The Scandal of US Homelessness Should be a Warning to the Rest of the World
Iain Overton on the homelessness crisis in West-Coast America and the staggering levels of inequality that caused it
The West Coast of the United States offers, if nothing else, a universe of contrasts. Prehistoric forests, with redwoods as tall as cathedrals; laid back surfer-lives and the sweet smell of marijuana; vibrant Mexican culture mixed with the dollar-demands of North American capitalism; some of the best museums and amusement parks in the world. But amidst the diversity, lies a repeated and terrible monotone.
The sight of America’s legions of homeless people in cities all down the coast.
From Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles, each inner city shows, as Allen Ginsberg once wrote, an army “dragging themselves through the… streets, looking for an angry fix”, full of “poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high”.
These unhoused numbers have swelled since Ginsberg described his lost generation in the poem ‘Howl’. Now, dragged low by an opiate addiction crisis, these silent masses are a ubiquitous sight that contrasts starkly against the success stories of Seattle Fintech billionaires and Silicon Valley Artificial Intelligence gurus.
They are, to put it bluntly, a scar on the conscience of America. And they should be seen as such, not to denigrate their condition, but to prick the consciences of the impossibly wealthy who live beside them, cheek by jowl.