Fix Homelessness How to rebuild human lives


Abstract colorful business senior man homeless alone on watercolor illustration painting background.
Abstract colorful business senior man homeless alone on watercolor illustration painting background.

Can a Hobo be Happy?

Bumper seems about thirty and has chosen his life because of the freedom it affords. Read More ›

Enticing People to Change

If we define “home” as a solid dwelling fixed to a particular spot, many Native Americans were voluntarily homeless, as hunters and gatherers are. They would follow their food supply, which was on the move. How could they be convinced to change? European Americans wanted to convince Native Americans that a settled life was better. Their position was Housing, Food, and Clothing first. Their belief: If Native Americans saw they could be warm and well-fed in cold weather rather than freezing and hungry, they would voluntarily settle down. If they became accustomed to products of civilization like fine clothing and (some craftily said) alcohol, they would want to settle down. That worked for some but not for others. Native culture Read More ›


Mixed Messages on Homelessness

Pundits who write about homelessness should recognize that America in this decade does not have 20-20 vision on the subject. My column last week analyzed a celebrated short story in which a homeless Native American and his friends haven’t changed at all, but the city of Seattle celebrates. If you’ve been watching Jonathan Choe’s videos on this Fix Homelessness website, Seattle’s homelessness crisis is not something to cheer. But in a New Yorker short story, the Noble Savage and his alcoholic crew can live happily ever after.  Some writers cheer on homelessness, seeing it as a way to live off the land, hunting for sustenance. There are parallels between the way European Americans dealt with Native Americans two centuries ago Read More ›


Kings of the Road, Homeless Heroes, Noble Savages

It’s hard to develop a consensus on public policy concerning homelessness. One reason: Many Americans have decried homelessness but envy the supposedly care-free lives of those who don’t have to deal with mortgages, car payments, and health insurance.   Eight decades ago Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe, starring Gary Cooper as the hobo hero, was a popular movie with positive things to say about the wandering life. Six decades ago country singer Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” glorified day-to-day hobo life and reached #1 on both the U.S. Country chart and Easy Listening surveys. Miller sang, “I’m a man of means by no means/ King of the road.” He summarized disadvantages and advantages: “Old, worn out suit and shoes/ Read More ›


Buying Prayers, Building Cathedrals

This year is the 500th anniversary of the death of Hermann Zierenberg. The wealthy man’s will in 1523 revealed he had set aside money so that each year on the anniversary of his death homeless people would pray for his salvation and purportedly save him years in purgatory. As Zierenberg was dying, though, the tradition of buying prayers to reduce purgatory time was dying out in much of Europe. One agent of change was Martin Luther, who said purgatory does not exist, so prayers for beloved ones to escape it are a waste of effort. Another was the enormous cost of grand cathedrals. I visited several years back the Seville Cathedral, known as the third-largest church in the world. It Read More ›


Help the Homeless, Help Yourself?

Today, nonprofit organizations designed to help the homeless compete to be beneficiaries listed in wills. Some offer public relations after death: “Make your generosity live on after you! You can assist the homeless by supporting the work of ___ in your will.” Or, “How Will You Be Remembered? You can help… overcome homelessness, poverty, addiction and mental health issues — even after you’re gone.” Other requests for bequests emphasize helping ourselves as well as helping others: “Your charitable trusts can be established to help homeless families with children, and offer you a tax advantage,” or “Your bequests can leave a lasting legacy, secure tax advantages for your family, and help us to prevent and end homelessness for years to come.” Is partly self-interested altruism new? The late Read More ›

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Problems of Government-Owned or Government-Subsidized Housing

Last October Howard Husock, a Manhattan Institute scholar, explained at the Center for Urban Renewal and Education why both government-owned housing and Section 8 government-subsidized private housing leave many poor people behind the 8-ball. He said both kinds have been “especially harmful to the interests of African Americans. They have lured Black households into dependency and long-term poverty, rewarded single-parenthood and led to the gnawing gap in home ownership and wealth between White and Black households.” He showed how federal and local governments in the 20th century destroyed in city after city black neighborhoods filled with black-owned businesses and homeowners but labeled as slums. Governments replaced them with public housing projects, set housing rules that punish increasing income and marriage, and Read More ›

London Westminster Abbey St Margaret Church
London Westminster Abbey St Margaret Church

Homelessness in the 1300s

Several readers of my column two weeks ago wanted more information on the book Piers Plowman and its historical context. Glad to provide, especially because that late medieval time in some ways parallels our own. Read More ›