Thursday letters: Focus on causes of homelessness

September 12, 2013 

— It’s a shame that the “homeless problem” is so polarizing — a matter of them vs. us. The Columbia City Council’s approach to addressing the problem — finding ways to keep the homeless off the downtown streets — is a Band-Aid on an untreated wound. The focus is on the consequences, not the causes, of homelessness.

The ever-widening income gap between the rich and the poor is the root cause of the “homeless problem.” The magnitude of the homeless population is due to social and economic causes, as well as the bad choices and bad habits of some. Many of us could have become them, faced with similar life circumstances.

One simple thing we can do as a nation is to ensure that the minimum wage is a living wage. This would reduce the ranks of the working poor and immediately take some of them off the streets and into homes of their own.

The other thing we can do, here in South Carolina, is to restore some of the preventive community-based mental health programs that used to help mentally ill people remain functional and capable of self-support. The Legislature has repeatedly slashed mental health funding, and the current system is inadequate to the needs of our mentally ill citizens.

Now that the Legislature has a $68 million budget surplus, it’s time it substantially increased the budget of the Department of Mental Health. I fear that if prevention and treatment programs that were cut aren’t restored now, they never will be.

Jeffrey C. Koob

Columbia

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