AUG: +151,000 jobs. Unemployment rate steady at 4.9%. AUG details here!.. Jobs since Obama took office?... Unemp. rate under Obama?

Monday, March 21, 2011

No Soup for You: The Homeless and a Civilized Society

Continuing from No Soup For You, Part 1

I have some thoughts on the meaning of a "civilized society" resulting from discussions about the Johann Hari article at Huffington Post, The Conservative Assault on the Homeless:

I see at least two issues here:

First, what are our goals as a civilized society? How many in our country (or in  the UK) think that it is "civilized" to leave the homeless to fend for themselves and/or starve under a bridge? How many think they should be helped in some way? 

Do the poor and the homeless deserve their fate?

The people who are against helping the homeless or those who are struggling may believe that the homeless, the poor, the unfortunate were not creative/m­oral/smart­/hard-work­ing enough and, therefore, they deserve their fate.  They may also feel that helping people who are struggling them will "enable" those people and keep them in a state of dependency.  

A co-related issue is, assuming that goals can be determined for the "civilized­" society as a whole:  How do we allocate the resources of our country (or, for those in the UK, how do they allocate the resources of their country), to assure that the goals of a civilized society are met?

We have enough money to give tax breaks to the rich, to fly planes and hit targets over Libya; clearly there is some money available. We have people earning billions a year (hedge fund managers), and we have CEO's who get multi-mill­ion dollar bonuses (and sometimes actually create homelessne­ss) by laying people off, cutting wages, and off-shorin­g jobs. Please remember that these people have helped to create much of the "new" homelessne­ss and foreclosur­es. Certainly those people should have some responsibi­lity to meliorate the problems that they have helped to create.  Is there anybody who believes they shouldn't?

Do you really think that a civilized society allows people, even children, to live and die without regular shelter if there are other options?

A libertarian discusses the issue:

Klous identifies himself as a libertarian.  He contributed to the discussion, answering one of the other posters as follows:
"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.
I'm willing to bet the majority of Libertaria­ns donate more of their money and time to charity than you do. It is well documented that Liberals donate far less of their own time and money than conservati­ves year after year after year. It is possible you are the rare Left Wing exception proving the rule only you know that score there. Liberals discount much of this giving as it is often going to churches or places of worship, a favorite target of the Left's visceral.
The Left believes it is their duty to take money from everyone they possibly can and force them to "give" as the left sees fit. I see by your use of verbiage that you fancy yourself a scholar or perhaps an academic. I am left with the impression you have done much reading but learned very little. I pity you. It has to be hard to despise so many of your fellow countrymen for disagreein­g with your ideology."

My reply to him:

The essence of a civilized society is that it is civilized. If a society cannot provide food, shelter, and a helping hand to those who are down on their luck, can we consider that society "civilized­"?
By your comments, I take it that Libertaria­ns and conservati­ves do not wish to participat­e in a civilized society, as they would leave the efforts to relieve homelessness and starvation­, to provide medication and social services to some kind of catch-as-c­atch-can volunteeri­sm, depending on whether or not some more well-off person thinks that the homeless should have such services. 
This is why libertaria­nism won't work in any society that wants to consider itself "civilized­". We have to have common standards of what we accept as a society. Give it up already.
The "conservat­ives give more" argument isn't completely correct when the types of giving are examined, as you indicate. One might wish to subtract giving when the giver receives a benefit from the particular gift.  Here's a link that discusses this:

Check the comments here: 

I have worked with non-profit­s, and many foundation­s provide symposiums on how to get people to give. The emphasis is always on getting to the rich with your cause, the kinds of things that will motivate rich people to give, and rarely on the things that motivate the middle class or poor to give. For instance, it is suggested that a non-profit establish awards and name rich or prominent people as the recipients of the awards. 
Finally, since you believe in the basic concept of Libertaria­nism, when are you and your fellow Libertaria­ns going to go out and re-establi­sh some of the services that are being cut by the government­s in the UK and the USA... on a "donor" basis? Or don't you think the homeless deserve shelter, soup, medication­s, and people who can help them chart a path out of their current hell?
Perhaps you think that the faster they starve, the faster they will somehow take some "personal responsibi­lity", find a $500 dollar suit in a dumpster and get themselves a job on Wall Street?
Another comment from someone who eschews government assistance to the homeless and poor:
If you drink or abuse large amounts of drugs, quit or are fired from your job with those first 2 activities in large part the cause, does that now mean an open ended commitment from taxpayers to provide you lifetime housing, food & medical treatment? Does every sob story end in subsidy? Do the responsibl­e ever get a break? I realize there are certain conditions that require taxpayer commitment­, there are other times society is quite justified in saying "Go sleep under a bridge".
My reply:
I take it that you consider yourself "responsible".  You have never been tossed out of work due to no fault of your own, you have never spent a night in a homeless shelter or under a bridge.  You have never had a diagnosis of schizophrenia.  You have never had the inclination to turn to drink to bury a problem.
If so then, yes, you have gotten a break.  You can thank your lucky stars for your mental health, your physical health, your smartness, even your work habits.  And perhaps you have also had the fortune to have good parents, or a good teacher or other role model.  
Unless you have talked to people who have had a lot of problems in their lives and attempted to walk a mile in their holey shoes, you should not cast aspersions at people who are struggling, especially in this economy in which the bankers and Wall Streeters have made out like the bandits that they often are.

As the word "enabling" was bandied about, it needs to be addressed.  When are we merely enabling someone who refuses to get help for his/her addictions, who can't hold a job due to addictions or poor work habits?  

I think this is an issue that needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  First of all, we shouldn't assume right off the bat that any homeless or struggling person deserves his/her fate or that helping the person is the same as enabling him/her.  This is particularly true in this economy when many people who have worked for years and even decades are finding themselves without jobs or resources. We have homeless veterans!  How can we as a nation tolerate that?

Even if a person is homeless due to his own shortcomings, is it really "enabling" to provide that person with a decent meal every day?  Or a place to sleep when it is very cold out?  The reality is that someone who, despite help, can't live an independent life, can't provide for his/her most basic needs is seriously ill.  He's not going to suddenly get better if we allow him to starve.
Somehow, however, the simplicity of the issue is being overlaid by the verbal barrages going back and forth:

Do the homeless, the poor, the down-on-their-luck, have a right, a human right in a rich country, to eat?  Do they have a right, a human right in a rich country, to shelter?  And, finally, isn't it in our best interest to help these same people out of their difficult situations if at all possible?  

All comments on these issues are welcome. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

I appreciate intelligent comments and questions, including those that are at odds with anything posted here. I have elected not to screen comments before they are published; however, any comments that are in any way insulting, caustic, or intentionally inflammatory will be deleted without notice. Spam will also be immediately deleted.