Who Are My Brothers and Sisters? Forgotten Humanity, Homelessness, and Relational Poverty

               In their soon to be published book, When We Walk By: Forgotten Humanity, Broken Systems, and the Role We Can Each Play in Ending Homelessness, the authors provide a powerful examination of the ways in which people experiencing homelessness are the victims of economic and social systems that are broken and the targets of negative and harmful stereotypes and stigma. These barriers make it exceedingly difficult for those without housing to become integrated members of our society. 

               In their analysis of American attitudes towards those without homes, one important concept that the authors highlight is relational poverty. For the purposes of this paper, we define relational poverty as incorporating three distinct but related concepts. First, relational poverty means: (1) having few, if any ties, to other people, especially those people that can provide resource advantages in specific social situations, a lack of context-specific social capital. In other words, most of those experiencing homelessness do not have access to networks of support that can provide significant assistance and therefore suffer from relational poverty.  A second part of the definition adds: (2) having an emotional or psychological barrier, reinforced by external circumstances and internal values, that makes building ties to other people from different groups and overcoming their relational poverty difficult. This aspect of the concept applies to most people, who, for various reasons continue to ascribe to negative stereotypes of people experiencing homelessness despite considerable evidence that the stereotypes contain misinformation and reflect a failure of people to consider other people as human beings, what Adler and his co-authors call forgotten humanity. In other words, all of us suffer from relational poverty with respect to homelessness. A third aspect of relational poverty is: (3) being artificially bound to a limited set of social contexts and physical locations based on our own socio-economic status. This part of the definition is closely tied to the second part mentioned above. It reflects the barriers that many of us, especially those of us with more resources, have to accepting people who are different from us because we are psychologically and emotionally bound to a set of values based on our economic and social privilege and the physical neighborhood in which we live that are typical of a higher socio-economic class than those experiencing homelessness.

               This paper explores the dimensions of each of these three aspects of relational poverty, their negative impacts, and some possible ways of altering these impacts. The paper closely resembles arguments found in When We Walk By. It is also a product of a series of lectures I developed for a course on relational poverty that I will be teaching later this year. Also, in several places throughout the paper, there are excerpts from stories provided by persons experiencing homelessness, mostly in San Francisco, who have been part of an important project called Miracle Messages, in which staff make videos of persons living on the streets with their agreement and then, utilizing what the program calls digital detectives, reconnect the individuals with long lost family and friends.

Relational Poverty – Few Ties to Other People

               As Adler, Burnes, Banh, and Bilbija state in When We Walk By, “We all need supportive communities, networks of support, and nurturing relationships with people we can rely on. This is just as true of those without homes as it is of those with stable housing. We all need more than just a physical home. We need a social home as well” (emphasis in the original).ii A simple example of a network of support is the answer to the following question: Who do you call at 2 am if you are having a crisis? Most of us have people we can call on – a spouse, children or parents depending on our age, neighbors, friends, fellow parishioners, etc. – but many of those without homes lack “people with resources we can call on”,iii lack a sense of belonging and a sense of community, what Robert Putnam in his famous book, Bowling Alone,iv calls social capital. We all need nurturing relationships with people we can rely on and people who can provide us real support – financial, emotional, psychological, and even physical support – when we need it. v 

               The lack of such relationships, of such support, is a form of relational poverty which can often lead the affected person into isolation and shame (see below). This kind of poverty “often exacerbates financial poverty, and even causes homelessness. While it’s easy to recognize a lack of income, shelter, sanitation, clothes, or food, there’s often no obvious way to tell when someone lacks supportive relationships.”vi

               “One primary way people create relationships is through their workplaces or in locations where communities gather, like churches, libraries, coffee shops, or bars. Many people without homes lack the opportunities to place themselves consistently in circumstances which allow for the buildup of social capital, and the stigma associated with homelessness can keep unhoused people out of environments where they may otherwise have been able to make safe and healthy social connections. In a society that shuns ‘the homeless,’ it is far less likely that you will get invited to that house party or networking event if you are ‘a homeless neighbor’ instead of just ‘a struggling neighbor.’”vii

               Social capital has many rewards. It can facilitate the exchange of information and ideas; it can help us develop our own self-identity; it can give us a strong sense of purpose and provide us with a community of interest and a true sense of solidarity; it can be of immediate assistance in times of trouble; and it can be converted into financial capital. In other words, high social capital, i.e., strong social networks, can create real resource advantages, and it is just as essential for our wellbeing as economic capital. 

               “When you have high levels of social capital – resource advantages from networks and norms – tangible benefits result. For example, if your paycheck doesn’t stretch to the end of the month, you can turn to your support networks to borrow money. Or if your child is sick and needs to stay home from daycare, you can find someone in your trusted community to provide temporary childcare so you can still go to work and get paid.”viii Another way of describing this is provided by researcher and scholar of sociology Paul Muniz, “Forms of capital (social, cultural, economic, etc.) are somewhat interchangeable — economic capital can buy you into social

situations and social capital can provide resource advantages.”ix

               Social capital can also help us climb the economic ladder. A recent study by Raj Chetty and his colleagues suggests that children from low-income neighborhoods go to college more often and have higher incomes if they have interactions with and form bonds with children in higher income neighborhoods. In other words, creating networks across class lines improves the educational and financial futures of low-income children.x

               Just as relational poverty can lead to economic poverty, the reverse is true, i.e., financial poverty can lead to a lack of supportive and nurturing relationships. For example, the loss of a job leads to financial poverty, but it also eliminates contact with co-workers and their potential support. Job loss can also lead to personal withdrawal, thus increasing relational poverty and a degree of shame. A major illness or injury can have the same effect: a loss of contact with friends and networks of support, thus relational poverty. Consider, for example, older residents of nursing homes who spend their waking hours alone, lying in bed, with virtually no human contact, except the occasional nurse. Professor Matthew Desmond complicates the relationship between financial and relational poverty a bit by claiming that the networks that people in poverty often create are weak but have relatively high resource demands, which makes them vulnerable to being abandoned. In other words, these connections are relatively disposable…xi

               “In a vicious downward cycle, financial poverty results in greater relational poverty, [and more precarious relationships]xii which results in greater financial poverty, and so on.”xiii

               One of the Miracle Messages participants was a man named Ray. “As his cardiac symptoms worsened, Ray gradually distanced himself from his social circle, carefully crafting a facade of happiness to mask the overwhelming isolation, sadness, depression, and loneliness he harbored from within. The scant savings that Ray had left went to hotel rooms, followed by late-night bus rides to keep warm during the winter, followed by pretending to be a university student so he could stay at the library through the evening. For over a year, Ray walked the streets of San Francisco, immersed in a physical pain and deep-set loneliness that was supplemented by a sharp sense of fear and distrust of the unknown. During Ray’s experience with homelessness, he spoke to no one; he reached out to nobody. He was embarrassed by his situation. He didn’t feel that he could be good company. He gave up and blamed himself for what happened to him – his health and his homelessness. He had no one to tell him otherwise. What followed was a downward spiral of negative thoughts, self-loathing, and deteriorated coping mechanisms that kept Ray feeling stuck, afraid, and deservedly poor and alone.”xiv

               Ray’s experience is far from unique. For many people, as their relational poverty increases, they become socially isolated, the ultimate in relational poverty. It means being truly alone, without networks of support. Sometimes many of us feel lonely, but that is far different from being truly alone and socially isolated. We can feel lonely at times, but we do have nurturing networks of support if our circumstances become overpowering. We do have friends

               we can call on in a pinch. We don’t have to experience extended periods of loneliness unless we want to. This is far different from not having those networks to begin with.In summary, then, to tie these concepts together, this definitional aspect of relational poverty means being without networks of support, without a sense of community. If this poverty reaches an extreme, one is faced with true social isolation. Finally, people experiencing extreme relational poverty and social isolation have virtually no social capital.

