houseless, homeless

18 09 2008

I remember once in high school I went to Coaltion for the Homeless event in Portland and there was one of those motivational speeches before the event began where a man — a “homeless” man — said, “We are not homeless — we’re houseless!” I really liked that at the time. Portland is all about Dignity Village and hippie communities and stuff like that, and I was totally into this concept that you could choose to be homeless (or “houseless”), or you could really respect yourself and your lifestyle as a homeless person.

But homelessness doesn’t exist in Portland the way it exists here.

While a steadily increasing number of homeless adults seek shelter in Portland, newspapers all over the country spout horror stories of homelessness in New Orleans, where everything from anti-camping laws to multi-family housing limitations have been considered in an attempt to sweep away this glaring blight.

The thing is, homelessness here wears a lot of different faces. Common, of course, are the kids who live six or seven to two-bedroom apartment, or entire families who motel-hop or sleep in cars, all technically off the street, but far from having a home.

So I’m really torn about yesterday’s article in The New York Times about the Congressional considerations being made to redefine what it means to be homeless:

For more than 20 years, federal housing law has counted as homeless only people living on the streets or in shelters. But now the House and the Senate are considering an expansion of the definition to include people precariously housed: those doubled up with friends or relatives or living day to day in motels, with money and options running out.

Sounds good.

Except that there’s no funding for that kind of expansion. Services for the homeless are drastically underfunded as it is, and if you were to add the several hundred thousand more who would be eligible for government funding under this expansion, the already sparse dollars would be spread far too thin.

Capitol Hill knows it, but they also know that the expansion looks good on paper. It seems like a bill advocating to give to more people, but it ends up being too little for too many.

Still, I wonder if this kind of expansion might raise some kind of newfound awareness. So few of us realize that about 700,000 people currently live in shelters or on the streets on any given day, but federal dollars finance only 170,000 beds. Perhaps this kind of overstretching is the only way to alter government spending to accommodate more social services? Kind of like a little bit of evil to stir up the water enough to bring about some good?

Anyway, it’s worth taking into consideration. And read up on the most current statistics about homelessness. Voting season so fast approaches…

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