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The United States is homeless: Is our government heartless?

Right now, there are over half a million people in the United States are homeless. And this number is only growing as we see the casualties from the COVID economic recession.

These people are struggling as our country sets challenges before them. They cannot cover rent as prices continually climb in cities where large United States homeless populations exist.

They are not supported in their efforts to hold a job, let alone find one that pays a living wage. They are hard-pressed to find safe places to sleep and adequate healthcare.

Something needs to be done, and the eradication of homelessness in the US may be more attainable than you think. 

An unjust distribution of wealth in the United States

The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that ending homelessness in the US would cost $20 billion dollars. Now, that’s a lot of money. But in the grand scheme of things, is it really?

Jeff Bezos’ net worth is currently $192.6 billion. Just think about that for a second. Moreover, according to the SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, the U.S. government spent $778 billion on its military in 2020. 

With a laugh like that, there’s no wonder why the United States has so many homeless…

If we had subtracted the $20 billion needed to end homelessness, our military would still have had $758 billion to spend—a whopping $506 billion more than China’s $252 billion (China being the second largest military spender in the world). 

 The distribution of wealth within our country is a gross injustice. Many of us view homelessness as an inevitable part of life and only give performative efforts to support the homeless people in the United States.

Because of this many of us don’t realize is that the money to virtually end homelessness in the United States is available.

The homeless are not set up to succeed

It’s no secret that our economy is built to support the white and wealthy and further disadvantage low-income individuals.

Currently, the government gives over $70 billion in tax breaks to homeowners, reducing mortgage interest. According to Giacomo Bagnara in the New York Times, “Congress could shift billions in annual federal subsidies from rich homeowners to people who don’t have homes.” 

These tax breaks tend to help wealthy homeowners more than lower- and middle-class homeowners—the people who may actually need support—so Bagnara’s point makes perfect sense.

Why should federal subsidies disproportionately support the rich rather than prioritizing housing homeless individuals? Well, some might ignorantly argue that our government already “wastes” enough on programs helping the homeless.

But how effective are these programs, really? 

volunteer United states homeless
Photo by Mikhail Nilov from Pexels

Performative and ineffective charity

The money our government actually does spend on helping the homeless is spent irresponsibly on short-term solutions. Bagnara from the New York Times writes,

Government programs focus on palliative care: Annual spending on shelters has reached $12 billion a year, according to Dennis Culhane, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on homelessness.

Rather than provide housing for the homeless in the United States, cities offer showers, daycare centers, and bag checks.

It sounds like the money we spend on temporarily sheltering the homeless, providing them showers and storage, is performative and irresponsible. We could use this money to build much-needed housing instead as a long-term solution.

According to a 2012 study, if the average monthly rent raises by $100 in a city, there will be an associated increase in homelessness by 15% in that area. We need to slow down the upward trend of housing prices by creating more housing. And this can be done successfully.

We can use Tokyo as an example. They have been increasing housing by about 2 percent a year, and their housing prices have remained consistent. In New York, on the other hand, housing expanded by only half a percent, and housing prices skyrocketed as a result. 

Housing is a human right

Privileged society tends to dehumanize those without homes. We avoid eye contact with them on the street. We hope they don’t approach us and “bother” us for food or money as if they are pests. Our overall lack of humanity is deplorable.

One step we can take toward a just society is prioritizing housing as a human right.

If we repurpose the billions we spend on annual federal subsidies, the military, and ineffective charitable programs, we could end homelessness in the United States. The money is there. We just need to find the humanity to allocate it correctly.