Who Experiences Relational Poverty and Why?

               We know that most people without homes experience unstable and transient networks of support. One senior official at a treatment center whose career has focused on working with people experiencing homelessness has confirmed that most individuals and families without homes suffer from relational poverty. As he put it, “I can’t tell you how upsetting it is to go into some guy’s room and find him either staring into space or having committed suicide.” xv Therefore, the overall demographics of those without homes tell us a great deal about who among the unhoused experience this lack of social capital. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly given the structural racism in this country and the stereotypes about gender identity, recent statistics from the Annual Homelessness Activity Report (AHAR) suggest that African Americans, Latinx and LGBTQ+ individuals are substantially overrepresented in the population of those without homes. For example, Blacks constitute almost 40% of this total population, while only representing about 12% of the total American population, and Black families constitute over 50% of all families experiencing homelessness. Latinx people are about one

quarter of the homeless population although they represent less than one-fifth of the American population. Among youth without homes, LGBTQ+ youngsters constitute about 40% of that subpopulation, compared to about 9% of the total youth population across the country. xvi

               However, even considering these data, “It is important to recognize that relational poverty is not something that only afflicts our neighbors experiencing homelessness. [Serious] loneliness is at epidemic levels in the United States today, adversely affecting our physical health and life expectancy, and having increased substantially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2021 report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education suggests that 36% of all Americans – including 61% of young adults – “feel ‘serious loneliness.’ And many groups are highly stigmatized and discriminated against in our society, based on race, ethnic origin, gender identity, immigration status, physical and mental disabilities, language, religion, and more, whether or not they are experiencing homelessness.”xvii In addition, the elderly, as their spouses and friends die off and their physical and mental capacities become more limited, increasingly experience extreme relational poverty. Almost 25% of those over 65 are socially isolated. xviii

               Some may argue that tent encampments of those experiencing homelessness, either sanctioned or not, along with other small groupings of people without homes, create a community of like-minded people who then form bonds and networks. Professor Chris Herring, in his analysis of large-scale encampments, points out the positive aspects of these

encampments.xix Bill Sweeney, a local homeless advocate and attorney in Boulder, CO, sent me several examples of people experiencing homelessness who provided emotional support to encampment friends in time of need.xx However, an important study by Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) suggests that some of these kinds of networks provide few if any helpful resources. The authors of the SPARC report therefore coined the term “network impoverishment” to indicate that the networks are not positive and helpful sources of support and therefore do not overcome the barriers created by relational poverty and lack of social and economic capital.xxi 

               Another significant factor in examining relational poverty is the age ranges of people without homes. Although good, recent national data about ages are not readily available, there are some indications from local surveys. For example, a Los Angeles report that combined data for five years ending in 2017 indicated that about 11% of the unhoused population was in the 0-24 age range, 16% was 25-34 years old, another 19% was 35-44, 27% were 45-54, and the remaining older persons constituted another 27%.xxii In other words, more than half the LA population of people experiencing homelessness was 45 years old or older. A more recent report suggests that about half of all single adults experiencing homelessness nationally are 50 years old or older and over 1 in 10 are young enough to be on their parents’ health insurance plans.xxiii

               As the population of people without homes increases its preponderance of Blacks and Indigenous People of Color and grows older, and economic inequality remains at historic highs, there is every reason to believe that relational poverty will continue to be a significant issue. So, why do many of the unhoused suffer from this kind of social poverty? The first and most obvious reason is that those living without homes have been rejected by and excluded from mainstream society. They are viewed as unworthy and undeserving, as somehow less than human. Some exhibit difficult behaviors, but don’t we all? They are the present equivalents of the leper colonies of old.

               For some, life has given them a rotten hand to begin with. They were born with little support and virtually no networks. Babies raised in dysfunctional families, those who bounce from foster family to foster family, and those who are wards of the state all experience early childhood and teenage years bereft of the kind of social capital that we all need so desperately as we grow up. 

               Others have “used up” their social capital by placing too many demands on their networks.xxiv Teenagers and young adults who have had trouble in school and concomitant trouble finding employment often retreat to placing financial and social demands on their family whose patience finally wears out, and parents finally say, “I can’t take this anymore. You have to go.” At that point, the rejected individuals find themselves with little social capital and experience relational poverty. All of this reduces support from family and community, creates low self-esteem, and a lack of belonging. Homelessness is not far behind.

                Once an individual or family has become homeless, there are a variety of barriers they must overcome to eliminate their relational poverty, including digital and access barriers. For example, lacking a good place to keep equipment safe, cell phones and phone numbers often get lost, and charging phones without regular access to electrical outlets can be challenging. In addition, passwords and login information are often forgotten or misplaced, given inadequate places to keep information safely. Furthermore, some of those experiencing homelessness have visual and/or auditory impairments, thus magnifying their inability to connect to networks. And, finally, gaining regular access to the internet can be very difficult. As one individual explained, “I sleep outside of Google to use the Wi-Fi.”xxv

               There are also other kinds of barriers to increasing one’s social capital. Because of HIPAA regulations, for example, (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), shelters are not permitted to indicate who is residing there or who is not there. Therefore, for family members who are searching desperately for missing children or relatives who may be experiencing homelessness, identifying where that person is living can be most difficult. Once again, the strategy underlying Miracle Messages and its programmatic cousin, Find Them, is to facilitate reconnections between people who are experiencing homelessness and family members and long-time friends.

               There are also psychological and emotional barriers that unhoused people may well experience. One such barrier is a basic lack of trust. “When life has taught you – through abuse or neglect by those who are meant to care for you the most – that people cannot be trusted and

everyone always leaves, you naturally have a tendency to protect yourself by not letting anyone get close and actively pushing away those who try.”xxvi Furthermore, individuals may fear rejection by former network members, and/or they may feel real shame and self-loathing. For example, consider Michelle, a middle-aged Black woman with successful parents, children, and grandchildren with whom she was quite close. However, she experienced a 24-month period of homelessness that was triggered by an administrative error that eliminated access to financial support. Although her family could have provided support for her, she was too ashamed of having to live in a shelter to inform other members of her family.xxvii Two unhoused residents in San Francisco, revealed similar kinds of emotional scars. One indicated, “I can’t; I feel dirty”xxviii when he explained to Kevin why he didn’t want to send messages to his family. A second person, Ray, said, “I didn’t feel like I could be good company to people. I didn’t want to share what I was going through,”xxix and he became increasingly isolated. Finally, Barb, a very successful college professor and administrator in Denver who experienced homelessness as a child from the age of 6 to 12, reported, “I was unworthy. I was a ‘nothing and a nobody’ and didn’t deserve to be cared for.”xxx 

               In summary, there are various types of barriers that prevent people experiencing homelessness from avoiding relational poverty. Some are the result of physical surroundings and bureaucratic regulations that make it difficult to maintain connections with support networks.

Even more important are the emotional and psychological barriers that arise from the experience of homelessness that make it extremely challenging to construct or reconstruct networks of support. 


