We are living in the fifth largest and arguably one of the most robust and productive economies in the world. And yet, the streets of our cities, the byways of towns and freeway underpasses, are the only homes hundreds of thousands Californians have. Subsidized lunch and breakfast during the week cannot provide enough nourishment for children to be active, to grow and to learn.
While hunger, illness, and homelessness are the consequences of income inequality and neoliberal policies, we cannot leave it there. We must consider the individual lives that are shaped and misshaped by those circumstances. We cannot leave human beings behind while we focus on health care, income equality, and corporate overreach to the exclusion of those in immediate need. We must insist that programs are available – housing, health care, food, childcare, transportation subsidies – and expanded. Even after the change-making “Housing First” bill is incorporated by July of this year (author State Senator Holly Mitchell, L.A.), such services will be essential to changing the fortunes for this vulnerable population.
We must push back against municipal codes that criminalize poverty, turning homeless individuals into fugitives who must dodge police while they seek a night’s rest in our urban centers or rural hideaways. We must open our municipal buildings which are often empty more hours than they are in use to provide shelter, especially in extreme weather.
We must respect the preferences of people whose mental and emotional needs are outside perceived normality, with a goal of harm reduction over “normalization” while negotiating the “social contract” between homeless individuals and the communities where they live so that each person feels safe and sheltered.
Of course, we all want things to be different; but until they are, we must be attentive to human need while we’re on this journey.