Monday, October 15, 2018

No home comforts

One of the things that struck me about San Francisco in April was the scale of the city's homelessness problem. I certainly hadn't been expecting to see someone shooting up on the street in the middle of the Financial District in broad daylight on a weekday.

Relatively speaking, the city might be one of the most prosperous in the US, standing in stark contrast to somewhere like Detroit, but that obscures the fact that significant disparities can and do exist within a single place as well as between different places. Not everyone has benefited from the West Coast's economic boom, with many finding themselves priced out, evicted and living on the streets.

Hugo Bachega's recent article for the BBC exposed the alarming extent of the nation's homelessness crisis and also reminded me of the damning report produced by the UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston - all the more embarrassing for Donald Trump and the US given the sorts of violent, war-torn countries on which Alston often comments.

Of course, we should acknowledge that homelessness is a huge problem here in the UK too, with new research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggesting that at least 449 homeless people have died in the last year - a staggering and shameful statistic.

To compound matters, less than a week before these findings were announced, Theresa May was cheerfully and confidently declaring at her party's conference that "a decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over and that their hard work has paid off". Austerity has meant considerably more than merely "hard work" for a great many people - it has cost livelihoods and lives. That she can treat so lightly the profoundly damaging consequences of her party's policy - one that was ideologically motivated and failed to achieve its key objectives - is appalling, though sadly not surprising.

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