Sanctuaries vs. Starvation
When I was last in San Francisco a visiting friend asked me why there were so many homeless in the city. I told her it was a “sanctuary city” – meaning that city officials are not permitted to assist immigration agents. The sanctuary movement originally started in the 1980s when refugees from Central America were seeking refuge from the civil wars in their countries.
But San Francisco isn’t the only sanctuary city. In fact, there are more than 30 others scattered across the country — from Washington D.C. to Detroit, from Salk Lake City to Houston.
Incarceration & Criminalization
Unfortunately, not every American city is as sensitive toward their homeless population. For instance, Columbia, South Carolina has outlawed homelessness. Not only does the city council want the police to arrest the homeless, but they want residents to report individuals who look homeless. Luckily, Columbia’s Police Chief has refused to enforce the city ordinance.
Other cities are simply trying to starve this already destitute population. Both Philadelphia and Raleigh, North Carolina have passed laws that criminalize the feeding of homeless people. Once again, religious organizations who usually run soup kitchens have refused to stop their meals programs.
Perhaps the most drastic program is to simply make the city’s homeless population disappear. Las Vegas puts their homeless on buses bound for neighboring California. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg bought the homeless one-way train tickets to Florida. And Hawaii officials went one step further, popping for one-way airfares back to the U.S. mainland.
Home Sweet Home
But the state of Utah has found a more sensible and sensitive answer, opting to end homelessness by buying homes for homeless individuals. That right – they’ve come up with the novel idea of giving those without a place to sleep a home of their own.
Utah figures that the cost of an apartment and a counselor is $11,000 which is considerably cheaper than incarceration and ER visits, which average $16,670 per person. The program, started in 2005, has been so successful that Utah thinks it will end homelessness in the state by 2015.
Three cheers for Utah, but the homeless population in America is significant, numbering more than 1.7 million. The sheer size of the population calls for more creative and compassionate approaches to solve it long term.
Here’s a snapshot of the extent and diversity of homelessness in America:
- 66% have problems with alcohol, drug abuse or mental illness
- 46% cite domestic violence as the primary cause of homelessness
- 40% are U.S. military veterans
- 36% are families with children
- 30% have been homeless for more than two years
- 28% don’t get enough to eat daily
- 25% claim to have been sexually abused within the last year
With these sobering statistics, we need to find a solution. I hope we can replicate Utah’s homes for homeless program nationwide and stop trying to kick a group of individuals when they’re already down.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 6th, 2014 and is filed under Social Issues.