Saturday, 27 August 2016

Essays about Homelessness in the US, by Kirsten Anderberg

The author of these essays has experienced homelessness herself, which gives them a very human quality and this subjective element makes them powerfully compelling. This comes out particularly in the essay Once you've been homeless, you can never go back, which talks about the permanent scarring and trauma left by homelessness, which those who have never experienced it cannot relate to.

She talks about the role of mental hospitals as homeless shelters in one of the essays. In the past, homeless people were forced into mental hospitals against their wills. Today, homeless people desperately try to present with mental health problems to gain admission to psychiatric wards. I have seen that a lot in my job as a substance misuse worker. Our author follows this with an interesting essay on unmarked graves in mental asylums. She also writes about the impact of homelessness on children, who are forced into a posture of suspicion and hostility towards society.

I think the most important essay in this book is the one which talks about how homelessness completely deprives people of privacy. This deprivation forces people who are homeless to withdraw into themselves and to erect mental barriers against society. This raises questions about strategies for addressing homelessness. Homeless people are often offered only shelters and hostels that provide minimal privacy. Their access to housing is made conditional upon their participation in programs that they may be wary of. This adds to the case for a housing first approach to homelessness which sees housing as a basic need that should be addressed immediately. Current policy in the UK often seems to treat homelessness not as a problem in itself, but a result of wider social problems.

There are some socialist views expressed in this book. I disagree with the author's anti-capitalist stance, but I prefer the anger of a socialist to the prejudiced sneering of a conservative. The author's socialism particularly comes out in an essay, which blames homelessness, as well as other problems on land ownership. Of course, getting rid of land ownership would cause its own problems. The re-appropriation of white farm lands in Zimbabwe led to famine in that country.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone seeking an insight into the great evil of homelessness.

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