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Homeless in America


While I hope that everyone is having a reasonably pleasant holiday season, it’s worth remembering that this is an awful time of the year for the (at least) hundreds of thousands of people who live without stable shelter in America. This is partly because of the emotional trauma of being without a home on holidays that are so emotionally tethered to some notion of “home.” But even more pragmatically, this is because it is incredibly dangerous to be without shelter this time of year, especially when you live in northern cities like Chicago:

Wednesday’s high was expected to be only 8 degrees with wind chills as low as 15 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service.

The weather service is warning residents in northern Illinois and northwest Indiana of an “excessive cold risk” and “dangerously low” temperatures and wind chills through early Wednesday, then the possibility of snow later in the week.

That excessive risk will remain in effect at least through New Year’s Day, meteorologists told the Sun-Times. The dangerously low temperatures could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as few as 30 minutes.

It is unconscionable that America’s political class has generally chosen to not do anything to help people who have to survive living without shelter under such conditions.

A perfect example? Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who has both a) decimated city services for poor people in general, and b) taken to evicting homeless people from viaducts and other places where they might find at least some tiny amount of shelter from the elements. In some cases, the Chicago Police Department literally throws away homeless people’s tents and belongings. It is far easier to, say, find a brokerage firm than an overnight warming shelter in Chicago. The same for mental health clinics and other manifestations of the social safety network. This is as Rahm Emmanuel would prefer it. In this, he’s much like a lot of Chicago’s Democratic mayors, who have controlled City Hall without interruption since 1931. But more so than a majority of his predecessors, Rahm has demolished the commons and the city’s social network in favor of privatization and austerity.

The misapplication and abuse by holier-than-thou leftists of the word “neoliberal” rightly has been a common point of comment and ridicule on the blog over the last year+. But we should all feel fine calling this particular spade a spade: Rahm is neoliberalism incarnate. He’s a revolting politician who might be the worst mayor for Chicago’s poor people since Richard J. Daley. He prioritizes profit over people (especially poor people of color) so shamelessly that it makes my eyes bleed. While arguments to the effect of “Democrats and Republicans are definitely equally bad” are, 99% of the time, more or less absurd, Rahm is the 1% where I’d probably be inclined to just say “yeah, you’re right.” It pains me that I managed to live in Chicago for three years but never resided during a mayoral election year where he was candidate. Voting against him would quite possibly have been the vote I’d’ve relished the most in my sixteen voting years.

Far more important than Rahm Emmanuel in all of this is the fact that we need a constitutionally guaranteed right to housing in this country. That there isn’t one is an abomination. The venerable People’s Law Office in Chicago has argued precisely this point in arguments against Rahm’s eviction’s of homeless Chicagoans from certain public areas (see preceding link), but the argument hasn’t gained much traction locally.

In any case, if people are looking for a place that could use some financial help, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless does really good work in that city.

(I am adding this as a preemptory note, as I’m going to be on trains, planes, and automobiles most of the day today and will have probably no reliable access to wifi for commenting purposes: I am aware that there are multiple news stories circulating about Rahm’s efforts to address the plight of homeless people now that the situation is so dire because of the cold. Variations of the theme have circulated since he took office six years ago. Count me among the profoundly unconvinced.)


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