Living in the Bay Area for any period of time, the discourse around the housing market is a hot button topic of conversation, mostly because it costs more than a car to live in a car-sized apartment every month. With the explosion of wealth inequality, the price of housing and the people who can afford it will continue to shrink, which leads to the second issue: homelessness.
When people argue the reasons why people who suffer homelessness do not deserve housing, typically the reasons come fast and loose, and the truth with it. Arguments like “There isn’t enough money” or “There are simply not enough places to put them” are purposely vague, and untrue. For example, in San Francisco there were more empty motels than there were people suffering from homelessness, according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle early in the pandemic. In addition, according to studies, people who are given permanent housing not only put roots in the places they settle, but provide meaningful economic input. The long-term positives far outweigh the economic spending.
Opponents of public housing (after being proven wrong about the cost of public housing) typically go to the idea that the homeless are broken people. The narrative that they are drug-fueled, lazy, people of color has been prevalent since the 1970s. Politicians used this propaganda to fuel parts of America we hide from ourselves: the Vietnam War, the War on Drugs, and the rapid expansion of our prison population, just to name a few.
Sociologically speaking, the majority of people who suffer homelessness are single mothers, young adults, and the elderly (typically veterans). Homelessness could look like communities actively being gentrified, veterans who don’t have benefits and are unable to work due to disabilities, or a teenager thrown out of their house for simply being who they are. These people are not defined by their situation, but are living in spite of it. Homlessness is more than a state of residency, it is a health risk. The notion that they do not deserve a roof over their head is the antithesis to what America stands for.
The misconceptions of homelessness lead to the underlying truth and why it will never end: we are talking about the wrong things. People are not against housing because it costs too much (it doesn’t) or because they are “undesirable” (they are not). They are against public housing, because of their social status. People define themselves by the things they own, and being a homeowner is seen as a major accomplishment (even though the people who own those homes are largely indebted to the very people who don’t have them). After all, if everyone had a house, then what else would differentiate me from “everyone else”? Look no further than the jobs the people who suffer homelessness do. Generally, they have jobs in service: cooks, cashiers, gardeners, etc. We have no problem using their labor for our benefit, but when they ask to move up socially (i.e. having a house), we make excuses.
To drive this point even clearer, look at something very closely related: public transportation. Things like buses and trains are commonly seen as token necessities for social progress, but the practicality is far from useful. Not because buses cost too much money, or the people riding it are just simply too poor to afford a car. It’s the fact that if you ride the bus, you could be seen as “inferior” or “flawed” and having a status symbol item like a car means that you are a “productive” member of society. What an absolute joke.
Naka Elelleh is an aspiring writer from Gavilan College. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, email [email protected]