I was touched today by a brief documentary that appeared in the New York Times called “Hotel 22” by Elizabeth Ho. This eight minute video documented the use of a 24-hour bus route by the homeless of Silicon Valley to get some temporary shelter and relief from the streets. In watching the documentary, I kept thinking that our economy must do better for the least among us, for those who may not be W-2 employable. Why do people without money or the means or opportunity to make money have to live like this?
“But suppose you are a poor migrant, black or white, from the cotton or cane fields of the South or the Appalachian coal fields, and you wind up jobless in some “inner city.” You have come from the country, and now, cooped up in a strange and unyielding place, without the mutual usefulness of a functioning neighborhood, you experience a helplessness that is new to you: the practical difficulty or impossibility of helping or being helped by someone you know. A most significant part of that helplessness is the impossibility of helping yourself, and this is the condition of landlessness. I am not talking here about owning land, but merely of having access to it or the use of it. In your new circumstances of displacement, you have no place to grow a garden or keep a few chickens or gather firewood or hunt or fish. Maybe you were, by the official definition, poor where you came from, but there your abilities to do for yourself and others were given scope efficacy by the landscape. You have come, in short, to the difference, defined by Paul Goodman, a long time ago, between competent poverty and abject poverty. A home landscape enables personal subsistence but also generosity. It enables a community to exist and function.”
So what would a solution – connecting the homeless to land and community –look like? Probably a lot like the amazing work that Mobile Loaves and Fishes is doing in Austin.
A just economy is one that is able to lift all of us up to a place that reflects our human dignity. Our poor simply deserve better than a bumpy bus ride just to get some sleep in a warm place. The solutions might not always be clear but with a little outside-of-the-box thinking, and a lot of love, we may just be able to create an economy in which we all belong.