The Homeless: Partial Solutions

Jun 10, 2010

They meander about Lower Queen Anne, panhandling at the Seattle Center, urinating on the street corners, and scavenging cigarette butts from the flower pots next to my hotel’s front door. They can be found dozing in the stuffed chairs at the local Starbucks. Or sleeping in the hotel’s stairwells like the one I found this morning. Closer and closer they get. Someday I’ll open the door to my room and one of them will be sprawled out in the hallway.

What can a person do to help these people? One possibility is to give to the United Way of King County, which encompasses a number of worthy charities. During my working days, I was at one point contributing over one thousand dollars a year from my paychecks. But a funny thing about this: the problems never seemed to diminish. In fact, every year during the Fund Raising Drive we were practically scolded at how many more people now needed our help and that we should dig ever deeper into our pockets.

So what about the free market (if I might borrow a page from the evil capitalists)? Surely that should provide people with opportunities to get ahead. Well, yes and no. I was living in Seattle in the mid-1990s, a time when the nation’s economy was in arguably the best shape of the past forty years. Undoubtedly many individuals found work who before had struggled to land a job. Yet there remained a hard core of transients unaffected by the booming local prosperity.

To me, this suggests that a lasting solution cannot be brought about via the charities or the “magic” of the free market. There needs to be a new direction. Over the past three decades, America seems to have come to the conclusion that it is somehow better to be sleeping in the gutter with your individual rights intact than to be forced to get help. Perhaps it’s time to rethink that.

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