If you don’t like homelessness, here’s an idea: Make it possible to rent an apartment.

Don’t get me wrong. Western Massachusetts is beautiful and the people I encountered were entirely nice, at least on a stranger-to-stranger level of interaction.

And driving down the road here is a balm for a California driver: There are trees, lots and lots and lots of trees. Often there will be houses on both sides of the road but you can barely see them for all the trees. There is space, lots of space, between houses and you can see that the backyards often open up into woods. There are lots of woods, just scattered about all over the place.

The fetish I observed in California for cutting down trees—I swear, folks seem to have a real problem letting a tree live to be twenty or thirty years old—seems entirely absent here. But another nasty quirk of this society, kicking people when they are down seems entirely present.

Regular readers know that my job search has been an abysmal failure for eighteen years, despite doing everything the job search folks tell me to do, despite returning to school, finishing a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D. So my mother gave me a bunch of money to try to move.

The hope was that in an area like western Massachusetts that clearly values education, I might find a synergy I couldn’t find in California.

So I arrived and began seriously looking for housing. But I get it. It’s about risk management. And if, like an insurance company refusing to insure someone, I can’t survive a quantitative assessment of risk, then I don’t get to rent a place.

So let’s think about this for a moment. Imagine someone else, not me, similarly down on his or her luck, trying to find a job, needing a place to live. Yeah, if worst comes to worst, I can return to living with my Mom. My job search won’t be any more fruitful back there than it already has been, because let’s face it, I’ve been there and done that.

But housing is basic to survival. And there are lots of folks—I saw them in the freeway underpasses in the San Francisco Bay Area and the situation there with recreational vehicles is so ridiculous there that one simply assumes someone is living in just about any RV one sees—who don’t have that option to live with family, for one reason or another including, it would seem, abusive or violent situations.

The obstacles are everywhere, in the application; in the credit check; in the requirement for references, including for landlord references; and in the requirement for proof of income. Homeless folks will have even more difficulty with this than I do. That’s before we even talk about the paucity of affordable housing or the deposits.

Which means in essence that if you’re homeless, if you’re down and out, there is no redemption for you. Even if you have a Ph.D., you are trash and ought to be disposed of.

I made my mistake nearly fifty years ago in acquiescing to my father’s advice to pursue computer programming as a career. It was the wrong career for me, I couldn’t sustain it, and I’ve been paying an increasingly heavy price for that mistake ever since. That quantitative assessment of risk leaves no room for justice.

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