Homelessness as an Issue of Conscience
By. Raimondo Graziano
~ Written sometime after the 2016 Presidential Election
The United States of America, and a large number of developed nations, have a public relations issue regarding homelessness and poverty. There is a major problem with perception of the homeless in the country. In New York City alone the number of homeless individuals are at their highest amount in decades. The issue regarding homelessness affects each and every citizen, every human being, residing in any society. From a practical standpoint with rising numbers of homeless men, women, and children – taxpayer resources are being stretched unbelievably and ineffectively wide. From an ethical standpoint, to leave our own citizens institutionally destitute and for well off citizens to look negatively on another, is morally reprehensible. It breeds discontent, disorder and leads to a disintegration of society. How can we help ourselves, when we cannot stomach to look at one another? It has been said that a nation, a people, is judged by how they treat their worse off citizens and I believe this. There is a perception that is widely felt, understood, and silently acknowledged – the idea that the homeless population, and those who are in poverty have done this to themselves. This is the perception and this is the problem here. Those who deride the poor and the homeless, they sing the same old adage – If these ‘people’ only would get a job, if they would only stop being so ‘lazy’, if they’d only buck up and take their lives into their own hands. What a poor, ignorant view of the realities of life; and a wholly cold view on any compassionate human level. We as a people ought to be able to disagree on how to combat the issue, but perhaps I am naïve to think that we can level, on the basis of human compassion and care.
Homelessness is not an issue solely about those who are homeless. There is a large portion of the United States who are below the poverty line and who could join those out on the streets on any given night in our country. Consider these two factors. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “In January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States. Of that number, 206,286 were people in families, and. 358,422 were individuals. About 15 percent of the homeless population – 83,170 – are considered “chronically homeless” individuals.” According to Feeding America, in 2015 “43.1 million people (13.5 percent) were in poverty. 24.4 million (12.4 percent) of people ages 18-64 were in poverty. 14.5 million (19.7 percent) children under the age of 18 were in poverty .4.2 million (8.8 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty.”
Practically speaking, that is a large portion of our people who are not able to contribute to the furthering of our democracy because they have been left behind in many cases by the system itself. These are people who want to work, who want to raise families, who want to innovate, but because they are too busy trying to find a hot meal and a warm bed, they are unable to participate in what this country can offer.
Morally, the United States ought to honor the words found on that copper tablet, held by Lady Liberty.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We the people of the United States ought to give this phrase new meaning, to have it not only extend to the countless immigrants, migrants and refugees longing for our shores, longing for a sense of security and a possibility at a brighter future, but also to our own people. To those who may feel that they are denied freedom because of their economic circumstances, the freedom to pursue the life of their choosing guaranteed to them by the Declaration of our Independence. A nation, a people are judged by how we treat those at the bottom. It’s time we begin looking at those who are homeless as our brothers and our sisters, and that the problem is not far removed, rather it could happen to us, and by preventing the factors that lead to homelessness – loss of economic opportunity, drug related problems, an often biased and disproportionally punitive criminal justice system – we not only secure the futures and dreams of the next generation, but we work to preserve our own. When we start to understand that the problems of the world are our own problems, the peoples of the world will benefit. Each and every one of us.