Some theoretical background

Anitra Freeman (
Thu, 5 Nov 1998 21:26:12 -0800 (PST)

On a local list for supporters of the Real Change Homeless Empowerment
Project I got one of the "traditional questions": what are the main causes
of homelessness, and what can I do that will help the most?  This was my
answer; I thought it would also serve as a good takeoff for discussion.


In my own opinion, the basic causes of homelessness are:

1) Economic: we have let capitalism get out of control, so that a few are
rewarded at the expense of the many; we value material things over people,
which is plain silly -- if all the buildings fall down, people can rebuild
them, but if all the people die off the buildings aren't going to be able
to replace them.  People are our most important resource, and we keep
throwing them away.

Even the mental illness/domestic violence/drug & alcohol issues only lead
to homelessness because of this unreal economy that scrimps on programs to
help real people overcome real problems, while it pours millions into
sports stadiums, military waste & fraud, and inflating executive paychecks.

2) We do not take responsibility for each other and our community.  There
are at least 100 people homed in Seattle for every 1 person homeless.  If
we ran Seattle like SHARE runs self-managed shelters, with everyone taking
responsibility for the well-being of the shelter, we'd not only have
homelessness licked but public transportation, pollution, and every other
problem, too.

It has been said that "Homelessness is more a lack of community than a lack
of income."  Human beings have a long history of cutting out portions of
the population and making them "not-community".  In the United States, with
our Puritan background, poverty is easily perceived as shameful and the
poor as "not of us".  This perpetuates the problem and makes it steadily
worse; the only way we are going to heal our society, our economy and
ourselves is by working together.

More people are becoming active, taking responsibility for their community,
and reaching out.  But the message that "All your problems are caused by
those homeless people, just give us the authority to lock them up and go
back to your TV sets" is drummed out through all the media constantly. 

One of the most important things that all of us can do for economic
justice is just keep repeating our messages -- economic justice, human
dignity for all, each person's responsibility for the community -- and
don't just "preach to the choir".  Sitting around with your buddies who all
agree with you and running down Them Bastards feels good, but it's a lot
more productive to go out and talk face to face with Them Bastards --
treating them with human dignity too, and just repeating yourself as
endlessly as they can, until you get through.

I believe the most effective programs are grassroots empowerment programs
that include the people who benefit from the program in the design and
management of the program.  This can include partnerships, as when
community groups or churches partner with SHARE to set up new self-managed
shelters.  Antioch University, WHEEL and a group called the Sisters project
are currently partnering to offer classes to homeless women in subjects
that they have requested -- including basic computer skills, yoga, and

Another important thing to do is to live the principles of empowerment and
self-management in your own life.  Many neighborhoods end up dominated by a
vocal minority because the majority are too busy, intimidated or confused
to get involved in "neighborhood politics".  Corporations disenfanchise
their workers to enrich a few at the top, because not enough people fight
back.  Children end up running away from home, not over whether or not they
can stay up past ten, but in order to keep any soul or personal integrity
they have left after long assault.  Doctors are allowed to drug and abuse
patients because they have the relatives convinced "doctor knows best".
There are many places you can advocate a quiet revolution.

And use your own creativity -- not just in writing poetry or painting
pictures, but in living.  Create your own life -- don't purchase one
advertised on TV.

~~ Anitra for a full list of websites
and webrings because if I list them all here, you will be SO mad at me ...