the fact of having and expressing strong, unreasonable beliefs and disliking other people who have different beliefs or a different way of life:
Is it acceptable to label any group of human beings with these characteristics?
Lazy Mentally Ill / Crazy Diseased / Contagious Dirty / Filthy Untouchable Feral / Sub-human Dangerous Drugs Addicted Financially Irresponsible Panhandlers/Beggars Scam-Artists Losers Drunks Dumb / Stupid Untrustworthy Inept Lacking Talents or Skills Uneducated Incapable of Making Wise Decisions Requiring Rules and Structure They Don’t Know What’s Good for Them Losers Who Made Poor Choices and Deserve the Consequences They Will Squander Opportunities
These labels are used to describe people who are unhoused.
What happens in a society where it is acceptable to have strong, unreasonable beliefs and dislikes for people who do not have housing?
It once was acceptable to use racial slurs against groups of people. I remember a time when people used the “N” word without thinking. Now I won’t even type the word. Because labels carry baggage that degrade and demean a person based on attributes that have no bearing on their humanity or value. And they have justified just disgusting practices as red-lining, false imprisonment and murder.
Homeless, used as a noun to describe a person, has taken on the same negative power as racial slurs we no longer deem acceptable. The “attributes” associated with this label have made it acceptable to:
- Deny unhoused people the right to live in our neighborhoods or to build permanent or supportive housing for them in any neighborhood where residents don’t want them;
- Deny unhoused people the right to sit or lay down in public;
- Deny unhoused people the right to reside in their vehicles;
- Criminalize the existence or presence of unhoused people in public areas and subjecting them to citations, fines and arrest;
- Accuse anyone trying to help unhoused of being enablers;
- Justified calling the police to report the presence or visibility of a person who is unhoused;
- Authorizes law enforcement to confiscate the meager belongings, tents, sleeping bags and possessions of unhoused people;
- Impound the pets of unhoused people;
- Impound the cars, RVs and shelters of unhoused people;
- Marginalize unhoused people and exclude them from public events and participating in activities where housed people are welcome;
- Exclude unhoused people from the discourse that determines their own circumstances.
“We’re All In” Campaign
United States Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
After years “in the trenches” working to get unhoused people, particularly the most vulnerable, into temporary and permanent housing, it has become clear that nothing we do will reduce the numbers of people who are without housing if there is insufficient, very affordable housing available for them to transition into. The biggest barrier to creating that housing is the push-back from communities against any type of housing that is appropriate for people who have been labeled as homeless.
The general acceptability of bigotry toward unhoused people, and subsequent abusive treatment by both law enforcement and the general public, has created a situation that makes it nearly impossible for someone, once they reach the point of no longer having permanent housing, to regain the status of being housed. This marginalization of a particular group of people has become so acceptable and difficult to overcome that it can be considered a caste system in the USA.
The single most effective use of our resources is to change the current acceptability and legality of discriminatory language and practices against people based solely on their housing status.
Just as it took both legislative action and changes in public opinion to end racial discrimination, it will take the same multi-prong approach to end discrimination based on housing status.
We cannot expect the current power structure to solve homelessness, as it serves their interests to deny the systemic causes of homelessness. Like all change, it will take relentless public pressure to demand the basic right to housing for all people. To that end, we must first change public opinion against unhoused people, that has been deliberately condoned and even cultivated by those intent on perpetuating homelessness.
Housing is not only a necessity and a basic human right; it is in our best interest as a society for everyone to be housed. It is our obligation, as citizens of the United States of America and as moral, compassionate human beings, to call out and condemn all instances of discrimination towards unhoused people. That is why we are proposing the We’re All In campaign – a strategic effort to end all forms of discrimination based on a person’s housing status by changing the perception of homelessness by people who are currently opposed to helping people who are unhoused.
The We’re All In campaign will seek to achieve the following objectives:
- Change the language that carries the stigma of being unhoused. Eliminate the use of the term “the homeless” in all public discourse. Just as we have eliminated the use of disparaging labels used on other groups, the first step to dispelling prejudices against people who are unhoused is to separate them from prejudicial labels. We can refer to people as people who are unhoused, people at risk of being unhoused, formerly unhoused people or people needing housing. Note that all of these references include the word “people”. This defines a person’s current housing status without labels that judge or implicate them for their current housing status.
- Create an organized public education campaign to dispel myths about unhoused people and to inform the general population that bigotry toward unhoused people is shameful and will not be tolerated in our communities. Focus groups should be conducted to test which messages resonate with neighbors in order to develop effective talking points. The message will be disseminated using traditional advertising media as well as public relations strategies and social media participation.
- Create an alternative message. Celebrate the positive characteristics of many people who are unhoused, such as: Their resiliency and resourcefulness; the way they help and support one another; their generosity despite their own poverty; their ingenuity; their work ethic, and their determination to survive.
- Make it illegal to use current housing status as criteria for approval for securing a rental, a job or any public position. Clarify that a two-tier system that differentiates the way we treat people who are housed vs un-housed, is a caste system and illegal in the USA.
- Provide opportunities for housed people to meet unhoused and formerly unhoused people on equal footing as a chance to change their misperceptions about unhoused people. Include people who are currently unhoused in community projects to allow housed people to get to know them as likable and interesting people who would be welcome in their neighborhood.
- Include people with lived experience as being unhoused on forums, advisory boards and all committees where decisions are being made that impact the unhoused population. Avoid tokenism – because the causes that render a person to become unhoused and how they cope with it, are far more varied and complex than the perspective of one individual.
- Lobby elected officials to legislate on behalf of the human rights of unhoused people. This includes legislation that reigns in law enforcement’s cruel practices against unhoused people at the behest of housed people.
- Condemn bigotry in all forms targeted toward any group of people, including unhoused people.
- Codify the illegality of hate speech toward unhoused people that will not be tolerated in any form of public discourse including community meetings and social media.
- Codify as hate crimes, any attacks on people targeted because of their housing status. Make unhoused people a protected class.