|One of the tunnels where homeless people have been living in a camp in Kansas City.|
This week, police in Kansas City, Missouri were investigating the thefts of sizeable amounts of copper and metal from area businesses. While they were investigating the area, they discovered several homeless persons camps, one of which had a network of tunnels. The tunnels had supplies and diapers, indicating that babies and young children had likely stayed there recently. Local agencies who work with the homeless came with the police officers in an attempt to aid in a peaceable relocation from the camp to an organization which could provide showers and clean clothes.
Homelessness is a big problem worldwide. In the US, the problem began when President Kennedy closed most of the mental hospitals in the US forcing people who might not be able to cook three meals, hold a job, or obtain a room or an apartment, into the streets. The problem of homelessness, particularly in the US is extremely complex, and can't be solved with a politician's waving of a wand.
As an intensive care unit nurse, I have had many homeless patients. They come to us in serious trouble with either a hypothermic body temperature with pneumonia, or with an out of control chronic medical problem, like diabetes mellitus. We get them well and we make sure they are aware of the services locally. With their permission, I cut their hair, and the nurses buy them new shoes, socks, underwear, and some clothing. We release them to a regular unit, and a day or so later, they are released to the outside world. Generally, they are cooperative and grateful patients. I talk to all my patients and I have often asked them what persuades them to live a life which is so difficult, when for most, there are alternatives. My eldest son also spoke with homeless people while he was in a large urban university. There is actually a Phd who lives as a homeless man, making enough money for food, or trades tutoring for an evening meal with a student. There are many reasons that people become homeless, but most interesting, I believe, are the reasons they choose to remain this way. In my discussions with homeless people there are often commonalities. Many of them have a problem with a history of a mental illness, some type of drug addiction, or alcoholism. Many of them have had serious problems with their families of origin, and do not trust them. Some of them fear being sent to a mental hospital by their families, and so sustained homelessness is a way of dodging interaction and supervision of sorts by families that they consider controlling. Some of them just don't want to be tied to an address. "Once you are" some of them have said, "Everyone knows where to come and find you, and they bring the bad stuff right to your door". Many of them equate homelessness with freedom, and in a strange sense, safety. A few of them continue as homeless individuals because they actually like the challenge of living in essence, as a survivalist on a daily basis. Several of them have told me that they "feel alive" and free when living homeless, and that they just don't think paying all that money just to have an address is worth the trouble. I must admit, paying a ton of money for an apartment when I was a new college graduate didn't feel good to me either. It seemed to keep me poor. They have also verbalized that they are most comfortable running from something, even though, they are not actually fugitives from the law. I was struck by how intelligent a great many of them are.
Of course, a lot of people in the economy of the past few years are homeless without the homeless mindset I mentioned above. Most people in the US are three paychecks from homelessness. When a job is lost, a lot of people either move in with relatives, or into their car. A few use an inexpensive recreational vehicle in an out of the way campground, where they try to live under the radar, especially if they have children and are seeking to avoid the prying eyes of local social services.
About five years ago when I was teaching college, I had a student who lived in her car. She had complex arrangements for showers. She effectively lived from a suitcase. She knew where to eat cheaply and how to eat on holidays when everything is closed. She had all her work in on time.
The police in Kansas City seemed amazed that people had created underground dwellings. I have news for them. There are likely to be many more of such dwellings, and many more homeless people living in a subculture than anyone realizes. Sadly, the present economy will likely generate more people whose lives become eating, finding a place to sleep safely, finding seasonable clothing, battling depression and low self esteem, and staying hidden from social services and police.
Some of the references to this post:
|Notice the blankets set up on the left of this particular tunnel.|
Given the economy, and the job outlook for many, this looks like simply the beginning of homeless family camps.