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Why Do We Need Homes?

I went to Berkeley’s first task force on homelessness the other night. It answered a few questions for me, but it also raised a lot more. Chief among them, I guess, is what is the big deal about homes anyway? 

One of the speakers talked about the inalienable right of people to have a home and the problem with unreported “homelessness” within the school district where two families or more might be sharing one home, officially rendering one of the two families “homeless.”

Now, if there is not enough space, of course, that would be a problem. But how much space do we really need? What is enough? How much privacy do we need? How much isolation do we need? And what about connection? It is common custom for many cultures for extended family to live together.

At one time, when my children were in elementary school and I was still with my first husband, we had 4,000 square feet of living space —- for the four of us. You do the math, that works out to 1,000 square feet each. Did we each really need that much?

At the moment, I have less than 100 square feet of personal space. I rent a room in a house, and I have access to most of the rest of the house, so I actually have much more living space, but my point is that I am little impaired by having less than ten percent of the personal space than I once “owned”.

As a tenant, I do not own my space now, but in fact I did not really own my space then either. The bank owned most of it, and my husband and I were paying an obscene amount of interest and siphoning off great quantities of our personal income into that house. We were able to contribute less to social change causes, attend fewer lectures or concerts, take fewer trips, and save less money, because we “owned” a house, because we were a part of the American Dream.

We have all been sold a bill of goods by capitalism and the Realtors’ Association. They proclaim that we will be more successful, that our kids will do better in school, that we are investing for the future, and more, when we “own” our own homes. In fact we have become slaves to the system, partners in polluting our environment, and blind moles in “silos” that keep us from seeing what the world could be like if we acknowledged our common humanity and took care of each other as family.

When I moved to the Lac du Flambeau Indian Reservation in north central Wisconsin, nobody talked about where they lived. They talked about where they “stayed.” In the old days in this country, before the Europeans came, of course, nobody owned their land here. It was cared for and shared for the good of all. And there is still much of that community spirit, despite the determined efforts of the U.S. government to force Native people to become “good” members of the consumer oriented capitalistic system we live in.

And, I agree, we each need a place to stay. But that could be in shared housing, a commune, an intentional community. It doesn’t have to be in our own isolated resource guzzling private home. The speakers implied that if each homeless person or family could just have their own home, all of their problems —- and ours —- would be solved.

But I disagree that the problem is homelessness. It is not having a place to stay, not having mental health services, not having health care, not having meaningful work, not having relationship, not having enough or healthy food. The problem is alcohol, drugs, an “invisibly” stratified “classless” society, prejudice, racism, the militaryindustrial complex, money, power, greed. And that list of problems is not solved simply by having a home. ¥¥


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