As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Christmas season has been upon us since nearly Halloween, and now it's just two days away. It's a time of sharing and remembering and all of those other warm, fuzzy things that, frankly, I am just not comfortable talking about with strangers.
Whenever I end up writing about Christmas or Thanksgiving or any other holiday, I come across as being cranky or grumpy or just angry, and that's not really the case. Well, OK, that's kind of true. But then again, sometimes people don't give me a lot of reason to be that cheerful. And right now, I'm not happy with how Charleston has chosen to ignore the growing problem of homelessness, a dereliction of civic duty that has led to the rapid growth of tent cities in town.
Sure, people in Charleston talk about the problem of homelessness quite a bit. In fact, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. mentioned it in his 2012 inaugural address as a key issue facing the city. But despite all the platitudes being paid to solving the problem and all the plans put down on paper, somehow nobody ever seems to do anything that would actually solve the problem. Yes, there's a lot of lip service about caring for the homeless, but that's not exactly the same as ending homelessness. Neither is criminalizing panhandling, which is how many homeless people earn what they can to survive as best they can. And the city took that away.
You can bet that once we're clear of the warm, fuzzy happiness of Christmas, there will be a push to clean out the tent cities, in particular the ones around the Ravenel Bridge. After all, Mayor Riley didn't spend 40 years pushing moderately poor people out of downtown just so the really poor people could move in. Won't someone think of the tourists?
Writers like myself are often criticized for complaining endlessly about the problems in our society without offering any solutions themselves. When it comes to the issue of homelessness, that charge can't be leveled at me. I've got one — House these people.
It's really not that hard. And the fact that it has not happened yet just means some people do not want it to happen.
For that matter, anytime someone suggests a solution which could bring some small amount of comfort or joy to the less fortunate, there's always someone else there to say, "I don't want to sacrifice any amount of what I have for these people." And yet those same comfortable people often immediately turn around and insist that poor people sacrifice their telephones or televisions in order to pay for food.
I can hear the cries of anguish from the privileged now: What would you suggest, then, free food? Well, yes. And housing, clothing, healthcare, and a universal basic income. Americans will give literally billions of dollars a year to charities, yet they refuse the suggestion that these basics should be a universal birthright.
I don't know why this is the case. Maybe it's the idea that actually housing the homeless — not to mention providing for all their other basic human needs — would end the multimillion dollar, non-profit business of running shelters and the multibillion dollar, for-profit insurance and hospital industry that scares all the neo-liberal people who run this city and the rest of the country. Or maybe it's the sudden drop in senseless paperwork — the lifeblood of many public sector jobs, particularly those in social services. The entire non-profit and state regulatory industry of managing poverty in this country would collapse overnight if there was no need to manage these issues. And that's something that neither the public nor private bureaucracies want to see happen.
Which makes it odd that so many conservatives who hate government and want to shrink it are unable to take the simplest of steps to actually reduce the size of government by dismantling the broken social safety net and replacing it with a simple system of guaranteed income for all citizens. There would be no paperwork, no offices. Just a payment every month, like clockwork.
And if you still want the actual nuts and bolts of how something like this would work in the real world, I could be rude and point you to my favorite right-wing phrase these days, "Study it out." Instead I'll offer you a combined Christmas gift and New Year's pledge: I'll be writing about this topic quite a bit in 2016.
Merry Christmas, to each and every one.