According to the last relevant research on the homeless, undertaken in 2002, there are around 500 homeless people in Croatia, 400 in Zagreb alone. However, knowing that there are unregistered homeless people without any rights and that the financial crisis is a fertile ground for homelessness, the numbers are surely bigger. Not even the registered homeless people have many rights, e. g. there isn’t a law that mentions that category of people, there aren’t any reintegration programs for the homeless, and there isn’t a plan to stop the increasing the number of people without homes. Yet, in Croatia it is still possible to ignore the problem because the numbers aren’t really alarming and there aren’t that many people sleeping in the city center who would thus, by being in the way of “upstanding citizens”, force the government to take up the issue. There’s a firm boundary between the homeless and the “upstanding”, or at least that’s what we like to think. But what happens when the boundary becomes less rigid and more permeable, when living on the margin is just a short way from living in the stable center of society?
That, indeed, is the problem that in this time of recession the developed nations in the West are facing more and more, especially the USA. They are called “the new homeless” and they don’t fit the usual stereotypes in regard to this sensitive group. Many of them are employed or have been up until recently – they are working class nonetheless. And then, the skyrocketing rent, the inability to pay back loans, or losing a job literally swept them off their feet and into the streets. Those with low-paying jobs have moved into homeless shelters, flophouses, motels, even their own cars, and sometimes they sleep in the street. More and more tents are cropping up in the city streets, some of them housing families with kids. During the day, parents work at meagerly paid jobs while their kids are at school, and in the afternoon they get by as they can, eating in soup kitchens or at their friends’, and sleeping where they can. In the eighties, a typical homeless family was a single mother on welfare. Today, it is a working class family that can’t afford an apartment.
Ten years ago, people warned that more social housing was needed to ensure that lower working class had somewhere to live, but little was done from then on. At least, not enough was done to overcome the crisis and avoid creating a new kind of homeless. They aren’t drug addicts, alcoholics, domestic abuse victims, criminals or even unqualified. Recent research shows there are 800.000 homeless people in the USA, 200.000 of which are children. The lines at New York’s soup kitchens are getting longer by the day. The media report that Manhattan has seen more families losing homes than during the Great Depression. In conclusion, let’s not forget Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts: banks are a greater threat to our freedom than armies, and that it is banks and corporations that will strip people of all their possessions until their children wake up homeless. And indeed they woke up as such.