When you walk or bike or drive the streets of Seattle it’s impossible not to notice the people with signs. Many of them are common enough in any city. “Anything Helps,” is a popular one. So is, “Disabled Vet.” Some of them look like veterans, some of them are just kids that have found themselves on the street. Some of them might think it’s cool. Might feel like they aren’t part of the system. But the truth is, most homeless people in Seattle don’t want to be homeless. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle, no matter how you look at it. I mean, there are tents along major roads that are peoples’ permanent residents. The cops don’t bother them. They don’t move. There are tent cities under the overpasses. The other day I cycled by a minivan that was obviously someones home. It turns out, in 2015, the homeless population in Seattle rose by 20.8% (head count of 3,123 in 2014, head count of 3,772 in 2015), and this doesn’t even count the 6,000 people who are lucky enough to have a bed at the homeless shelters in the city. That’s a huge rise, especially for a single year. You might think some of the people are just lazy and don’t want to get a job–but that’s not true. Go down to one of these tent cities I’m talking about around 7am, and you’ll see many people climb from their tents in nice clothing, on their way to work. It’s not that they are lazy, that they don’t have ambition, but it is because they don’t have enough money. A single bedroom apt in Seattle goes for at least $1,000 per month. A room in a house will be at least half of that. Many people who are homeless just don’t make enough money for rent. They can buy food, but limited hours due to automation at low paying jobs such as grocery stores, and such, have made a homeless population boom in the city. While some of them are incapable of getting a job due to disabilities, mental illness, and addiction, our current system doesn’t have enough resources to get these people functioning again. Before you name a resource you know of, think about what that resource demands of someone. Then ask yourself: Can someone who is mentally ill or strung out navigate that system?. While there are some resources that the disabled and mentally ill can utilize, many of them are in no position to navigate the bureaucracy that comes along with it. A mentally ill person who can’t make appointments can’t become rehabilitated. Someone who can’t drive may not have the means to get to the places he or she may need to be.
What I’m trying to say is this: some people cannot help themselves, and so it should be up to our society to help those you can’t. I mean, what kind of world do we want to live in, really?
Homelessness is a self perpetuated cycle. If you have no home, you can’t get a job. If you have no job, you can’t get a home. If you’re not mentally stable it’s likely you can’t understand what help there is out there, and if your disabled you can’t always jump through all the hoops to get the help you need. All of these combined make a very difficult situation to deal with. Homelessness increases crime, crime increases incarceration, incarceration is a massively expensive endeavor, and many of these people are not necessarily bad people. They are just people who fell through the cracks of what we call society. Who are we, to let this happen to our own people? Have we all abandoned them?