Homelessness A Problem with No Solution: Domestic and Foreign
If I can make it there
I’ll make it
It’s up to you
New York, New York. — Frank Sinatra
What if you do not make it? Everyday thousands of New Yorkers wake up, and instead of turning off their alarm clock and brushing their teeth, they have to figure out where their first meal is coming from. According to the Center Square publication of New York, in 2020, approximately 47.3 people out of every 10,000 were homeless in New York City. In a place that is as densely populated as New York, this ratio can lead to mass homelessness and a fight for survival underneath the poverty line. As of the start of 2021, it is estimated that over 80,000 homeless people live in New York City (The Center Square). What makes this issue uniquely different for New York is the difficulty in finding a solution. Unlike many places in the United States, New York has to fight growing social, economic, and political factors to solve this age-old issue. Is it possible for New York to consider solutions used by other countries for this very same problem? Is it possible that the real problem behind the issue of homelessness globally is our push towards capitalism? We may not be able to answer these questions right now; however, I hope to provide insight on how we may be able to in the future.
According to the Encyclopedia of Britannica, homelessness is defined as “the state of having no home or permanent place of residence” (Britannica). Although this definition may be true to the breakdown of the word home-less, I believe that there is a much deeper meaning behind the 0word. This meaning includes the social stigma of fear against those who are homeless and the mentality that you will never make it out of your current situation. It also has being almost confined in such a way that your mere existence does not exist in any place besides the occasional charity of someone walking by. Imagine your life being utterly reliant on the charity of those who live in a society where we are taught to relish every penny we have. Considering what we know, it’s no wonder that “HIV/AIDS and substance-use deaths were 3 and 5 times higher for homeless adults than for the general population” (Kerker). We are neglecting those who need help the most.
For me, this image played out in the “capitalism capital of the world,”, New York City. Growing up in NYC, I will never forget the smell of 99 cent Pizza and the sound of the train pulling into the subway on an overcast day. Considering all my memories from the city, I will never forget the overwhelming wealth gap that is seemingly apparent everywhere. When I was seven years old, I went on a class trip to Wall Street. I had never been, but I was expecting to see an abundance of wealth and class because of the reputation that Wall Street carried. When we got there, of course, I saw the huge towers and people dressed in fancy suits, but there were homeless people at almost every bench and street corner. Although I may not have had the experience and knowledge at seven years old, I knew that there was something wrong with this picture. I asked myself, “how was there so much poverty in the biggest financial capital in the world?” My second question was, “how can we fix it?”
Up to this point, the city of New York has put many laws and amenities in support of the homeless population. Arguably one of the most infamous plans that the city has enacted has been pushing for more affordable housing. As a critical figurehead in this plan, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pursued many different ways of preserving and building affordable housing sites throughout the city (NYC Housing Connect). While this seems like a great plan in theory these sites often lead to an increase in crime and violence and segregate those who are less fortunate from the rest of the population.
Consider this article written by Speaker Cory Johnson of the New York City Council. Essentially this article touches on how the impact of that government on the city level has helped homelessness and how it can be used to solve said problem. Specifically, he writes, “We (city government officials) need to take immediate steps to provide appropriate services and supports that enable people to exit homeless shelters more quickly and easily, or avoid them in the first place… We also need a long-term vision that shifts resources to permanent, affordable housing and reduces the number of people who are homeless” (Our Homelessness Crisis). Here he clearly states that there needs to be a change on the part of the city on how this issue is handled. I agree with this statement because the city has been known to spend extreme amounts of time and money on things that are not as much an issue. However, many have suggested long-term solutions such as Increasing the minimum wage and decreasing taxes for the poor so that the rate of homelessness itself decreases.
Lastly, I looked at an article that looks to combine both viewpoints. This article by EastNewYorkNews is hoping to bring attention to the issue of taxation on the poor. The article states that if we can lower taxes on the extreme poor, they would have more money to afford low-income housing. (Eastnewyorknews) I feel like this may be the best solution; however, lower taxes on the poor creates a domino effect that will only negatively impact the poor in the long run. All three of these viewpoints have truth to them, but as a New Yorker, it is my responsibility to figure out which one speaks to my beliefs most positively.
The problem is that finding a perfect solution is not so simple. Competing ideas from different sides of the issue often collide, causing friction in a case that should be considered an immediate threat to our society. Since the early 18th century, the City of New York has put infrastructure in place to help the growing population of homeless people. For years, areas like the salvation army and the soup kitchens around the city have provided food to those who cannot afford a meal every day. While that is a good band-aid solution to the problem, there is not enough food in these kitchens to sustain such a population.
Without question, the United States is currently in one of the worst homeless crises in its history. With that, however: it may be incredibly important to look at how those across the globe deal with this growing problem. One of the best examples of this comes from Australia. In an article written by SBS comparing homelessness in America vs. Australia, the author touches on the fact that the numbers of homeless people in Australia are higher than that of the United States but not because they have more of a capitalist than us (SBS). The reason why they report more homeless people is because they count them in a vastly different way. Here in America, we count homelessness by people who either sleep on the street or sleep in a shelter. In Australia, they count homelessness by the factors that make up a home. These may include any relatives that the person has nearby, your level of security, and “your freedom to come and go” (SBS).
