Thursday, December 1, 2011

Where do Americans Live?

Article first published as Where do Americans Live? on Blogcritics.

Our country is big, almost 4 million square miles, and at that size, the third largest in the world.  This land is both mine and yours, from California (or Hawaii) to the New York islands, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters, the song says it all.  We have, according to another song, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, and fruited plains.

It seems like enough space, and plentiful bounty, for our 300 million citizens and more.  Some of these citizens live in mansions while others live under bridges, but most live rather modestly, comfortably even.  By far, most of these people deserve to live here, having that right by birth and many of the rest are working on it through naturalization – then they too will have that right.

But the RIGHT to live within these United States does not automatically confer a PLACE to live.  Some estimates for 2011 state that there are 1.5 million homeless people; around 41% of them families with children.  The reasons range from lack of affordable housing, unemployment, or poverty to mental illness, substance abuse, or domestic violence.  But regardless of the reason, don’t these humans – fellow Americans – deserve a place to live?  Many of these people are, according the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, lacking in basic human rights such as safe drinking water.

Some recent studies have suggested that as much as 30% of the homeless suffer from mental illness, and although it is hard to estimate the exact number, it is suspected that a high percentage of these ailing people also abuse some substance; it is not clear if the substance abuse is causative in their homelessness.  At any one time, more than 100,000 of these homeless people are military veterans, on the streets for many of the same reasons as non-vets, but with the additional complication of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Don’t we owe these vets, who risked their lives so that you could sleep safe in your home, at the very least, a place to live?  In fact, don’t all of these people, be they sick or poor, deserve that same comfort that so many of us take for granted?

Although it is popular to vilify the rich for the problems of the poor, in the case of homelessness it is much closer to the truth, than not.  One of the primary reasons for homelessness is lack of homes.  As cities grow they frequently overrun the areas where low-income families live; razing their homes to replace them with upscale houses, condominiums, or McMansions.  This is not just an American phenomenon, but exists wherever there are large cities.  In America we call them slums and in Brazil they are known as Favelas.  Note in the two pictures the similarities.  Do we want for all of our cities to look like this?

Wouldn’t we like to be known as the generation in which homelessness was a thing of the past?

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