My Quora Answer to the question, “How is it possible that in this day and age there are still so many homeless people? Why isn’t the society helping them to stand on their feet?”

With capitalism comes the ideology that it’s every man for himself, a dog-eat-dog world, survival of the fittest, social Darwinism, etc. Also, there’s the sense of fairness or reciprocality between work put it and payment rendered, goods consumed. Homeless people don’t work, so why should they get any benefits? And a lot of people seem to think that homeless people don’t work because they’re just lazy and don’t want to work (I wrote more about that in Should you feel guilty when you decline to give a dollar to a homeless person asking for money? in the third-to-last paragraph), which makes them more disinclined to support them in any way. People put so much of their energy slaving away miserably at their jobs that they don’t like the idea of other people getting anything, like food to live on, for free.

Another factor is that people distance themselves emotionally from homeless people. I guess it’s just easier that way than facing the atrocity of what one’s looking at. They don’t see them as real people. In one study monitoring brain activity, it was shown that people actually register cars as being more human than they do homeless people. (I can’t find the reference now.) And more generally, people tend to live isolated lives in their own bubbles of comfortable lifestyle while not having or wanting to think about the plights of less-fortunate people, such as homeless people or starving people in other countries (or not to mention animals, such as those suffering in the horrifying factory-farming conditions that ultimately put the food on their plates..)

Another issue, I think, is that you can’t just take care of the existing homeless population. If you take care of all of them, you inevitably make it easier for other people not to work and to receive the same benefits, so your non-working population would grow considerably. So not taking care of the homeless people is society’s way of protecting itself from incurring too much of a drain on the economy. This way, only those who really can’t make it in the workforce will not work.

How would it make it easier for other people not to work and receive benefits? Consider this: already there are tons of insurance and welfare programs, etc. for people who are unemployed or legitimately can’t work, but the thing is that there will always be people who can’t (or won’t) work for reasons not covered by the devised criteria for receiving those benefits. Every situation is unique, and you can only cover so many corner cases in your labyrinthine legislation of who gets free money.. And if you were too accommodating in your criteria, then too many people would be able to take advantage of those welfare programs and receive money just because they don’t want to work. And if they can, they will. I think this already happens to a large degree, at least in some places. My mom knows somebody who works for the passport agency here in Miami, and she says that approximately 90% of the Cubans are on disability..

Personally, I think we should have a universal safety net where everybody gets at least just enough money and services to live in a small and simple abode, eat, wash their clothes, buy basic necessities, receive basic health care, etc. If you want any more than the most basic necessities, then you have to go out and work for it. This would eliminate homelessness and also so much of the stress associated with working. As it is we’re always just one mishap away from ending up on the street..

Yes, it would cost a lot of money, but I think it would be worth it. After all, “any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members — the last, the least, the littlest.” -Cardinal Roger Mahony

But the problem is that most people just won’t go for it. I think they’re too selfish, or too immersed in the ideology of the every-man-for-himself world, or too preoccupied with fairness and getting their fair share of the labor they put into the system, or whatever. Definitely the republicans would be more averse to this than the democrats, but I think this idea may be too socialist even for most democrats. Most Americans don’t know this, but America is so right-wing in general that democrats in the US are pretty much the republicans of other, more progressive countries.

You did say something about helping them to stand on their feet. If this implies helping them to work again instead of just providing for them, maybe some of them could be rehabilitated to work, I don’t know what proportion of them. Definitely not all of them, maybe not even most of them. Even so, maybe we should have more programs aimed at getting homeless people back into the workforce. Why we don’t already could include the factors I mentioned in the second paragraph.

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