Who are the homeless?

The following information is culled from many published statistics, readily available to all, plus a small but pertinent amount of personal discovery. One of the ways in which Ashland deviates from the national statistics is that some 50 percent of the homeless are African-American, 12 percent Hispanic, and only 35 percent Caucasian. Whereas in Ashland, I see virtually none but Caucasians, for whatever reason. Nationally, some 57 percent of all males are non-veterans and 43 percent veterans. I have no idea how Ashland's population of homeless breaks down on this parameter.

There are some general facts of which people should be aware. To begin, the number one cause of homelessness, as listed by the homeless themselves, is job loss, at 24 percent of respondents. The second salient fact is that homelessness has nearly doubled over the past two years. Yet, official statistics on unemployment show a slight drop over this time period. The conundrum is solved when one knows that "unemployment" is usually calculated on the basis of the census over households. Obviously, the homeless are not among those respondents. The more appropriate measure of unemployment is calculated on the basis of reported loss of job openings by employers themselves. Calculated in this manner, there has indeed been a small recent rise in the number of the unemployed.

Another important, relevant general fact, in light of the many observations by people on these pages, is that the majority of the homeless, based on histograms over four-year age groups, is in the 15- to 19-year-old bracket. The 2007 survey calculates that, nationwide, some 35 percent of the homeless are under the age of 18. The great majority of these, as eyeballed by some apparent "Ashlanders," are judged to be "able-bodied." Indeed, only 4 percent of the homeless have been released from medical hospitals and 2 percent from psychiatric hospitals. This is practically no information at all, however, as to how "able-bodied" anyone is. A better measure would be to offer minor maintenance work to those to whom legitimate, hygienic shelters are offered. This could indeed offset much of the cost to the city or other agencies.

As to the motivation to "join society," my observations tell me that many of the homeless, anywhere, have no interest whatever in becoming "regular members". Certainly, in order to evaluate this meaningfully one needs (1) an objective, honest appraisal of the health of American society as a place to fulfill aspirations of any kind; and (2) an appreciation of what kind of home life most of these non-joiners have come from. I know for fact that the scars many of them have come away with can take a lifetime to overcome. Seventeen per cent list "family conflict" as the source of their homelessness, 10 percent list "domestic violence," 13 percent list "substance abuse" and 12 percent avow "mental illness."

Again, I suggest offering these kids a "pay as you go" plan of simple services in return for shelter.

Here are a couple of other facts that have not emerged in the general statistical assays.

Among the unemployed, perhaps the most obdurate of all precipitating causes is so-called "over-qualification." The seriousness here is nearly universally ignored as a result of a kind of reverse discrimination. When serious enough, these people cannot even get a job as a dishwasher. Think: Every employer wants some kind of recent employment references, which they will certainly verify. Who is going to hire a dishwasher with a PhD — or more? I personally know of instances where such people, despite hundreds of applications for jobs most readers would never be willing to even consider, have endured years of frustration and, eventually, homelessness.

Another little-understood fact is that among those who are homeless is a small contingent who need to be recognized as hyenas. They are among those who are homeless by choice, or perhaps more accurately, necessity, because they are constitutionally unable to be part of any even vaguely "normal" society. I mention this contingent because they are a threat that must be recognized. But a threat to tax-paying citizens, hardly at all. The threat is entirely to the other homeless: They are predators who are responsible for nearly all the thefts, rapes, assaults and occasional deaths among the homeless.

So, it should be clear that the homeless are an even more heterogeneous lot than those with roofs over their heads.

Eric Navickas has always had the interest of these people at heart and has recently offered some mature analysis and legally savvy suggestions. I suggest that people listen to him.

Aaron Corbet has lived in Ashland for the past 15 years.

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