Homeless Holidays

Mike Keefe illustrates the hypocrisy of charity that often occurs around the holidays.

Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, chronic homelessness is overwhelmingly present in the United States. This reality does not register in its entirety in the mind of many Americans until the”season of giving” is marked not only on the calendar, but also through the communal holley, twinkling lights, and oversized trees present in public places: Christmas time. Denver Post political cartoonist Mike Keefe illustrates the irony often present between the “season of giving” and homelessness in America in his cartoon published on Christmas Eve in 2010 titled, “Homeless Holidays.”

“Homeless Holidays” shows a young child running toward a homeless man with an eager smile on his face and change in his hand. His parents are walking behind him with a smile on their faces and shopping bags in their hands. The homeless man is slumped over on the sidewalk next to a sign that says, “anything helps.” The boy is saying, “I wish all homelessness would disappear!” The homeless man replies, “Don’t worry, we’ll become invisible again on December 26th.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) identifies a homeless person as “someone who resides in a place not meant for human inhabitation,” including the street, a sidewalk, etc. (United States, Government Accountability Office [Page 4]). Much like the Great Depression, the recent Great Recession in 2009 reintroduced the country to intense homelessness of men, women, families, and unattached children. Perhaps one of the most troubling statistics of this most recent country-wide economic downturn is the thirty percent increase in homelessness from 2007 to 2009 (United States, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness [Page 8]). In response to the troubles citizens began facing, President Barack Obama soon instituted the Opening Doors policy in May 2009. This policy aimed to end chronic homelessness in ten years, and veteran and familial homelessness in five (United States, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness [Page 4]).

Opening Doors was one of the first policies of its kind—never before has an American president introduced legislation so specific and so galvanizing in the discussion of eradicating homelessness. However, the state of homelessness in the U.S. has taken on a face unlike that of the past. Traditionally in recessions and depressions people lost their homes due to the inability to maintain a steady and subsistent job, but the issue many face today is the increase in the cost of housing (“The State of Homelessness in America”). This is why, despite the increase in job availability, there are still 4.8 million people living in poverty (“The State of Homelessness in America”). In his open letter that discussed the reasons and means behind the policy, President Obama cited “‘home as being the center of the American dream” (United States, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness [Page 4]). Introducing this platform appeals to the reader’s pathos, and makes them more apt to listen to the continuous plan he intended to institute. This plan included providing the homeless with apartments in which the government paid the rent—allowing the homeless to achieve the “American dream” that is idolized by many, yet is unachievable in the minds of others (United States, United States Interagency Council on Homelessness [Page 4]).

The Opening Doors policy is working. According to an article published by Dina ElBoghdady in the Washington Post on October 31, 2014 titled “These five charts show the progress and challenges in fighting homelessness,” there was a decrease between 2010 and 2014 of ten percent in overall homelessness, thirty-three percent in veteran homelessness, and sharp decline in the use of temporary shelters. However, the plan has yet to create an all-encompassing, completely housed society. While there are less homeless people in the U.S. than there were in 2010, the program requires more money than initially called for in the original legislation— $300 million, to be exact— and many people remain unsheltered and without a home (ElBoghdady). Regardless, there is still support for the administration’s efforts to decrease homelessness. While the plan has not been instituted at the speed it originally called for, the U.S. government is spending $4.5 billion a year in efforts to lessen the evils that are synonymous with homelessness (“The state of homelessness in America” 4). The Secretary of HUD, Julian Castro, was quoted in the Washington Post article saying, “we’re confident that we’re not only saving lives, we’re saving money because folks are no longer caught in the cycle of shelters, emergency rooms and other public services that require taxpayer dollars” (ElBoghdady).

The viewer can easily understand the  satirical outlook the artist has taken strictly via the dialogue between the young child and the homeless man sitting on the street. The child is saying, “I wish all homelessness would disappear!” The homeless man replies, “Don’t worry, we will become invisible again on December 26th.” The “season of joy” and “spirit of giving” will run out— demonstrating the seasonality of homelessness assumed by the public.
The child is part of a nuclear family that appears to be well-off financially, as seen by the parents walking behind their young son carrying shopping bags. The parents have a nearly adoring look in their eyes as they watch their young son run to the homeless man with change, completely ignorant of the struggles he faces day-to-day. Their focus is on the fact that their son is sharing charitable actions with the world, rather than the actual depravity of the circumstance the child is “helping.” This illustrates the disconnect many Americans experience with their fellow citizens who are homeless. There is a concerning failure to understand that the people on the streets begging for food are, in fact, people, and are living a life many could not imagine.

This seasonality many place on homelessness is not entirely ignored by the general public. Bonnie Kavoussi published an article on Huffington Post’s website concerning the issue that consisted of minimal writing and an infographic courtesy of the website Thinkprogress. The article explained that the amount of money the citizens of the U.S. spend on Christmas decorations every year could eradicate homelessness. $20 billion is the price tag on the countless decorative trees and lights Americans buy every year— and it could cure homelessness and even leave a surplus of funds (Kavoussi).

Homelessness unfortunately is a topic that has transcended time. While government assistance programs have helped in the past, it is yet to be completely eradicated. Obama’s concept of “opening doors” is a chronic and universal one— John Knott even indirectly addressed it in his cartoon “Somebody’s at the Door,” which was published in 1931. In it, we see a family standing in front of a closed door of a prominent charity at the time, a family who is not receiving the Christmas charity so often celebrated by the mass public. This proves that there are several aspects of society that will always be present. However, despite their immortality, we as a society can still learn from mistakes and progresses made in the past, and use then to influence decisions and policy in the future.

Works Cited:

ElBoghdady, Dina. “These Five Charts Show the Progress and Challenges in Fighting Homelessness.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

Kavoussi, Bonnie. “U.S. Could End Homelessness With Money Used To Buy Christmas Decorations [INFOGRAPHIC].” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

“Obama Vows to End Homelessness in 10 Years.” Mcclatchydc. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

“The State of Homelessness in America.” National Alliance to End Homelessness. Web. 20 Nov 2015.

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Washington: GPO, 2015. United Sates Interagency Council on Homelessness. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.

United States. Government Accountability Office. Homelessness: A Common Vocabulary Could Help Agencies Collaborate and Collect More Consistent Data. 111th Cong., 2nd sess. Rept. 702. Washington: GPO, 2010.  ProQuest Congressional. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.