Theodore Pappas (Cultural Revolutions, November 1991) says, “There is, of course, no long-term answer to homelessness,” but this begs the question. The focus should not be on solving the specific problem of homelessness, but on seeing homelessness as a symptom of modem decay. When the change of focus takes place, a “long-term answer to homelessness” will begin taking form.

Two observations by John Lukacs will help change this focus. Lukacs has pointed out that the modern age “passed” shortly after the end of World War II, and that our current concept of “home” was, directly and indirectly, one of the most important features of that age. So, Mr. Pappas, instead of looking at homelessness as an affair of bums, winos, derelicts, drunkards, addicts, slackers, and the insane, take a look from a point of view that sees all these as marks of a dying or already dead age.

Your piece itself gave several clues to a “long-term answer.” You referred to Dan McMurry, who has called the loosening of the cohesiveness of the American family “the most important element in the explosive growth of homelessness.” Well, one long-term answer to homelessness would then be to tighten up the family screws. McMurry himself falls down on the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill. He apparently failed to read Myth of Mental Illness by Thomas S. Szasz, who believes “mental illness” is no true “illness” but rather the result of failure to learn the rules of mental health. Another long-term answer to homelessness would therefore be to discover these rules and to teach them effectively. McMurry also speaks of the “steep increase in the number of alcoholics, especially among the young.” So, here again, a long-term answer may be to regard alcoholism as a form of mental illness.

Are these ‘long-term answers” too difficult, Mr. Pappas? If and when we find and put these answers into effect, their purpose will not only be to put the homeless problem under control, but to solve the broader educational, economic, political, scientific, and social ones.

        —Stephen Miles
Tucson, AZ

Mr. Pappas Replies:

I repeat, there is no long-term “answer” to homelessness. I admit in my editorial that several causes have contributed to homelessness, such as the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill in the 1960’s and 70’s, and it goes without saying that some homelessness would be eliminated if traditional family ties were strengthened and once again encouraged. And if we could solve “the broader educational, economic, political, scientific [?], and social” problems plaguing our culture, surely some more homelessness would diminish, as would drug abuse, street crime, illegitimacy, and a hundred other pathologies.

But even if we could return to the blissful days of the 1950’s, when women were homemakers and fathers were breadwinners and the marital contract was something sacred, “homelessness” would still exist. The homeless simply would not be adorned with the sainted status they now enjoy; they would be called what they have always been called—bums, drunkards, misfits, and derelicts—and those in need of medical attention or psychological counseling would be either hospitalized or institutionalized. We can’t go back to the 1950’s, but we can reclaim the right to clean up our streets and parks.

That millions of ordinary people—”just like you and me”—are without homes and sleeping on our streets is pure myth, a lie propagated by special interest groups pursuing their own agenda. There are far fewer homeless than advocates claim, and the medical and psychological problems of many of the homeless are far more severe than commonly admitted. Criminal activity among the homeless is also coming to the fore. Late last year a 30-year-old man was arrested in Galveston, Texas, for the slaying of a female companion. The man was believed to be part of a trainriding gang of homeless men and women that is thought to be responsible for several murders throughout the West. Most interesting is the way the Associated Press described these individuals as “transients,” “hobos,” and “vagrants”—anything but “homeless.” We wouldn’t want, of course, to give the public the wrong opinion.