The Homeless States of America

The following was not written by me. It's a comment by Alvan Karpas on Nick Johnson's video: "The 10 States Where Homelessness is Out of Control and Beyond Repair." I found it insightful so I wanted to repost it here. 



Okay boss, you hit home on this one.  As usual, your content and research is solid however there are a few items I would like to bring to your attention.  Background-wise, I spent six years, feeding, clothing, and housing the homeless in Chattanooga, TN.  I did it for another four years in Wichita, KS and four more years in Sioux Falls, SD.  My experience was first hand, as a ministry, face to face, dealing with the homeless and the municipalities in addressing the issue.

In my experience, the population of homeless breaks down like this: 

1/3 are totally committed to the lifestyle.  They've checked out of our culture, they don't care to make a deposit to get the power cut on, they don't care to live the lifestyle the vast majority of Americans still choose to live.  These people are sane, intelligent, healthy, some very well educated, many very talented, and refuse to remain a part of this culture we have crafted  and they do well in that world.  Their numbers continue to grow at a higher rate than the other 2/3rds and at some point they may become a force we will have to deal with, like it or not.  These folks look at life and their values system is a vast departure from the American norm.  

The second third are folks who are just totally incapable of helping themselves and there is no social net to help them.  When I was feeding in Chattanooga, there was a man with some form of epilepsy who could not keep food on his fork from plate to mouth.  Twice a week I fed him in the same fashion I fed my one year old child.  I was told innumerable times by other homeless that those were the only two solid meals he got in a week.  

I believe that several other members of his community started helping him.  But for him, there are twenty others I can bring up as bad or worse with no one to help them.  I could help that one and I did, but he was but the tip of the iceberg.  Social services has nothing for this segment, hospitals won't take them in, no sanitariums, nothing, just whatever charities and ministries that step forward to help is it.  Point is, about a 1/3 of them cannot help themselves, they truly are society's refuse.

The last third is a bit more complicated.  These are what I called the "one-handers."  

One helping hand and they'd gladly rejoin society.  Some are dodging ages old arrest warrants or lawsuits, many are families trying to stay together while ADC agents are actively trying to take the children, many have accrued onerous indebtedness that once they have a paycheck (turn up on the radar), the court will garnish so much they have nothing left to live on.  So what's the point of working?  Point is this segment, this 1/3 of all homeless are pushed there because they fell afoul of a very unforgiving system, judicial and societal.  

With a good attorney and a compassionate judge, most of these people would be back to work in no time.  And they would return to normal society again.  But without that one helping hand to help keep the family together, to arrange rational garnishment to recoup debts, to reconcile an old warrant for disorderly conduct or fleeing the scene of whatever, they will get locked up and will have to appear undefended before a judge who in all likelihood will remand them without regard that they've lived the last eight years without offense.  

I do take exception to your repeated use of mental illness in the community.  

Take ANY American, deprive him of regular meals for two weeks and very irregular sleep with spotty hygiene opportunities and tell me they won't get 'loopy.'  The simple fact is this, most Americans have not experienced hunger, physical insecurity, and lack of sleep for any protracted periods.  Most Americans put into those circumstances would fold like a lawn chair.  These people are tough, but more importantly, they are survivors of adverse circumstances and living conditions.  

I saw no more evidence of mental illness, alcoholism, or drug use in their community than I did at work, church, or the local filling station.  The problem is we are looking for a reason to not help, to not get involved, to wash our hands of participating in a solution.  The fact is, the problem with damaged people is that they know they can survive.  And that frightens normal Americans.

Now one can argue harshly about all of this and that is their right.  

When I first went into that ministry in 2001, I had the standard Republican attitude about the homeless.  I was wrong and so are most people.  But here is the final point, while many choose to argue, they choose to argue because they do not choose to help.  To help their fellow man where his homelessness is not his problem but rather an effect of another underlying issue.  A third of them we cannot help because they reject our lifestyle. 

 But we can help 2/3's, but that would involve enabling ministries and many other charities to take the fight to the street.  There are plenty of people willing to take this on, but there is institutional and civic resistance to it.  The municipalities resist the help through onerous licensing and permitting for the charities, law enforcement preys upon people trying to get help by surveilling and arresting people in line for a meal, the list goes on.  

We've created the problem by creating a culture, a legal system, and a social order that is so harsh and unforgiving that perfectly capable and rational people choose to affiliate with society's refuse rather than continuing to participate in it.  Cancel culture = Counter culture.