I made the conscious decision to go homeless one day. It was in the days after I redecorated my boyfriend’s house, much to his dismay, that this idea finally was the road that life offered without desperation but with adventure and freedom unquestioned or feared.
    That is what happens to someone’s mind with no stability of thoughtful emotion or even career; obtaining 40 jobs in 30 years and never settling down from the best time of life: youth. Transient became my name to the municipality of Spokane, WA. My “life” and “things” disappeared without much notice over the last 24 years since I finally left home. I used the term minimalist at the end. It was a backpack and my computer bag. Socks and socks in the backpack. Computer, Bluetooth Bee-Box and cords and such were left safe at the last floor I slept on. My phone, bought by my Older Brother in Arizona, was a Note4 and with a camera I loved. The expensive days of 35mm film I started my hobby off with over 30 years ago are never without thought when I delete the bad pic that has no development cost to find out it’s terrible eye. Captain Kodak is what someone said I was back when. There are those, still alive, who were shot in youth and whom I love to remind of days back when; all these years later. I was an expert with selfies in 1988, though, and a creative way to use the camera at hand. The years have only improved the enjoyment of a purposeful shot. Of camera and not gun. I shoot pics: not guns; or people. Never a fight in the back of my 45 years. At least not one where I threw a fist or connected my face with one. Childhood tackles and a wrestle are not a fight. Blood and broken bones are the hallmark of a brutality avoided with purpose and success over my lifetime. Words. I always got em’ with words.
    I ended up, after a long, mostly silent ride, dropped off at the Catholic Shelter, just around the corner from skid row; by my Eldest brother. His retired, military and confident hand was placed on the cold metal of a .38 caliber hand gun set in his lap. He didn’t like the chaos that was downtown Spokane. It was just another city to me. What I didn’t like were the Porta-Potties in a line on the sidewalk in front of the Charity House; perhaps 10 of them? Where shit boxes weren’t is where a rack of chained bikes and tarp’d carriages filled the space left against the tall, black perimeter fence of the white and green-trimmed building. The people though, that’s what moved his hand to the gun. Inside the fence on benches at tables; on the sidewalk and way off the curb in small clusters of street sociability. They were erratic and loud; shuffling and silent; garbed in various ways of poverty as some struggled with the push or carry of what they held important to them: a blanket, a bag, a three-string Dobro Steel Guitar pocked and dented like a Jamaican drum and more than one tattered suitcase; some with wheels and some with only one wheel clubbing along; unconcerned with such things as symmetry and its other corner being dragged and shredded over wet pavement. Arguments without words shouted and cried out through rotting mouths the smoky explicates ignored by all in the chill, late April air except by the respondent and the passionate, vulgar face chin to chin with them. The ambient idiocy and overall sight of madness only hurried along my departure from the safety of my gun-toting chauffeur and out to homelessness. Alone. Into a chaos that put me, with my new parka and fresh backpack, on the eyes of those who stared at my well-to-do while I offered nothing save for a blank stare that has served me well in times of solitary stress. Silence in my head as the SUV drove away unnoticed and then, as open ears suddenly vacuumed the humanness breathing and writhing all around me, my feet waded into the sea of misfits I would become a part of in short order, and in my mind, with brutal acceptance. I looked at no one and mumbled nothing to a staccato rhythm of my snappy, jittery touchy finger tips. I became visually disturbed while inside I cared not one fuck for the people around me. I was a whispering shadow of effected insanity.
    Lunchtime was my drop off time and, seamlessly and with a naturalness of disposition, I walked inside and became the end of the line for lunch; until another presence brushed my unconcerned body. The chatter of the line was a rotation of my attentions on broken deals, broken hearts and wounded vengeful pride; all while among pure idiocies in a line I was alone in. Focused on nothing but static in ears and eyes as I went deep into my thoughts while the feet moved to fill the just open space in front of me. I shuffled a fragmented train of thought riding the rails of all the things that ended life as it was. None of the reasons have to do with me as a person and the people behind the counter of the Charity Kitchen really have no thought to my position now and perhaps only thoughts inside of their minds where charity is an unrecognized selfish act performed with notice for maximum attentions of their pious placing of room temperature pizza slices, older than the 10 commandments, onto that tray of food I am charitably used seemingly to boost their ego as a person who is either a volunteer or working at getting off Court ordered community service. After a dead float in line with nothing but contempt for every person alive cycling the Rama of my mind I grab at a demure cup of coffee and spy a space at a bench table with space to sit and eat the charity of people here for themselves on both sides of the counter. I ate the food I refuse to describe other than pizza, salad, canned veggies, pie. I will not glorify the absolute abandonment I felt looking down at that. I ate until I realized I couldn’t, wouldn’t over-eat only to look down into the shit hole of a porta-potty outside, in the front of this take all people all condition House of Charity, just to purge my feelings of satisfaction away.
    Oh: I’m Bulimic. Or was. The binge and purge were done for me when I understood the day I was no longer in charge of what I ate and when I would be eating again; the choices sucked. Those spray painted and tagged shit boxes, half a block of them, would see me only for a pee. I didn’t yet understand the life without a public or private bathroom. For customer use only would become a sign to watch for and eventually realize it was everywhere. Now, however, I was done eating in short order and dropped off my tray with a blank and empty Thank You into a black 30-gallon trash can bag skittle’d with splattered food from tray taps on the trash can rim; fare that the poor and homeless won’t even eat. My eyes started stinging the threat of public tears and it was then I made my way from the inside out into the ramble of word and bodies all about me.
