Thursday, June 7, 2012

Language issue: "Complex Homeless Structure"

Headline via @HomeForGoodLA: "Sheriff's Department Dismantles Complex Homeless Structure in Malibu."

What happened is, the sheriff's department tore down a makeshift house with two beds inside. The builder had placed it without permission in a rather nice location with a "million-dollar" beach view.

In some other countries, I think this event would not be described as the tidying-up of a "homeless" person's mildly comical imitation of a home. It would be described as the destruction of an unauthorized resident's house.

This word "homeless" is problematic. Its broad use to mean the lack of authorized, long-term, code-compliant housing tends to blur issues that ought to be kept separate. When a person lives in steady housing that is substandard or unauthorized but nevertheless a home, what purpose is served by using the same word for it that describes sleeping next to the passing feet on a downtown sidewalk?

Not that one is morally better than the other -- people's forced choices vary. Just, they're different. So maybe the situations shouldn't be as conceptually merged as they often are.

Because, while there may well have been solid legal reasons to tear down this particular house, it seems unfair and -- I don't know, maybe "trivializing" is the word -- to justify destroying someone's house by saying it wasn't a house in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment