By Nancy Huntting
Reprinted from the Santa Cruz Sentinel of June 18, 2000, Santa Cruz, California, USA:
I just read “Middle-class buyers qualify for subsidies” (Sentinel, June 11) and also “Furious Debate Rages on Sleeping in Public,” (The New York Times 5/28) which tells of Santa Cruz as well as other cities across the country having hundreds, sometimes thousands of men, women, and children who don’t have a place to sleep at night. More and more Americans cannot afford rent. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that homelessness has doubled and even tripled in the last two decades. That people are homeless in the United States of America is a horror, an outrage—and I respect every person working to have this horror end.
The Sentinel article said “homelessness looms even for those with jobs,” telling of a single parent of two children, working full time, who “the region’s housing crisis has left… homeless for four months.” The Times article tells that in the safe sleeping zones just voted on by the [Santa Cruz] City Council “structures, tents, or other camping accessories like stoves would …be illegal. People would not be allowed within 300 feet of any home. And after three nights… would have to move to another spot at least 500 feet away.” Every man, woman, and child who has to lay his or head down on a sidewalk is flesh and blood, has a mind, feelings, hopes and fears that are real; each has possibilities that are being stifled. And when you lose a job, or work long hours and still can’t make ends meet, you not only are not free, you are also in great danger. The Times article says, “recent studies showed that homeless people are 4 to 12 times more likely than housed people to be the victims of attacks.”
Meanwhile, what these articles don’t deal with is the reason why, in a land so wealthy, in an economy supposedly doing so well, there are thousands of people—many of them families with young children—without a basic necessity of life, a home!
I want your readers to know there is an answer. It was given by the American economist and critic Eli Siegel, the founder of the education Aesthetic Realism. He is the person who had the greatest knowledge of history and the greatest compassion for people. He said that any economy in which one child is hungry is a failure. He showed, beginning in 1970, that our economic system, in which a few owners and stockholders make profit from the labor and life needs of others, had irreparably failed, would never recover; the contempt for people at its basis had at last shown itself to be so inefficient it could no longer work. Siegel defined contempt as “the addition to self through the lessening of something else.” And he also explained so importantly: “If people really cared that poverty not be, it wouldn’t be. But once you can feel you’re superior by thinking others are poorer than you are, it will be.”
The idea that people can’t have a decent place to live unless someone can make profit from them is immoral. Recently, I attended an event that should have been reported on the front pages of every major newspaper: a seminar titled “Housing: A Basic Right, An Urgent Need, an Architectural Priority” at the American Institute of Architects national convention in Philadelphia. It featured the powerful public service film against homelessness and hunger “What Does a Person Deserve?” by Emmy award winning filmmaker Ken Kimmelman, based on this fundamental ethical question asked by Eli Siegel: “What does a person deserve by being alive?”
The honest answering of this question by everyone—every city council member, mayor, and government official in every city in America—will end homelessness. That film ends with these words by Siegel: “The world should be owned by the people living in it. Every person should be seen as living in a world truly his. All persons should be seen as living in a world truly theirs.”
Nancy Huntting is a writer and teacher at the nonprofit Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, AestheticRealism.org.