Homelessness is the condition and social category of people who lack permanent housing, because they cannot afford to sustain regular, safe, and sufficient shelter. The largest cause of homelessness is poverty. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, between twenty and thirty percent of homeless families surveyed in 1996 said they had gone without food for part of the previous month. The homeless also face persistent deprivation and constant threat of harm. They spend more time in the hospital and in jail than their poor counterparts. The majority are victims of violent crimes, and one fourth lack needed medical care” (“How many people are homeless?”). In the U.S. each and every day, it is said that around 1,550 out of every 100,000 deaths are due to homelessness. There are so many social issues that many people consume themselves with fixing, but homelessness often gets overlooked or seen as a problem with no true solution. People need to be informed on why Americans don’t have homes, how many people are suffering from starvation, and how many people die from inadequate shelter; homelessness is a social issue that affects from 700,000 to 2 million people on any given night (“How many people are homeless?”). It’s necessary for the stereotypes that society places on the homeless to be changed. Preventive measures, such as allowing government organizations to expand the amount of aid they can distribute, are also imperative to help this faction of people to fight starvation, illness, and death.
America has seen unmatched prosperity and yet homelessness is still a mounting societal concern. What is the underlying cause of why people become homeless? What is the justification of keeping millions of Americans poor, displaced, and on the streets?
The obvious truth is that social programs single-handedly don’t work. Government subsidies, soup kitchens, donated clothing, temporary shelters, and private corporate donations are only band-aids on a festering wound. They, unaided are not an absolute solution to the problem. The American society needs to look at this problem directly and acknowledge that the dilemma has become unmanageable.
Though it is hard to even think of taking on someone else’s problems when we have so many of our own that we need to handle; the resolution might just be more personalized attention to the situation and not in huge corporate spending. What does a homeless or displaced person really need? Is it food, clothing and shelter? How do most people come by these vital necessities? The answer is a steady job. It’s so simple- it’s almost frightening! In our own little microcosm of the world, do we not know someone who needs help with some sort of work? Do we not have the solution to this problem? Then why is it that this epidemic of homelessness getting worse?
The stereotype of the homeless person is by no means positive. Ideas that other members of society have of these people are that they are filthy, lethargic, vulgar, alcoholics, drug users, sinners, and most likely having psychological issues. It is commonly assumed that the homeless are addicts or other types of sinners that made their choice and ended up on the streets. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, a primary issue with people becoming homeless is foreclosures and being below the poverty line. Many people that are now on the streets had to stop paying for housing due to having an illness, accident, or loss of paycheck – none of the above were chosen by them. In fact, “41% of the homeless population is comprised of families” that have lost their homes due to the aforementioned problems (“Homeless Families with Children”).
There is this idea that a person is ‘so tired of hearing about the homeless’. That there are ‘so many agencies in this country that are geared toward the poor, displaced and homeless’ and since a person pays their taxes, they feel they should not be obligated to do anything else. By paying their taxes, they are helping the government, who in turn is helping the homeless enough to ease their consciences. The key phrase in the above sentence is people easing their consciences.
The idea that homeless people are simply lazy and prefer begging on the streets instead of trying to ‘get a job’ is preposterous. The lack of understanding the cause of unemployment and the difficulties of getting a job brings about this reaction. People tend to base their perceptions of the homeless on their previous experiences and encounters with “bums”. Climbing out of the black hole that is being homeless is virtually impossible without employment. There are “44% of homeless people who have jobs and still can’t escape homelessness” (“Why are people homeless?”). How could anyone expect the other 56% to be able to climb out of hole that is homelessness? The fact of the matter is that when the economy is booming and unemployment is low many find it difficult to even fathom why homelessness persists and in certain areas, worsens.
Logically, in order to earn a living you must have a job that has the means to support yourself. If you cannot obtain a job because you have the lack of tools to present yourself as an everyday American, you won’t be able to support yourself. When a person is applying for a job, there is a certain level of competitiveness that surrounds that position due to other applicants. It has been proven that the homeless, who run a higher risk of mental and physical illnesses, have a much harder time acquiring jobs. If one thinks rationally about what it takes to impress a prospective employer during an interview then it makes sense that the homeless have a harder time. They lack necessary the tools to appear clean, well dressed, and many struggle with becoming educated.
Another reason why the homeless do not receive as much help as they need is because of social class. Social classes are the breakdown of society based on monetary standards into different ‘classes’, for example the category of the rich or the poor class. A large reason as to why aid hasn’t been given is because helping the homeless would disrupt the social class structure, in which each person wants to raise their social standing by moving in the classes to be ‘above’ someone else. It is that reason that Americans seem to be reluctant to help others. They want to keep that certain level of power and control they have over the other classes. Power in the American society is seen as the thing most people want to obtain. Most people view money as the symbol of their power. If people were to give their money to someone else, many people would see this as giving a portion of their power away and doing so goes against American ideals.
The last underlying reason why people do not want to assist others would be that the homeless are an easy scapegoat to blame for problems within cities. A scapegoat is defined as a person who is punished for the errors of others. They may be accused of crimes they did not commit because they are the ‘easy’ to blame suspects. Since people use the homeless as someone to blame, there is a perception that the homeless are all criminals and capable of committing any crime. This stereotype continues the cycle of prejudice and hate. There have been many cases of “bum bashing” or getting into “bum fights” were people in higher social classes beat and sometimes kill homeless people; this happens because of stereotypes and the idea that these “bums” are not worth compassion, but instead are nothing.
For those that feel as though the government has done enough to help the homeless, they are wrong. How could the government have done enough if the problem continues to worsen in areas? The stereotypes of the homeless continue to be perpetuated through the generations and also act as a way of hindering the homeless from escaping the black hole aforementioned.
Ignorance and misinformation are factors as to why this immense issue with people being without homes prevails as a problem. Many people feel as though the large number of government agencies geared towards helping the homeless cause them to feel sick of hearing about the issues that those hapless people have. These people need to wake up and realize that the homeless problem does not just pertain to the homeless, it stands as an all inclusive problem. These issues seem like more than merely a homeless person’s individual responsibility to fix their lack of housing; it remains the responsibility of society to assist in their tries. The lack of comprehension of homelessness persists as a hurdle for the American society to jump so that this problem becomes an element of the past.