Impact of Relational Poverty


Considering the significant existence of relational poverty among those experiencing homelessness, what is the impact of this lack of social capital, this retreat into social isolation? Significant research provides succinct answers to those questions. Networks of support are important for our physical and mental health. Without this support, there is often premature death. There is a 50% increase in the risk of dementia, a higher incidence of debilitating diseases, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a greater likelihood of depression and suicide.xxxi “Similar to a long commute or a demanding job, loneliness acts as a physical stressor on the body, leading to elevated cortisol levels and high levels of inflammation. Like chronic stress, chronic loneliness is the deadliest of its kind. The longer a person stays homeless, the more likely they are to be chronically lonely.”xxxii Psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad, in a meta-analysis of various scientific reports, found that “experiences of social isolation, loneliness, or living alone were associated with a 26%-32% increased likelihood of early mortality. Prolonged isolation is estimated to decrease a person’s lifespan by 15 years, equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As this grim finding makes clear, relational poverty is

a deadly form of poverty, with associated health risks comparable to those of financial poverty.xxxiii (Emphasis added)


               In a must-readxxxiv article in the Atlantic, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz report on the 84-year study of the key to a good life.xxxv “Since 1938, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has been investigating what makes people flourish. After starting with 724 participants—boys from disadvantaged and troubled families in Boston, and Harvard undergraduates—the study incorporated the spouses of the original men and, more recently, more than 1,300 descendants of the initial group. Researchers periodically interview participants, ask them to fill out questionnaires, and collect information about their physical health. As the study’s director (Bob) and associate director (Marc), we’ve been able to watch participants fall in and out of relationships, find success and failure at their jobs, become mothers and fathers. It’s the longest in-depth longitudinal study on human life ever done, and it’s brought us to a simple and profound conclusion: Good relationships lead to health and happiness. The trick is that those relationships must be nurtured.”xxxvi

               In their book, Waldinger and Schulz describe at length the importance of relationships. “Positive relationships are essential to human well-being. (Emphasis in the original)xxxvii “The engine of a good life is not the self…but rather our connection to others.”xxxviiii As the authors point out, English is saturated with economic jargon—” we ‘spend’ time, we ‘pay’ attention’xxxix—”when we offer our time and attention [to relationships], we are not merely spending and paying. We are giving our lives (emphasis in the original).xl

Relational Poverty – For the Housed, Barriers to Relationships with the Unhoused

               Many of us have emotional or psychological barriers, reinforced by external circumstances and internal values, that make connecting to people experiencing homelessness in any kind of positive way very difficult. In the pages that follow, we will explore some of these barriers and the implications of them, along with their impact on how we relate to our unhoused neighbors, brothers, and sisters.

               In an important book, Relational Inequalities: An Organizational Approach, Professors Tomaskovic-Devey and Avent-Holt provide some insight into how the unhoused have become so demonized. “Among the most fundamental human attributes is our cognitive tendency to understand the world around us by packaging social objects into distinct categories….when layered with cultural content, categories such as race, gender, ethnicity, and social class routinely produce taunting, harassment, scapegoating, segregation” (I would add “the unhoused” here as a

separate category). xli The authors go on to say, “In the context of human beings, ‘we’-our tribe- become defined as moral in relation to the immoral, dangerous ‘others.’ “xlii Later, they report that the categories we construct are socially and culturally defined, and that once defined, they are transformed into hierarchies and become institutionalized.xliii The authors summarize this discussion of categories by saying, “ These distinctions tend to be converted into moral boundaries between in- and out-groups, low- and high-status traits.”xliv

               Another part of this categorization process that most of us are guilty of when it comes to homelessness is confirmation bias. Based on very limited direct experience or narrow perceptions, we assume that all people experiencing homelessness are the same. “We define “the homeless” as a monolith, grouped by their lack of one physical need. In reducing their individual humanity and context, we fill in the gap with the negative stereotypes that are so rampant – lazy, crazy, addicts, rejects.”xlv In fact, 60% of Americans view personal faults as the cause of homelessness.xlvi And yet, good survey data suggest that only about 1/3 of all people experiencing homelessness suffer from a substance use disorder and only 20-25% suffer from a serious mental illness.xlvii

For most of us, the only direct connection we have to homelessness is the people we see hanging out on the streets, asleep in doorways, pushing fully laden shopping carts, or panhandling. We assume that all people experiencing homelessness are like these individuals. These are the visible people experiencing homelessness. However, some 80-85% of the total unhoused population is not in any of these categories.xlviii They are working in regular jobs, waiting for day labor trucks, asleep in shelters, hanging out in day shelters, or otherwise invisible; we simply don’t see them. For example, some 45% or more are working in jobsxlix that simply do not pay enough to afford rent, so they are without housing, but we don’t see them.

               A wonderful example of how our belief in stereotypes and stigma affects our judgment about people is the 2014 experiment conducted in New York City.l The researchers identified five families, and in each case, unknown to the rest of the family members, selected one person in each group to behave like an unhoused person. Each of these five people dressed up in ratty clothing, looked unkempt, sat on the sidewalk of a busy NYC street, usually with a tin cup beside them, covered their heads with some type of cap or hat, and looked dejected. The researchers then asked the other family members to walk by them, along with other passers-by, and they filmed these five people over the course of a day. In no case did spouses recognize their spouses, parents recognize their children, relatives recognize their other relatives. As family members walked by their other family members, they dehumanized them, rejected them as social outcasts, thereby reinforcing an “us” versus “them” value structure. At the end of the day, all five families were reunited with their other person, much to the horror and total embarrassment of those that

had walked by. This, then, is a perfect example of how our stereotypes prevent us from relating to “those other people.”

               As I speak to groups about homelessness, I often say, “The conventional wisdom is that those without housing are there because they are lazy, crazy, drunks, druggies, or they have made bad decisions. However, there are millions more Americans in housing that are lazy, crazy, drunks, druggies, and who among us has never made a bad decision? I certainly have, many of them.” Why do we place a negative label on those without housing for certain behaviors, while we try to help those whose only difference is that they have their own homes?

               “Stigma and stereotypes [create] an ‘empathy wall’” which presents “an obstacle to deep understanding of another person, one that can make us feel indifferent or even hostile to those […] in different circumstances.”li These stereotypes about personal failings perpetuate the stigma that those experiencing homelessness must live with daily. “Negative presumptions about who “they” are and where “they” came from lead to widespread official exclusion of our unhoused neighbors…”lii  

               “We are also guilty of attribution bias, or the tendency to perceive individual behaviors as though they are immutable personal characteristics and overlook the circumstances in which

they appear. We assume the guy speeding on the highway is an impulsive, unsafe driver, but we rationalize our own speeding as resulting from being tired, hungry, or late….According to Dr. Romeo Vitelli, a Canadian psychologist, based on a review of social media, many Americans think that the unhoused are: “dirty/unhygienic; socially deviant; potentially violent.”liii


Degrees of Separation


               One of the questions that often arises is how different are the unhoused from the housed members of our society, or, to put it slightly differently, is living in a home the only difference between the two groups of people?

               “‘At a genetic level, we are 99.9% identical – any two people on Earth share 999 out of every 1,000 DNA bases. Within the human population, all genetic variations – the inheritable differences in our physical appearance, health, and personality – add up to just 0.1 percent of about 3 billion bases,’ describes Jonathan Marks, a biological anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. It seems ludicrous to assume that the 0.1% genetic variation between humans accounts for the extreme variations we see in quality of life, net worth, and housing status. As the aphorism goes, ‘talent is universal; opportunity is not.’ And yet, we label people experiencing homelessness as ‘the homeless,’ a semi-permanent descriptor that would make much more sense if there were a ‘Planet Homelessness’ from where our unhoused neighbors emigrated.”liv

               Another way of answering the question about differences is based on the concept of the degrees of separation. According to the 1993 movie, there are six degrees of separation that separate each of us from anyone else on the planet. In fact, that statistic has been lowered. In a 2011 study conducted by Facebook, based on data from 721 million users, there are only about four degrees of separation that separate us from anyone else.lv To continue that thread, a recent poll conducted in Denver indicated that 13% of the randomly selected individuals over the age of 20 had themselves experienced homelessness, and another 30% knew someone else who had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.lvi In other words, almost half of the respondents either had experienced homelessness or knew someone who had. And yet, stereotypes continue in our midst along with the resulting stigma that we continue to attach to those experiencing homelessness.

