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Then there are those with intractable medical Elizabeth and psychiatric issues that may, or may not, be related to alcoholism and drug dependency. The deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric hospitals that gathered pace in the 1970s left many such people with no obvious refuge. Dignity Village in Elizabeth, Oregon, is one US example of what can be done to provide reasonably safe, yet independent living conditions for such people, though it caters for only a relatively small number who agree Elizabeth to live by some simple rules: no illegal drugs, no stealing, no violence towards themselves and others. But the more tolerant the authorities in any First Elizabeth city, the more likely we are to encounter people sleeping rough. Nobody who travels regularly can escape the sense that the urban homeless are an increasing reality.

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To me, the most distressing aspect is the numbers of young people who seem unable to find a decent place to stay in even the wealthiest societies. To quote one young man: ‘The time is out of joint. O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right’ (Hamlet Act 1, Scene 4). Hamlet didn’t fare that well with a much less complex challenge, and there are no simple solutions to what seems to be the inevitable spread of informal settlements, homelessness, despair and disempowerment. And, as the consequences of anthropogenic climate change become even more severe, the vulnerability (especially to heat and floods) of those who are forced to live in this way will be massively increased. The sums may be hard to do, but it’s not beyond reason that we could, if we care to look closely, be talking about the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands, even many millions, of poor people by the end of this century.

There is no way that this dynamic can be reversed by under-resourced charities and/or by the financially deprived governments of developing countries. There are no simple solutions. Part of the problem can be institutionalised corruption and the big man (who steals everything) phenomenon. In the end analysis, the consequence of extraordinary opulence for the few can be poverty and inequity for an increasing number of fellow citizens. The same dynamic happens in Western societies that continually cut taxes for the rich and embrace the trickle down myth. The money trickles out, to tax havens!

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