Californian hard core punkers Pennywise sang about lack of shelter in 1991. The lyrics say Americans deserve better than to live in tin – perhaps a reference to a common slum construction material. Some basic Internet research can lead one to acceptable sources suggesting that the situation of people without a place to go to when they choose is a big problem. In recent years, a collection of local government representatives, the Council of Mayors, has looked at the issue, and reported that – though obviously – prime reasons for homelessness include poverty and unemployment. Pennywise add “broken homes” to the list of factors, a variable often raised by American conservative researchers, most notably Charles Murray.
Pennywise also turn from causes to solutions. They shout the hope that “help is on its way,” and the Interagency Council on Homelessness presented a plan to the President and Congress in 2010. The group has ambitious targets for ending homelessness. For instance, a goal is to see all families, children and youth with shelter by 2020.
In the public policy process, a policy goal is one stage in which the aim of government action (or not) is identified. Goals are often general, but can also be unrealistic. Famously in Canada, in the 1990s the national government had a commitment to eradicate child poverty by 2000. Nope. Likewise it is a safe bet that the Interagency Council will not meet its seemingly arbitrary targets.
Thus while planners plan and politicians congratulate themselves for their comprehensive reports, Pennywise remind us that deaths in the shadows affect all of us. And further, may somewhat suggest that solutions should not only come from government but society: “Let’s learn to help ourselves.”
The causes of homelessness are many, and the band has it right in letting us know that the solutions need also be wide ranging… and attainable. The trouble is such a tact takes time to kick in: a lot longer than a 2-minute punk song to slash through.