Holding Pens for the Homeless

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1964 ... December 30, 2019

Holding Pens for the Homeless

John Clarke

Homelessness is spinning out of control in many places, not least right here in Toronto. However, in California, the situation is now generating an acute political crisis. So great is the problem of mass destitution in that state that whole urban areas are facing a threat to public health and a level of social dislocation that undermines public order and the basic level of social stability needed for capitalism to conduct business. Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is reporting an increase in the homeless population of California of 16.4% over the course of the last year and alarm bells are ringing the corridors of power. The human misery of destitution has now reached such levels that the cash registers are being affected.

When a hard right champion of the austerity agenda like HUD Secretary Ben Carson says that he wants to ensure homeless people "go to the places that are designed to help them get out of that situation," it is very necessary to... anticipate what he might have in mind. The Trump Administration is "considering moving homeless people in California off the streets and into unused federal buildings." This could be interpreted in several ways but the political character of those involved leads to a very strong suspicion that what is being contemplated is not a supply of social housing but, rather, a round up of those who have been thrown on the streets, so as to place them against their will in holding pens for homeless people.

The above mentioned Mr. Carson is not known for the depth of his social analysis. To him, broken and sinful misfits are getting in the way of profitable business dealings and need to be taken somewhere where no one will see them. His moral assumptions are quite impervious to any consideration of the actual factors driving this homeless crisis. If he were presented with an explanation of "the rising cost of housing, coupled with wage stagnation at the lower end of the income spectrum that has led to a housing affordability crisis across Southern California" the HUD Secretary’s eyes would simply glaze over.

The same factors, that have put 36,300 people onto the streets of Los Angeles, are playing out across North America and on the other side of the Atlantic. The British Medical Journal is clear that, "Austerity policies lie at heart of soaring homelessness and related health harms." The US Coalition for the Homeless informs us that "an estimated one third of homeless families in New York City are working but unable to afford market-rate rents" and that the number of shelter residents who are employed has shot up. The role of "soaring housing prices" in putting people onto the streets of Vancouver is abundantly clear. Escalating homelessness is, in fact, an inevitable effect of the convergence of the agenda of austerity, coupled with the extreme commodification of housing in what has come to be known as the "neoliberal city."

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