eople’s reaction to homelessness and homeless people differ in many ways. Many people become very angry and resentful when approached by a homeless person, they are often unkind to them. A short time ago I recall a story where teenagers randomly selected a homeless man sleeping at a bus stop and set him on fire. There is even an internet site dedicated to young guys who pay homeless men to do very dangerous and demeaning stunts in exchange for money. Clearly the homeless are not well-respected in our modern society. The above do not represent the majority of behaviors concerning the homeless, in fact, there is another mentality that is little better. That behavior is ambivalence and feigned ignorance, pretending you do not see something does not mean it does not exist. It is amazing that in this country how desensitized to homelessness that many people have, in fact, become. In the largest cities people can walk by dozens of homeless individuals and not even see them; they have become just part of the landscape, like benches and trash cans. The fact that homelessness is so common that it could actually manifest in profound desensitization should be the largest indicator that it is truly a problem, one that needs serious attention. In order to prevent and eliminate homelessness it is important to understand how and why homelessness has become so prevalent in our society? And what is being done to alleviate the issue presently and what may be beneficial in the future?
Homelessness is not unlike a disease in its epidemic proportions within the United States, as well as, many other countries all over the world. In 2007-2008, just prior to the economic depression and unemployment crisis we now face had begun, the United States had the highest rate of homeless women and children of all industrialized nations, as well as having more homeless families since the great depression.(“The characteristics and,” 2008) These numbers fluctuated for some time, but with the present economic issues homelessness had only continued to increase. Homelessness is a unique human condition because it can happen to anyone. Those who have a great deal of wealth or success can lose it all. Those who struggle against impending homelessness may eventually slip over the edge. It does not matter how intelligent, educated, or skilled one may be, under the right unfortunate circumstance homelessness, “can happen to you.”
There are many ways for one to become homeless. Sometimes the homelessness is the result of other bad choices and experiences, perhaps drug use, untreated mental illnesses or health conditions. However, it is just as possible that one can become homeless without any affliction or drug addiction. Employment loss, inability to secure new employment, and general failing economic times are, also, leaving individuals and families without homes, because no affordable housing can be found. For those with health issues, mental illness, or drug related concerns homelessness only leads to exacerbation of those issues, not resolutions.
The side effects of homelessness are quite extreme and lend themselves to many facets of society. The human element involves the damage that homelessness does to families, as separation is inevitable because most shelters do not allow fathers to stay with wives and children. Children’s grades, self esteem and image, as well as, world outlooks can be negatively affected. Homelessness in general contributes to poor health conditions, poor hygiene, and can strain local and federal government agency in keeping up with the need and demand to implement aid and care to the homeless within their populations.(“Homeless health concerns ,” 2012) The most disturbing part is that with the continuing economic issues and unemployment crisis there are statistics showing that homelessness is only going to increase, as can be seen in the chart below, by 1000s of people by 2013.
My Social Location
There is an element of homelessness that is so important to address and was the overpowering reason why I chose this topic. There is a stigma and stereotype that accompany homelessness. People assume that the homeless are lazy, if they were not then they would get a job and get off the street. People assume that every homeless person has put themselves on the street with poor choices and bad decisions. However, that is very much not the case. As stated before, homelessness can happen to anyone and in many cases it is completely out of the control of the individuals involved. I think, that I identify with so profoundly with the stereotyping is because I have been very close to homelessness and I have known many others who have faced very similar situations. Many of these people had degrees and marketable skills but when the job losses began they were no exception. Being unable to find replacement income, homelessness became inevitable. Certain “types” of people are not automatically intended for homelessness, homelessness affects all “types” of people, regardless of race, religion, beliefs, culture, gender, and world views. For this reason, it is an issue that includes and involves everyone and finding successful and efficient means to solve the problem of homelessness, also, includes and involves everyone.
