Enough focusing on the complicated reasons homelessness floods the streets of America.
Who cares if our country shut down too many mental health institutions decades ago? Who cares if only a minority of this nation’s citizens have the means to buy a home, purchase health insurance, or subsist without government assistance? Should we blame it on domestic violence? PTSD? Foster care gone awry?
Do we really care how all these unfortunate people ended up on our streets?
More people living in poverty end up in prison than those with higher incomes. Then, when they are eventually released, they only possess the basic survival skills they developed behind bars. It’s not surprising that rejoining society can be difficult.
With our country entangled in conflicts an ocean away, it’s no wonder the men and women of our armed services return home disenfranchised, struggling with mental illnesses with clinical names they never knew existed.
Sure, we started with compassion. We tossed a few coins into their tin cans by the freeway off-ramp. We donated food to the neighborhood soup kitchen. We even cooked meals at the local shelter. But after decades and decades of watching these people literally rot on our streets, our compassion has shriveled up.
The fatigue has kicked in, and we just want the whole complicated issue to go away. Can we press the red Staples “easy” button, and make them all disappear?
Once, I received a telephone call from a well-known celebrity who supported the agency I lead.
In an excited voice, he said, “Joel, I have a tremendous idea for how we can solve homelessness!” I perked up, ready for some divine inspiration. He continued, “Why don’t we put all of the homeless people on busses, and we can set up a large camp in the middle of the desert.”
I wanted to tell him that this country had already tried sending a minority, disenfranchised group of Americans into internment camps in the desert, and it didn’t resolve anything.
Instead, I kept my mouth shut.
Do we really care about people who are homeless? Or would we rather just put them on a bus and send them into the desert, where they can’t bother us anymore?
In Hawaii, they seriously considered shipping people who were homeless back to the mainland on a one-way flight. That’s one way to “end” homelessness in the state.
And increasing number of communities across the country have instituted a program, called “Homeward Bound,” through which they provide bus tickets back to homeless people’s hometowns.
Solving homelessness by handing out bus tickets is certainly easier than addressing the complicated issues that prevent a person from being housed. And it’s true that it doesn’t seem fair for one community to have to address the homelessness created by another community.
But, when I was young, I learned that money doesn’t grow on trees. Similarly, we must learn that there is no “easy” way to end poverty and homelessness. It won’t happen overnight. And it certainly won’t happen just by handing out tickets to get out of town.
photo by Parul Arora