Paternalism and Individualism – Other Forms of Relational Poverty

               There are other aspects of how we as housed people relate negatively to those experiencing homelessness. One of these is paternalism. Defined as, “taking actions or making decisions for another person, under the belief that those actions or decisions will benefit the person,” lvii paternalism is another form of our relational poverty with respect to the unhoused. We assume that, since we feel that our unhoused brothers and sisters are irresponsible and untrustworthy, we must treat them that way. If, for example, we give them money, they will use it

on alcohol and drugs that we view as unwise. Therefore, we don’t give them money. We approach them as healer, judge, and savior—healer because they have an illness or disease from which they need to be healed; judge because we think they are behaving badly; and savior because we need to feel that we are saving them from a bad set of circumstances. All three of these roles contain an element of paternalism.

               However, recent studies of places utilizing guaranteed income give the lie to some of the underlying paternalism. For example, the New Leaf Project in Canada found that individuals who were provided money without stipulation spent 52% of it on food and rent, 15% on “other” essential items such as medication and bills, and 16% on clothes and transportation. In addition, spending on alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs declined by 39%. lviii Similar findings have been found in other evaluations of basic income projects.lix

               The same kind of paternalism is present in many of our benefit programs. For example, both the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dictate paternalistically what recipients can use the benefit for and what they can’t buy with the funds. For those who are worse off than we are, we don’t trust them to use resources wisely.

               One of the Miracle Messages interviewees reported that he had turned down a housing voucher and preferred to live under a bridge. When questioned about this, Ronnie responded that he was working hard on his recovery from a substance use disorder, that the voucher would have placed him back in his old neighborhood where the temptation to start using again would have been too great, and, consequently, that he preferred to live without using that voucher to continue his recovery. As he said, “So I’m just waiting a few more years until I’m eligible for senior housing.” lx In other words, the local service agency determined that what Ronnie needed was a housing unit without determining whether the available unit would have been in Ronnie’s best interest.

               “When we stop at a traffic light, see a person asking for charity, and hand them a dollar bill or a granola bar or a bottle of water, we expect a subservient ‘thank you’ for our generosity. But since we don’t take the time to hear their actual stories and understand their needs, we are giving more for our sake than for theirs. One dollar won’t go very far toward rent, some people hate granola bars, and maybe the person has received six bottles of water in just the last hour alone.”lxi Or, as another analyst indicates, “Charity can respond to the most immediate needs a person has—such as hunger or shelter—but structurally is not equipped to make the shift from immediate needs to permanent solutions.” Will charity “put lives back together over the long term? No.” lxii 

               One of the prevailing memes of American culture is that we are directly responsible for our own success or failure. In this national narrative of individualism, homelessness in general is the ultimate failure, a failure of the individual. There is virtually no consideration of the reasons for that situation – job loss, jobs that pay too little, inadequate education and a poor foster care and child protection system, a medical emergency and too costly health care, a broken criminal justice system, a total lack of affordable and available housing, a grossly unequal distribution of income and wealth, and structural racism – most of which the individual has very little or no control over.

               Michael Sandel, in his important book, The Tyranny of Merit, takes substantial issue with the concept of the self-made man. As he indicates, the notion that a person becomes successful through their own hard work and that those who are less successful haven’t worked as hard is based on a fundamental unwarranted assumption, namely that people all start from the same starting position, which we know is patently false.lxiii Leroy Pelton, in his wonderful short article entitled “Getting What We Deserve,” argues that most of us don’t really deserve anything because we are born into privileged circumstances or because we happen to be lucky enough to gain some advantages. The obverse is also true, namely that those less privileged don’t deserve how little they get nor how they are treated.lxiv

               In summary, then, because of the way we think about those experiencing homelessness, we are suffering from relational poverty. We stigmatize the unhoused because of the few people we see and because of the negative stereotypes we have heard and read. When we do interact with them, either directly or indirectly, we treat them paternalistically and assume they are there because they didn’t work hard enough. We dehumanize and “otherize” them, demonstrating the worst kind of relational poverty on our part.

Relational Poverty – Bound to Acceptance Based on Socio-economic Status

               The quintessential exemplar of this phenomenon is the Not In My Back Yard syndrome or “NIMBYism” as it has come to be called. Bound by a limited set of cultural expectations and physical locations, we middle and upper-middle class homeowners reject the placement of physical facilities for those experiencing homelessness in our neighborhoods, whether the facilities be shelter, Safe Outdoor Spaces or Sanctioned Encampments, Safe Parking Lots, Tiny Home Villages, other types of transitional housing, or especially permanent low-income housing for those previously without homes. The basic rationale on our part is that they are “them,” and we are “us.” By behaving in this way, we are, in effect, placing a scarlet H on each of our unhoused brothers and sisters. We are telling them that our place is important to us and that we don’t want inferior people interrupting our community, being unwelcome carpetbaggers, despoiling our bit of heaven.

               NIMBYism is based in part on the belief that most of the unhoused are not from our area, that they are geographic interlopers who have traveled to negatively affect our lives. In fact, data indicate just the opposite, that between 70 and 80% of those experiencing homelessness are long-term residents of our community.lxv They were “once our housed neighbors, family members, friends, and former classmates.”lxvi Considering this, “Not In My Back Yard” is a misnomer; ‘Already In My Back Yard’ (AIMBY) would be more appropriate. Or if we also look at the data about migration to California from other states, which shows that the largest group of transplants are actually college-educated professionals, an even more accurate acronym might be PHITALBTPBYWY: ‘Probably Here In This Area Long Before That Particular Back Yard Was Yours.’ ”lxvii

               NIMBYism is often a cultural backlash in relatively homogeneous neighborhoods, usually in those that are middle to upper-middle class. The residents there have come to believe in the sanctity of their neighborhood, in the sense of calmness and serenity, in the feeling of safety and security. Their homes and yards are their castle, and they want to protect that royal dwelling with everything they can. In contrast, many of them have little understanding of how the other half liveslxviii, what conditions are like in less advantaged neighborhoods. Their only direct contact with “them” has been who they see on the streets, and “they” feel threatening. The advantaged have little knowledge about or understanding of what poverty and homelessness is all about and the impact that those conditions have. 

               Discussions about and analyses of NIMBYism have been going on since the rise of the most recent explosion of homelessness. Pierre Bourdieu in his seminal work on social and physical space, indicated in 1991 that “those who are ‘without hearth or home,’ without ‘permanent residence’…have almost no social existence.”lxix He goes on to say, “One of the advantages given by power over space is the possibility…of removing things and people who are deemed a nuisance or are discredited…by invading perceived space, visual or aural, with displays or noises that are…experienced as intrusive or even assaultive.”lxx Professor Paul Muniz adds, “In practice, nonpoor, housed residents tend to prioritize keeping homelessness out of their neighborhoods over implementing meaningful solutions, ostensibly because of practical fears such as increased crime rates and the potentially negative impacts of visible homelessness on property values, but also because of the classist assertion that those experiencing homelessness do not belong in their spaces.”lxxi  As Muniz points out in a more recent paper, homeowners in more privileged neighborhoods have become socialized to accept their good fortunes and to demonize those who are less fortunate.lxxii After all, since home ownership is a central tenet of the American Dream, shouldn’t homeowners fight to protect their homes and neighborhoods. Furthermore, as Chris Herring reports, “These instances suggest that from the view of urban managers, it is not the mere existence of homelessness, but rather its public visibility, which turns the unhoused into symbols of incivility and objects of policy action.”lxxiii

What are People Afraid Of?

