I don’t love everything the Las Cruces City Council does. I advocate much stronger steps to improve the Police Department and its accountability. I yammer about the City’s defective obedience to the Inspection of Public Records Act. Once when I spoke, Councilor Tessa Abeyta treated me the way far-right Republican Congressfolk treat Merrick Garland.
But let’s play fair. If we really want to improve our community, not just make political points, it helps to know who at least influences what.
We are not seeing homelessness because we’re unusually nice to unhoused folks or because we live somewhat near an international border. Our warm climate and open spaces compound the problem, but the nation is experiencing an epidemic of homelessness.
The reasons aren’t secrets: we have chosen not to spend enough money on affordable housing; unlike other developed nations, we’ve chosen a healthcare system in which healthcare is not a right, many citizens lack health insurance, and others are just a catastrophic injury or illness away from homelessness. (42% of U.S. citizens who receive cancer diagnoses spend their entire life savings within months.) While modern life tends to unsettle many of us, our society takes less care of the mentally ill or the demented than it should. Large numbers of citizens live from paycheck to paycheck, subject to eviction if an unusual expense – even a dead car – devours the rent money.
Most of what citizens suggest at council meetings is unconstitutional, otherwise unlawful, and/or impractical.
“Buy ‘em a ticket for Los Angeles and throw ‘em on a bus!” echoes the Medieval solution: people act weird, throw ‘em on a boat headed to another city. They’re gone. Traveling on water might help their minds. Researching my novel, The Moonlit Path, I learned that in 1914, when angry bands of unemployed men roved through California, cities sometimes put them in trucks and drove them to other cities. But a city trying that now could pay huge damages.
“Roust ‘em!” The City of Albuquerque is under a new court order not to seize or destroy homeless folks’ property. Homeless encampment sweeps may be unconstitutional.
The state and federal constitutional protections against injustice and inequality can sometimes be real inconvenient. For example, just because you think some penniless guy is a problem, you can’t just lock him up and toss the key because he lacks $200, when a rich guy would walk instantly, hardly noticing he’d deposited $200.
The Constitutions say we get fair trials. If jail is a possibility the state or city pays a lawyer to defend us. But I can’t have a fair trial if I’m too mentally addled to help my lawyer with that defense. Defendants who display their lack of sanity to judges get sent to Las Vegas. They aren’t cured there, maybe aren’t even treated, but the State sends ‘em back, agreeing they’re insane, and local judges have to free them. State and Nation could spend more on helping with mental health.
I remember a commercial in which a guy fixing transmissions says, “Pay me now or pay me later.” Not changing your oil eventually has consequences. If some of these problems worry you, consider advocating that our governments do some prevention. (Meanwhile, congressional wingnuts may shut down our whole government (costing many billions of dollars) to make us spend less on just the kinds of things that could help.
Few choose homelessness. Helping folks avoid it helps us all.