As part of the ever-evolving series of discussions, here at the Philosphers group, I'll be adding a new type of question called "Fix This". The idea behind this is to bring up one of the world's major problems in order to discuss ways of dealing with them. Though this may be a slight departure from classic Philosophy, it should hopefully provoke some interesting discussion.
Today's "Fix This" topic is:
Homelessness - how can it be remedied?
Each year, thousands of men and women around the world sleep outside, in the cold, while others enjoy the luxury of one or more dwellings. Why is it that homelessness has become such a problem, and what can we do to improve the situation for those of us who are less fortunate?
From my experience, this isn't something that can be remedied. Awhile ago, I had a discussion with an organization that helps out homeless people. They consider a 2% success ratio to be high. The majority of the homeless are there because they want to be. They either have mental issues or drug and alcohol problems. The best we can hope for is to have enough homeless shelters and food to keep them sustained. The fact of the matter is that if any one of us suddenly found ourselves broke and living on the street, all of us would have a job and a place to live inside of a few months. This isn't somewhere like Kenya where there is a 65% unemployment rate and you have no choice. Anybody whose determined to get a job; any job can get one.
1. Conscription after high school. I think this is the answer to many of America's current societal woes..but in this case, homelessness, it not only provides quarters but also trade skills, pay and medical benefits.
2. For those medically unable to serve, Social Security and the VA can help, but the current costs associated with Health Care are ridiculous. Which leads to #3...
3. Deflate health care costs. Many homeless are physically/mentally unsound. I think everyone will agree that health care costs are inflated enormously.
A big nudge in the right direction would be to have all doctors work for the government (with a salary cap) instead of being free agents. The next step would be to regulate the cost of medicine and medical equipment/supplies.
4. Better communication about job training programs. Maybe more would use them if they knew how to get involved...
5. Homeless shelters that are open to those who are working within the first four criteria I listed.
For those who are medically sound, physically sound and who still choose not to help themselves...we don't need em.
We can continue to run shelters. It won't eliminate the homeless problem for those who choose that life -- and some do -- but it's good for people who've just been burned out of their houses, or such.
Homelessness became a big problem in the late 70's and early 80's, when the harmless insane were released from mental institutions. But surely it's better to restore freedom to those who have done nothing to merit incarceration.
Simply providing them with homes won't work. These people, for the most part, need intensive medical and psychological work to help them get to the point where they can get a job and earn enough to get their own home. And let's face it, some will never be helped. That is unfortunate but true. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, though. Simply throwing money at it by building subsidized housing has never worked. I would say that advocates of subsidized housing should instead invite a homeless person to live in their own home. Let's see how long that lasts.
As for Adam's suggestion of socializing health care, that won't work, either. Are there homeless in Canada or Europe?
Yes, the homeless problem is, if anything, worse in Canada because of socialized health care. Why? Less homeless are dying. The sad truth is that the only way we are going to get rid of some homeless people is feet-first. Most homeless are living on the streets by choice; many have problems with claustrophobia as soon as they go indoors, or just feel genuinely ill-at-ease when they don't sleep out of doors.
There's lots. In Toronto, where I live, the city government spends about $50K a year per homeless person. That's enough to put them up in a good hotel for the year, if most of it weren't eaten away with bureaucratic nonsense.
As for 'fixing' homelessness, I don't think there is a way. Subsidized housing has been tried, and hasn't worked. The more programs you create to try and fix it, the more overhead you create which not only consumes more resources, but also creates an industry of people who live off the homeless by trying to help them. How eager would you be to completely solve the issue if you made your living by it?
In the past, many hospitals had charities/foundations that would pay for care for the severely mentally ill. Those don't exist anymore, for a variety of reasons (gov't control of healthcare being a big one). Let private charities run things like soup kitchens, shelters and the like. This past winter in Toronto was one of the worst on record, but hardly anybody died of the cold because people did donate to shelters to keep the men (the vast majority of homeless are men) warm.
I grew up in Vancouver, and largely due to readily accessible social assistance combined with the fact that Vancouver is Canada's most temperate city, there is a huge homeless population, unlike I've seen anywhere else I've visited. It started to really become a problem a couple of decades ago when they started closing mental health hospitals. I can understand why these hospitals were shut down (patient abuse, loss of freedom, etc), but to have no alternative solution is reprehensible.
The worst part is the readily available drugs in the downtown area, which seems to be compunding the problem. To illustrate, Vancouver is the only place I've ever been where I've been where I have seem someone passed out with a needle in their arm 10 feet from a police station! The Canadian, British Columbian and Vancouver governments have their heads in the sand about this issue, and I doubt that even the coming Olympics will make much difference to their attitudes.
Down here in the US, the impression we get from our media is that Canada has all the answers. We don't hear anything about crime in Canada, we hear how diverse and happy the population is, we hear they have this really swell universal health care system. I've visited Canada several times and have many Canadian friends. It's interesting when we compare notes. For instance, one friend works for the Canadian federal government, and I work for the US version. He told me how much he pays in taxes. I said if our gov't taxed us that high there would be politicians hanging from the lamppost. But still, we get nothing but rosy stories from our media.
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