People don’t choose to be homeless; it is something forced upon them by outside factors, usually outside their control. Whether it is property taxes going up further than they can afford, developers pushing people out so that they can erect “luxury” apartments and condos, their job suddenly cutting them loose with no recourse, a physical or mental infirmity, or an addiction problem, the fact is that homelessness is a symptom of other systemic problems that we can and must address.
We must not lose sight of the fact that these are our friends, our family, our neighbors, and our community. We must work together; to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. It’s not only the moral thing to do, it’s also the more economically responsible thing to do.
A few years ago, Utah did the math and found out that it is less expensive to provide stable housing for those who have become homeless, than it is to provide all the emergency services they would require. Not only did this cut costs, but it alleviated many of the corollary issues that came with homelessness, including mental health conditions, physical ailments (which are not helped by Chicago winters), and the ability to have an address to put on job applications. Despite the success, the program has suffered recent setbacks because the state pulled back on the funding. We need to ensure programs like these continue and expand because they are less expensive and more effective, and literally keeps our neighbors off the street.
Nobody likes having people begging for change on the street. We need to provide care in the short term, but we must also address the systemic problems that put them there so that they have a real chance to once again be healthy, productive members of society.