“Dear A Leftist™, Why are there homeless people in Vermont during the winter? Why don’t they move south?”
There are two tempting and connected ideas that most people relate to this question. Before we get into them, it’s important to realize that poorly framed questions like this one are floating around all the time. The only way to exorcise these no-good-very-bad thoughts from your one and only head is to trust your instincts, let them out, and try to find some better thoughts to fill the space. Thank you for your bravery!
For most people, the question you’ve sent comes from the thought that homeless people should move if they can’t be comfortable living outside in non-traditional housing and are exposed to the elements. We ask because we care (and since you wrote in to this column you obviously do, and this is good). The problem is that the question puts responsibility on the person to move, and implicitly denies our responsibility as a society to support, shelter and provide resources to fellow community members in a way that allows them agency and independent choices.
The second, related idea is the faux empathetic and politically correct bedfellow of your question – a caring, liberal little gremlin that sneaks into our minds as an alluring but incorrect answer. This devious little monster of a thought stands up tall on his soap box and states that it isn’t fair to expect homeless folks to move because of reasons that I understand about homeless people. These may include that “it’s expensive to move” or that “weather can be bad everywhere” or that “homeless people have local connections to social services.” In offering these answers to why homeless people stay in Vermont, our fiendish interloper doubles down on the question’s unhelpful premise that homelessness is an acceptable state of affairs (especially if it’s not in our city), while also binding responsibility for homelessness to the individual, not the community.
To help expel this preachy little trouble maker from your mind, remember (we all forget things at times) that people without houses are whole people and full community members deserving of the same respect and value as any other.* They, like all of us, are complex beings who are more than their housing status. Once you remember that all people** are whole people deserving of shelter, food, entertainment, health care, dignity, community and stability, it again becomes clear that any lack of these basic human needs is a failure of the community and not the person.
Just like you, those without housing are full community members and have connections to friends, family and place that they may not want to put aside, and they should never be expected to. This–and that they are not birds–is why homeless people do not move south during the Vermont winter.
*Please note that this idea (including the sometimes needing reminders) extends to all people, especially those who are commonly “othered” by the media, and/or society as a whole.
**Bootlickers are at times excluded from this truth but only AT TIMES!
A Leftist is the author of the wildly popular advice column “Ask A Leftist™”.