               One might well ask, so what are the NIMBYists afraid of? Why are they so dead set against allowing unhoused neighbors into their neighborhoods? On the surface, the common answer to these questions is fear. People fear for neighborhood safety—for their children who are playing outside and who must walk to school and for women who walk alone during the day or especially at night. There is strong objection to the trash and detritus that seem to surround everyone who experiences homelessness—the garbage, needles, human waste, etc. We dislike having unsightly people wandering around our pristine neighborhoods, thereby disrupting the natural flow of pedestrians and cars. We are afraid that having unhoused people in our neighborhood will lower our property values, thus adding an economic motivator to our sense of decorum and value. We like the homogeneity of our neighborhood, people who look like us and think like us; it makes creating and maintaining networks of support that much easier. People who look different, such as people of color, or live differently, such as LGBTQ+ folks, will disrupt the balance of our community, of our lives.

               But is there something deeper than this? Is there what author Arlie Russell Hochschild calls a deep story behind NIMBYism?lxxiv Are there underlying values, learned in childhood, that drive many of the attitudes of the NIMBYists in their antagonism towards the unhoused? And, if so, can those attitudes be changed; can we somehow intervene and uplift the thinking of the NIMBYists so that they are more welcoming of their brothers and sisters? One such value has been described by Heather McGhee in her book, The Sum of Us, as “last place aversion.” “In a hierarchical system like the American economy, people often show more concern about their relative position in the hierarchy than their absolute status”lxxv In other words, we fight hard to make sure there is someone lower on the totem pole than we are.

               Finding answers to these questions is the goal of a small group based in Denver called the Mindset Shifters. Made up of homelessness experts, researchers, ordained ministers, an anthropologist, and people with lived experience, this group is in the beginning stages of addressing these questions. By surveying and interviewing residents in NIMBY communities, the group hopes to find effective avenues by which to persuade what it calls the “persuadable middle” to become more positive when confronted by the real possibility of siting a homelessness facility of some kind in their midst.

Religious Themes in Addressing Homelessness

               One of the very interesting questions surrounding relational poverty is its relationship to prominent themes in Judeo-Christian theology. Two members of our Mindset Shift group, Amanda Henderson and Benjamin David Hensley, both of whom are ordained ministers, have written short papers on this subject. What follows borrows extensively from their work.

               In her recently presented but not yet published article, “A Catastrophe of Catastrophes: Religion and Homelessness in Denver,” Henderson identifies three major religious themes in fights over NIMBYism: hierarchical degrees of humanness, economic status as a blessing or curse, and the focus on individual salvation. As she says, “We have been numbed and resigned to the longstanding realities of American life that place some people as more valuable than others,” hard work as a sign of being one of God’s elect, and “Christian theology focused on the individual self and personal salvation” as part of our rugged individualism.lxxvi Hensley adds a fourth theme, namely that there is something sacred about place and location.lxxvii

               Hensley quotes a couple of emails from NIMBYists in explaining the hierarchy of humanness. ”[In creating a Safe Outdoor Space] You make the rest of us live and walk around this defiance and filth.” “[This SOS] invites the unfortunate illicit and illegal activities…that are becoming all too common.”lxxviii In other words, because unhoused people are less privileged than us, they will create filth and will do illegal things.

               The Calvinist theology of the importance of hard work and the famous Protestant Work Ethic suggest that people experiencing homelessness are there because they don’t work hard. Despite the data that indicate about 45% of people experiencing homelessness are working at paid employment, the myth continues that the unhoused are there because they are lazy. Most of those who are not working either have a significant disability or are too old to work. Ironically, panhandlers and “frequent fliers” who stand on street corners and ask for money may, in fact, have the hardest job of all. Imagine standing by yourself, carrying a sign for hours on end, being ignored or rejected by 95% of the people/cars that pass you by, and making a small pittance for wages. I have trouble thinking of any job that would be less desirable and more difficult.

               The rugged individualism that pervades our culture has been incorporated into current religious thinking. The priority now for many of the faithful is their personal salvation, their personal relationship with their God. It is through this relationship that individuals can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even though many boots don’t have straps and many people don’t have boots to begin with, especially those experiencing homelessness. This reliance on the individual ignores the reality of the many broken systems—a lack of housing and the rising cost of housing, local land-use and zoning ordinances that preclude building multi-family dwellings in most parts of major cities, inadequate employment opportunities and wage structures that don’t provide an adequate wage to cover the cost of living, healthcare that is too expensive, a fractured and unequal criminal justice system, an inadequate benefit system, and educational opportunities that are far from adequate.

               The reliance on personal salvation was something that I experienced directly. When I was running a direct service agency for those experiencing homelessness, I had to let an underperforming staff person go. As I sat next to him, explaining the reasons for my decision, he suddenly stopped me mid-sentence and asked, “Don, is Jesus Christ your personal savior?” Absolutely flabbergasted, I took a moment to collect my thoughts, and then replied, “What does that have to do with the price of eggs? Why does that matter at all in connection to what we are discussing?” I was left dumbfounded, trying to figure out what he was trying to say. Was he telling me that I was a bad Christian for letting him go, or that clearly I didn’t have Jesus as my personal savior or else I would not have let him go? Was he saying that his God was better than me because he had a personal relationship?  The staff person got up and walked off. His answer to being let go was whether I believed in Jesus because he certainly did and that was going to be his salvation.

               Finally, the sacredness and sanctity of a specific space and location, like churches, cathedrals, temples, and mosques seem to be another important religious thread, borne out by the location of pilgrimage sites throughout the world. For the NIMBYists, their home is their castle, and their neighborhood is their holy place, not to be fractured and despoiled by strangers, especially less than human ones. Hensley cites the comment of one of the opponents to the SOS in Denver, “How many additional strangers” will there be, referring not only to the residents of the SOS, but also to the volunteers who would be arriving to provide a variety of services.lxxix 

               Henderson adds, “The explicit religious call to care for one’s neighbor is superseded by the divine right to personal safety, protection of one’s family from perceived threats, and the reward of individual hard work manifested in home ownership.”lxxx Single-family homes that are available to owners are the predominate rule of thumb in most areas of the country, due in large part to land-use and zoning regulations. This makes it even more difficult to create multi-family housing, exactly the type of housing that low-income renters and people experiencing homelessness need. 

               When questioned about the themes in his paper and their consistency with Christian teachings, Hensley replied, “Put bluntly, I don’t think these four threads—[the hierarchy of humanness, the primacy of hard work, rugged individualism and personal salvation, and the sanctity of location and space]—coexist well with the teachings of Jesus as far as Christianity is concerned. There is a lot of incoherence and moral contradiction in the teachings vs. practice of American Christianity.”lxxxi As we peruse the discussion about relational poverty and how we privileged housed persons relate to those without a home, it’s hard to disagree. Somehow, both those who are religious and those who are not must come to a better and deeper appreciation for the humanity of those experiencing homelessness. We must treat the unhoused as our friends, as our brothers and sisters, as co-equals. We will all be better for it.

Relational Poverty – How Do We Overcome It?

