The Cuyahoga County kennel is a clean facility staffed by trained professionals with a deep concern for animals. San Francisco is constructing an apartment building for their homeless dogs and cats. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a large advertising budget with a huge network of volunteers, some of whom are willing to go to the extreme for animal rights. Recently, thousands of dollars were used and lives were put at risk to rescue a dog from an abandoned ocean vessel.
The overflow shelters for homeless men and women are inadequate facilities staffed by untrained, overworked staff, some of whom are just punching the clock and have no concern for the people that they serve. San Francisco has an extremely large homeless population approaching 10,000 people per night with a severe shortage of housing. There is no national advertising campaign to house homeless families. While there are millions of volunteers that serve food or help in shelters there are very few volunteers working on the right to housing for all Americans. Recently in Cleveland, Adam Jones, a World War II veteran died a quiet death after spending years on the streets of Cleveland.
Why are we addressing the ethical treatment of animals when we threat our fellow citizens so unethically? Why are we as a society spending money doing fundraising campaigns and spending valuable resources to house homeless animals while millions of our taxpaying citizens sleep on the streets or on mats in a shelter? Why not prioritize solving human homelessness before we work on the needs of homeless puppies?
I do not hate animals. I understand dogs and cats are easy to serve without all the baggage homeless people carry (literally and figuratively.) Since when did Americans shrink from a challenge or take the easy road? When did we turn away from serving the least fortunate? I do not understand when our elected officials lost the shame of running a state, city, county or country with a huge number of homeless people. When did homelessness become a part of our urban landscape and not an emergency that needs immediate attention?
Every jurisdiction has a dog warden, but very few municipal or county governments have a homeless liaison. Neither the City of Cleveland nor even one suburban government have a position working exclusively on homeless issues. None of the individual communities within Cuyahoga County contribute funds to address homelessness while 20-30% of the Cleveland homeless population were most recently living in a suburban community.
As we have said hundreds of times in these pages, homelessness is a solvable problem. It is fundamentally a lack of affordable housing, which has a solution. There was a time in America we did not have nearly as many people on the streets. There were poor people and alcohol addicted people and those with a mental illness, but they did not live on the streets. What we do not have is the political will and pressure on politicians to think about the People for the Ethical Treatment of People.
We need a huge increase in affordable housing. We need a major increase in the production of housing, in the development of vouchers, and in major increases in supportive housing. We need to transition the thinking of social service community from working with the easiest to serve in order to show good outcomes to serving everyone in order to reduce harm. We need a philosophy of universal housing with shelters as temporary short term emergency services.
The harm reduction model follows the strategy similar to the needle exchange programs with the philosophy that society needs to place people in stable living situations first and then work on the other issues. This is what we hear from homeless people. This is the basis for a discussion of solutions. We regularly hear from homeless people that they are adults and do not want to be told what to do. We should not make shelter conditional on accepting and abiding by a treatment plan. As we have also said in these pages, it does not make sense to require a person to treat themselves before treatment is offered.
So we need a re-evaluation of our priorities and work on ending the suffering that exists on the streets. We need to rebuild people so they have the confidence to live free of chemicals in a home. Sure they are not as cute as puppies or kittens, but we have a fundamental responsibility to justice for our citizens. No more animal rights marches until the rights of people to stay inside is respected.
Copyright NEOCH published in May 2002 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54