Homelessness is Not New

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Indifference is the ultimate cruelty dealt another human being. Worse than being beaten, spoken to harshly, or looked upon with disgust, indifference is being treated as though you don’t exist at all. You might as well be another gray pebble in the sidewalk beneath the pedestrians feet, unnoticed and irrelevant.

City councils have tireless attendees demanding action on the “Homelessness issue”. … a majority vote of the counselors, an official sounding document, and the stroke of a pen will solve the crisis. It won’t. Never has.

The ubiquitous blue tarps of homeless encampments especially in larger cities and towns is a lightening strike to the flammable moods of homeowners who see their neighborhoods deteriorating. It’s a helpless feeling learning that corrective actions cannot be taken quickly. Pollution and vagrancy laws seem to be unenforceable. The rights of the violators seem to be greater than the rights of the homeowners. That can be inflammatory.

The first problem is that it isn’t just one problem. It’s many.

When dignity is the last thing you have and homelessness takes that away, all that may remain is helplessness.

“The Industrial Revolution starting in the 1820s-‘30s people began migrating from the farm to the city in search of jobs. Philadelphia and New York had many people walking the streets causing the country’s first pan-handling ordinances. City jails became de facto shelter systems.

Poor safety regulation caused a lot of physical disability and death. Those disabled and widows, many with dependent children had no means to provide for themselves

and nowhere to turn. The 1850s brought the first documented cases of homeless youth, many of whom were kicked out of their homes because their providers could no longer afford to raise them.

The Civil War was the first war where the newly discovered painkiller morphine was used. Now people with amputated limbs could survive. Opiate addiction became rampant with 100s of thousands of war veterans addicted. From the 1870s until the 1890s one could purchase morphine and heroin with syringes from Sears and Roebucks catalogues.”
The History of Homelessness in America 1640s to present
By: Robert Fischer, Plymouth Congregational Church

Today’s dilemma –

Current research and history tell us that homelessness is not a problem with a single cause – it has a variety of causes, some requiring more time, money and expertise than others for a resolution. Ranging from poverty and under-education and illiteracy, to severe illness and addiction it is very complicated.

Politics and impatient public demand are in the habit of getting in the way of identifying and fixing the challenge(s). Unintended consequences are inevitable when addressing such large-scale problems in a hurried, poorly planned way. Political motives and constituent demand can paralyze otherwise well-orchestrated efforts. Patience is often the hardest thing to sell.

Despite the cries of well-intentioned advocates there is more to the issue of homelessness than housing affordability and family wage jobs. 

“…we need to treat the humanitarian crisis of unsheltered homelessness like the emergency that it is.”
– Sharon Meieran, emergency physician and Multnomah County commissioner.

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