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Indybay Feature
Making A Case for Universal Free Housing
by Dr. D. Bruce Loisel (bruceloisel [at] gmail.com)
Factually, the current homeless epidemic in California will never be solved unless we, as a society, are willing to provide no-cost housing for unhoused persons.
Think of a man thrown into a cold lake, never having been taught to swim, and we shout at them from the shore, “SWIM, YOU LAZY FOOL!” Then the folks on shore debate among themselves, “should we throw them a life preserver?” Another responds, “no, we’ve got to teach them to swim! And anyway, life preservers are expensive, that’s not a good option. Maybe should we row out and help them?” Then others chime in, “NO! we can’t help them; if we rescue them, they will become lazy and dependent on the life preserver, then the rowboat, and ultimately dry land, they will never learn how to swim!”

And then they eventually drown; the confused shore people discuss the tragedy, “gosh, that’s terrible, but this is the Lake of Opportunity, probably they were just too lazy to swim, if they had tried harder they could have made it back to shore. Look, we even threw some of them a life-preserver, and they still drowned; what’s wrong with these people?”

Unfortunately, in the 50-degree water, with no swimming lessons and trying to put on a life-preserver with complicated clasps and ties to secure (again with no pre-instruction), the shore people trying to teach them to swim by yelling instructions from afar does no good - they drown.

But every so often, an exceptional person emerges, with innate swimming skills and remarkable resilience, and makes it back to shore. The shore people make a big celebration! But then lament, “if this guy can make it back to shore, why can’t everyone? It seems like a matter of willpower to me.” Finally, the press shows up, touts the survivor, and the shore people take a victory lap shouting the merits of the “sink or swim” program, “proving” the “sink or swim” system works.

The assumptions made by the shore people are the same erroneous assumptions American society makes about homeless persons and families; it’s their fault. The elephant in the room is the discrepancy between low wages and the high cost of housing; it is the fundamental reason people enter into and remain homeless.

We place homeless persons in an impossible bind, ignoring the calculous:

a – b + c + d + e + f = g

a (income) – b (cost of housing) + c (difficult life circumstances) + d (compounding traumatic factors) + e (lack of available resources) + (f) Lack of Available Resources = (g) homelessness

“a” - Income

California minimum wage: $15.00 per hour = 2,400 – 25% taxes ($600) = $1,800 net.

“b” - Cost of Housing (Los Angeles/average low end):

• One bedroom $1,610
• Two Bedrooms $2,600

“c” = Difficult Life Circumstances
“d” = Compounding Traumatic Factors
“f’ = Lack of Available Resources
“g” = Homelessness

There are a few other contributing factors as well, including the proliferation of liquor stores in poor areas, The shortage of chain grocery stores in poor areas (“grocery deserts”), and The proliferation of fast-food restaurants in poor areas leading to poor health.

With low wages for the working class (when employment is available), and the impossibly high cost of housing in Los Angeles, it’s not surprising that more than 66,400 people were homeless in Los Angeles County at the start of 2020, according to a count from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. That number was 12.7% higher than the previous year. It is a fact that economically, individuals and families cannot afford to remain housed. They are forced into shared housing, living in cars, and finally live outside, homeless. Homelessness is caused, first and foremost, by economic realities that move individuals and families into a lost condition. Depressed wages and the high cost of housing create homelessness; it’s systemic. In America, we blame the individual for “failing” and descending into homelessness when the truth is the deck is stacked against them.

The core myth justifying blaming the individual (rather than economic realities) is that all persons possess the innate ability to become self-sufficient/self-reliant and that government assistance creates dependency and sloth. This belief places the blame squarely on the individual, “why can’t they just swim?” Homelessness is a natural consequence of not achieving one's potential, but not everyone is good at employment.

Employment on any level requires interpersonal acumen, good time management, reasoning ability, focus, mathematic and English skills, good time management, good personal hygiene, decent physical health, and an acceptable appearance. In addition, employment generally requires transportation, and for those with children, childcare or after-school care. Many people lack these skills, and we deem them “lazy” and unmotivated.

Capitalism creates homelessness by assuming that only productive, healthy persons are valuable and deserve housing. The hard truth is that many people will never become self-sufficient, need life-long intensive support, won’t or can’t support themselves, and eventually become homeless. Unless we are willing to provide affordable, low or no-cost universal housing, homelessness will most likely increase.

Other Facts About the 2020 Homeless Population in Los Angeles County:

• 12% are under age 18.
• 32% are female.
• 20% are in family units (often headed by a single mother}.
• 17% are physically disabled.
• 38% are chronically homeless.
• 24% have substance abuse disorders.
• 22% suffer from severe mental illness.
• 29% experienced domestic/intimate partner violence.

The only way to prevent individuals and families from sinking into a homeless condition is to provide low or no-cost housing. Supportive services are rendered moot if a person or family can't earn enough money to live in a home or an apartment.

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