Homelessness in the Age of Reagan and Obama

July 13th, 2015

Over the past two weeks, I’ve vacationed with my family in Vancouver, Canada, and Seattle Washington.  We had a great time, and the trip was made a bit more interesting by the fact that we were in Victoria, Canada, on Canada Day (July 1st) and the Fourth of July in Seattle.

That was one very patriotic week!

Both places were enjoyable but something stood out in Seattle that was disturbing to say the least.

In the downtown area near our hotel and around the famed Pike Place Market, there were homeless people everywhere.  And many of these people weren’t like the very tragic homeless people you see in other parts of the country.  Instead, many of these people were aggressive and in many cases deeply disturbed clearly from mental illness and drug or alcohol abuse.

We noticed it the first night we arrived.  After dinner, we walked down 2nd Avenue back towards our hotel when a woman ran in front of us.  She was being chased by an extremely angry man who poured beer over her head and then threw the can at the back of her head.  He then shouted an expletive at her that’s about as bad as it can get as far as profanity goes.  The woman turned the corner in front of us and then sat against a wall and began weeping.  A tourist walked up and began videotaping her with his smartphone as she sat there and cried. Needless to say, it was extremely disturbing but particularly for my fourteen-year-old son.

The next morning, I decided to take a walk by myself around our hotel before leaving for our activities for the day. I walked out and immediately took a left down the sidewalk. It didn’t take me two seconds to do an about face and head in the opposite direction.  That’s because standing at the corner was a man pacing and angrily screaming to himself at the top of his lungs.

Walking in the opposite direction, I glanced up and saw a middle aged man wearing a Kansas City Royals baseball cap sitting in front of the hotel waiting for his family.

As I passed him, he smiled at me and said, “Great being a tourist here, isn’t it?”

“Oh yeah,” I replied.  I then recounted to him what we’d witnessed the previous night outside the restaurant.

“Believe it or not, it’s worse in Portland,” he told me.  “We were there earlier in our trip and I’ll never go back there.  There were homeless people sleeping in groups along the street down there.  My daughters were scared to death the entire time.”

“After last night, my fourteen-year-old son is a little wary of being here,” I told him.

I share all of this strictly as an observation and not in any way to put anyone homeless in a bad light.  Clearly, these people need help of some sort no matter the circumstances that lead them there.

Instead, I’d simply note the following.

When Ronald Reagan was president, the press constantly noted the level of homelessness in the country in making their case against his economic policies.  Later, when liberals recounted the Reagan years, their accounts inevitably included discussions of income inequality and homelessness.

Today the media is filled with discussions of income inequality as one of the great issues of the day.  Still, according to the press, the unemployment rate is dropping significantly and this is offered as evidence of an improving economy.  What’s not discussed is the rate of unemployed who’ve dropped out of the workforce entirely or the percentage of people who are underemployed.  And there is hardly a word written about homelessness.

So while the circumstances for some people are about the same in both eras, the prospect for changing things for the better couldn’t be any different since when there was homelessness during the Reagan years it was huge front page news but as long as it’s occurring during Obama’s tenure it will likely remain buried deep within most papers if it’s even discussed at all.

Doubtful many Americans will even know it’s happening at all or how truly bad it is unless they visit places like Seattle and Portland and see it for themselves.


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