I spent most of my Sunday trying to avoid the fact that there is a 50/50 chance that I will find myself homeless and on the streets by the end of this week. With the way I tend to obsess over things distracting myself only works for so long and eventually I found myself brainstorming plans on how to survive another winter homeless in a city that I’ve spent less than a month in. This got me thinking of just how incredibly difficult it is to be homeless in an increasingly privatized world.
When I was on the streets last year I spent a great deal of time trying not to look homeless. I wore makeup, made sure that I changed my outfits frequently and that I didn’t smell bad (which is a very difficult task when you can only bathe once or twice a week). I rented out a small storage unit so that I did not have to carry everything with me. Even though I was not enrolled in classes at the time I would spend most of my day at my university so that it wouldn’t look strange if I decided to take a nap.
I did all of this because I knew that once I was “visibly homeless” that life for me would become exponentially more difficult and possibly more dangerous as a woman. Job opportunities would be harder to find, I would be subject to harassment from law enforcement, and housed people would feel uncomfortable with me occupying the same space as them.
“The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet,’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society, before it can be civilized or made free.” -John Adams
America has always been a society separated by class and since America’s inception one of the primary distinguishing of class has been land and the ownership of private property. When many of the colonists came to ‘the new world’ they brought with them old ideas of property ownership. Historically, a person’s worth was tied to the land they occupied, both the quantity and the quality of it.
These ideas were so influential that when America was founded only white, male property owners had the right to vote. This was later amended however the idea of property ownership being a virtue stuck with us. Our ideas of freedom, citizenship, success and quality of life are linked to property.
In a society that overvalues private ownership to be propertyless is to essentially not exist. At least not exist in the same way other people do. Homeless people are seen and treated as deviants who have failed to properly integrate themselves. Or as public nuisances that burden the rest of the population with their presence. This is reflected not only in how everyday individuals treat homeless people but also in how local, state, as well as federal governments choose to treat homeless people.
For example, there are laws preventing religious groups and other orgs from giving food to homeless people without permits. Or giving them other supplies such as blankets or toiletries. As if homeless people are wild animals that the public is discouraged to feed out of fear that they will stick around. Another strategy communities use is to put barriers on public and private property to deter homeless people from sleeping or loitering on it. Restaurants and coffee shops that refuse to allow people to use restrooms or sit unless they purchase something first. Police who harass, arrest, and use excessive force on homeless people knowing that nothing will be done about it. The goal is to make the lives of homeless people so unbearable that they decide to go somewhere else, somewhere that might have less stringent laws in place.
When you’re homeless your life revolves around finding ways to survive day to day. This causes stress that can impact your mental and physical state and takes an incredible amount of strength to overcome. To live in a world that tells you everyday that your existence has less value because you are not housed makes an already awful situation worse.
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