Housing the Homeless: Universal Housing is the Answer

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Homelessness itself, let alone homeless deaths, is an unnecessary tragedy and demonstrates how uncivilized of a nation we live in. We don’t need a technological fix because it’s not a technological problem. We already have everything we need to solve homelessness, and indeed even the bigger problem poverty, except the political will to do so. We tragically have a political economy that creates homelessness, while blaming the victims, and then punishes the poor for being homeless. It doesn’t have to be this way.


This is not a home, therefore this is not a civilized society.

With about 600,000 people homeless on any given night and an estimated 3 million people in the United States experiencing homelessness sometime during the year, we clearly have a very serious social problem. Our problem of homelessness has significant moral, spiritual, psychological, social, political, and economic implications.
In a society awash with wealth, along with all of the resources and skills we need to solve our most pressing problems, poverty generally and homelessness specifically is a clear, simple, and tragic index of moral, spiritual, social, political, and economic failure of the richest country. Indeed, Robert F. Kennedy once remarked that “where there is plenty, poverty is evil”.
There is nothing normal, natural, automatic, nor inevitable about homelessness. And it is certainly not fair, ethical, nor desirable. Homelessness is a social problem caused by bad social policies, so we can solve homelessness with good social policies. And the benefits would be immense and far reaching!
Housing is a human right and we can eradicate homelessness through a policy of universal housing. If we had a policy of universal housing, possibly funded by a tiny tax on non-primary residences (so-called second homes or vacation homes) or a small speculation tax on Wall Street, we could build utilitarian units of affordable housing across the nation. The moral and spiritual necessity should be clear.
Building enough units of housing, we could easily house the homeless population. Doing so would of course have direct benefit to the then-formerly homeless population, but it would have many social benefits as well.
This policy would create many jobs for construction workers and would train many volunteers in construction skills. Home construction requires many materials, including wood, steel, glass, aluminum, tiles, concrete, roofing, paint, drywall, nails, screws, pipes, wires, doors, cabinets, locks, sinks, toilets, lights, and so on, as well as home contents, including beds, dressers, tables, chairs, couches, refrigerators, stoves, pots, pans, TVs, and more, which would benefit thousands of local companies across the country.
By building these housing units, perhaps up to a few million, this would put downward pressure on rents across the country, benefiting millions of lower and middle-class renters. As is done in some jurisdictions, these housing units could be owned by non-profit organizations, if not the government, or could be inexpensively sold to tenants with contracts to keep them affordable.
No longer having homeless people on the streets would also save cities lots of money. Cities wouldn’t have to spend for homeless shelters, while police officers, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, social workers, doctors, nurses, and others wouldn’t have to spend as much of their time, energy, and resources dealing with the many negative medical and legal consequences of homelessness. Downtown sidewalks and parks would be less littered and wouldn’t have to be cleaned as often. Alcohol and drug abuse would decline, as would petty crimes and emergency room visits. To the extent that the presence of homeless people dampen business activity, this would also be an economic boon for downtown businesses, further boosting our economy.
Psychologically, we wouldn’t be confronted with homelessness and therefore would have fewer feelings of being annoyed, anxious, frightened, and guilty. We could feel more content and free.
Spiritually, we would be able to actualize and practice our values, rather than simply ritualizing them, making us more whole, transcendent, and holy.
Socially, we would have the experience of directly and indirectly participating in a national program to do monumental good. And politically, physically, and otherwise, we would be working together in solidarity and with camaraderie to make America better for all of us. Our collective sense of meaning and accomplishment would soar, which would be tremendously important and valuable, creating happier people and more social solidarity, as we eliminate a major social problem and accomplish a major societal goal.
America would become more civilized by living our values and this would send a powerful message domestically and internationally. Of course there would details to work out, yet we need to keep in mind that societies have already worked out many of those details and currently experience no homelessness, just as the US didn’t have a big homelessness problem prior to the regressive Reagan era.
We can house the homeless; universal housing is the answer. In the same vein, we can also choose to have universal healthcare, universal education, universal employment, universal basic income, universal food, universal clean water, and universal public transportation. Can you imagine how much more civilized our country would be?

Dan Brook, Ph.D. teaches political science and sociology in the San Francisco Bay Area. His ebooks are available at http://smashwords.com/profile/view/brook.