It burns me up to hear of Uptown residents demanding that homeless people be kicked out of their “tent cities” in an underpass. I think that people don’t want to be forced to see and therefore acknowledge the humanity of homeless people. Acknowledging the humanity of homeless people also means acknowledging that they are you and you are them, and that’s scary to people. We like to think of ourselves as “not like those people”, and that our moral and hardworking character will prevent us from ever becoming those people, but its not true. Yes, people experiencing homeless are disproportionately people who were already socially marginalized, whether due to race, class, disability, gender identity, etc. but the recession shattered many formerly middle class people’s lives, and they lost homes and jobs, and ended up on welfare and food stamps. It was the safety net system, which the same Uptown residents are also probably are against, which kept millions of people from descending into homelessness.
When state mental hospitals and institutions closed in the 1970s, thousands of people suffering from mental illlness were lliterally dropped off in Uptown, and social service organizations and mental health clinics rose up to try and meet their needs; but there has never been enough services to help everyone. Social services are woefully underfunded, and frankly, some organizations provide horrible services to homeless people. Yes there are homeless people who “choose” to not go to shelters, but that’s because their choices are shelters where they get treated badly by employees, have to follow arbitrary rules, and have their stuff stolen or experience violence by other shelter residents. With further gentrification of Uptown and developers buying up buildings that used to house homeless people, and already overburdened and underfunded shelters and social service agencies, what do people want the homeless to do? They want them to disappear.
Cities and states around the country are continuing to criminalize homelessness by passing laws against sleeping on sidewalks, panhandling and even feeding the homeless! We live in an inhumane society that’s all about me and mine; as long as we’re good we don’t care about others who aren’t, in fact, we don’t even want them in our presence. Instead of demanding that homeless people disappear, how about demanding that Governor Rauner restore funding cuts to social services? How about demanding the reopening of the 12 mental health clinics Mayor Emanuel closed in 2012? How about joining the resistance struggles for a living wage, more affordable housing, an end to criminalization of black people?