A US researcher and social activist has criticized the United States for spending trillions of dollars on wars, destroying countries but failing to resolve the homelessness crisis that hits America’s most vulnerable citizens.
Dennis Etler, a professor of Anthropology at Cabrillo College in Aptos, California, made the remarks in an interview with Press TV on Sunday while commenting on reports which say an increasing number of US cities are declaring states of emergency as homelessness is becoming more prevalent and a serious issue to deal with.
The cities of Portland, Oregon; Denver, Colorado; and Seattle, Washington as well as the entire state of Hawaii have become the latest to take drastic measures to fight the crisis.
“During the Holiday season many communities in the US suddenly acknowledge and recognize the homeless amongst them. Dinners are held and warm clothing distributed. The number of homeless people is however normally hidden from view much as the homeless themselves,” Professor Etler said.
“It is estimated that on a single night in January 2014, 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness—meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program, but that is certainly an underestimate. The true figure is anyone’s guess,” he added.
“Homelessness is a national crisis in the US that will not go away and in many areas has reached emergency proportions,” he stated.
Homelessness phenomenon not new
“The phenomenon of homelessness in the US is however nothing new. It’s a perennial problem that is most often shunted aside. Rather than be sheltered and given rehabilitative services, the chronically homeless, many who suffer from mental, emotional or physical disabilities and/or substance abuse, are criminalized. Sleeping bans and other restrictions make being unsheltered a crime whose only victims are the homeless themselves,” Professor Etler said.
“A few days ago I went to a memorial service commemorating the dozens of poor, disabled, homeless people who died on the streets of Santa Cruz, California over this last year. Similar services are held across the country in towns and cities both large and small,” he stated.
“At least thirty-eight died homeless in Santa Cruz last year amongst them were the most marginalized people, the sick, the hungry, scarred by physical, emotional and mental abuse, the most vulnerable citizens, abandoned to die alone, cold and unwanted,” the activist noted.
Deaths on cold, mean US streets
“How many people die on the cold, mean streets of the US every year? We know how many die from gun violence and motor vehicles accidents, about 33,000 each, but how many die by the societal violence of neglect and indifference? No one knows. An extensive search I conducted on-line yielded no vital statistic as to how many have died homeless and forgotten year, after year, after year in the US,” Professor Etler said.
“Many cities and counties count the dead and hold a memorial service in their commemoration. A few stories are told about this or that ‘character’ but most go to their graves unheralded and unknown. Santa Cruz County 38 dead, Denver 147, Cincinnati 45, Key West 50 and the count goes on. These are just a few of the cities that count their dead. Some large, some small. It is impossible to extrapolate a grand total from such insufficient data but multiplied throughout the country any reasonable guesstimate would put it in the tens of thousands,” he said.
“Who are these people? They are someone’s parents and grandparents, their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. They are the most vulnerable amongst us, disabled in one way or another, be it physically, mentally or emotionally. Misfits who just could not cope with a mean, competitive society, where the weak and broken are discarded as so much trash,” the analyst said.
US spends trillions on war
Professor Etler said the United States “can spend trillions on war and destruction. If we spent as much in one year as we do just on equipping ‘smart bombs’ ($625,000,000), 625 communities across the nation would have one million dollars each to establish homeless shelters or better still build permanent low-cost housing. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The money is there. It’s how it is allocated that matters.”
“If it was any other demographic the number of people dying on our streets would be a national crisis. It far surpasses the number killed by mass shootings or terrorism. It certainly surpasses the number killed by gun violence or motor vehicles. And the deaths are unnecessary and premature. The average age being 50, nearly 30 years less than the national average. Throw away people, empty ciphers going to an unmarked grave,” he concluded.