Events this week have had me thinking about power and how issues get defined; who sets the terms of debate and through that, controls the outcome. Often, this power to define and control works invisibly. This is what makes it so powerful.
Anyone who’s taken the time and trouble to analyze homelessness as a systemic issue knows it’s about declining housing affordability, structural unemployment, and the failure of wages to keep up with inflation. It’s about the globalization of trade that expresses itself in America as our two-tiered, deindustrialized economy. On the one side are an inadequate number of low-wage service industry jobs, and on the other you have the well-compensated professionals who work within an expanding information economy.
Poverty and inequality are growing, and the most vulnerable of us fall out at the bottom.
Homelessness, however, has been redefined. When you hear discussion of homelessness now, it is most likely to mean “chronic homelessness.” The talk here is always of individual dysfunction, its cost to society, and how we’re going to “end homelessness” by getting the most visible homeless (about 10% of the whole, using current definitions) people into housing within ten years. The other side of this “getting the numbers down” is the heightened policing of the urban poor. This, too, is often invisible.
This isn’t ending homelessness. It’s reducing the visible poverty that threatens the profits of developers who have, across the country, invested heavily in an urban condo boom for the winners in the new global economy. It’s sweeping poverty, and its true causes, under the rug.
Follow the money. It won’t win you any friends, but it might open your eyes.