               As we have discussed in the previous pages, relational poverty is a significant factor in the lives of people, not only those of people who are without homes, but also for all of us who are so negative about those experiencing homelessness. What can be done to counteract this phenomenon? How can we provide more social capital for those without homes? How can we change the attitudes of those of us who are so negative about the unhoused? How can we persuade the NIMBYists to allow unhoused people into their neighborhood? How can we be more open and accepting of those who are different from us?

               In the preceding pages, I have described several facets of relational poverty, why we are all affected by it, what some of its causes are, and its various impacts. However, simply documenting a problem, important though that may be, is insufficient. As a researcher, social observer, and advocate for change, it is my job to go beyond that to provide some suggestions for how to change the situation or, in this case, how to increase social capital for those experiencing homelessness, how to improve our attitudes about people without homes, and how to eliminate the pernicious NIMBYism in our neighborhoods.

               I described earlier the processes related to the categorization of people that Tomaskovic-Devey and Avent-Holt explain in their book. There can be no doubt that we have categorized people experiencing homelessness as an out-group, as “them,” based on one temporary characteristic, namely being without a home. Are the “housed” a morally superior group? It is indeed difficult to accept any justification for this.  As an antidote to the process of categorization, the two authors suggest that, “The notion of human rights, rights that should be given to all human beings on the planet, is perhaps the apogee of a broad movement to limit the power of categorical distinctions to generate inequalities.” lxxxii As far back as 1944, FDR called for a second Bill of Rights, including the right to decent housing.lxxxiii  More recently, it is no accident that the “Right to Housing” has become the rallying cry of many advocates.lxxxiv One of the leading advocates is Leilani Farha, the global director of Make The Shift, an international group that promotes the right to housing.

               A first step for increasing social capital among the unhoused is for all of us, especially homelessness service agencies and low-income housing developers, to recognize the importance of networks of support and to design efforts to provide them. For example, the Miracle Friends program at Miracle Messages was specifically established to create personal linkages between volunteers and socially isolated people experiencing homelessness. Volunteers agree to develop a weekly telephone buddy system with someone isolated in a hotel or motel room, and the relationships that are established become real bonds. “AJ, who works in software in Bahrain and discovered Miracle Messages from someone on LinkedIn, has been one of our volunteers. ‘I was still apprehensive about the whole thing, how putting two people together could have any impact,’ admitted AJ. ‘But it was really transformational. People in two completely different places could become friends, and I truly consider Jaime a friend.’ “lxxxv [Emphasis in the original] Miracle Friends helps to overcome the relational poverty of the person who is isolated, but it also helps the phone buddy to overcome some of his negative reaction to people experiencing homelessness. The parent organization, Miracle Messages, by creating opportunities for people who are experiencing homelessness to reconnect with family and old friends, is another strategy for increasing social capital among the unhoused. “For those experiencing homelessness for whom reconnecting with a loved one might be of interest, family and friend reunification programs can play a critical role in helping …overcome digital literacy and access barriers, bureaucratic barriers, and most importantly of all, emotional barriers like shame, fear, and self-loathing.”lxxxvi If you, the reader, are looking for ways to become involved, be a Miracle Friends buddy or a digital detective to track down an unhoused person’s missing relatives. The results can be truly transformative. Better yet, contact Miracle Messages and learn what they do and how they do it so that you can establish your own Messages program or your own Friends program.

               The following are examples of homelessness service agencies that provide opportunities to engage with people experiencing homelessness. “Beam, founded by Alex Stephany in 2017, is an award-winning social enterprise in the United Kingdom that helps homeless Londoners and refugees start new careers and find secure housing through crowdfunding campaigns. In addition to being able to donate to a person experiencing homelessness like Michael to help him realize his dreams of becoming a security guard, you can also post a message of support wishing him luck, thanking him for sharing his story, and reminding him that ‘everyone is behind you.’ Samaritan, founded by Jonathan Kumar in 2016, is a similar social enterprise concept to Beam, based out of Seattle, Washington. Currently, Samaritan is a mobile app that works with health care providers across the country to link their unhoused patients to the social and financial capital they need to meet their housing and health goals, providing incentives along the way and empowering a wider community of supporters to donate and offer notes of encouragement.”lxxxvii

               Another strategy for increasing social capital is the creation of small support groups. In the world of developmental disabilities such groups are called Circles of Support or Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope (PATH). In each of these programs, the focus person, i.e., the person who needs additional support, is surrounded by volunteers and family members who can provide support, and these support gatherings take place regularly and frequently. For example, I have been part of a Circle for a 60-year-old woman with a developmental disability that has been ongoing for over 20 years, and we still meet periodically to provide support and friendship. There is no reason why similar types of groups couldn’t be established for people experiencing homelessness.

Another type of group could be modeled after 12-Step groups. I am not suggesting that everyone who is experiencing homelessness is a drug addict or alcoholic. What I am suggesting is that the organizational structure and strategy of 12-Step Programs—a sponsor, regular convenings, and accepting a sense of responsibility—could well be adapted for people experiencing homelessness, and not all members of the group would have to be unhoused; that could be supplemented by outside volunteers.

               As you can see, there is ample room for volunteers to participate in any of these activities. In other words “by treating our neighbors experiencing homelessness not as problems to be solved, but as people to be loved, we have found that problems tend to get solved….[these] are our neighbors, experiencing homelessness, whom we can either choose to walk by, metaphorically and literally, or who we can choose to embrace. The choice is ours, as the problem is partly of our own making. When we see them as part of us – people, not problems – we are significantly more likely to care enough to address structural problems. If we love someone as our neighbor, we are more likely to stand in solidarity with them in fighting for what they need, (emphasis in the original)”lxxxviii and in spending time listening to them tell us what they need. 

Volunteering at service agency meals, at food banks, at clothing dispensaries, and at other service agency functions is another way to be involved. However, it is important to avoid a sense of superiority in dealing with our unhoused brothers and sisters. Rather than simply spooning out food onto an extended plate, go and eat with one of the food recipients. Take the time to chat with them and reach out in the spirit of friendship. Don’t reify the giver and taker syndrome. The interaction should be one of equals, a friend helping another friend, or simply socializing with another friend.

               Strange though it may seem, simple changes in how we refer to people experiencing homelessness are very important; “one of the simplest actions we can each take is to use person-first language in describing people experiencing homelessness…. Describing people experiencing homelessness as ‘the homeless’ erases the incredible diversity of people and circumstances therein, affixes a permanent identity on what should be seen as an impermanent situation, and invites us to forget that we are talking about real human beings here – someone’s mom, dad, brother, sister, son, or daughter.”lxxxix If you would not describe someone as a “housed person,” it is probably best to avoid a meaningless monolith like “the homeless.” Use a person-first term like person experiencing homelessness or a person without a home, or a friendly person without housing or neighbor. By changing the language around homelessness, we can begin important conversations. 

               It is important to challenge others who use terms like “the homeless.” When TV reporters use the term or when writers and journalists use the term, reach out and make them more thoughtful about their use of language. When these same people refer to those experiencing homelessness as alcoholics or drug addicts or mentally ill, disabuse them of their confirmation bias. Most unhoused people do not live in tents on the streets, only about 40% do; most do not suffer from alcoholism or drug abuse; only about a third do; most are not mentally ill, only about 20-25% are.xc About 1.1 million school-age children are experiencing homelessness, although most of them are doubled up, which means that the HUD numbers don’t even count them.xci Be sure that people are aware of this. It is up to us to set the record straight. Misinformation is part of the reason that our response to this national tragedy has been so inadequate. 

