The Politics of Homelessness
The problems of the homeless are real, but as with anything, the details of reality depend on the agenda of
the person telling the story. Unfortunately, in the case of this issue, it is the homeless who suffer while the
political armies fight for preeminence. In fact, the politics of homelessness has become a multibillion
dollar business that is more concerned with protecting its own existence than it is in actually helping its
constituents. Throwing money at the problem without a goal to solve it only perpetuates it.
There are two major factions in the debate about homelessness. To the extreme left, and most prominent in
the media, is the position that says we should not blame the homeless for their condition. After all, they are
just like regular people except they don’t have a home. Their message appeals to some people’s feelings of
guilt for having received more than they deserve. To do this, they must make people feel vulnerable. They
must get people to think that the same thing could happen to them if they do not show pity for those less
fortunate. (Not exactly the proper motivation, but it will do if they get the required results.) Once we buy
into this image of the homeless, the solution should be easy for us to see: simply build more shelters and
public housing. To the extreme right are those that say the homeless have only themselves to blame. Their
position is that regardless of why people become homeless, they have the power to rise above it and rejoin
society. To them,!
we should offer assistance only to those who deserve it, and then, only temporarily. Of course, this
solution has the problem of determining who is deserving and who is not.
Through skillful and clever use of the media, the homeless advocates can be credited with bringing the
homeless issue into the American home. Of no small importance in their success was simply introducing
the term "homeless". This word replaced such words used in the past such as hobo, tramp, bum, drunk,
vagrant, pauper, indigent, panhandler, and transient and made their use politically incorrect. The objective
was to promote the concept that the homeless were just like the rest of us except they didn’t have a home.
The visions painted by the activists played on the conscience of middle America. People who had done
nothing to bring about the condition of the homeless were made to feel that, some how, they had prevented
others from having food and a warm place to sleep at night. Furthermore, if the only difference between
them and the homeless was some random turn of luck, the natural conclusion was that the same thing could
happen to them. Popular religious doctrine imp!
lies that one can deserve divine favoritism by helping the less fortunate. Add to this the feeling of guilt,
and activists managed to extort large sums of money from all levels of government and virtually all sources
of charity. They have built empires under the flag of "helping the homeless". While building shelters and
public housing is needed to answer short term, emergency needs, it also encourages dependence on them.
Without addressing the causes of homelessness we only train these people to depend on the public largesse
for their living. A majority of the homeless already suffer from mental illness, drug addiction, and alcohol
addiction. Addicting them to public shelter just adds one more addiction to the list.
On September 30, 1980, activists Mitch Snyder and Mary Ellen Hombs testified before Congress. In their
testimony, they displayed what they said were the cremated remains of "John Doe"; the first homeless
person to freeze to death during the previous winter (Hombs 129-31). Their theatrics used Congressional
as if it were a stage, and their performance was so skillfully choreographed that the media began following
them like paparazzi following Madonna leaving a cheap motel. Through the use of such tactics as fasting,
illegal occupations of buildings, pray-ins, eat-ins, cage-ins, jump-ins, etc.(Rader 5), Snyder eventually won
control of a huge building where he announced he would create America’s largest homeless shelter. He
proclaimed that, "People shouldn’t have to do anything to get shelter. (Hombs 60)" He seemed to think that
not only