Homelessness has a myriad of causes and dimensions—from foreclosure, job loss and domestic violence to mental illness, medical expenses and addiction. If we as a community are to properly respond and act, we must take a more comprehensive view of why homelessness occurs and how we can effectively combat it.
The federal government says affordable housing should take no more than 30 percent of a person’s income. In reality, no one earning minimum wage in any state can afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent. In 1999, the national two-bedroom housing wage was $11.08; in 2011, the national housing wage was $18.46, a 66 percent increase. The lack of affordable housing is widely considered to be the main cause of homelessness in the United States today.
Homelessness is growing at an alarming rate locally and nationally, and many cities’ solution to the crisis is to criminalize poverty by passing constitutionally dubious laws crafted to harass the homeless. Sadly, Memphis is no exception to this. Such efforts are not only inhumane and immoral, but have been legally challenged as violations of the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. More to the point, these efforts are ineffective, counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible.
To make matters worse, Memphis is one of the few large cities without a free homeless shelter. We also have very few shelters for homeless women.
Memphis clearly needs reform if we wish to eliminate homelessness. The MSPJC aims to make this reform happen and improve the lives of our poorest citizens.