Abolish the Word Homeless
I’m becoming less and less tolerant of the use of the word homeless to describe people who don’t pay rent to live in houses. The reason, I think, is that it reflects our unwillingness to think critically about housing. When we call someone homeless we are inherently passing a judgment on them. We are saying that if you don’t live in a Western house made out timber there is something wrong with you. The truth is not everyone wants to live this way. Some people like sleeping outside. And sleeping outside does have some serious advantages. You get to see things like the sky and stars. And it can be a generally good experience under the right circumstances. Of course, weather can be a problem. That’s what shelter is for. But more and more people are are questioning the idea that a western style house is the way to go. Houses which rely on timber can be considered unsustainable when they deplete our forests. They can also force us to spend our entire life working at an unsatisfying job to pay rent or a mortgage. Some people are exploring alternatives which can be more sustainable and affordable, such as using materials such as straw, dirt, canvas, or recycled tires.
I know that most people who sleep outside are not there by choice. But, I still don’t think homeless is the right word. Whether people sleep in a shelter, in the woods or under a bridge, home is wherever you are. And some of us consider the earth our home. It’s no longer safe to assume that everyone wants to live in a traditional house. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t help houseless people find the shelter that they need. Just that we should respect a diversity of living preferences. Some houseless people on the west coast are choosing to live together in camps. And they are joining together with local activists to win recognition from city governments. Oregon has agreed to work with Dignity Village to find a permanent location. And Santa Cruz, California has said it will allow Camp Paradise to stay at its current location.*
Instead of classifying people as ‘homeless’ we need to work together to make sure that everyone has a stable and secure living situation. And we need to oppose laws that criminalize people who don’t pay rent every month. The real cause of ‘homelessness’ is capitalism’s intolerance of anyone who lives outside its system of private property, ownership and domination.