Homelessness is a policy choice

A coffin-sized pod in Germany

In Germany, homeless people are being told this is the solution to their problems. They can “live” in a coffin-sized pod. Every time I see praise for this on social media, I cringe.

Although the pod has heat and is insulated against the cold and wind, it has no toilet, no sink, not even a hot plate for warming food. But we are to believe this is a good solution.

I disagree wholeheartedly, and I have had discussions with several people I know who are or have been homeless. Some of them believe these pods are the only alternative to sleeping in the cold.

They are not.

These pods are dehumanizing and cruel.

In the United States, it’s estimated there are just more than a half million homeless people. It’s also estimated there are some 3 million vacant housing units. That’s six housing units for every homeless person. Some are second and third homes, but in a growing number of tourist destinations, these are short-term vacation rentals, with wealthy landlords who own dozens of units. Having many vacant housing units off the long-term rental market also makes housing prices rise for working people. Some places are banning or regulating these short-term rentals, but not enough.

The United States also has a minimum wage that’s only about one-third what it takes to live comfortably in any US city, so fewer and fewer people can afford housing because their wages don’t rise with inflation.

If your answer is to put human beings into coffin-sized boxes, even while many of them have jobs, you’re missing the point on how to be a decent human being.

A number of the people I know who are or have been without housing also live with a mental illness — PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder … — and they can’t access treatment because in some states, Medicaid doesn’t cover single adults, no matter what the illness. And even though the Affordable Care Act mandates parity for mental health care, laws that allow people to be denied access to care (especially in states that have yet to expand Medicaid), leave many without access to adequate treatment.

Even when people are fortunate enough to qualify for disability, the paultry amount they receive can’t even cover rental on a studio apartment, and if they had been poor enough to receive Medicare, the $750 or so a month often is enough to bump them out of being qualified, and then they have to wait two years to qualify for insurance through Medicare. This loophole affects about 10,000 people a year, and it makes no sense. Congress could close the loophole, but they have refused to do so.

In other words, public policy causes poverty and its myriad consequences, which include homelessness.

And when you say a human should exist in something smaller than a dog pen at an animal shelter, what you’re saying is that you see them as less human as you.

I know people who are homeless are grateful for this as an alternative to sleeping in the cold and wind, but I’m saying they deserve more. This should be obvious to anyone who has enough privilege to be safe and warm every night.

We have more than enough housing units for everyone who has none to get one. If some super-wealthy person who owns dozens of vacation rental units objects to that, I’m going to side with the poor.

If we want to place people in tiny houses, that’s fine, but we need to make sure they’re residences with a bed, a chair and table, a bathroom and a kitchenette. Make them have no less space than 250 square feet. Allow people the dignity of a place they can call home. Every human deserves that much.