Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My experience working in homeless advocacy in relation to radicalism and liberalism.

I don't want to overstate my involvement. I was an intern for a men's shelter in Olympia, handled some case work there, and then volunteered at the connected drop in center for a summer, working the front desk a couple of days a week, then I remained a friend of the organization. I won't name it, but you can find it pretty easily on the web. I still have a great many friends who were connected to it.

Anyways, what I learned was that the radical, liberal, and conservative takes on homelessness are all both simultaneously right and wrong.

First the radical. My experience was that there were few people who were homeless who had simply been exploited by capitalism. Class formed a general background to homelessness, but few in number were the people who had simply been dealt a bad hand and nothing else. This was several years before the economic collapse. The folks who were homeless because of something like that tended to not stay homeless for an extended period of time, but instead get their stuff together and get back on track.

Next the liberal. Surprisingly, for my radical sensibilities, the liberal notion of what caused homelessness was much more correct than I thought--although not completely. That is to say, in the liberal as opposed to radical model, society is basically fine and just except for incidental things like family background and other non-economic factors that cause people to do self destructive and outright destructive things.

Most, if not all, of the people who were chronically homeless came from backgrounds where their family situations and community situations were seriously fucked up. I say that as a fact. This background directly contributed to the problems that they picked up that lead to them becoming homeless and staying homeless. Those problems were frequently addiction, or simply chronic bad choices due to psychological factors.

However, people across the board, across all backgrounds, have experiences like this. What made the difference between folks who had bad family backgrounds and became homeless and those that didn't was usually money, class. Folks who became homeless didn't have the financial or social support necessary to help them negotiate their problems without having everything collapse. That was how the radical informed the liberal.

Now for the conservative. It wasn't simply family background and class position that predisposed people to becoming homeless, it was often folks own choices that they made that were not good as well. Personal choice had a great deal to do with it--but personal choice often made on the background of severely fucked up family situations and community situations. Nevertheless, there was a continuum of amount of personal responsibility that contributed to people becoming homeless, with some folks basically being fucked from the start and others fucking up their lives more than others.

So all three positions had elements of truth to them, although none was the whole story. People weren't simply directly victimized by capitalism, they weren't only victims of their family backgrounds, and they weren't all in the situation because of personal choices.

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