I find myself stifling a smirk when I hear a new term for a group. The homeless have become the “Unhoused”. I stifle the smirk because such a response is disrespectful. And the intent of the renaming is to offer respect and dignity to the renamed group. And the smirk may also be because I see such renaming as paltry effort, though, indeed well intentioned.

We cannot address the despair and dysfunction of the people living under tarps, near underpasses and in our metropolitan alleys with a softer new name. It may reflect our kind intent, but I’m sorry, there’s work to do. Creating a kinder, gentler name isn’t enough.

Other countries have addressed this complex problem. The solutions are complex and require significant investment. The price of housing, the availability of healthcare, the livability of cities are complex, swirling issues that some countries have addressed. And indeed, their solutions may not suit our problem. But we have the resources.  I suspect we don’t have the will.

And now I smirk at my own last comment regarding “the will,” because such a criticism would probably be leveled at the unhoused/homeless by those not willing to address a solution. Dismissing our shared responsibilities on this planet by pointing to others’ bootstraps is quite the style. Always has been.

I have come to realize my smirking reaction is not healthy. Not for me, or those I care for. I must do better. But it’s an old habit. It doesn’t dignify.

I found myself brought up short in mid smirk by a daughter a while back. I was bemoaning the low unemployment/ work force shortage we are experiencing. “People just don’t want to work anymore.” Was my smirking phrase.

She lit into me. She detailed the position our generation has saddled theirs with.

If they are a two-parent household, both making a bit above average income, and they pay for childcare, health insurance, taxes, and try to buy a home, they are just above water. Make that a single parent household and the drowning starts. Add a special needs child, or big student loan debt, or some other burden and it becomes evident the rising tide did not float all boats.

And we maintain the illusion of our 1960’s financial model for Social Security and Medicare. The demographics have inverted, yet we still cling to the Ponzi miracle of sustained economic and population growth that was true in 1960 but is no longer. These two great dignifying social programs that progressives point to as accomplishments need some major work if they are to live up to their founding ideals.

My generation has kicked this down the road. No wonder we witness disengagement. We have not been true to the founding principle that these dignifying programs deserved to be sustained. We have shirked; and maybe smirked, gesturing to their bootstraps. Like ours were what got us where we are.

And this is just the economic indignity which we have dropped on the sidewalk and pretended we did not leave. No baggie, we just walked away.

The environmental injustice of melting glaciers was not mentioned. But she could have.

I came away from my daughter’s admonishment knowing her response had more dignity than my whine. And I could see there was work still for our generation to do. It is not as simple as giving them bright shiny new bootstraps.

So, if you catch me stifling a smirk, raise a warning finger at me and smile. I will take the hint, I hope, with dignity.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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