The roots of Homelessness

November 21st, 2022 by Ken


The roots of homelessness run deep – and shallow.

The Christian Bible tells us that “the poor shall always be with you.”  That idea has held constant since the caveman forced his brother-in-law out into the cold because he was too weak to go hunting.  (OK, enough of that.)

The poor and poor housing has been prevalent in this country since the beginning.  But, there was always enough land and those without a house, could venture to the next county or the next state and build their next house.

In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as immigration filled city streets with people, language and customs, many of them were forced into tenements and many other forms of cover that would keep out the cold.

In the rural areas, the working poor, farmers and sharecroppers lived in whatever would keep the rain off their heads.

It wasn’t until the Great Depression of the 1930’s, that the average American began to see the rotten fruit of capitalism.  Right here in Thurston County, more than a thousand people crowded into shacks, shanties and lean-toos, around lower Budd Inlet (later Capitol Lake.)    There they stayed until the economic boom of World War Two found them work.

But, where were the mentally ill and those who engaged in criminal activities?   For the most part they were in mental institutions or in jails and prisons.

Following the war and to save capitalism, the government engaged in such social programs as the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Square Deal and the War on Poverty. The blight of the homeless from the depression was to be wiped from the minds of the new America and the New Americans.

Any country that won a world war and had become the world’s greatest power, should not have poverty and homeless wandering the streets.  Government was going to make things right.  Echoing the calls and cries of the Baby Boomers – – government determined that no one was to be left behind.  Even the poorest among us had the right to be free of hunger and be sheltered from the cold.

Government embarked on a program to eliminate sub-standard housing  in the United States.  Local government, echoing the trend, began to use zoning as a way to rid their cities from shacks and shanties.

Gone were the old-dilapidate buildings that used to provide cheap rent for the working poor.  Shunted aside to the suburbs were the trailer parks and overnight camping areas that gave the mobile poor a place to stop.

Zoning ordinances kept out apartment complexes and duplexes.  Again shuffling them out to the suburbs and even into the rural areas.  Places where many people didn’t want to live.

Later, to make certain that all new housing construction was 100 percent safe, city ordinances determined what kind of houses could be built and what accruements they must have – – all adding cost to a basic house.  Affordability was sacrificed to make certain that every house was safe from everything but an “Act of God.”

Banking rules and regulations also helped set the price of new homes.  The value of a house must conform to the value of the land.  Bankers felt that was the only way to assure that their loan would be repaid.

Then came the Better Living through Chemistry.

Pharmaceutical  companies had come up with drugs, which would help alleviate many of the mental conditions that had confined thousands of individuals to mental hospitals.   The conditions in those hospitals had become a national disgrace and government officials wanted them emptied and closed as quickly as possible.

Besides – all patients had the right to self-determination and could make their own decisions. These new drugs would do the trick.  Take your meds and leave confinement.

And, by the 1980’s, most of the government-run mental hospitals were closed.  As long as those with mental problems took their meds, they were welcomed back into society.  But, many didn’t take their meds.

Since the beginning of the 21st Century, crime on our streets had been increasing on a regular basis.  With the prevalence of drugs on our streets, petty crime made living in an urban area an exercise in restraint.

The legalization of marijuana and the decimalization of small amounts of other drugs has forced society to make some hard decisions.  Should police arrest and charge all those engaging in illegal drug sales and those engaging in crime that just borders on being petty, in order to buy the drugs.  Doing so makes law enforcement officials into targets of those who see little harm with property crime.   No bail also makes it difficult for police to make decisions to arrest.

Not arresting the violators means that our streets are not only filled with those who are homeless, but those for whom  homeless is just a way of life.

In Thurston County, right now, there are more than three-dozen groups, non-profits and government agencies involved with the homeless situation.  For the most part, those who are temporarily homeless, through job loss or domestic abuse are being house at  a rapid pace.

But, the problem for our society is deeper and longer lasting.

Do we, as Americans, have a responsibility to care for everyone living in our community, or are there people who are unable or unwilling to be helped and just want  left alone?  Does public safety trump every thing else?

And do we have the patience and the money to solve a problem that has always been with us?

The answer lies with us – and those we elect to govern us.


Posted in The Real News

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