Livingston on Homelessness in the Tippecanoe County Area

Mikel Livingston, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, has a special report about homelessness in the Tippecanoe County area. I’m sure a lot of it is representative of homelessness issues in other parts of Indiana.

One part that hit home for me was the story of the guy who suffered an unexpected injury and, while he was recovering, found that the tools of his trade had been stolen. Now he’s homeless and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of moral culpability involved. Maybe we could find some — e.g. why didn’t he have disability insurance? What about having his tools insured?

But the fact that I’m searching for such questions is telling. What I’m really asking is, “can I rationalize his situation – and every homeless person’s situation – such that it can never happen to me.” Because if chance can really cast you into such dire straits, then the world is a little too scary to tolerate. That, I think, is for most people the primary impulse behind casting the economy as a morality play where the good are rewarded and the bad are penalized: the fear that comes from an amoral universe where your destiny can be torn out of your control.

In addition of giving people the illusion of control, the morality play view of economics also has the side effect of justifying the status quo and of turning “doing nothing” into a virtue.


  1. Stuart says

    This kind of conversation is a real threat to people who want to dismiss the suffering of others, turning those people into objects as a protection from just how frightening it is to be human. People could become more human and compassionate when they appreciated how much our sense of control is simply an illusion. It’s encouraging to think about how strong people could become if they accepted how out of control life is. Reflecting on their own vulnerability, they could transform some of that fear and anxiety and put it into the service of the common good. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

    Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

  2. gizmomathboy says

    Well, even it we talk the morality play out of it one still has to contend with those that believe in the Book of Job.

    One’s misfortune isn’t a moral failing but a test from ghod.

    I’m not sure which is worse.

    Either way, we should do more to help those that have fallen on hard times. There will always be people taking advantage of any system we devise. What we should worry about is are we helping them get back on their feet and being the best human they can be?

  3. Gayl Killough says

    Thank you very much for this post. I mostly follow you because of your coverage of the Indiana General Assembly, but I currently work with homeless agencies on behalf of the City of Evansville. Most homeless people are really regular folks. I have to face daily the realization that I am very lucky, because chance is the biggest factor that separates me from the homeless people that I serve.

    So many homeless folks I meet did everything mostly right or at least nothing unusually wrong, actually doing everything right and not wanting to ask to ask for help puts people much more at risk ironically. Most homeless people are officially only homeless for a matter of days or weeks, although actual recover time is much longer and very complicated. It is amazing how lacking a little bit of money combined with the worst luck can lead to someone being homeless. It is also amazing how little an amount of money strategically positioned can get someone back on their feet, yet all these “morality people” want to cut off that little amount that helps homeless folks.

    People are surprised by how much I work on housing and that we also have a housing broker to work with landlords. Housing is the ultimate cure to homelessness. For the long-term homeless, housing as a structure alone may not be enough, but that is why we have supportive housing and assisted living.

    The other thing that does not get highlighted with the 50th anniversary War on Poverty and homeless relief is all the success that happens. Most people succeed in getting back on their feet eventually. Yes there are always poor and always homeless, but it is really not the exact same people, most people are helped. I see people first-hand helped all the time. Ironically the homeless are helped by programs that these “morality people” dismiss as failures before even taking the time to know anything about them. I am alright with people have different opinions from myself, but please at least know something about homeless programs. The other thing is that people really don’t want to face just how bad off we could all be if these programs did not exist. We could all be way worse off.

    Another thing is that we have make great progress is finding best practices about what works well and also about what does not work as well. A system level approach and housing first model does wonder for success. A great blog of best practices is done by Iain DeJong of OrgCode Consulting found at

    Case management is the biggest key to success, yet I have never hear “morality people” talk about the need for spending more money and time on case management, to make matter worse, all the efficiency policies of the last policy trend caused case managers to be replace by distant call center staff that don’t have consistent interaction with clients. Instead of correcting the loss of case managers, instead we want to test urine samples. Really? We can test urine, but we aren’t willing to pay a small fraction of that price to pay professionals to actually talk to clients. A consistent case manager can spot a fraud and inconsistencies way faster than anything else, and a case manager can help clients get back on their feet too.

    Why do these “morality people” rarely seem to ask those of us that work with the homeless about what actually works? Why are the “morality people” and people in general so resistant to what actually works?

    • steelydanfan says

      Because these people are basically lazy, no-good vermin.

      It takes a hell of a lot more work to fix the social conditions that are at the root of poverty and homelessness, than it does to sit in your comfortable leather chair, point your finger, and pretend like you’re in some way better or more deserving than those who have less, when in fact it’s all about luck or being able to oppress and exploit others.

      These “economy as a morality play” people are lazy, good-for-nothing, punk-assed parasites who need to learn some virtue.

    • Mary says

      “The other thing is that people really don’t want to face just how bad off we could all be if these programs did not exist. We could all be way worse off.”

      You are so right. I am really afraid that as generations who actually lived through or remember what “it used to be like” fade away, the younger generations are too far removed from the reasons programs were devised and implemented to understand there importance. My paternal grandfather apparently lost his home, livelihood, everything, in the Depression. Then medical issues in the family prevented any type of recoupment. I believe he lived mainly on Social Security when it was instituted. He died in the 1950s, in his late 60s, of a heart condition, making his “living” by this time as a small town hotel bellhop, with 500 dollars in his bank account. My other grandfather, a small town farmer, auctioned his farm and goods when he could no longer work, and thereafter lived in succession with his children, every couple of months taking the bus from one to another, until he passed away in his mid-80s, around 1958. For my family while growing up, we kids did not know it at the time, but if something untimely had happened to our father, we would have been, as my sister puts it, “as poor as church mice.” Yet we all feel fairly secure as our own retirements loom. Thanks to hard work and playing by rules that weren’t stacked against us or pulled out from under us, and safety nets we knew were there if needed, even as we tried to never need them.

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