This holiday season, we should focus on homelessness

Every year, I volunteer to serve the Thanksgiving meal at a homeless shelter. And every year, I recognize that providing a Thanksgiving feast can’t replace long-term solutions to homelessness.

Every year, I see too many of the same faces – families and individuals still on waiting lists for subsidized housing.

And this year, I’m appalled that so many major cities have enacted laws regarding the homeless that are anything but in the holiday spirit. Recently a 90-year-old World War II veteran and homeless advocate, Arnold Abbott, was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for the humanitarian gesture of feeding the homeless.

“Feeding bans,” which prohibit sharing food on public property, are not uncommon: About 70 cities in America have enacted them.

Instead of ignoring, or continually criminalizing homelessness, we need to make a concerted effort to drastically reduce it. And it can be done.

First, we need to bolster programs that help struggling homebuyers and renters, such as Section 8.

Second, we need to enact rent control laws, which stabilize the household burden and stop vulnerable working Americans from becoming homeless.

Third, we need to reduce the waiting times for subsidized housing. The National Coalition for Subsidized Housing reports that rental assistance applicants have an average wait time of two years. Many can’t hold out that long.

And finally, we need to reject the stereotypes of the homeless as alcoholic, mentally ill, or weak-willed. One of every four of the adult homeless population is a veteran. Are we really so cynical that we would call our country’s veterans weak-willed or lazy?

For those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, they will never end their cycle of addiction until they achieve stability. A home is the most basic unit of a secure environment. Little progress in drug treatment is possible while addicts remain on the street or in temporary shelter environments.

This Thanksgiving, I will again help serve up a bountiful feast at a local homeless shelter. But by next Thanksgiving, I hope we'll have more humane policies in place – from the municipal to the federal level – for those who so desperately need a home.

Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and critic living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues.