Sunday, May 6, 2018

Homelessness "Just Happens"?


How do you go from having a high-paying job to being homeless?   It takes some effort.

A weepy piece in the New York Daily News offers uncritical views about one of its own - a member of the fourth estate - who ends up in a homeless shelter.   How could this happen to one of us?  Homeless people - sainted and benign, in all media articles, of course - are always other people, not cleaned-up newspaper or television reporters or press secretaries!

But if you read the article, it is not hard to see how this scenario played out.   And what is shouting loudly behind the article is not what is said, but what was not said.   Why did this person have no life savings whatsoever?   Why does he get into arguments and fights with the family members he goes to live with (to the point of obtaining restraining orders?).  Why is there no mention of his wife?

What struck me as fascinating about the story - told in his own words for the most part - is how externalization and the victim mentality comes into play.   Everything that happens in this man's life is an injustice!   He has to ride a bus to a new homeless shelter and doesn't get there until 2 AM!   We should all be outraged by this, because, well, homeless people have shit to do.

An apartment is lined up for him, but the "paperwork" never comes through for some reason.  Other people - nameless, faceless other people, labeled "the system" - are always to blame for his difficulties.   And violence and arguments seem to be the common denominator, no matter where he goes.

The article does admit that the majority of people in homeless shelters have mental illness or drug abuse problems (including alcoholism) but never addresses whether the subject of the article might be included in that statement.   Rather, we are told that this guy just "ended up" homeless, and it could happen to anyone, even you, so you'd better watch it!  And moreover, another reason we should pour more money into homeless shelters and subsidized apartments for the homeless.

But as the movie Reversal of Fortune illustrated, you can give a random homeless person $100,000 in cash, and in a short time, it will all be gone.   The reasons for homelessness are not merely "lack of home" or "lack of money" but have more to do with mental state than anything else.

At one time in this country we tried to help the mentally ill and drug addicts.  We had mental hospitals and treatment centers, which were deemed to be "cruel" and too expensive, so we closed them.   We opened homeless shelters instead, which of course are nowhere near as cruel as a mental hospital (the sarcasm light is lit).

And of course, with all these mentally ill people out on the street, we have more mayhem and mass-shootings.  The mentally ill can get guns all-too-easily.   The latest one, this morning, is a young 26-year-old, living with his parents, who decided to shoot at cars on the freeway outside of Atlanta.

Sadly, I doubt we will ever have the money or courage to address this issue.   Rather, we will continue to characterize the homeless as random victims of circumstance or chance, and delude ourselves into thinking gun control alone will stem the tide of violence from mentally ill people.

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