A common talking point I hear is that homelessness is a choice.
- They get kicked out of shelters because they don’t follow the rules.
- They would rather do drugs than use a shelter.
- They are lazy.
I like to play these kinds of philosophical games.
“Is homelessness a choice?”
I guess the first step is that we all have to agree what the definition of homelessness is.
This is how the government defines being homeless:
A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation.
If we accept that definition of being homeless then I think it’s fairly easy to imagine how someone becomes homeless.
Their home gets foreclosed. They get evicted from their rental. And they have no family or friend support system.
One of the key parts of homelessness that many people find hard to imagine is the total and complete lack of a support system.
If you got evicted it’s possible you would be able to turn to a friend or family member to let you “crash” on their couch for a while.
Technically, you are still homeless because you have found yourself in a non-permanent situation. But maybe you don’t feel homeless. And you are in the enviable position of having someone to help you.
And then there is this:
Adult kids are just going back home to live with parents.
They also don’t feel homeless. But without their parents to support them it’s quite possible they would end up homeless.
In big cities homelessness is significantly increasing simply because of the lack of affordable housing.
Homelessness increased in New York by 11 percent from 2014, by 13 percent in Seattle and 8 percent in Chicago, data show. Major cities accounted for almost half of all homeless people in the U.S., and more than one in five were either in New York or Los Angeles, the report said.
And I would think you’d have to be pretty cold-hearted to blame the 2.5 million homeless kids in America for their lack of a house.
That’s about 2.5 million kids, and an 8 percent increase to “an historic high,” according to the study from the National Center on Family Homelesness. Just over half are younger than six years old.
I could continue this exercise with statistics and anecdotes for quite some time.
But my point is this: Would you agree that some homeless people are homeless not by choice but by circumstances?
So, perhaps a more accurate statement would be: “Some homeless people are homeless by choice.”
The next step would be to ask: “Do any homeless people choose to be homeless?”
Living in the National Forests
Did you know that you can legally live totally for free in the National Forests? This is a thing people do.
There are little communities that exist in National Forests. You can hunt, fish and just live off the land as along as you want.
The downside is that there is no running water. There are no toilets. There is rarely any access to a cell phone signal. You are out there all alone.
And then there is Ted Kaczynski – Wikipedia
In 1971, he moved to a remote cabin without electricity or running water in Lincoln, Montana, where he lived as a recluse while learning survival skills in an attempt to become self-sufficient.
I believe these people are not homeless.
The people that live in National Forests and live in isolation have created a home.
I think there is the possibility for examining whether or not these people have complete autonomous, free will in their choice to live like this. Clearly Ted Kaczynski has mental health issues. And I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people living in the National Forests also are fighting issues like PTSD, depression and other mental health challenges.
But let’s just assume they have other options available to them and therefore they have “chosen” to live in isolation in a homeless-like setting.
The defining factor of the homeless is: non-permanent.
They live in an environment that could change at any given moment. Today they could be sleeping in a tent somewhere and tonight it could be legally taken from them.
This non-permanence is the major destabilizing factor of the homeless population. They can’t rely on where they live from one day to the next.
Imagine how you feel Sunday night when you have to go back to work. Or if you’re a teacher, the last couple days of summer break. Transitions are incredibly challenging for humans. We crave a foundation. We need consistency.
A homeless person has no stability. The fundamental grounding of a permanent place to live is non-existent for them.
A homeless person is someone who is in a system where they have no control over their fundamental living stability.
If you don’t know where you’re going to live from one day to the next and you have not chosen that existence you are homeless.
At that point all your energy is focused on survival and minimizing suffering.
Your mental health issues spike because of the chaos of your life. Then your addictions spike as you attempt to self medicate. You are cold. You are hungry. You are dirty. You have no choice but to focus on basic survival.
Homelessness, by definition, is a total lack of choice.
You have nowhere else to go but where you are right at this moment.
If I spend the year camping I am not homeless. I could return to my home at any time.
If a homeless person spends a year camping in the same exact locations I camped they are homeless because they don’t have a choice.
Being homeless is being choiceless.
If you think the homeless have a choice in their existence you haven’t spent much time talking to the homeless.
And further, your simplistic views of the most poor, most weak (the VERY people Jesus told us to love) is hurting them even more. Your words make others turn on the poorest of the poor.
These people have no ID’s, so they have no jobs. They have no food cards. They make zero dollars a day. They couldn’t be more poor. And yet you see the “sense” is blaming them for their poverty and their plight.
If you don’t have even a tinge of compassion for the poorest of poor in your neighborhood when DO you have compassion?
So I’m actually BEGGING you. Please stop saying homelessness is a choice. You are just making a bad situation worse.