    I lit a cigarette and followed a long-haired shirtless fellow, a block ahead, who was heading to the taller buildings away from the people who had no idea of something else other to do than hang about a Charity house all day. Inside I was glad to be on my way to the nearest pot-shop for an oil pen and a few cartridges. I still had money in my bank account from my last tax return, (I worked 3 jobs on that one), and anything short of getting high would be bad for my adjustment to life outside of buildings and off the payrolls of any for profit living. I headed down under through my first train trestle, and another innumerable skid row of a city’s life, towards the train and bus stations. I followed one who seemed to be heading the same way, so I consciously slowed my pace as I made a left, over Brown Street, and headed west on Sprague; passing the Bus Depot and Commercial rail stop; and also the one I slowed to avoid passing as if I should give a fuck. Thoughts of being 23 hinted at me as I made a straight walk past junkies and homeless people set on the sidewalk rail ties like humanistic Q-Pie dolls. I caught up to the Auburn Jim Morrison who was shirtless and recently a good block ahead of me, at the cross light. He was to the right of my coated arms and his soft eyes floated down the trail of smoke to the lit tip of my cigarette. He asked, and I was happy to oblige not only a smoke but also a question I knew he would answer without interest yet definite knowledge.
    It was an inquiry into The Bus Plaza to buy a 30-day pass and what street the closest pot store was on. We both received our requests and parted ways after amicable interaction; each walking our walks. I turned to the tall white bank building whose red and gold lettered logo embossed the crest of the building’s façade. It was a good landmark to keep my bearings for getting back as street names, save for the Pot Store Street Name, were wisps of words that crashed and dissipated on ears disconnected from purposeful attention. (A daily influx of Klonipin prescribed to me for the past 14 years was masticating the memories of my life in sporadic and sometimes brutal ways.) Real emotion and empathy obliterate forever along with memory and cognitive acuity as I controlled panic attacks and seizures. I am a slow and cyclical thinker who is quite clumsy in body and mind.
    My first day of homelessness. I would say it was the second time I’ve been in this predicament but, I don’t count the first time. It was for only 10 minutes while in San Francisco, California. You see, Jim Westbrook and I had not quite started our jobs at the bakery situated in the downtown financial district which consisted of buildings on land-fill. Paychecks started beginning the year 1996 and yet, the weekly rental apartment had used up all the money I amassed for that move from Atlanta, Georgia to “Frisco, CA. So, there we were on January 1st: a couple of cute, young queers at curbside, with a green duffel-bag and Messier hockey stick, lowly and despondent on the slanted sidewalk.
    For maybe ten minutes. See, our ending nights of cash at the bar, where looks and our conversation ability with those lonely and much older Queens had empty shot glasses (FREE DRINKS!) pyramidin’ up in front of us two on the bar-top before us, were done.(Although the dire situation was dropped in hinted phrases, by me, to any ear bored and lonely at our bar of choice for a few days prior.) We were broke New Year’s Eve and about as green as two queers in ‘Frisco could be, however, this Stout Man of business seemed charmed by the two of us working the crowd at The Rendezvous. Jim 18 and me 22 years-old and us both giving him and any other Gent full attention for the sake of desperation. We left without a vow of help but, we left in good spirits.
    It was morning when that short, stout man we had met and enraptured, who always bought us drinks, pulled up to our curb to pay our rent at the weekly apartment. It was enough until we got our first paychecks. It was pure luck: unexpected or even asked for. Yeah: 10 minutes of that queer homeless moment doesn’t count. Especially considering we were a young gay couple capable of being charming when we must. I, uhm, our promise of repayment was without follow-through. His intentions were not without silent, future expectations. He wanted us to visit him where the houses and specifically his home, were kept. He would drive us. I knew what was expected and Jim didn’t. I’ll handle the crude request or flirt should it happen. Boy! Did we ever get our world view twisted while interacting with The Stout Man outside the bar’s door.
    The man who gave us the $300.00 for rent filled his sphere of home with the modern trappings of early tech-wealth; circa 1995. It was a one-off, that visit to his house on a hill, in a neighborhood. It was a place to go and ended up subtly highlighting our failings and untouchable dreams where we think we belong; long to belong; or perhaps belonging is not the intention; just a party. Simply humoring the gaudy show of that private life we cared not for was just something we endured on a Saturday afternoon while drinking wine in a forest green room, trimmed white, inside a house too big to be practical for humility. A boast here and there ejaculated the material world obsessions of these brand affirming souls and filled the wine swilled room of whorish materialists. Not only was the lack of topics substantially and interestingly absent but, besides Jim and I, these self-absorbed over achievers knew not a toast of any sort! So, in this synthetically merry atmosphere we played cute and very interested as these material narcissists talked about their Selves. Promoting personality and wealth obscenity seemed a social necessity for proper interaction with the Stout Man and his society friends. Six-figure gripes horrified me.
    So, as it is: homeless 20th of April 2017. Really.


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