Right now, as I write this, my area, Daytona Beach, is struggling with a “homeless problem.” City officials don’t know how to handle the problem.
Some have proposed a shelter in the area, but the city doesn’t know if it can afford it. They want surrounding cities to pitch in. For all the discussion of how to solve the problem of poverty or homelessness, I rarely see the voices of actual poor or homeless people. Their voices are lacking in these discussions. They are treated as a problem for others to solve, not as human beings with their own thoughts and feelings on the subject.
I have found that, even though the world of a poor person may be limited because of a lack of resources, they still usually know what they need. They are the best ones to solve the problems they face. But, too often, others try to speak for them.
I’ll tell you a story: I used to give money to homeless people in Daytona Beach. Back when I was in college, I’d see homeless people panhandling. I’d stop and give them a few bucks. I never thought twice about it.
Frequently, I hear how people don’t trust that the homeless would spend the money on food or something they actually need; that they’d spend it on alcohol. I never cared about this. I figured they need money, otherwise they wouldn’t be asking for it. We rarely talk about the alcohol and drug problems of the wealthy, but when it comes to homeless people, we are ready to speak up. Why is it that we are so harsh on poor people?
My local newspaper continues to report on the homeless problem, but rarely are actual homeless people consulted in their own affairs.
Having a voice at all is difficult. Having any social or political say when you are poor is a challenge. But it is especially paternalistic when other people think they know how you should best live your life. Often, the solution is a shelter, even though Housing First initiatives, which provide homes to homeless people outright, have been shown to work. We don’t think we can give poor people money directly, even though, if you ask them, that’s what they need. We don’t think we can just give homeless people homes, but places that have done that very thing have solved their homeless problem.
Perhaps, in the future, we can actually listen to poor people, especially when considering their affairs.