When we talk about the Poor in 2023, we speak of the Homeless. In some but not all ways, this makes sense. Anyone without a home is by default poor (unless you are very rich). And it makes sense that tackling homelessness is the best way to tackle the problems that poor people have. But it’s not enough to stop at homes: we need to treat poverty as a concurrent disorder.
If someone has addiction problems and mental health problems, professionals like those at CAMH in Toronto will treat the addiction first while taking into account the mental health problems. I think the same has to be done with poverty.
Indeed, this piece at newscientist.com says that “decades of research have shown that focusing on housing, without making sobriety or mental health treatment a prerequisite, is the most effective way to reduce homelessness”. People need shelter first if they are to improve their lives.
But shelter is just a start. As this shows, “110 unhoused people died last year in Toronto homeless shelters”. Poor people need more. Otherwise they will have a bed (if they are lucky), but die if they are not cared for.
Part of the challenge is the homeless poor can be difficult to care for due to many reasons. It takes a special set of skills to do so, as this piece shows: “You Have to Learn to Listen” How a Doctor Cares for Boston’s Homeless. It’s not enough to just provide facilities and insist they should go to there.
Another part of the challenge is that people don’t care, either because they are indifferent or they have a peculiar moral code that stops them from providing for those suffering from being poor. So you have politicians providing ridiculous restrictions on what poor people can get with SNAP in the US: No more sliced cheese under Iowa Republicans SNAP proposal. Or you have a councillor voting No when Toronto’s council declares homelessness an emergency and asks for more aid to deal with the growing problem.
So the Poor need homes. They need better care. They need food. All basic needs. Some of them need more, like help with addiction problems. From there they need to develop skills. Otherwise they run into the problem of what to do with themselves when they no longer need to scramble to find money to buy booze, as this piece showed.
There are others besides those who are Poor who need those things: those of us who are not Poor. Shelter, food, healthcare, occupation…we all have those needs. We need to find a way that all of us can get access to that, not just for the betterment of individuals, but for the betterment of our society as a whole. Right now our society has a concurrent disorder. Dealing with homelessness may be a good way to start to tackle it, but we need to take into account more than that as we move forward. It’s the only way out society can get better.
P.S. For more on the SNAP cutbacks, read this: No SNAP for you – by Pamela Herd and Don Moynihan. Thing you could live on what SNAP provides? Read this: Snap Challenge | Budget Bytes.
Food insecurity is often tied to other problems, like whether to get food or heat and other utilities. This is a striking story that illustrates that cruel fact.
It doesn’t help if we don’t know how many homeless people they are. According to this, there are over half a million homeless people in the US. And they may not be where you think. For example, the state with the second-highest per capita homeless rate in the US is…. Vermont. That surprised me.
This also surprised me: the story on how the mayor of Bend, Oregon who helped the homeless ended up becoming homeless himself.
Finally, this piece about how in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., the problem of chronic homelessness is being addressed by a community of tiny homes called A Better Tent City had me thinking continually about homelessness and poverty since I came across it.