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shelter
People move furniture out of the Franklin Shelter in
Washington, D.C. The shelter was closed.
PHOTO /DONATED
By Eric Jonathan Sheptock

Washington, D.C. — President Obama has taken office. The Bush era is over. And Obama is starting out like a ball of fire, mandating that there be greater disclosure of government activities, that Gitmo be closed, and that everyone in his administration be barred from being a lobbyist while he remains in office.

While this doesn’t fix our systemic flaws, it suggests that President Obama may heed the words of the American public. It even creates the hope that bottom-up change — change brought about by the likes of you and me — is possible. 

Meanwhile, the Obama rage rages on. People all over the nation are devising agendas for the new President. In doing so, they are developing a social consciousness and getting involved in running the nation. No doubt his transition team is being inundated with suggestions as to what changes he should make. Just which domestic concerns will take precedence with the president remain to be seen. 

People become homeless for a myriad of reasons. “All roads lead to Rome,” and in this case, the roads symbolize the various problems and social ills of our society — mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, condo conversion, and the lack of affordable health care, a living wage, and affordable housing. 

The “Rome” all of these roads lead to is homelessness. So it behooves President Obama to focus considerable attention on solving homelessness. In fact, the President could devise his entire domestic policy simply by setting up office at a homeless shelter and addressing the issues of its residents.

In so doing, he’d encounter every problem our nation faces. In some cases, the homeless person would have personal experience with a problem — running from a violent husband, for instance, or losing their job and their apartment during a prolonged hospital stay. In others, there would have been a trickle-down effect — inflation and decreased buying power . . . or corporate mismanagement causing people to lose their jobs and savings.

As the President began tracing each problem of the homeless to its roots, he’d eventually face every problem with which the nation is plagued.

So when, if ever, will homelessness become a core political issue? That’s beginning to happen even now. Today’s headlines are chock full of stories about tent cities popping up and municipal governments placing homeless families in motels. Then there are the doctors and lawyers taking unskilled jobs as waitresses and stock boys, and the formerly middle-class people joining the ranks of the homeless.

Capitalism has run its course and is imploding on itself. The established system is unraveling right before our very eyes. The ranks of the middle and upper classes are shrinking, while the ranks of the poor, homeless, and dispossessed are swelling.
It is just a matter of time before the “have-nots” have to teach the “haves” how to make do and to live without all of their creature comforts. It won’t be long before the issue of homelessness takes center stage. In the meantime, we must continue to confront our local, state, and federal governments — including President Obama himself — and to press them for solutions to the problem.
Let homelessness be the spot we continually take a punch at, like a boxer pounding away at one part of his opponent’s body. Let’s demand solutions to homelessness from government. After all, housing is a human right. And if anybody is denied it everybody is at risk, particularly today.

Eric Jonathan Sheptock is a leader of the homeless in Washington, D.C.



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