Updated: Feb 5
The power of invisibility to be seen and suddenly unseen is a powerful thread sewn into the fabric of our society. Every day within our communities, amidst the shuffle and hustle or steady drumbeat of our community, humans cloaked in transparent human form pass among and around us. The homeless, unhoused and untethered to society, have formed a subcultural community for centuries before our eyes and somehow beyond our thought, care or touch. The perceived messy, unkept, and odorous homeless community continues to add to its population with the smallest subtraction. Many housed people don't take baths or employ appropriate self-care and hygiene. They remain isolated from the rest of us partly because of their power of invisibility and the accommodating governance by government power wielders. This societal indifference or non-prioritized malaise is not confined to the local city government but extends to state, regional, and federal inaction.
I contend there is a prevalent myth about homelessness being primarily confined to big cities such as New York City (NYC), Chicago, Miami, Los Angelos, New Orleans, and Seattle and the cause is simply laziness. Although these American cities are examples, many small or large towns in the north, south, and midwest can lay claim to a fair share of the invisible - the homeless. The vantage point from a six-floor walk-up residence or a just-off central street porch can provide a picture window viewpoint; that is to say, the location may be different, but invisibility remains. The economic factor is but one of many reasons people enter into homelessness. For instance, in Florida, the affordability of a two-bedroom apartment requires a person to earn, on average, $26 an hour and work about 100+ hours at minimum wage; this is the 12th worse in the nation.1 Many unhoused suffer from mental illnesses impacted by reduced public assistance, broken child protection services, drug addiction, and domestic violence. Homelessness can be seen quite clearly with googles crafted from the fires of humanity and lenses fashioned with care and delicacy.
In addition to location, we assign labels to different groups or terms for a single group. For much of the southern region, buying a pop (soda-pop) or coke (Coca-ColaTM) is subscribed to carbonated drinks. However, in the north, a Coke is a Coca-Cola TM. Similarly, the term homeless have been given a bad rap - a derogatory lab when it shouldn't. The lost label, when applied, is often used to isolate or segment an underrepresented population of our country. Governments use these labels negatively to justify their attack upon homeless communities. But also, to be fair, charitable groups dole out support to the homeless, often promoting the victimology idea reinforcing homelessness as a sad, lonely affair.
Further, smaller towns or rural areas have their share of beggars or vagabonds that go about their makeshift lives. Meanwhile, urban centers, cities, and downtown areas perversely attempt to quarantine the homeless to erase the reminder that we are not all well - we are not all housed, fed, and employed. The American Dream eludes a faction that is invisible to most with little to no empathy. The farmer or rancher says I have plenty of work for them and a barn for shelter. The homeless person replies, "you don't know my story, and charity is not what I seek." Both sides of the homeless need to seek understanding and work together for solutions. Government tends to apply election time fixes using law enforcement to employ "clean sweeps" of streets, underpasses, and abandoned dwellings. The homeless are swept into society's corner to be forgotten and unseen.
Invisible to the discerning eye, the homeless carves out a life fraught with danger and grappling for survival. They are just as likely as the general housed public to be criminally targeted, nefariously persecuted for their condition and suffer violent malicious attacks resulting in death. However, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council reports that "physical health conditions such as heart problems or cancer are more likely to lead to an early death for homeless persons. The difficulty getting rest, maintaining medications, eating well, staying clean, and staying warm prolong and exacerbate illnesses, sometimes to the point where they are [life-threatening]." Suppose we could agree by moral contract and policy that mental illness and substance abuse are treatable health problems. In that case, we could perhaps interrupt the homelessness cycle and reduce the negative impact on all citizens. The homeless should and must not be discussed as an irritating stain on a shirt that can't be rubbed out, so you merely discard it. Instead, the homeless condition is a cautionary tale to be understood and learned from; anyone could be susceptible to homelessness. A few missed rent or mortgage payments, job loss, fleeing from domestic abuse & violence, and otherwise perceived spurned by society with deep guilt and low self-esteem compounded by substance abuse or any combination of these may render anyone homeless, untethered, hopeless, and invisible.