Free human dignity. Come and get it.

Do we care about homelessness, and/or about the homeless? If 'we' means society, then the answer is obviously, inarguably, absolutely and emphatically No. We don't give a quarter-ounce fart in a twister about the homeless.

We care enough to have the homeless arrested if they're too boisterous, or come to the wrong neighborhood, or sleep on a bench, or smell funky outside a fancy restaurant. If the homeless gather any place for mutual safety and support, we care enough to have their encampment "swept" by police, their meager possessions dumpstered, and arrest any of them who object. That's how much we care.

There are safety-net programs to help the homeless, of course, but they're ridiculously under-funded and intentionally over-complicated. A person who's seriously off-in-the-head could never navigate the red tape to qualify for most programs allegedly designed to help exactly such people, not without someone to guide them through the maze of proofs and requirements. And anyone who can make it through the application and verification process probably gets only a spot on the waiting list, for future help. "Please take a number, and come back in 6-8 weeks, or 6-8 months, to check your status in the queue."

Any time there's a discussion of homelessness, Republicans and other cold-hearted orbs that rule the night will complain that the homeless are savages, dangerous. "Why, they pee in the doorway and shit on the sidewalk," say people who have homes with toilets, of the people who wander the streets, where an actual open-to-the-public restroom might be three miles away, with showers nowhere at all.

Let's acknowledge where the homeless come from: For the most part, they're the sawdust that's left over as people pass through the gears and teeth in the machinery of American corporate capitalism.

Can't hold a steady job?

Health issues?

Got a drinking problem, or drug addiction?

Maladjusted in your head?

Unexpected expenses?

There's very nearly no easily-accessible help in these or other such situations. If there is help, it's not publicized, or only for certain people, not for you. Can you prove you're homeless? Sorry, due to budget cuts we're not accepting new applicants. This office has been closed, but we have another office twelve miles away that's open for six hours, two days a week. On the off chance you qualify for this aid program, it's limited to 90 days.

Once you're hobbled by an unlucky happenstance or a stupid choice, it snowballs, you're more susceptible to other pitfalls, and making your way back to being "ordinary people" gets more and more impossible.

It could happen to anyone. With one or two unexpected expenses or mistakes, you're on the streets. Every person you see begging, drunk and disorderly, or asleep on a bench is someone who could've been helped long ago, but wasn't, because in America you're supposed to make it on your own.

If you can't make it on your own, we stop caring about you.

If we cared, here in the world's richest nation, there would be easily-accessible help for every issue I've mentioned, and a hundred issues I didn't. There should be (but isn't) a genuine safety-net for people who otherwise tumble through the jumbo-jet-sized holes in our uncaring systems and crash-land onto our streets and sidewalks.

Until recently, I lived in Madison, the 82nd largest city in America, with just a quarter-million people. Even in such a smallish urban area, there were always a few dozen homeless people downtown, and anywhere in the city you might see someone sleeping on a corner, in an alley, in a doorway, on a bus, in the library, in the park. I'd guesstimate at least hundreds, perhaps a thousand people are homeless in Madison, a city of a quarter-million souls.

Now I live in Seattle (three-quarters of a million people in the city; 2-million-plus in the county), and the homeless are everywhere, in every neighborhood. Whatever the 'official' estimate might be, it's probably a ridiculous under-count. My unofficial census says many, many, many thousands of people are wandering this city's sidewalks and alleyways.

And wherever you're reading this, they're there too.

What would we do if we gave a hoot? First and most obviously, there would be housing, free and open to anyone who needs it, with no questions asked. Show up and ask for a room, and you'd be given a room with four walls, a bed, a blanket, a pillow, a door that locks, and a key to lock it. Down the hall there'd be free toilets and showers, with toothbrushes, toothpaste, and towels provided. Free human dignity. Come and get it.

In the same building, there'd be well-staffed health care available to anyone at no cost, and mental health care, and dental care, and three square meals a day, free of charge. There'd be drug-use facilities, needle exchanges, and drug counseling. There'd be whatever other services are needed, which might include job-hunting help, public phones, AA and NA meeting rooms, community kitchens, etc.

Ah, you're wondering, how much will all this cost? You can't begin to imagine how much I don't give a damn about the answer to that question. It would cost a hell of a lot and so frickin' what. If we cared, we would spend what it takes to help these people.

Again, I'll state the obvious: America is the richest country in the world. The rich got rich off the work of the poor, and the rich should be taxed whatever it takes to take care of the poor. That's all I have to say about the cost.

If we cared, constructing and operating free housing is only the beginning of what we'd do. We'd do much, much more than merely what I've mentioned.

If we cared.

But we don't, of course, so we don't and won't.


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  1. Nice piece; it's easy to overwrite when detailing the outrages of America, and you kept it pretty well in check. I doubt, though, that America is the richest country on Earth. There was a time that might have been true, but we've chopped down the trees, knocked the tops off the mountains, choked the streams and killed the wildlife. What America has is in indefensible distribution of wealth. It makes us look rich if you squint just right, but we squander human capital as if it were limitless, like the trees and the mountains and the streams.


    1. You know, I kinda doubt it too. Haven't checked the stats, and I should've, before repeating something I don't know is true. The library's about to close. I'll double-check myself tomorrow.

      America's pretty damned rich, though.

    2. Seems to be a very subjective thing, with different sites giving different answers, but I used to trust World Almanac,so I'll trust them: by GDP per capita, the US is the eighth richest country in the world.

      We're #8, we're #8...

  2. > A person who's seriously off-in-the-head could never navigate the red tape to qualify for most programs allegedly designed to help exactly such people,

    Holy fuck, it's hard for an average human, with a stable-ish life, to navigate American red tape. How do the less-advantaged do it?

    Here's a charity we donate to : https://www.hips.org/


    >Let's acknowledge where the homeless come from: For the most part, they're the sawdust that's left over as people pass through the gears and teeth in the machinery of American corporate capitalism.

    That's perilously close to profound, asshole. Well done.


    >Whatever the 'official' estimate might be, it's probably a ridiculous under-count.

    I remember a passage from Pathetic Life, from before I moved to SF. You quoted a Chronicle or Examiner article estimating there were like 2000 homeless. And you were apoplectic, stating that there were probably 10 times that many. My experience tells me you were right, and why would Seattle be different, in these WORSE times?


    1. HIPS definitely looks like good guys -- thanks for the nudge. And for kind words and everything else.

  3. Whenever I see people complaining about how they have to navigate past the homeless to get to their 3K/mo. apartment in NYC, I wonder what made that person so oblivious to the thin line between housed and homeless. But then we live in a society where a significant number of people admire a lying, cheating "rich" man and hate and are OK with criminalizing the mentally ill/poor. The lack of compassion is inexcusable. I fully agree that every citizen in this USA of ours deserves the basics, a room with a lock, a shower, food...counseling...otherwise what is the USA besides and opportunity for some to wave a meaningless flag because...Murica. -- LArden

  4. One of your best postings ever, Doug. I seriously doubt this country will ever solve the problem of the homeless until the rich start paying their way like everyone else...and we all know that in this place and time that is never going to happen.

    I take solace in knowing that somewhere out there in the darkness of space, there is a civilization-ending rock with humanity's name written on it on a direct collision course with earth. If it happens within our lifetimes remains to be seen, but if not I hope our society has evolved to a degree that it has the wherewithal to not only deflect it, but is also worthy of it being deflected.

    Mark Alexander


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