Homelessness is a social problem which is associated with numerous social problems. The challenges that the homeless people face in the society are mostly caused by illnesses due to poor housing facilities or coldness and overcrowding. Reports indicate that contagious and respiratory diseases have been rampant among the homeless people. Moreover, due to poor living conditions, homeless people suffer from other types of diseases caused by poor hygiene. Homelessness as a problem is however not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Although poverty has been cited as the major cause of homelessness among the people, the reality is that poverty as a problem is not caused by nature. Apart from poverty, various other factors have been associated with the problem of homelessness. Sociologists have used three theoretical perspectives to explain the causes of homelessness in the society. According to sociologists, symbolic interaction, functionalism, and conflict theory are the major causal factors to the homelessness problem. This essay will analyse how sociologists articulate these theories to the problem of homelessness. It will also try to verify whether there are any efforts by the society in trying to address the problem and whether these efforts have been successful.
Homelessness has been defined as the lack of regular and decent housing among individuals in a society or in some parts of the society. These factors that have been associated with mental illness, drug abuse, physical or sexual abuse as well as lack of money due to poverty. In giving solutions to these problems, sociologists have pointed out on the three sociological theories.
Functionalist sociologists associate the complexity of the society with the problem of poverty and lack of finances to acquire proper housing. The functionalist approach compares the evolution of the society with that of an organism, combining all parts of that organism together to make it whole. They consider the society to have evolved through such processes, making the structures function together to achieve a common goal, which is developing together (Isajiw 38). The complex nature of the society has been associated with complexity of the institutions. Building blocks of the society in the view of these sociologists are the family as well as the clan. The clan is part of the larger society, and through relationships developed by the individual people in the society, the result is strong solidarity among these people. According to the theory, the significance of an individual is not is not vested in his or her individuality, but in the status that he has accorded to his own status, his opinion in social relation patterns and the kind of behaviours associated with that particular status.
Relationships developed by these structures are supposed to be the pillars in which the society is built upon. As social institutions keep on developing, people are expected to be careful about one another. As the individual cares about other people in the family, the family cares about the clan. This is the essence of the society in which all people ought to be mindful of one another. However, this is not the case altogether. Isajiw (102) observes that people are increasingly being more independent from each other, breaking the structures already set by the rules of functionalism. With the increase in individualism, more people are becoming poor. There is little assistance accorded to the poor by the rich and the able people in the society.
This has been as a result of the broken structures. The only attachment that is currently in existence in the society is the family, which is also breaking apart with time. This has increasingly alleviated the problems that people face in the society. Even the people who are supposed to be caring about their partners have grown apart, making the people poorer. The needs of the needy people increases, yet there are few available opportunities to solve them. Problems that lead to homelessness increases and consequently, people remain homeless for a long time.
The emphasis of conflict theory is on the role played by coercion in bringing social order. Sociologists such as Karl Max saw the society to be fragmented into different small groups of people that try to compete with each other to acquire both social and economic resources. Social order according to Bartos and Paul (13) is brought about by the domination of one group of people to other groups. Power is in the hands of the people who have the greatest authority in the society is those who control the political, economic and social resources.
The competition that results from individuals struggling for power and control of the resources victimizes the poor people in the society. This results into conflicts and exploitation. Individuals who control the resources and means of production victimize the others. As a result of control of these resources, most of the people lack the opportunity to improve their lives. The poor thus remains poor, while the rich remains rich and gets richer.
The disparities created by this problem lead to lack of the very basic needs by the poor people. Shelter is a basic need which every person is entitled to. However, in the event of poor distribution of resources, the poor do not have the access to these resources and means of production. However, this does not occur over night. Control of the means of production by a few individuals by a few people increases their greed. This deprives the rest of the people of these resources and creates a vicious circle of poverty. Those who have been denied the opportunities by the society are therefore regarded as poor. Due to their high levels of poverty, they cannot afford decent housing.
Symbolic interaction according to sociologists influences many areas and disciplines in the society. According to various sociologists, people act towards various things by the virtue of their meanings. These meanings are derived from socially developed interactions, which are later modified through interpretation. According to the father of the theory Max Weber, individual’s actions are determined by their interpretation of the meaning of the world. Through its analysis of the society, the theory addresses the different and yet subjective meanings that people impose on objects, events, and behaviours (Herman 88).
According to this theory, people are in a position to decide what they want and why they want that thing through their individual and personalized interpretation of the world. People thus define the term “home” differently according to this theory. While to some people a home is a symbol of unity and mutual coexistence of different individuals in a group of people, to others it is a sense of belonging. These groups do not see the meaning of having a constant place where they live in. they possess little wealth and attach little value to the things that define wealth and achievements. A house according to them has no use. The mental condition of these people is the biggest contributing factor to their definition of a home. Some of them are mad, while others are drug users. This results to their condition of homelessness.
The various causes of homelessness in the society have adequately been discussed. There are efforts to reduce the number of people who are homeless in the society. These efforts have been shown by different groups in the society. Some have vested interests while others are simply concerned parties to the problem of homelessness.
The government for example has developed many projects that are geared at developing housing projects for the poor at affordable prices. Due to the increased prices of mortgages, owning a home by the poor people has remained a dream due to affordability issues. To house these people, the government has implemented various housing projects for the poor.
The non-governmental organizations and the well-wishers have also chipped in their efforts in trying to address the problem of homelessness among the people. Various groups have tried to provide homes to the street people who do not have a place to stay. Even the children’s homes have tried to solve this issue. However, these problems have not been adequately addressed as more needs to be done to solve this problem.
Homelessness as discussed in this paper is a social problem. Having been caused by social structures, the problem is not regarded as individual. According to the three sociological theoretical perspectives of symbolic interaction, functionalism, and conflict theory, this problem can only be solved by addressing the contributing factors to the problem. Failure to address these factors, social structures will create more homeless conditions than those solved by the efforts extended towards solving the problem.
- Bartos, Otomar J, and Paul E. Wehr. Using Conflict Theory. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.
- Herman, Nancy J. Symbolic Interaction: An Introduction to Social Psychology. Walnut Creek, CA [u.a.: AltaMira [u.a., 2003. Print.
- Isajiw, Wsevolod W. Causation and Functionalism in Sociology. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. Print.