Getting into arguments with people on the internet about who the homeless are, why they became homeless, and what we need to do about the problem


Got sucked into this long — and futile — argument about “the homeless” on this Facebook group page. The general attitude of the people in the group is that “99% of the homeless are drug addicts, alcoholics, or mental cases.” Which is far from the truth. I’ll point out the LARGE number of homeless college students among the homeless ranks. Or that the elderly are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population — mostly people on fixed incomes who were priced out of their rentals, but otherwise completely normal people. To give but two obvious examples of the kind of homeless that don’t conform to their stereotype.. But it just goes in one ear and out the other. They have their preconceptions about the homeless based entirely from the fuck-ups they see flopped out on our city sidewalks. Who I point out (again and again) actually make up a small percentage of the overall homeless population. And that they’re completely unaware of all the normal-looking and normal-acting homeless — who they would walk right by and never guess they were homeless, because they don’t conform to their stereotypical view of the homeless. But again it goes in one ear and out the other.

I point out that since 1970 here in California, the population has been growing at virtually twice the rate that we’ve been producing new housing. And that the homeless issue is primarily a “housing” issue and not a “behavioral” issue. But again, they can’t see the connection — the OBVIOUS connection — between our shortage of housing, and an ever-growing number of people who are without housing (PS: uh duh).

Their solution to the homeless problem — endlessly repeated — is that the homeless should just move somewhere else, they should just pack up and go away. . . If only the homeless problem were that simple — we could solve it tomorrow. I point out the many reasons that many homeless are unable to just pack and move to another state. But again, in one ear and out the other.

The funniest thing — they all profess to know so much about who the homeless are and how they became homeless. Even as most of them don’t seem to have ever known a single homeless person personally. I point out that I’ve been homeless off and on for 15 years since 1976. And have spent over 40 years deeply connected to the homeless/street scene — documenting their lives in my art and writing. And have known THOUSANDS of homeless people over the years — many of them intimately. But the idea that I might actually know a little more about the subject than them, is — needless to say — hard for them to fathom.

They’re concluded that I’m a “troll.” Among many, many other unflattering descriptions of my personage. Ha ha.

It’s a pretty conservative group. They’re fans of the Armstrong & Getty radio show (I’m a fan myself). And they’re sort of an over-reaction to the liberal idea that the homeless are all a bunch of innocent victims who deserve endless compassion and endless social services. They believe it’s all the homeless’s fault for being homeless because they’re all worthless bums who deserve a kick in the ass before they’re run out of town. That bit.
 I’m not sure which attitude is worse. Demonizing the homeless or idealizing the homeless. But it’s probably getting more and more prevalent. People being sick of the homeless and just wanting them to go away.
The “behavioral” aspect is one of the most misunderstood aspects of the homeless issue. Is there a higher rate of mental illness and substance abuse in the homeless population than in the general population? Almost certainly (though it’s worth noting that a lot of the substance abuse isn’t the cause of them being homeless, but the result of being homeless — an attempt to self-medicate themselves from the miseries of homelessness).

Generally speaking, the homeless are weaker, slower, than the general population in most ways. They’re older, poorer, less educated, less competent, from more unstable backgrounds, more mentally and physically disabled, than the general population. But it’s like the game of Musical Chairs we used to play as kids. Where we had 5 kids competing for 4 chairs. With the slowest kid ending up chairless. But their slowness — they’re behavior — wasn’t the primary reason they ended up chairless. The primary reason was the 5-kids-to-4-chairs ratio.

Same too with our homeless crisis. Too many people, not enough housing. With the slower people ending up houseless.

And now what we desperately need to do is start building new housing as fast as we can. If we want to even slow down — let alone solve — our homeless crisis.