As the economic divide widens across the country, millions of financially unstable citizens are falling through the cracks. Although homelessness is nothing new in America’s hyper-capitalist climate, more and more families are at the mercy of our streets. In California alone, there are currently more than five million people who are food insecure, and roughly one hundred thousand people struggling with homelessness. Tattered blankets dot the sidewalks of urban San Francisco, the sound of loose change hitting empty cups punctuated by the roar of midday traffic.
We have a serious problem — a problem that snares victims of mental illness, unemployed veterans, ex-convicts, and so many others. And very few won’t agree that it’s time our citizens were surrounded by four walls instead of broken cardboard. But to build these walls, we have to break some first.
Last week, a group of advocates for housing reform had the opportunity to speak at Congregation Beth Emek — a panel moderated by councilwoman Patricia Munro. Along with a local nonprofit organization, these community members discussed what it means to be living out on the streets.
“When we say the word homeless, we think of the person that has mental health issues, is on the corner begging or has substance abuse issues,” Young said. “A lot of the time it’s you or I lose our jobs, have a little bit of mental health issues, got evicted, had something tragic happened in our life and now we’re out there on the streets, we never expected that.”
The evolving perception of a homeless person is an integral part of community reform. The financial divide between the homeless and the wealthy in Pleasanton and other Tri-Valley cities creates a psychological barrier that translates into a physical one. Just last year, San Francisco residents were placing large boulders on the city streets to prevent the homeless from camping there because they felt “threatened”. In Los Angeles, the owner of a cultural center created giant planters outside the building for a similar effect. Rather than sympathizing with horrors of being homeless, the more fortunate members of our society favor ignoring them entirely. Fremont currently houses a massive protest against the establishment of a homeless shelter because residents aren’t comfortable living near ‘potential drug dealers and felons’. It’s so concerning that Tri-Valley’s upper middle class prefers to insulate themselves from the terrifying reality of economic inequality. Fight poverty, not the poor.