Although Australia does have a high rate of homelessness, they are enacting policies that are not only working but can be a solution to our homeless problem in the United States. According to the Everybody’s Home project in Australia, they take an approach that is heavily centered around the government providing aid to less fortunate people. The part that separates them from America is that they are trying to be involved in every person’s situation instead of providing a blanket solution for everyone (Everybody’s Home).
There is something to be said about how we can use these techniques at home. As I stated before we have a very cut and dry definition of homelessness. Possibly if we started to think of homelessness and not only a percentage and actual people, we will start to see genuine change in our quality of life. In New York specifically, none of the solutions that have been implemented specifically target the needs of individual people, rather they target the needs of the whole population. If we can stop looking at this issue in a “one size fits all” mindset, that will revolutionize the way we look at our problems.
As we all know, there is a myriad of different reasons why one may become homeless. Whether it is your low socioeconomic status assigned from birth or just a product of your broken environment, I would say that the reason one may be homeless, in the majority, is a direct result of things out of their control. With that being said, do not mistakenly think that I believe the entirety of the blame should be placed on the city. In an article from the Urban Wire, they allude to the fact that even if the city provides low-income houses, they will still be too expensive for those who produce zero income. This implies that there must be some compromise from homeless people for any city-level reform to work.
While there seems to be many different solutions, the city has not been able to find one that truly fixes the problem of homelessness. When looking at the trend of homelessness in New York, there has been an extreme uptick in homelessness in the city over the past decade. Although there are many theories as to why there has been an increase, I personally think that the main reason has been our increasing push towards capitalism. As a country, we constantly have the mindset that people are in a bad financial situation because of laziness and that people take advantage of aid that is given to them. On the contrary, I believe that the vast majority of people who struggle financially are in their current situation because of the mindset that “homeless people are not worth it”.
For the most part, I believe that the root cause of this anti-homelessness mindset is the global push towards capitalism. In a journal written by Lucy Page and Rohini Pande titled, “Ending Global Poverty: Why Money Isn’t Enough,” they write, “We argue, therefore, that a sustainable end to global poverty will require that the international development community and civil society organizations invest resources in interventions that can help build capable, democratic state institutions” (Page, Pande). As they state, it will have to be an effort from everyone to help put an end to homelessness and global poverty. That is much easier said than done, however. Since we are pushing to a more of a capitalist mindset globally, it is easier for us to think of ourselves as entirely self-sufficient beings who do not have an obligation to help others. Maybe if we were able to change this mindset globally, there would not be so much of a stigma against being homeless, and we would see more charity increasing global wealth.
There has been an ever-growing debate over how best to deal with this problem, and while I am not sure of the answer, I do know that the mere fact that this debate even exists is a testament to our society. This issue is based on the quality of people’s lives. Theoretically, there should not be a debate over homelessness because we should all be doing everything we can to combat the situation. I do believe that once we can find our humanity, we will find a solution. The question now becomes, when and how will we find that humanity and think beyond ourselves. That is the root of globalization.
Kerker, Bonnie D,PhD., M.P.H., et al. “A Population-Based Assessment of the Health of Homeless Families in New York City, 2001–2003.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 101, no. 3, 2011, pp. 546–53. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy1.usc.edu/scholarly-journals/population-based-assessment-health-homeless/docview/852770237/se-2?accountid=14749.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Homelessness”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 8 Mar. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/homelessness. Accessed 1 May 2021.
The Center Square. “New York Homeless Population Numbered 92,091 Last Year, Study Finds.” The Center Square, 9 Jan. 2021, www.thecentersquare.com/new_york/new-york-homeless-population-numbered-92-091-last-year-study-finds/article_fb07d16c-5086-11eb-984d-673ab4e85941.html.
“NYC Housing Connect: Mayor De Blasio Launches New, Improved Affordable Housing Application Website.” The Official Website of the City of New York, 16 June 2020, www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/441–20/nyc-housing-connect-mayor-de-blasio-launches-new-improved-affordable-housing-application-website.
“Our Homelessness Crisis.” Data Team, council.nyc.gov/data/homeless/.
Eastnewyorknews. “Homelessness in New York City At An All Time High And Rising With No End in Sight.” East New York News, 22 Dec. 2020, eastnewyork.com/homelessness-in-new-york-city-at-an-all-time-high-and-rising-with-no-end-in-sight/.
“‘Us and Them’: What Homelessness Looks like around the World.” Topics, SBS, www.sbs.com.au/topics/voices/culture/article/2017/07/04/us-and-them-what-homelessness-looks-around-world.
“Join Everybody’s Home — the Campaign to Make Sure Everyone Has a Home!” Everybody’s Home, 4 Feb. 2021, everybodyshome.com.au/.
Page, Lucy, and Rohini Pande. “Ending Global Poverty: Why Money Isn’t Enough.” The Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 32, no. 4, 2018, pp. 173–200. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26513501