We all have needs that must be met in order to live a fulfilling life.
We all need food. We all need water. We all need air to breathe. These things are obvious; deprive us of any one of them and eventually we'll keel over. Our bodies require fuel to survive.
There are a few other needs that are slightly less vital than fuel and air, but only just. One of those needs is medical care. If we get injured or sick, then we need help to recover. Access to healthcare is important for our survival.
Another need is housing.
Whether you live in downtown New York city or in the Arctic Circle, shelter is important. Our bodies don't function well in extremes of temperature, and prolonged exposure to the elements can be lethal.
As well, shelter provides us protection from harm. It gives us a safe place to rest and recuperate, where we're less likely to be attacked by predators of the human or animal variety.
In my opinion, the best way to judge the overall health of a community is to gauge how well the basic needs of its residents are being filled.
A healthy community is a happy one. People have enough to eat, their air is clean, their water is safe, and they have a roof over their heads. Medical care is available, and people can access it easily and without leaving themselves unable to tend their other needs.
But therein lies the issue. Because of how unregulated capitalism has become, those basic needs exist behind a paywall. People on the lower rung of the income ladder often can't afford to fill them all.
That's the hallmark of an unhealthy community.
I once saw someone describe rented housing as a subscription model for shelter. Netflix for not dying in the cold. And it's not far off from the truth, is it? Especially as inflation makes the average cost of living rise and exacerbate every other problem we have.
For some reason in the modern world, we tend to measure the prosperity of a region based on the economy at the highest rungs. In the States, the Stock Market is somehow viewed as a way to gauge the health of the economy.
Never mind that a staggering estimate of 582,000 people are living homeless on American streets. At least, that was the estimate in 2022. I doubt very much that the number is on the decline.
Here in Canada the numbers look smaller, but you have to remember that we have a fraction of the population of the United States.
The fact that in this day and age, our countries have yet to get their act together and figure out how to care for people at the bottom is a disgrace.
People who lack access to reliable shelter are in a precarious situation.
They have no settled address, they have no secure location to store the things they own, they have to rely on paid options like gym memberships or laundromats for showering and washing clothes.
They might be able to sleep in a homeless shelter, assuming the shelter has open space for them. In the city I live in, there often isn't room for everyone that's stuck sleeping on the street.
I know this because I've spoken to the people who need those beds. I met a young man who came in off the bus and was hiding in a doorway on a cold, rainy winter day. He told me that he had nowhere to stay because his plan for work had fallen through, and he couldn't afford a hotel.
He told me he had to make it for two days before an opening would be available for him at the shelter. He had to wait for somebody to leave.
Given that I was living with family myself at the time, all I had to offer for help was a little bit of cash and some advice on where to go for a hot meal and a place to get out of the rain for a while. At the very least we have great community kitchens here.
Just Get a Job!
It simply isn't that easy.
Think about all of the things you do when you're looking for a job these days.
You go on your computer; you type up your resume. You dig through online job boards and local websites, looking for options that might be hiring. Walking in and giving a paper resume isn't typically accepted anymore.
Then you apply, hopefully to multiple places if you're qualified to fill an opening. They ask you for your address and your phone number.
If you get called back for an interview, then you get dressed in your nice, professional outfit and you hop in your car and you drive out to where the interview is.
If you get the job, you have to keep a set schedule. Keep yourself clean, washed, presentable. Arrive on time at the right time every day, with professional attire.
Sounds simple enough right?
Now do it with the resources of a homeless person. You have no computer, no internet. A library might be an option, if they have computers available and you can use them.
You still need to provide an address and a phone number. Maybe you do have a phone, but without a house, what address do you give? A shelter, maybe? If you're not scared that it'll automatically disqualify you in the eyes of your potential employer.
If you do get the call for an interview, I hope you own nice clean clothing. Do you have a car? Probably not, some people do live out of their cars for sure, but many can't afford a vehicle.
So, public transportation then.
I hope your city has good, reliable public buses. I don't know about where you live, but a cab from my house to the downtown area can run you $30 dollars or more.
If you manage to get through the interview alright, now you hope to be hired. Let's pause to remember the hiring situation in a lot of North America right now. When's the last time you've snagged a job on the first interview? When's the last time you got a job even after a few weeks of hunting?
But let's say you get the job. Cool. Now get there with no car, relying on public transportation, every single day. I hope your bus is never late, and the weather isn't too bad. I hope your boss is understanding of your situation and doesn't hit you with unexpected overtime or change up your hours without warning.
I hope you can always get an empty machine at the laundromat, and you can always manage to get a shower every day.
All of this is assuming you're sober and able bodied, and not part of a stigmatized minority.
Fully housed people who struggle with addiction, mental health, disability or are simply part of a marginalized community can have a really hard time getting hired.
We're also assuming that the homeless person doesn't already have a job.
A lot of them do. Their jobs just don't pay enough to live off of.
Housing Should Be a Right
All of our basic needs should be counted as human rights, to be honest.
Trapping the things we need to live behind a high price tag is the same as saying that you don't deserve to live if you don't have money.
Social programs are great, but often chronically underfunded and ill-equipped to deal with the reality of how bad the problem has gotten. I direct you back to the point about there not being enough shelter space for everyone on the street.
Donating to shelters and soup kitchens and volunteering are small ways that we can help, and I personally donate when I can afford it. But as ever, it's important to recognize that our individual contributions are small.
Extremes of poverty are more often than not a systemic issue. It requires systemic assistance to break out of it. That's why they gave out stimulus checks during the pandemic, to help prevent people from being driven onto the street when employment failed them.
While I doubt we'll see that happen again, removing some of the heavy burdens that leave people in debt and struggling might be possible. Capping interest rates on loans, forgiving at least a good chunk of student debt, and pushing for better public healthcare would go a long way towards helping people in low-income situations.
Capping rent would also help. Providing better funding to social welfare programs and subsidies towards helping people with drugs and mental illness. There are a lot of ways that the government of any country could help lift people out of desperation.
Bottom line, we need to change how we measure the health of our nations on an economic level. We should be basing our success off of the people at the bottom, not the people at the top.