Come in from the cold.

When it rains or snows, you might not even know it unless you glance out the window. In a car, you simply turn on the wipers. Caught outside in a downpour, you button up, open an umbrella, and quicken your pace toward home.

Life is wetter and worse without the window, the wipers, and the home. A recent estimate (that’s probably an underestimate) is that more than half a million Americans are homeless. Millions more of us are a missed paycheck from having noplace to go.

The causes of homelessness are complicated, but the solution is really, really obvious: To put a roof over people's heads, what's needed is a roof over people's heads.

Build housing for the homeless.

I don't mean buying a dilapidated hotel on the outskirts of town, and busing twenty unfortunates there to spend the night. I don't mean funding another crappy shelter with a dozen cots in a big barracks, where people are still turned away every night.

More than half a million Americans are without a place to live, so we need to build housing for more than half a million people. That's what I propose. Tell people to come in from the cold.

This would be extremely expensive, but not as expensive as America's war habit. Billionaires would pay higher taxes, but I could live with that, and so could the thousands of homeless people who die on the streets every year.

♦ ♦ ♦

I spent 15 years living in a series of rented rooms, in low-rent houses and in residential hotels. Almost everyone in those buildings would’ve been homeless if the building hadn’t been there. It’s the cheapest form of livable housing, one step up from destitute, but nobody freezes to death in the winter.

Single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels, they're called. I call them rez hotels. Every American city needs lots of new SRO hotels.

Build rez hotels — and continue building them, until people asleep on the sidewalk are a historical memory, not a fact of daily life in modern America.

Like any rez hotel, the rooms will have only a bed and blankets, a sink, and electricity. Bathrooms and showers are down the hall, which makes the place cheaper to build and maintain. Add a shared area, with ordinary human amenities like a TV and couches, a phone, and maybe some books on a shelf. Not much else is needed. This is very basic living, just “better than nothing,” which is what the homeless have now.

These facilities should be open to anyone who needs a roof over their heads, at reasonable rates, and at no cost for anyone who says, “I can’t afford that.”

The paperwork to get a room and a bed should be minimal — “What’s your name? Sign here, please,” and that’s it. Any procedures more complicated than that will be too complicated for many homeless folks to navigate, so we're not going to waste any time or effort deciding whether someone is poor enough to qualify for this desperation housing. If you're there, you qualify.

Each facility would be run by paid staff, with common-sense rules to keep the place reasonably quiet and safe. The only people turned away would be those who present a clear danger, and people who’ve been recently booted from such facilities for being too loud or obnoxious. The unwelcome would be a small fraction, but 95% of the homeless would no longer be homeless.

Would there be on-site psychiatric help? Three meals a day? Job placement? Drug counseling? Macramé classes? All of that sounds great to me, absolutely — but my proposal is only, build the housing.

Build residential parking garages, too, for the growing number of Americans who live in their vehicles. Anyone whose home is a car or van should have somewhere to park, with access to electrical outlets and shared showers and toilets. The price for parking, pooping, and plugging in should be affordable for poor folks, and same as the rez hotels, all fees are waived on request, by saying the magic words, “I can’t afford that.”

Free housing? Is that the answer? You're damned right. These are not profit-making ventures — this is a public service, a last refuge for the victims of America's profit-making ventures.

This would be a great relief for millions of Americans on the brink of bankruptcy, eviction, and homelessness, wondering how they’ll survive when the next tiny thing goes wrong and they have nowhere else to go. Or for anyone trying to survive on the crappy wages so many working Americans are paid. It’s been twelve years since the federal minimum wage was raised — it’s still $7.25 per hour. There's no life, surviving on that.

I’m spitballing here, typing up a long-time daydream of mine, but I am well aware that none of this will happen. Too costly. Too many problems. Not in my neighborhood. Attracts the wrong element. By their bootstraps. There are so many ways to say "Fuck you."

Other than the obvious impossibility of it all, though, this is a workable plan. It wouldn’t “solve homelessness and poverty,” because utopia is not an option, but it would give people someplace better than noplace.



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  1. Everything you said and more.

    Almost anything goes, you used to say on Reddit and its still that way here. I think I know what to expect, but you got a good curve ball.

  2. The most un-Christian Americans love to say that America is a Christian nation. Matthew 25:42-45:

    “For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”

    Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?”

    Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”


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