American Homelessness: Sorriest Urban Scene, Or. . . Not An Urban Scene At All

Homeless group photo by Franco Folini is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Freedom of movement is the tiniest of advantages possessed by the unemployed and unhoused. Disparaged as ‘rootlessness’, whether exercised in ambitious hope of finding work, or for survival on a cold winter night, their mobility currently appears to be threatening the social fabric of America.

A defining characteristic of capitalism has been private ownership of housing. For all its appeal and benefits, it has a tendency to demobilize labour. It takes time and commitment to sell-up and move to another corner of the country. The ‘stay put’ nature of home ownership results in structured neighborhoods, communities and states, in which government can bring services to citizens within a solid framework — a structured geography that is relatively predictable and manageable.

But the growing problem now facing America is a fluid mass of migrant citizens that washes across the country in complicated tides pulled by differing gravitational forces.  There is gravitational pull from community comradeship — a tent city of temporarily unmoving homeless. Another pull comes from a state with warm weather, or from a large city with services to end homelessness, and so on. The tides are rapidly growing higher as more and more citizens become homeless.

This fluid mass of mobile citizenry would seem to require an entirely different approach by government, one aimed at changes on a national scale. The geography of a fluid mass alters with every tip of the pan in which it flows. What future then for municipal or regional intervention, no matter how innovative, effective or well meaning?

Whether the result is a positive force, pulling the homeless towards it, or a negative force, pushing the homeless away, this national pan of mobile citizenry is tilted. The change in flow may be dramatic or imperceptible, but it can certainly produce disappointing results when viewed at the local level. Try this example, courtesy of Canada’s CBC News: Ottawa Homelessness: Bailing An Ocean, One Small, Futile Policy Step at a Time

The problem on a larger scale, and directly affecting America, is considered in a another exasperated local, municipal view of homelessness — a story which gave rise to the headline of this article. From the Guardian: The sorriest urban scene: why a US homelessness crisis drags on