Despite the United States being the richest economy in the world with low unemployment and a high per capita income, it is still dogged the problems of homelessness. The problem cuts across the unemployed as well as working citizens. This problem has been in existence in the United States and it is attributed to increasing populations and financial downturns. The federal government responded to homelessness for the first time through the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-77) which was designed as an emergency response to the growing problem of homelessness. This essay will look at the conflict theory to explain homelessness.
Homelessness, in reference to the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, means the situation where an individual does not have a fixed, consistent, and adequate nighttime abode. A homeless person can also be defined as an entity with a principal night time residence that is not commonly used for human habitation or a principal nighttime residence that is a temporary shelter with the intention of being institutionalized. In addition, it means a principal nighttime residence that is an administered or a publicly managed sanctuary that provides short-term accommodation and includes welfare hotels and transition shelters for the mentally ill.
Homelessness has been a problem in the United States since the pre-industrial era. In the 16th Century, the homeless in the US were few and were taken care of by the immediate community since it was viewed as a communal duty to offer help to them. This was promoted by the local churches and community organizations. In the late seventeenth century, however, a more systematic system was employed. For instance, the New York City working with the local churches rented a house to use as a temporary shelter for the homeless. This culminated in an official ‘almshouse’ in 1734. The social order of family livelihood and place took care of most of the homeless.
The numbers of those considered homeless were then few with some considered as undeserving idlers. By the early nineteenth century, due to industrialization and innovations such as quick transportation and vast enterprises such as the construction of canals, large scale agriculture and fisheries, people followed suit to work and earn a living. But after the civil war, opportunities especially for women dwindled in these rural settings and people moved to the new growing cities to work as bar maids, clerks, housekeepers, and even commercial sex workers. For most people, home was where they spent the night thus began a system of loosely attached people engaged in all sorts of activity including vices such as crime. Young men and women unhappy to work in the orderly disciplined factories carried about their own business and travelers for which constant moving became a way of life.
The number of people who could not find work increased and became too many for the existing shelters. Consequently, some people started spending without roofs over their heads. This problem worsened during the great depression where even warehouses holding as much as 4000 people were not sufficient; thus began the modern problem of homelessness in the United States. From the First World War to the second, the number of unemployed people increased since manual labor was taken over by mechanization and industrialization. This resulted in a large number of homeless people in the seventies through to the nineties up to current times (Baumohl, 1996).
In 1987, the number of the homeless was estimated at 500 – 600 000 with 81 being male, 54 non white, and 48 not having cleared high school. In 2010, it was estimated that the US had 3,500,000 homeless people. The majority of the people were between 25 to 44 years of age. 70 of the homeless live in the urban areas, 20 in sub-urban areas, and 10 in the rural areas. 67 of the homeless are single men while 20 are women. In addition, 25 are veterans and 15 are parents with children. Los Angeles has the highest number of homeless people in the US. These numbers could increase following the economic downturn of 2008/ 2009 (Niles, 2011).
This essay will look at the conflict theory to explain homelessness. It posits that a society is a functional social unit constituting interrelated parts. The theory does not regard homelessness as a drawback in itself but a consequence of capitalism; those at the higher levels of the capitalist society subjugate the homeless making their situation worse. It implies that being homeless is not the inability of the homeless to develop them as proposed by Karl Marx (Hardcastle, 1996). The ownership of capital and access to most resources by a few private individuals mean that they can decide to employ this capital in the most profitable way for them. As such, a company can lay off 200 production line workers and replace them with 10 automated robots that lower their cost of production and hence increase its profits. The laid off people are not unskilled people who cannot work but victims of a capitalist system. Those who lose their jobs or are unable to get employment are not incapable of working but victims of a system that cares little for social welfare and advocates profitability. As the roots of homelessness show and the present testifies, these are people who were looking for work and presently can work but the systems in place provide few opportunities. Majority of the homeless are single males between the ages of 25-44 which is the most productive demographic sector.
In conclusion, the problem of homelessness is mostly a product of a capitalist system that does not have social welfare as one of its primary goals in the USA. Therefore, making social welfare a key responsibility of the capitalist class will help reduce this problem. This is the surest way to tackle the social problem.
Baumohl, J. (1996). Homelessness in America. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing .
Hardcastle, D. P. (1996). Community practice: theories and skills for social workers. New York:
Oxford University Press.
Niles, N. (2011). Basics of the U.S. Health Care System. Massachusets: Jones and Bartlett