September 29, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | LIFE, POLITICS, Ulalume | 0 Comments |

"Evicted" by Erik Henningsen (1892)

At a recent symposium on the homeless, a number of aspects arose in a policy and legal sense.  Access to Justice and availability of work were naturally to the fore.  The futility of fines and the false panacea of cheap grog and drugs loomed large.

There was no talk of starvation and in fact, in these days of safety nets there would not appear to be any need for indigent people to go without food for five days (the ‘standard’ complaint in Down and Out in Paris and London).

Giorgio Conrad, 19thC

Giorgio Conrad, 19thC

Intriguingly, public or affordable housing did not feature at all.  Dare one suggest that decades of faux deinstitutionalisation (implemented as a cost-saver, not as constructive compassion, which would be far more expensive than building a new  Bedlam) and the failure of public housing policies have left governments nutted by reality?

As P.J O’Rourke observed:

A government house-building orgy won’t work because one third of the homeless are crazy and will jump out the windows and one third are screwed up on drink and drugs and will sell the plumbing.  The rest have primarily economic problems, but we can keep giving them free housing forever, and it won’t help.  The law of supply and demand tells us that when the price of something is artificially set below market level there will soon be none of that thing left – as you may have noticed the last time you tried to buy something for nothing.”*

The worst thing about homelessness is that you are severed from your past, a boat un-moored, and as you drift further away, that past is lost.  Take this simple hypothesis as an example: A small, gaunt man enters a posh arcade in Big City, the urban biosphere which declares “Buy something or die.” He is looking for a lavatory however. Finding none but staff facilities, all barred, he buys tea so as to gain the entrée. With his new old key, he is sent into a labyrinth of stairs and corridors. Too humiliated to admit failure, he returns, further encumbers himself with tea and staggers into the wintry afternoon, the drizzle a gruesome mnemonic to his swollen bladder.+


[* “Among the Compassion Fascists: The National March for Housing Now!” (1989).  +From Tranquility]


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