The Social Work Approach
Social workers are one of the key players in dealing with the issues of homelessness in the United States. They have the closest direct interaction with homeless individuals and are those, often, responsible for making certain that the homeless receive care and are directed to the appropriate services that may be available. They can direct individuals to counseling services in order to deal with many of the issues that arise with homelessness that have nothing to do with money. (Petrovich, 2009) Social worker’s are, also, some of the strongest advocates for generating actions to help the poor; both, the struggling, and the officially homeless. Unfortunately social workers, also, face the reality that the need overreaches the funds and the means to do as much to alleviate homelessness that they feel should be contributed. The United States Department of Health and Human Services is the predominant government organization that deals with providing the necessary human health needs and services to all Americans, particularly, those that are not in any position to provide it for themselves. There are multiple programs they offer or have access to that are dedicated to helping those who are currently homeless.
(“Homelessness,” 2012) New ideas are constantly being considered but homelessness is so rampant that swifter actions are going to be necessary. The National Alliance to End Homelessness and, their affiliate, the Homelessness Research Institute work to create greater awareness and presenting facts in order to help policy makers understand the trends in homelessness and ensure that that data is represented correctly.(Witte, Roman & Berg, 2012)
The concept of “strength-based” social work approach has been considered in the process of dealing with the homeless, however, it, also, has some opponents that leave the issue open to great debate. The idea behind the “strength-based” approach is that it relies on an individual’s “hardiness” to help them survive their trouble times, with a more positive outlook. “Generally, hardiness is considered a psychological resource moderating the effects of stress on physical and mental health and is characterized by the elements of commitment, control, and challenge”(Petrovich, 2009) However, not everyone has that level of hardiness. A study conducted showed that this approach was rather successful in aiding American veterans to approach their situation differently. Many argue, however, that this format works so well with veterans because veterans are already trained to be “hardy” and commitment, control, and challenge are a large part of a military outlook. That said, the strength based approach may be less successful amidst the civilian populace. They, also, argue that because there is no reliable and absolutely accurate way to gauge one’s initial, innate, level of “hardiness,” determining the effectiveness of the approach is difficult to ever fully realize.
I do not think that I have any biases that are disruptive to my ability to view the subject clearly. Having experience with homelessness and others who have known it is what, in fact, provided me with a great deal of personal growth. Although I do not have any negative biases towards or in regards to the homeless, I do have level of defensiveness that may not always serve me well. Because I am easily offended by the stigmas and stereotypes of homelessness that I am very quick to speak up. Perhaps the greatest amount of change that I need to make concerns taking that fire and anger at the public and turning it into efficient and useful fervor for helping the cause of homelessness, as well as , other endeavors within my life.
Since the beginning of human civilization there has always been portions of society that has much more than anyone else, and there have, always, been those that have far, far less than others. It would appear to be a nasty by-product of civilization. It is foolish to think that all homelessness can be completely eradicated from society, within a short frame of time; it will be a long and arduous process. However, resolving homelessness is not an impossible one. All the same it seems blazingly obvious that more must be done to stem the tide of homelessness. Along with continuing endeavors to fund new programs and form new organizations that can help in the fight against homelessness, there is also a need for a change in the perception of the homeless. I think understanding more about homelessness, what it involves, who it affects, and how it can happen to anyone, then people’s minds will change and their priorities may be altered. . We often believe that homelessness is that last line that you cross before society writes you off as a lost cause and as a burden to their community. When people step back and realize that that is not the reality of the situation, that these people still have so much to offer and contribute if given the opportunity, then that is when real change can be achieved.
- The characteristics and needs of families experiencing homelessness. (2008, April). Retrieved from http://www.familyhomelessness.org/media/147.pdf
- Homeless health concerns . (2012, October 15). Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/homelesshealthconcerns.html
Petrovich, J. C. (2009). Hardiness and homelessness: A strength-based perspective of service use by veterans who are homeless. (Doctoral dissertation, THE
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON)Retrieved from http://dspace.uta.edu/bitstream/handle/10106/1643/Petrovich_uta_2502D_1018pdf?sequence=1
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, (2012). Homelessness. Retrieved from U.S. Department of Health & Human Service website: http://www.hhs.gov/homeless/
- Witte, P., Roman, N., & Berg, S. (2012). The state of homelessness in america 2012. The National Alliance to End Homelessness: Homelessness Research Institute,
1-56. Retrieved from http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/MSNBC/Sections/NEWS/z-pdf-archive/homeless.pdf