Freedom and Homelessness

by Philip J. Malebranche

Americans still admire the idea of freedom. We often speak of it as a prominent American value, a point of national pride. However, my experience of homelessness over many years makes freedom elusive for me. Homeless shelters in New York City, for instance, enforce a ten o’clock curfew. If one has not returned by that time in the evening, one loses one’s bed. One is a migrant all over again. The curfew interferes with many activities and one’s social life. Freedom is lost. This experience hinders my rights in the country of my birth. The freedoms of association, speech, and the right to work, and even, sometimes, the freedom of religion are contravened.

Homelessness may occur for no fault of the person experiencing homelessness. One may be treated unjustly, and then other injustices accumulate. I’m an innocent man. I harm no one. I have nothing to be ashamed of; so, I should be free, right? Gradually, I’m moving out of homelessness. I now have a room outside of the shelter system. A transition to independence and to the honorable freedom so often promoted in the Unites States of America is in view. I prefer, though, to swim in the pool of freedom, to swim in the deep part of the freedom pool.

Something about homelessness in New York City stays with me. Many of those experiencing homelessness are women with children. The Coalition for the Homeless states that three-quarters of shelter residents are families. The picture at the New York City Department of Homeless Services is different. It shows that there are 12,488 families with children in shelter. At this writing, the number of children unstably housed is over 22,000. It is common to use the cliché that children are our future. With this total, New York City’s future is due to suffer. This social problem affects mostly African-Americans and Latinos.

Homelessness is a women’s rights issue. Homelessness is a children’s rights issue. Homelessness is a mental health issue, a refugee resettlement issue, a civil rights issue. It is a victims of sex trafficking issue; and one of domestic violence. Homelessness is a military veteran’s issue and a health care issue. We know that homelessness reduces one’s life span, significantly. As many of us advocates say, housing is health care. In addition, health care is a human right. To build power, community organizers and advocates of these related issues should gather to struggle together to end homelessness.

The end of homelessness would improve my chances of being able to tell a woman that her hijab—even her niqab--fails to hide her divine traits.