               Above all, don’t ignore people experiencing homelessness. Don’t be like the family members in the New York City experiment and simply walk by unhoused people. One man experiencing homelessness in San Francisco had a sign that read, “at least give me the finger;”xcii Don’t simply ignore them; at least wave and say hello.

               I remember being at a stop light a year or so ago, and there was a young man with a cardboard sign that read, “I’m not cute enough to get an apartment. Please help.”  I rolled down my window and said to him, “I’m sorry. I don’t have anything to give you, but I think you’re wrong. You really are cute enough.” He guffawed, slapped his leg, and told me that that was the best thing that had happened to him all day. Simply acknowledging him as a fellow human being was truly significant for him, and it certainly helped me.

               Let’s also try to stifle our paternalistic tendencies. Let’s stop assuming that every person experiencing homelessness is untrustworthy and will automatically spend money on the wrong things. The New Leaf Project that I mentioned earlier is a good counterpoint to that erroneous thinking. In addition, let’s stop “offering unhoused people a seat at the table,” to mollify them in a patronizing, paternalistic way. As Jennifer, a person who has experienced homelessness, and is now part of the Mindset Shift group and an active advocate for ending homelessness, said at one point, “Don’t invite me to sit at your table. It’s my table! It was already and is always now my seat. I’m the one who experienced all this trauma and turmoil. I know what the problems are and what I need. I built it. There would be no table without me. I invite you to come to sit at my table and let’s have a conversation.”xciii We should sit at the table as equal partners, as friends, as brothers and sisters. 

               Leroy Pelton, the author of better thinking about deserving and undeserving that I mentioned earlier, has a wonderful antidote to the concept about just deserts. “We must consider the possibilities of starting from another perspective on justice, grounded in the unconditional and non-exclusionary affirmation of human life.”xciv Pelton goes on to say, “It is the principle of life affirmation that obliges us to address the homeless, not any notions or principle of desert….If we were to be guided by the precept of reverence for human life in the construction of social policies, then basic human needs would be addressed without reference to desert and without condition….Homeless people would be provided housing without condition.”xcv What a refreshing approach to the problem of homelessness!


               As we have suggested in the previous pages, relational poverty is a serious problem for all of us. For those without homes, they are often left with few if any networks of support, with little social capital. This poverty of relationships has significant negative effects in their lives and often leads to further isolation, shame, and self-loathing. Those of us who are fortunate enough to live privileged lives, including our own homes, often treat those without as less than human, as “them,” as the “others;” by doing so, we are demonstrating our own relational poverty. This declaration of rejection, distrust, and distaste often emerges as NIMBYism when local governments and organizations try to create housing situations for those experiencing homelessness.

               Besides identifying and documenting the problem, I have tried to offer some suggestions about how to address it. Put simply, we need to get to know individuals that we have previously considered beneath us. It is important that we learn as much as we can about people we have assiduously ignored and avoided. If we do, we can counter the false and injurious stereotypes, we can eliminate the stigma we have created, and lessen the shame that the unhoused feel. We also need to treat our unhoused neighbors as our friends, for “Most of our unhoused neighbors were once our housed neighbors – and family members, classmates, and friends. It’s long past time that we start treating them as such.”xcvi Or as another of the Miracle Messages participants said, “Some people don’t understand, you know, why people get homeless or how they end up homeless. Help, in any kind of way, because today, they may be living on top of the world, but tomorrow you don’t know if you’re gonna be around. You don’t know if you’re gonna be in the same position as the person who is homeless.”xcvii

               Please do not misunderstand or misinterpret this article. I am not saying that eliminating relational poverty will miraculously eliminate homelessness. We desperately need to fix the broken systems that engulf our approach to ending homelessness. Although the breaks in the homelessness systems are too numerous to mention and an analysis of them is beyond the scope of this article, let me mention a few. (An extensive analysis of these and other systems is a major focus of When We Walk By.) In the housing arena, we need to expand public housing, the Housing Choice Voucher program, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program; we need to change local and state land-use and zoning codes; it is imperative that we expand eviction prevention programs; and efforts to achieve functional zero in homelessness must grow. In order to improve work opportunities and wages, we must increase the minimum wage, expand low-barrier work situations, create more guaranteed basic income programs, and expand federal and state safety-net benefit programs. It is imperative that we expand the number of Health Care for the Homeless centers, create more health care outreach teams, and push for a universal health care system. We must end the local criminalization of homelessness by ending local anti-homelessness ordinances, expand the breadth of the Martin V. Boise decision to encompass the entire country, and substantially improve planning for those incarcerated in our criminal justice system that are being released from prison, parole, and/or probation. As we think about our education system and the treatment of those experiencing homelessness, we need to expand funds available under McKinney-Vento; we should extend foster care to the age of 21, and we should maintain better oversight over foster parents to insure the appropriateness of placement. We must advocate hard for fixing these and other broken systems.

               However, we also must overcome relational poverty. If we can change our attitudes about those without homes, maybe it will be easier to generate a strong constituency that demands fixing the systems. Therefore, each and every one of us must address homelessness and ameliorate the relational poverty that affects us all in the midst of this American tragedy. You have a choice; make it the right one. You can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Remember, if there is one person experiencing homelessness, that’s one too many.

i Kevin Adler, Donald Burnes, Amanda Banh, and Andrijana Bilbija, When We Walk By: Forgotten Humanity, Broken Systems, and The Role We Can Each Play in Ending Homelessness in America, Publication expected in late 2023 by North Atlantic Books, Oakland, CA. The page numbers are taken from the final manuscript that was submitted to the publisher on December 15, 2022. After editing and actual printing, the page numbers in the published version may be somewhat different.

ii When We Walk By, p.32. In future footnotes, listed as WWWB

iii This phrase was suggested to me by my friend and colleague, Bill Sweeney in an email on February 1, 2023.

iv Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000)

v For a discussion of the development of the concept of social capital, see:: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_capital#cite_note-Putnam2001-43

vi WWWB, p. 30

vii WWWB, p.36

viiii WWWB, p. 33

ix Conversation with Paul Muniz, January 29, 2023.

x Chetty, R., Jackson, M.O., Kuchler, T. et al. “Social capital I: measurement and associations with economic mobility”. Nature 608, 108–121 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04996-4

xi Matthew Desmond, “Disposable Ties and the Urban Poor,” AJS Volume 117 Number 5 (March 2012): 1295–1335, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mdesmond/files/desmond.disposableties.ajs_.pdf

xii Ibid.

xiii WWWB, p.36

xiv Ibid,. p.42

xv Conversation with James Ginsburg, the Director of a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center for people experiencing homelessness in Colorado, Feb 12, 2021.

xvi “The 2022 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress: Part 1: Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness,” US Dept of Housing and Urban Development, January 2021.

xvii WWWB, p.204

xviii National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Social isolation and loneliness in older adults: Opportunities for the health care system. (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2020).

xix Chris Herring, “The New Logics of Homeless Seclusion: Homeless Encampments in America’s West Coast Cities,” City & Community 13:4 December 2014, doi: 10.1111/cico.12086

xx See footnote #3. This is often articulated as, “I’ve got your back.”

xxi Jeff Olivet, et.al. “Phase one study findings. Retrieved from the Center for Social Innovation,” SPARC, 2018 website: http://center4si.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/SPARC-Phase-1- Findings-Blizzardh-20181.pdf SPARC, 12

xxii https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Age-of-Homeless-Individuals_fig3_326475071

xxiii “Homelessness Among Older Adults: An Emerging Crisis,” American Society on Aging, Summer 2022, https://generations.asaging.org/homelessness-older-adults-poverty-h

xxiv Desmond, “Disposable Ties”

xxv WWWB, p.39

xxvi Matthieu Lambert, “Relational Poverty – the main root cause of homelessness,” https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/relational-poverty-main-root-cause-homelessness-matthieu-lambert/, 2018.

