The existence of large numbers of unhoused people may be the greatest example of capitalism taking a simple problem with a simple solution, and using propaganda and bureaucracy to convince everyone that it’s actually very complicated, and there are no real solutions. We’re told that it’s an addiction problem, or a mental health problem, as is the danger and suffering of being without shelter wasn’t a cause of mental illness and drug use. We’re told that people just need to get jobs, as though many of them don’t already have jobs, and many others can’t get any because the government deliberately maintains a minimum level of unemployment. To top it all off, getting help, getting paid, having a bank account – a lot of that is a lot easier if you have a safe, reliable mailing address, which most commonly comes from having a house or an apartment. There’s always some convoluted excuse for why, according to capitalists and their supporters, we can’t just provide housing.
The actual reason, as far as I can tell, is threefold. First, capitalism requires the existence of a class of people so poor and desperate that they will agree to extreme levels of exploitation, just to keep from dying. Second, that poverty and desperation make it much, much more dangerous to wield the collective power of unions and organized communities, because refusing to work, when you’re already poor, puts you at risk of losing your home, being unable to eat, and being unable to get medicine. They head off any kind of real democracy by keeping the working class under a constant state of siege. The third is just that the housing market, as it exists, provides a huge amount of wealth to those who are already well off, in exchange for no productive work.
And so, because our leaders want us to remain poor and desperate, they make excuses, and do everything they can to avoid allowing the simple, obvious solution to the problem of people who don’t have adequate shelter:
Provide housing for everyone who doesn’t have it.
Instead of abandoning the homeless, they housed them. And that led to an insight: people tend to function better when they’re not living on the street or under a bridge. Who would have guessed?
It turns out that, given a place to live, Finland’s homeless were better able to deal with addictions and other problems, not to mention handling job applications. So, more than a decade after the launch of the “Housing First” policy, 80 per cent of Finland’s homeless are doing well, still living in the housing they’d been provided with — but now paying the rent on their own.
This not only helps the homeless, it turns out to be cheaper.
That article is about how Canada deals with unhoused people, but it certainly applies to the US fairly well, and given that the example used is from Finland, I think it’s fair to say this applies to the capitalist world in general. It’s a simple fact that we have the resources to guarantee decent housing to everyone, and I’m pretty certain that letting people keep a bunch of the money they’ve had to fork over to landlords would help the economy immeasurably. Even if we didn’t fully decommodify housing, as I would prefer to do, the existence of decent, social housing that’s not rented out for a profit, would force rents down across the market.
The problem is that the people at the top generally don’t want things to get better, because that might make us harder to control. Instead, they continue to blame unhoused people for their situation, pay police to brutalize them, dehumanize them and encourage hate crimes up to and including extermination. We’re all told, year after year, that capitalism provides the best possible life to the most people possible, and that any problems are caused by “big government”. The reality is that the problems caused or supported by the government are almost universally caused in service to capitalists and their greed. It’s the same with taxes – the US government could absolutely just send you forms to check over and amend, rather than making you fill out information that they already have, and punishing you if you get it wrong.
But if they did that, then how would companies like TurboTax or H&R Block make a profit? No, the world must be deliberately made worse, solely because then people will pay for a little relief. To bring it back to unhoused people, they are forced into dangerous conditions, denied rights and dignity, and demonized for it, all so that the rest of us will take whatever work we can get, and pay whatever rent we have to. The cruelty is the point – it’s to make an example of a few members of the population, as a threat to the rest of us.
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