The homeless in London were recently targets of a vicious anti-homeless campaign where metal spikes were installed in spaces where the homeless were known to sleep or hang out. Thanks to massive outrage online through twitter campaigns and petitions, the spikes were removed.
Though the spikes seem especially harsh and ridiculous, actions to keep the homeless hidden are quite common in the U.S. as well. Alyssa Figueroa from the Independent: states
“While spike devices can be found worldwide including in New York City, they aren’t the only architectural devices used to deter homeless people from sitting or sleeping in public. A recent article in the Guardian details the public structures used globally for deterrence. Stainless steel benches, wavy benches and pay-per-minute benches are all part of cities’ ‘defensive urban architecture’ schemes to further criminalize and demean people who don’t have homes.”
These are great examples of blaming individuals for systemic problems. Rather than changing the economic system so that the most vulnerable are protected, we blame them and punish them.
The sight of homeless people is uncomfortable for most because it’s a daily reminder that the system we currently inhabit doesn’t work. We get frustrated with them; however, our frustration is misguided. Seeing so many homeless people should conjure up anger for our government and economic system.
It’s easier to create narratives and myths about homeless people…that they didn’t work hard enough. That they’re lazy. They just want to get money without working…but in reality, we don’t want to face the fact that most people who are homeless do not deserve to be homeless. No one does. So, our government would rather hide homeless people than deal with the root of the issue, which is the economic system. Hiding the homeless gives the illusion that everything is okay…that everyone is taken care of. The homeless become physical manifestations of our governments failure.
In the U.S. we like to think that we all start off in life equally, and that if Bill Gates can make it, if Steve Jobs can make it, if Obama can make it, then everyone can and that’s just plan false. We don’t want to seriously confront the reality: that our economic system is tainted with racism and sexism. Capitalism was born out of inequality.
We don’t want to believe that some people are born in debt. We can’t talk about “working hard” and “making it” in a system that strategically operates on the disenfranchisement of particular groups.
To assume that all poor people are lazy is to simultaneously assume that all rich people are hard-working, which isn’t necessarily the case.
The ultimate sign of weakness in a culture is when we blame the most vulnerable populations for systemic failures. It’s like blaming women for rape. We live in a culture where the victims are interrogated and punished, while the perpetrators remain nameless and anonymous. This cycle of victim-blaming ensures that perpetetrators can keep on committing crimes and violating people without getting caught.
Keeping the spotlight of blame on the victims helps the perpetrators attain more and abuse more without anyone looking.
The homeless are our cultural and economic scapegoats. We dehumanize them and blame them for our governments failures. Rather than being upset or disgusted with the homeless, we should instead think that perhaps there is something very wrong with an economic system that leaves it’s OWN citizens out on the street to die.
The homeless become inconvenient for a government that operates off of myths of justice and equality. America brands itself on a dream, the American dream, that most Americans will never have access to. If the world finds this out, we lose our reputation as the great nation that people flock to.
The best invention the U.S. ever created was a dream that they ensured most citizens couldn’t attain.