How the President Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future

Special Submission by Michael Stoops, National Coalition for the Homeless

    On Inauguration Day, I, President (fill in the blank), hereby proclaim that I will no longer accept homelessness and poverty in this rich country.

    I, like Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson before me, declare poverty to be one of the biggest issues facing America. One in eight Americans lives in poverty and the numbers are rising. Let’s call it an adjustment of American priorities that will take place not in 10 years, but in my first term in office.

    We will end our legacy of imperialism and use the money to address our new priority of eliminating poverty at home.

 The First 24 Hours of My Presidency

    After finishing my rather long Inaugural speech, I will return to the White House lawn where I will pitch a tent and live outside until we achieve the goal of ending poverty in America.

    I’ll take along my cell phone and a laptop, so I can conduct the country’s business. The First Spouse will join me as well.

The First 100 Days of My Presidency

    I will forego my $400,000 annual salary and instead will work as your president at minimum wage.

    In other words, I will be making $7 an hour, as per the established federal minimum wage regulations. If I work at least 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, I will earn about $379,616 less than my predecessor.

    I will not move back inside until every American is permanently housed. I will then start to pay rent like any other American, 30% of my minimum-wage salary.

    I will invite my closest neighbors, the homeless people living across the street in Lafayette Park, to stay in the various unused bedrooms in the White House in what can only be called the “best public housing in the country.”

 Emergency Measures

    I will order every government building to stay open at night so it can function as an emergency night shelter. I will ask churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques to do the same.

    Homeless emergency shelters will function like the emergency rooms of hospitals where you can stay as long as you need.

    Children, who make up 25% of the total homeless population, will be the first ones to get help so they do not become the homeless adults of the future.

    All local, state and federal elected officials will be required to spend a week living on the streets in the largest city of their respective home states until every American is housed. They will receive food stamps and the same health care benefits as the poorest among us.

    We will ask Congress to reduce the salary of every federal elected official and every executive branch official to the same monthly amount received by those on Social Security disability. This will keep the officeholders in touch with the almost 40 million Americans who live below the poverty line.

    I will ask Congress to pass legislation making it illegal for cities to adopt laws targeting homeless people for acts such as sleeping, camping, sitting or panhandling.

    All homeless persons who so desire will receive a donated laptop computer so they can connect with the rest of the world and use the Internet to help them get out of their homelessness and low-income status.

Long-Term Solutions

    I will restore the federal low-income housing budget to what it was back in 1979 – $83 billion compared to $33.6 billion today.

    I will work with the mayors of American cities to create a federal housing policy.

    The countless abandoned buildings that plague our inner cities will be turned over to nonprofits or municipalities, which will provide resources and training for homeless or low-income people to repair these homes. This will be a 21st-century version of the Homestead Act of 1860.

    People released from prison or mental health and alcohol treatment centers will be guaranteed admission to halfway houses with employment, case management and counseling services. This will end the established practice of releasing them to the streets without support, setting them up for failure.

    I will come up with a 21st-century version of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps programs. My inspiration for this approach comes from the late President Ronald Reagan, who said, “I think the best possible social program is a job.”

    The minimum wage will henceforth be replaced by a universal living wage. At that time, I will make my salary the living wage.

    Health insurance will be free or low-cost if you are homeless or low-income and expensive if you happen to be rich.

    For homeless and low-income people with disabilities, I declare these citizens are entitled to treatment on demand for mental health and substance abuse issues.

    State and federal voting laws will be liberalized, making it easier for homeless and low-income people to vote. No photo ID or mailing address may be required.

    As commander in chief, I make a commitment that no persons who serve their country in our armed forces shall be allowed to become homeless.

    Victims of domestic violence, a leading cause of homelessness among women, will no longer be forced to flee their homes and wind up on the streets or in shelters. Rather, the victims will stay put and the batterers will be sent to jail or to shelters designed for them.

Eliminating Root Causes

    I will ask Congress to adopt the right to housing and health care for all our citizens, even if they cannot afford it, like in many other countries around the world.

    I will make two- or four-year college education free to young people in exchange for national service. An education is the best way to break out of poverty.

    I will build a “Museum on Poverty” on the Mall in the nation’s capital to remind Americans how poverty remained unchecked in the last century and for the first 10 years of this new one.

    Poverty will be something of our past, not of the present, or our future. 

The inspiration for this pledge to end poverty in 21st-century America comes from Upton Sinclair’s “I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty, A True Story of the Future, 1934.” Part I of this story was published in June 2007.

Michael Stoops is the acting executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007