I have chosen to focus my education on the loss of human obligation and the methods necessary to restore such obligation. Real Change is one medium through which such restoration is occurring and thus, what I have learned in this seminar will be critical to the continuation of my education and my future career. I have not only learned about the basics of the history behind the failure of human obligation but I also have gained a better understanding of what I plan to do with this knowledge in the future.

The rapid growth of a homeless population in the United States exemplifies the loss of intimate human obligation to fellow human citizens. Throughout the twentieth century the United States enjoyed rapid economic and population growth. As the wealth of the nation grew so did the gap between the affluent and the underprivileged and bridging this gap became more and more difficult. The recession of 1983 was when the gap truly widened to such an extent that it could no longer be bridged. Before this, social and economic policy supported those deemed “in need” with relatively well-funded social services. This was due in large part to the fact that those in need who were most visible, the “hobo’s,” were largely Caucasian males who were considered, “the worthy poor.” Of course many minorities and women were also underprivileged but, because the face of the poor was the Caucasian male, worthy of relief, there was political support to aid those in need. A large population of poor Caucasian males was too damaging to the politically constructed American Dream to go un-aided. Because policy supported the underprivileged, those more well off took compassion on the underprivileged as well. Therefore, before 1983 there really was not even the construct of homelessness because policy supported connected communities through a sense of intrinsic obligation to fellow citizens. The community a home enables was not denied to those without a physical house (Citizen Hobo).
That is the difference between before the recession of 1983 and after—today, an individual who does not have a home is denied participation and access to the larger community.

The adoption of Reagan’s Supply-Side Economics following the recession was the beginning of the end for citizen obligation. Citizenship is the key. Before the recession those without homes still had access to services and thus some sense of citizenship power. However, this economic policy, which continues in some sense today, supports the wealthy in hopes that the wealthy will then feel obliged to give to the community. Yet, without policy in place that supports obligation the community loses its sense of responsibility to others and any fragments of human obligation disintegrate without community investment.

The homeless and underprivileged are neither included in this community nor granted true citizenship either. This is evidenced in social control laws, which blatantly discriminate against the homeless as well as racial minorities. How can these laws be a part of creating “livability” in urban areas when they exclude the over ten million Americans who experience homelessness in a given year? “Livability” for who? The homeless and low-income in the United States are truly on the very outside of the community and yet they are most effected by the communities laws and policies. The homeless and low-income are also in the most vulnerable position since they are on the outside and so these laws and policies can mean the end of any form of acceptable life for these individuals. Obligation must return, enabling inclusion, so that livability may be put in place for everyone.

This obligation can only occur when there is a switch in American mentality from charity to social justice. The concept of charity reinforces the structural causes of homelessness and poverty. It does this through the belief that those in need do not deserve equal access to services and resources as those in privileged positions do. Charity is based on the ideology that the homeless do not have basic human rights but that they should be “grateful for what they get.” Those on the inside of the community grant acts of charity to those on the outside every now and then when their privilege weighs too much on their conscious. And, when those on the inside are not showered with gratefulness, the concept that the poor are undeserving is reinforced because they are not overly thankful. But why should one individual be thankful for something those on the inside enjoy regularly?

Citizenship must be restored to the poor so that they can be brought back in to the inside. Once they are viewed as citizens they can then share a sense of human obligation with the rest of the community. They can share the rights and access to services the rest of the community shares. This is social justice and social justice is about recognizing citizenship. Whether it is global citizenship or national citizenship, citizenship is the key to recognizing the rights of human beings. In 1983 the poor finally lost their hold on citizenship and have suffered without their rights for over twenty years. Now is the time to reclaim their rights as United States citizens.

Real Change helps facilitate this by creating jobs with dignity for the underprivileged and thus, through this dignity, gaining the poor access to the inside of the community. This enables dialogue and collaboration between the inside and the outside of the community, which, in the end, are invaluable to creating relationships that enforce human obligation. I hope to be a part of future models, such as Real Change, that enable the communication necessary to restore citizenship and livability for everyone.