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Monday, March 21, 2011

The Assault on the Homeless: No Soup for You!

Johann Hari, writing in the Huffington Post, describes the plight of a homeless man in the UK:


"The day after his wife's funeral, Steven Dent walked out of his house, "and I just kept walking," he says. "I walked and walked. I never stopped. I couldn't stand to look back, or to stop moving, ever again." Now, four years later, he sleeps most nights under a
bridge near Victoria Station in central London, and spends his days on the streets or in the day-centers, trying not to think about her.... 
Conservative policies are about to hit Steven -- and everyone like him -- in three ways. The Conservative-led government of David Cameron is shutting down great swathes of the hostels and mental health centers that currently give him his medication, look after him when he gets sick, and offer the only prospect he will ever have of getting back to a normal life. They are ensuring there will be, as the homeless charities put it, a "stratospheric rise" in the number of people sleeping in cardboard boxes alongside him, by slashing the rent subsidies that currently keep the poor in their homes. And they are about to make it a crime to give Steven a bowl of soup.
Earlier this week, the Conservative-run Westminster Council, one of the richest in Britain, announced a ban on sleeping on the streets, or feeding anybody who does. They say giving Steven food only "encourages" him to be homeless. So on Tuesday night, I went on one of the soon-to-be-criminalized soup runs. I walked around the neon warrens of the West End -- through the theater-throngs, and past the fancy fashion stores - with two volunteers from the charity the Simon Community."
Read the full article here.
Apparently the money that goes to local councils in the UK is being slashed, so services for the homeless are closing.  Hari describes various programs that used to help the homeless, and he describes people who have gotten their lives back together from these services.
Here's a rundown on some of the comments to his article at Huffington Post:
From "Media Ranger":
Aside from the attack on members of society who are ill, down on their luck or disenfranc­hised by institutio­nal prejudices -- as well the the kindness of those who would help them -- it's incredible short-sigh­ted to remove the social safety net in the interest of "reducing debt" or some morally superior gambit.
It always comes back to bite ... in the toll it takes with chronic sickness and disease induced by exposure and malnutriti­on on a health care system, with crime, with a justice system overburden­ed by cases directly attributab­le to poverty, for example.
My reply:
You touch on a very good point, and that point is the social Darwinism that pervades so much of upper and even middle class thinking: "I have nice things and am warm because I am better. "Those people" are struggling because they are lazy, not very bright, or have no "personal responsibi­lity". Therefore, they deserve their fate, and I deserve what I have."
How do we get people out of this mindset? 
Then along comes "Think About it Again":
  "that currently give him his medication­, look after him when he gets sick, and offer the only prospect he will ever have of getting back to a normal life."The key word here is GIVE. Why does he expect someone to GIVE him something? We all face troubles and trials in our life. Time to saddle up that horse of personal responsibi­lity, Steven, and ride it to personal success. You can do it, I have faith in you!"
 This is the kind of comment to which I struggle to reply.  "Personal responsibility" has become a euphemism for "I'm better than you.  That's why I have mine; therefore, you don't deserve to live."  
"Think About It"'s mindset is so, so far away from mine that I cannot bridge the gap.


But Mabinog took up the challenge to reply:
The right serves up platitudes about personal responsibi­lity but they don't walk the talk. 
The right just wants to "give" to those who all ready have it.
The rich are just sick and tired of never being rich enough. 
The right feels entitled to as much money as they want. 
Losing their freedom is always about laws or regulation­s that they think gets between them and more profit.
This is the only personal responsibi­lity that the right is concerned with.
PCMartin followed:
I understand your impulse to respond to ThinkAbout­ItAgain, but libertaria­n/objectiv­ist ideologues are too narcissist­ic, sociopathi­c, short-sigh­ted, and empiricall­y blind to be worth debating. We *know* from real-world evidence that societies that meaningful­ly help people when they are in trouble or in need are the best, most secure, most civilized, "richest" societies to live in. We *know*, as emotionall­y, socially, and intellectu­ally mature adults, that it is not only our humanitari­an duty to provide that help, but that it is actually in our own self-inter­est. Libertaria­ns and objectivis­ts, on the other hand, simply *believe* they shouldn't have to share anything or give anything to anyone. Essentiall­y, they have the emotional impulses of an unsocializ­ed two-year-o­ld hidden behind the intellectu­al and linguistic abilities of a self-right­eous high-schoo­l student. Still, it's gratifying to hear an objectivis­t say that a homeless man who is clearly suffering from mental illness should saddle up the horse of personal responsibi­lity. You rarely get such clear-cut proof of how removed from reality their thinking is.

A libertarian, Klous, jumped in:

The basic concept of Libertaria­nism to that you don't have to help your fellow man if you choose not to; it is your choice and you have to live with that choice. 
A discussion on the topic of Libertarianism and civilization continues here:


No Soup for You: The Homeless and a Civilized Society 


A final comment on the article, from "MUOH":

"What is the logical conclusion for all of this loathing and hate?"


What indeed?  


Please check out the article and the comments.  This article really touched me today.  And don't miss the continuation of these musings:  No Soup for You: The Homeless and a Civilized Society

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