It is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.
Man wanted a home, a place of warmth, or comfort, first of physical warmth, then the warmth of the affections.
You scour the Bowery, ransack the Bronx, / Through funeral parlors and honky-tonks. / From river to river you comb the town / For a place to lay your family down.
Is anyone you’ve loved and known / without a home? Is anyone without a home / someone you can love?
Sometimes I’d see my father, walking past my building on his way to another nowhere. I could have given him a key, offered a piece of my floor. A futon. A bed. But I never did. If I let him inside I would become him, the line between us would blur, my own slow-motion car wreck would speed up. . . . If I went to the drowning man, the drowning man would pull me under. I couldn’t be his life raft.
In most of the traditional cultures of the world, homelessness would be impossible; first because of large protective kin systems, and second because homes were easily constructed from materials at hand. In America today we consider homelessness as a lack of shelter, not as a breakdown of community.
We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.
A house is your third skin, after the skin made of flesh and clothing.
To think that I might have become a poet like that if I had been allowed to settle somewhere, anywhere in the world, in one of the many shuttered-up houses in the country that no one looks after anymore. I would only have needed one room (the light room in the gable). I would have lived inside it with my old things, my family portraits, my books. . . . I would have written in it.
It is a bewildering thing to the poor weaver to see his employer removing from house to house, each one grander than the last, till he ends in building one more magnificent than all, or withdraws his money from the concern, or sells his mill, to buy an estate in the country, while all the time the weaver, who thinks he and his fellows are the real makers of this wealth, is struggling on for bread for his children.
How is it I’m begging you for housing, / when you burnt my building down? / You all ain’t even playing fake-nice, like those / other murderers. You are all cut-eye and snarls, / all straight jargon, and nothing but the jargon.
I know where we can build housing for the homeless: golf courses. . . . Just what we need. Plenty of good land in nice neighborhoods, land that is currently being wasted on a meaningless, mindless activity engaged in primarily by white, well-to-do male businessmen who use the game to get together to make deals to carve this country up a little finer among themselves.
Everybody needs a home / so at least you have someplace to leave / which is where most other folks will say / you must be coming from
A house of my own. Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after. Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem.