Florida currently ranks first in the nation for home vacancies. Nearly 1.5 million homes are unoccupied in the state and will more than likely remain that way until the real estate market improves. Yet the Florida Department of Children and Families estimated the homeless population in Florida last year at 58,000 people. Now, what’s wrong with this picture?
The fact that homelessness is even a perpetual issue in the United States is baffling. We live in a prosperous country, one of endless wasted resources, yet the more logical response is to let billions of pounds of food be thrown away and let millions of homes sit empty. There is simply no excuse for people to go hungry or to be exiled to the streets.
Instead of rewarding members of Food Not Bombs for feeding the homeless, instead of recognizing it as a charitable act, last year Orlando police arrested them. Denver recently pushed through legislation that essentially deems it illegal to be homeless. There has been a rise in the number of violent acts committed against homeless individuals, and Congress is considering passing legislation that would label these acts as hate crimes.
“If we treat homeless citizens as criminals, then it should come as no surprise that the general population may see them as criminals and become desensitized to the violence directed at them,” U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said in response to the proposed legislation.
So how do we distinguish between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor? Substance abuse is considered a disorder, no different than depression or schizophrenia, and our country’s track record on treatment of the mentally ill is also disgraceful.
Does this mean individuals that suffer from these addictions and disorders are not deserving of basic human necessities such as food and shelter? Homeless rates among the veteran population are skyrocketing. People who have honorably served our country oftentimes find it difficult to assimilate back into society after service and face a tough reality. Are they, too, not deserving? The reality is that children and families comprise the largest growing sector of the homeless population.
“We’re seeing more families in our program. I have many children living in their cars,” Beth Davalos, coordinator for the Families in Transition Program for Seminole County Public Schools, said in a 60 Minutes segment that aired late last year. “Usually, we’re able to get them into motels. Many families have no place to turn. They have no options. There’s limited funding. Some families don’t even have cars. They’re working families, but they don’t make enough to carry the family.”
None of these extenuating factors should matter because the truth is that no one chooses homelessness, and the majority of individuals are not homeless because they were horribly irresponsible in some way. Yet the idea pervades that the homeless put themselves in their situation and therefore do not deserve help.
The mindset persists that homeless people simply need to “get a job.” This is a nonsensical argument considering the nation’s current unemployment rate and the fact that those holding college degrees cannot even find jobs. It’s extremely difficult to interview for a job when you have no address or phone number to give an employer, not to mention a clean outfit to wear. Initiatives to end the cycle of poverty and homelessness should be applauded, not shunned.