No House, No Respect

Emily Beaman, News Editor

As people, what are we defined by? I’ve heard answers such as our actions, choices and even attitudes. However, in my twenty years, I don’t know if I have ever heard one of those characteristics be: a house. Still, the houseless population is treated with a lower degree of respect and necessity by both the general public and the American government.

It seems as if, rather than implementing structures or laws that could benefit them, those in power are more concerned with making the lives of the houseless more difficult than they already are. And the American people don’t object. Why worry about the safety of these people when we can build benches with spikes or gaps so we can push them out of the open and out of our minds?

The UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) recognizes houselessness as a crisis requiring immediate steps towards a solution. In fact, they say that on top of violating multiple human rights, houselessness “indicates a State failure to guarantee access to safe, affordable and adequate housing for all.” I would agree that the U.S. has failed these people. At an international level, this is recognized as a critical problem and therefore should be at the forefront of our domestic priorities.

As a Texas resident, the passage of HB1925 was heart-breaking in the sense that it showed our intention isn’t to help but to get the houseless community out of eyesight. The bill created a statewide public camping ban with a maximum $500 fine if a person is caught even sleeping under a blanket in public. Texas isn’t alone. Cities in Washington dole out $1,000 fines and 90 days of jail time to unhoused persons caught sleeping in public. The Supreme Court even ruled that the anti-houseless laws in Boise, Idaho were in violation of the 8th amendment, saying, “A state may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless.”

This isn’t to say they aren’t being moved to a shelter or are being handed charges for simply surviving. The point here is that these laws make an already hard, exhausting life even more so. If they don’t have a job, how are they supposed to pay the fines? Even if they did, wouldn’t having to pay the fine put off money towards a place to live or food? Even moving from camp to camp avoiding these laws makes securing shelter and food an even greater challenge.

Every other day it seems as if a new structure has been implemented that seems neat at first glance but takes one of the few comforts houseless people have and makes it as uncomfortable as possible. I’ll see a tik tok about bars on vents where houseless people sleep for warmth in the winter or a tweet about recent “concrete art” that consequently makes underpasses impossible for a person to set up at for a day or so. And it never fails to make me more disappointed to see headlines about new laws and regulations taking them away from some of the few places they feel safe. 

These communities shouldn’t be portrayed as people we’ve given up on or don’t deserve help. We shouldn’t be taught to ignore them until they’re pushed out of our minds. Even now, they’re considered a “them,” not only separate from “us” but pushed so below “us” we can’t see them. We have pushed them so far away that we cannot see their struggles, how some just try to survive the day, and how some just drift in and out.

I wouldn’t use a house to define a person, but I would use intentional ignorance, a disregard for others’ lives, and cruelty. This overlooked population doesn’t deserve to be treated like this. They deserve our help, as much as we can give.