Patty Smith
credit: Patty Smith

A lot of people believe that the unhoused are lazy; that they want to hang in the streets day and night, that they don’t want to be told what to do, that they are insane to some degree, that all they want to do is drink and do drugs, that they don’t come from a good upbringing or that they came into this city from somewhere else.

But many people with housing are just barely making it. Some people with jobs are just one step away from homelessness. Heck, a lot of people with jobs are homeless. People in housing drink and do drugs too. Without housing, it’s not always possible to maintain perfect hygiene. And some people who are privileged to have a home are lazy. It’s got nothing to do with class or finance – those qualities are related to attitude. Some people living in housing have that get-up-and-go drive, some are lazy as hell. Some people on the street have that get-up-and-go drive, some are lazy as hell.

We’re all the same.

Just because you’re housed, doesn’t mean you have the perfect house, either. You might be in a decrepit house, you might be in a middle-class neighborhood. The rent is so high in this city that it doesn’t matter where you live.

We don’t need to build more shelters in this town. If we have money and space to build, build as much affordable housing as you can. Shelters are okay, but some unhoused people don’t want to go into shelters. Some don’t feel safe, others just need more privacy. I don’t know all the reasons.

When I finally got a place of my own I said to myself, “Hey! I can shower. I can groom myself. I can store enough decent clothing to wear. I can take care of myself.” I started looking at life in a totally different way. I started feeling good about myself.

Everyone needs this basic housing to thrive.

Housed people have somewhere to keep a coat for when the weather gets cold. They have the option to stay inside under a roof when the rain pours down. In the dead of winter, they have the chance to stay in and watch TV or have a warm meal, rather than struggle to survive outside or pack into a shelter with hundreds of other people. Too many people don’t have these simple privileges. On top of that, they get the opportunity to make good friends with neighbors. A sense of community is important.

But where are we going to put this needed housing? Are we going to put it at the heart of the city? Are we going to push it to the outskirts? Some people get scared when they get pushed to the edge of the city. We need housing where people can access reliable transportation to get around. To get to a job or a medical appointment. To feed and clothe yourself.
Finally, we need housing where people can count on staying there for a few years. Where the rent won’t get too high. Where they won’t risk eviction.

That’s when you start building a life, when you know some of what the future holds for you.
Patty Smith is an artist and Street Sense vendor.