A friend (Thanks Nick Falvo!) sends me a link to a Tweet by Helen Clark, former leader of New Zealand.
It’s a catchy hashtag — #BadLuckCanComeToAnyone
But when it’s used in comparison to homelessness? It’s just not not true.
Homelessness isn’t caused by bad luck, unless of course you think it’s bad luck to be born into poverty, or suffer from untreated mental health issues or an addiction, or suffer from all sorts of aspects of the human condition for which there are no resources and little help.
Homelessness isn’t caused by bad luck, and it doesn’t come to ‘anyone’.
It arrives at your front door when there’s no other place to go. It arrives, unwanted, when you’ve run out of options and have no other alternative than to walk away from the one place you desperately tried to hold onto, but couldn’t because there were no social supports available to assist you when you desperately needed them.
Bad luck can happen for anyone, but homelessness happens to those for whom access to education, resources, supports, financial aid and social services are lacking.
It happens when cities grow and push people out of the areas where they could afford to live and push up the price of housing to a cost they can’t afford.
It happens to people who do not have the resilience to withstand environmental and economic disasters, to weather the storms of life and still find themselves standing at the end of the line looking for resources that don’t travel that far down the line.
It happens to people who have to make tough choices every day; do I put food on my table? Do I move because my landlord just jacked up my rent by $100 a month when I couldn’t afford it in the first place, but this is an expensive city and I won’t find anything cheaper anyway? Do I pay for insurance? Do I license my car which I need to get to work because there’s no bus service to the only job I can find? Do I risk a $250 ticket because I don’t have $3.25 to pay for the ride, but I have to file these papers to get the help I desperately need to keep a roof over my family’s heads? Do I buy the proper work boots to get a job or do I pay for my child’s school supplies? Do I pay for a course I desperately need to get a better paying job, or do I feed my family?
And yes, sometimes, the decision is to buy that next fix that will help you forget the dire straits, the stress and turmoil, the helplessness you feel living with poverty, anxiety, hopelessness.
But it’s not the addiction that causes homelessness.
It’s a result of the economic and emotional poverty that takes a toll. It beats down those for whom the lack of mental health supports, the stress of living with the constant strain of trying to stretch every cent to cover the days of the month, knowing there are more days than cents in every month, and keeps them trapped in poverty until there’s nowhere else to go but that place called, Homeless.
Homelessness is not bad luck.
People don’t ‘make’ a decision to be homeless or to be housed. They are forced into it because we make decisions as a society that result in people not being able to access housing they can afford, find help for their physical and mental health or attain a level of education that sustains them so they can weather life’s storms.
Homelessness is a symptom. It’s not the issue.
So yes, bad luck can come to anyone. Homelessness can’t, but it does, when we don’t ensure those living on the margins have access to the resources they need to climb out from the depths of poverty. A poverty we created through government policies and social frameworks that are not robust enough to support people who do not have the same good fortune as the privileged who were not born in poverty, or without mental health and physical issues they can’t afford to take care of.
Posing as homeless to raise awareness may help people shift their perceptions, but comparing homelessness to bad luck that can happen to anyone is not the answer.
We can end homelessness. But we, the collective, have to do things differently to make it happen. Let’s start with not calling homelessness ‘bad luck’.