Trying to grasp the interplay between the US homeless crisis and the capital housing market can be a tad tricky at times. So often homelessness is viewed as the fallout of addiction or bad life choices, or the after affect of incarceration.
After the housing market crash which saw hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their homes, a large number of which were illegal foreclosures, we saw suddenly this overlap between the speculated value of a house and the often violent eviction of law-abiding home owners.
Not much happened in retaliation at first. Not until a couple years later when Occupy Wall Street ramped up did a true mass movement against criminal banks and reckless landlords finally connect in the public’s mind our perverse induced scarcity of resources where in fact none actually exists.
Those people you see sleeping on benches would be housed in a just and equitable society, and we wouldn’t have to build a damn thing.
Streetwise is a 1984 documentary film by director Martin Bell. It followed in the wake of a July 1983 Life magazine article, “Streets of the Lost”, by writer Cheryl McCall and photographer Mary Ellen Mark, Bell’s wife.
The daily average number of homeless Americans is just above half a million, but many don’t fall into that category for an entire year – meaning the total number of Americans that experience homelessness in any given year is between 3 – 4 million. Still a small fraction of the 18.6 million vacant but viable houses in the US, mostly foreclosed and owned by banks.
But suggesting we nationalize our banks and force foreclosed homes to be simply given to the homeless and they’ll call you a Socialist, or even worse: Russian!
Still, there other means to the end that don’t trigger delicate neoliberals and their market housing fetish. As reported in the Guardian last month, doctors in the state of Hawaii want to start solving homelessness with the power of prescription:
“A Hawaii state senator, Josh Green, has introduced a bill to classify homelessness as a medical condition. Green, who is also a physician, said the idea originated in his own work in the emergency room, where he saw many homeless patients arrive for treatment of basic conditions at great expense, but no real long-term benefit. “I’m really just applying a band-aid,” he said of his medical work. “But these problems require intensive long-term support.”
A small number of homeless people require a disproportionate amount of medical treatment. According to Green, a recent internal study by a major Hawaiian insurer found that over half of the state’s $2bn Medicaid allotment was consumed by a tiny fraction of users, many of whom are dealing with homelessness, mental illness and substance addiction.
Research suggests that healthcare spending for those who have been homeless for long periods and struggle with mental illness and addictions falls by 43% after they have been housed and provided with supportive services. Green said many of the individuals he hopes to house cost the healthcare system an average of $120,000 annually, yet the annual cost to house an individual is $18,000. He thinks that the total savings to the state could be hundreds of millions of dollars a year.”
So there you have it. As the Guardian cited, the few critics of such a plan could only argue that it might prove too successful and homeless people might find such an accommodation too much to their liking.
‘On the Streets’ is a 12-part video series about homelessness in Los Angeles. Journalist and filmmaker Lisa Biagiotti tackles this complex issue by putting faces to the statistics. She starts by following The L.A.Times’ homeless data map, and sets out to have conversations with people who do not have homes.
Hawaii has the highest homeless rate in the nation, and as such was the first state to declare the situation an emergency. Where billions are handed out in Medicare, homeless people often end up spending thousands of their entitlement on expensive ambulance rides and emergency room stays.
By simply having doctors order them into housing, we could rapidly solve a problem that cities have struggled with for generations. While we work towards an urban anti-capitalist utopia, solving homelessness as a healthcare issue should be basic common sense.
For a deeper look into the realities of living outdoors, check out the three ground-breaking feature documentaries embedded above in their entity.