xxvii “Client-Centered Solutions: Michelle’s Story,” in Jamie Rife and Donald W. Burnes, Journeys Out of Homelessness: The Voices of Lived Experience, (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2019)

xxviii WWWB, p. 50

xxix Ibid., p. 51

xxx “A Caring Adult: Barb’s Story,” in Journey Out of Homelessness.

xxxi Seena Fazel, John R. Geddes, and Margot Kushel, “The health of homeless people in high-income countries: descriptive epidemiology, health consequences, and clinical and policy recommendations,” The Lancet, 384(9953): 1529-1540, 2014. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61132-6.

xxxii Laurie A. Theeke, “Loneliness: A Significant Stressor that Requires Intervention,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, August 4, 2014, https://www.rwjf.org/en/blog/2014/08/loneliness_a_signif.html

xxxiii Holt-Lunstad, Julianne, Timothy B. Smith, Mark Baker, Tyler Harris, and David Stephenson. “Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review.” Perspectives on psychological science 10, no. 2 (2015): 227-237.

xxxiv This term and its emphasis were used in the introduction to this article, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, “What the Longest Study on Human Happiness Found Is the Key To A Good Life,” The Atlantic, January 19, 2023, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/01/harvard-happiness-study-relationships/672753/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=atlantic-daily-newsletter&utm_content=20230122&utm_term=The%20Atlantic%20Daily

xxxv Ibid.

xxxvi Ibid.

xxxvii Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, The Good Life: Lessons From the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2023), p. 29

xxxviii Ibid., p. 52

xxxix Ibid., p. 119

xl Ibid,

xli Donald Tomaskovic-Dewey and Dustin Avent-Holt, Relational Inequalities: An Organizational Approach, (New York:Oxford University Press, 2019), p. 44

xlii Ibid., p. 45

xliii Ibid., p. 46-47

xliv Ibid., p. 67

xlv WWWB, p. 44

xlvi Taylor Orth and Carl Bialik, “Who do Americans blame for homelessness,” YouGov America, May 17, 2022, https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/articles-reports/2022/05/17/american-attitudes-on-homelessness-poll

xlvii “Mental Illness and Homelessness,” National Coalition for the Homeless, July, 2009, https://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.pdf See also, “Homelessness and Mental Illness: A Challenge to Our Society,” Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, November 19, 2019, https://www.bbrfoundation.org/blog/homelessness-and-mental-illness-challenge-our-society

xlviii Journeys Out of Homelessness, p. 11

xlix Kerri Tobin and Joseph Murphy, “The New Demographics of Homelessness,” in Ending Homelessness: Why We Haven’t, How We Can, (Boulder, CO: Lynne Riener Publishers, 2016), p. 35-36

l Stephanie Yang, “Social Experiment Caught on Video Shows the Homeless Have Become so Invisible, People Wouldn’t Even Notice if They Walked by Their Own Families,” Cision, PR web, April 24, 2014, http://www.prweb.com/releases/makethemvisible/04/prweb11790851.htm

liArlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, (New York: The New Press, 2016), 5.

lii Outside in America Team, “Bussed out: how America moves its homeless,” The Guardian, December 20, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2017/dec/20/bussed-out-america-moves-homeless-people-country-study

liii Romeo Vitelli, “Why Is Homelessness So Stigmatized?” Psychology Today, June 5, 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/202106/why-is-homelessness-so-stigmatized

livWWWB, p. 57. In a 2018 talk at Full Circle Fund’s UNITE!, an event connecting San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits with local funders and volunteers, longtime homeless advocate and nonprofit leader Del Seymour memorably said, “have a passion for the people that really are struggling out there, our brothers and sisters. There’s no planet called homelessness, where these people came down in a rocket ship and dropped here. They’re our cousins, man. They’re our brothers, they’re our sisters, they’re our neighbors.”

lv Lars Backstrom, Paolo Boldi, Marco Rosa, Johan Ugander, and Sebastiano Vigna. “Four degrees of separation.” In Proceedings of the 4th Annual ACM Web Science Conference, pp. 33-42. 2012.

lvi Denver Foundation Poll, “Why a Campaign on Homelessness,” March, 2015

lviiWebster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1990)

lviii “New Leaf Project,” Foundation for Social Change, https://forsocialchange.org/new-leaf-project-overview

lixWWWB, p. 179

lxWWWB, p. 64

lxi Ibid., p. 67

lxii Iain De Jong, The Book on Ending Homelessness (Victoria, BC, Canada: Frieser Press, 2019), p. 27

lxiii Michael J. Sandel, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020)

lxivLeroy Pelton, “Getting What We Deserve,” The Humanist, July-August 2006

lxv WWWB, p.61

lxvi WWWB, p. 211

lxvii WWWB, p. 61

lxviii Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890).

lxix Pierre Bourdieu, “Social Space and the Genesis of Appropriated Physical Space,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 2018. This is a translation of his 1991 essay. DOI:10.1111/1468-2427.12534. See also Loic Wacquant, “Designing Urban Seclusion in the Twenty-First Century: The 2009 Roth-Symonds Lecture,” Perspecta, 2010, Vol.43, TABOO (2010), https://www.jstor.org/stable/41680282

lxx Ibid

lxxi Paul Muniz, “On the Relationship between Poverty Segregation and Homelessness in the American City and Suburb,”Socius, 7. https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023121996871

lxxii Paul Muniz, “A Framework of Anti-homelessness NIMBYism,” Unpublished, February 2023

lxxiii Herring, “The New Logics of Homeless Seclusion”

lxxiv In Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, (New York: The New Press, 2016), 5.

lxxv Heather McGhee, The Sum of Us, (New York: One World, 2022), p.125

lxxvi Amanda Henderson, “A Catastrophe of Catastrophes: Religion and Homelessness in Denver,” Unpublished article. The base of this article was presented at a recent American Academy of Religion conference

lxxvii Rev. Ben A. Hensley, “Analysis of Religious Themes Present in Resistance to Park Hill UMC’s Placement of an SOS on their Property in 2021,” unpublished, January 5, 2023

lxxviii Ibid.

lxxix Ibid.

lxxx Henderson, “A Catastrophe of Catastrophes”

lxxxi Ben David Hensley email, January 5, 2023

lxxxii Donald Tomaskovic-Dewey and Dustin Avent-Holt, Relational Inequalities: p. 48

lxxxiii https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Bill_of_Rights#:~:text=The%20Second%20Bill%20of%20Rights,second%20%22bill%20of%20rights%22.

lxxxiv https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_housing

lxxxv WWWB p. 202

lxxxvi WWWB, p. 201

lxxxvii Ibid., p. 202

lxxxxviii Ibid., p. 198

lxxxix Ibid., p. 205

xc “Mental Illness and Homelessness,” National Coalition for the Homeless, July, 2009, https://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/Mental_Illness.pdf. See also, “Homelessness and Mental Illness: A Challenge to Our Society,” Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, November 19, 2019,

xci“National Overview,” National Center for Homelessness Education, rofiles.nche.seiservices.com/ConsolidatedState Profile.aspx

xcii WWWB, p. 209

xciii WWWB, p. 212

xciv Pelton, “Getting What We Deserve,”

xcv Ibid.

xcvi WWWB, p. 212

xcvii Ibid., p. 85

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