This is written by Kipp Mueller. It may or may not reflect the positions of The Resurgent Left.
After attending the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta this past weekend, I was going to write a blog post covering some interesting moments from the event. It certainly covered the gamut — some of our party members really inspired me about our future, particularly many of our young vice-chair candidates. Others were the personification of cronyism.
So, you know. The gamut.
But the truth is there’s plenty of coverage of the DNC meeting out there. And the most poignant moment of my weekend didn’t take place in a conference room.
After a seemingly never-ending, bittersweet day of elections, most of the younger attendees went out for drinks. Yadda yadda yadda. Around 2:30 AM, I’m tipsy and making my way back to the hotel, still wearing some DNC paraphernalia.
A man approaches me. His name is Terry. He doesn’t ask for anything. Instead, he asks me how the DNC meeting went.
I gave him a cursory response — it was interesting, exhausting, etc.
He asked me, “Did you guys talk about us homeless folks at all?”
I felt paralyzed. Completely paralyzed. And he’s asking me this as I’m pulling out my key card so I can open the locked front doors of the Westin, where the DNC meeting took place.
To be fair, the weekend was mostly about picking leaders and discussing how to restructure our party and our strategy. But policy is inextricably linked to those things, which meant policy did come up quite a bit.
In fact, I heard lots of great, inspiring ideas. But I don’t think I ever heard a single reference to homelessness.
What made his question particularly poignant is something I can’t articulate sufficiently: He asked it with such sheer sincerity. 0% facetious. He was straight-faced, his tone completely genuine.
“I don’t think so.”
“Oh. Well, the shelters here make you want to stay on the street rather than be in there. So I can’t really figure out how to get off the street.”
We chatted for a bit longer. I asked him about life on the street, and he said, “You can’t really get by on the streets without alcohol or drugs. I stay away from drugs, but alcohol helps me get by. You need something to stop thinking so much about the hell you’re living in.”
Later he asks, “Did you guys talk about the gangs out here?” You can imagine my response. And his. Again, I’ve got nothin’.
And let me take a moment here to be perfectly clear: This is not a hit piece on the DNC, on Democrats, or on any of the people I met this past weekend.
I met amazing people. There were countless people at this event that have done far, far more than I have or ever will when it comes to helping the less fortunate. I met people who have dedicated their lifetimes to doing amazing work.
And after I complain about only getting four hours of perfectly comfortable sleep at the Westin, I’m flying on a plane back to my cozy apartment in San Francisco. I’ll probably pick up a latte at the airport and go on living my privileged life.
So, just so we’re clear here: I’m no martyr.
But I do believe we as a party need to bring homelessness and gang violence back into the issue scope in American politics — at the federal, state and local levels. Homelessness and gang violence are inexcusably prevalent. And we are to blame.
By the way, there’s solutions out there. Housing First has had tremendous success, and it caters to exactly what Terry had told me.
Most housing programs require that tenants kick the habit prior to moving in. Housing First gives people housing and counseling because people need the safety and security of a home in order to regather their lives.
Of course, homelessness and gang violence are both difficult because there is no single answer. Scratch the surface, and you’ll face plant into deep, systemic problems. You can’t fix gang violence without fixing our schools. Or redlining. You can’t fix homelessness without fixing criminal codes across America. Without building out a massive rehabilitation system.
Tackling these problems requires a series of federal, state and local policy changes on issues ranging from housing to education to criminal justice reform.
But JFK didn’t say we were going to the moon because he was an astrophysicist who found the answers. In fact, at the time he said it, neither he nor NASA knew whether it was possible or not.
JFK said we’d go to the moon because he believed that if we collectively put our minds to it, we could do it. And he knew that the first step to solving a problem or reaching success is bringing the goals to light. Pulling these ideas into the mainstream political and social narrative.
I truly believe future generations will wonder how we could’ve lived around homelessness and continued on with our lives. I can imagine my granddaughter asking me that question when I’m an old man and we’ve finally solved the problem (or still haven’t), millions of unnecessary deaths later.
How do we go on? My honest answer would be that we rely on a cognitive dissonance/rationalization martini.
“She’s probably just a druggie.” “Get a job.” There’s a complete lack of empathy and lack of perspective there, obviously. Lack of understanding of privilege and just how unequal things are in this country.
Obviously, people resort to these answers because blame is an easy escape. But look at a given issue statistically, and watch the fluctuations when you change policies, and you realize we are designing the outcomes. Individuals provide some anecdotes for both sides of the argument. You can find an individual who has a terribly empathetic story, and you can find another individual who’s less sympathetic.
But the reason homelessness is prevalent here and not in most other developed countries is because of a series of poor and malevolent policies, not because America somehow happens to be comprised of millions of individuals who are genetic aberrations. That’s a silly, stupid argument and you know it.
And even if you feel compelled to blame some individuals for their circumstance, if you’re justifying not helping them, you’re constructively arguing that they deserve the death penalty for their past.
Frankly, we should be ashamed of ourselves. We should be actively and constantly disgusted by homelessness in America. By how many black and latino youths die every year because they’re born in the wrong place with the wrong skin color.
We have to shed the cognitive dissonance and pithy rationalizations.
And at the very least, let’s start consistently bringing up these issues at every level of government. Presidential candidates and school board candidates should be consistently bringing up homelessness and gang violence. They should be discussing with their constituents what’s going on and how it can be solved in their communities. What can mitigate the damage.
It’s all man-made, folks. We can always tear down what we built. We can rebuild what we must.
Lest we forget, we went to the damn moon.