The War on the Poor

by Andrea Weever, homeless advocate

While the debate rages over how soon to inflict more misery on the Middle East, the war on the poor at home has left the streets littered with casualties. The widening chasm between rich and poor has left hardworking men and women just a paycheck away from general assistance and homelessness.

Decades of cutbacks in social services and the welfare reforms of the 1990s are now themselves a leading cause of poverty. The policies were a disaster for poor women and their children; today families are the fastest-growing segment of the homeless population. They join other urban refugees, the legions of veterans and disabled workers who, when no longer able to serve their country or corporation, end up discarded. Punishing the homeless for being poor is part of the criminalization of poverty in America.

Capitalism's priorities have always been backward. Instead of offering solutions, the twin parties of big business are pushing workers over the edge. Rather than provide universal healthcare, Congress slashes the Medicare budget. The Pentagon just got an additional $37.5 billion for an unprovoked war with Iraq. Yet Social Security recipients will get a Scrooge-like 1.4 percent cost of living raise in 2003. Instead of more low-income housing and job training, we get more prisons.

Lack of nationalized healthcare hits the homeless especially hard. Healthcare giants Kaiser and St. Mary's no longer have adult psychiatric units, which were vitally necessary to the homeless community. As one psychiatrist who has been on the frontlines for decades told me, "It's against the law to be mentally ill."

With the passage recently of Proposition N, I remember why San Francisco was voted "meanest city to the homeless." General Assistance payments are now likely to be reduced to $59 a month, or less than $2 a day. Hundreds living at barely subsistence levels will lose their SRO (single room occupancy) hotel rooms and hit the streets. This unholy proposition presupposes there will be a voucher system or something in place to guarantee housing, shelter, and meals for this community. How, with a magic affordable housing wand?

This enormously rich country could easily provide affordable housing, free healthcare, child and elder care, and a living wage for all. But this is not a logical system. How could it be when working folks are forced to live hand-to-mouth in parks and on the streets? Rather we live today caught up in the insanity of the free market where logic is subverted by the rules of the cash register, stock market reports, and the insatiable drive for profits. Clearly under a rational system, society would pay for social services by taxing corporations and by reallocating the $393 billion recently "donated" to the Pentagon for war making by U.S. taxpayers.

But don't hold your breath waiting for campaign financing reform to get us out of this two party mess. This system is not only insane, it's corrupt. So it's up to you and me to join with others who give a damn about the future of humanity in order to build a worldwide movement against capitalism, war, discrimination and poverty. Si se puede!

Andrea Weever is a supporter of Radical Women and a homeless and disability rights activist.