Monday, June 20, 2011

Homeless in America

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Homelessness In America

The Stewart McKinney Act of 187 defines a homeless person as Aone who

lacks a fixed permanent nighttime residence, or whose nighttime residence is

a temporary shelter, welfare hotel or any public or private place not

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designated as sleeping accommodations for human beings. Included in the

homeless population are people who stay with friends or family for a short

period of time and then decide to find shelter on the streets because of

conflict with the people whom they are staying with, or because of personal


In the early 180s homelessness was determined to be a major problem in the

United States. These years saw a steep rise in the number of homeless, due

to poor economy and diminishing financial help for housing and income. The

homeless consist of all types, races, and ages of people. A large portion of

the homeless population consists of men but the number of women and

children living on the streets is on the rise. Current statistics show that

women and children now make up around forty percent of the homeless

population. According to John J. Macionis one third of homeless people

abuse drugs and one fourth are mentally ill. The current homeless population

is mostly non-white and has an average age of the middle thirties. Veterans

make up about one-third of the total number of homeless men. The homeless

all suffer from absolute poverty. As stated in 15 by the United States

government, 6 million people or 1.8% of the population was poor. The

government defines a family of four as being poor if they generate a yearly

income of $15,56 or less, although the average improvised families income

was only around $10,000 in 15. The Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics

states, the average annual income of the homeless in Chicago was $118 in


Perhaps we should not be surprised that one percent of our population, for

one reason or another is unable to cope with our complex and highly

competitive society. According to the Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics

homelessness in America has several causes. One such cause is the

competitiveness of the business market. Companies are no longer as loyal to

their employees as they used to be. Many corporations now use overseas

laborers. Also, a diminishing amount of low-skill jobs, due to industrialization

has increased the chances of low-skilled workers finding employment. The

Chicago coalition for the homeless states that a person must be employed

full time and earn more than $8. per hour in order to exceed the federal

poverty level for a family of four. According to the 17 census report .

million people worked full time but were still below the poverty line. Another

reason for the increased number of homeless is the lack of affordable

housing, especially in urban areas. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

reports that, nationally, 10.5 million low income renters compete for 6.1

million rental units that are within their price range, leaving 4.4 million without

affordable housing. Many low-income areas are being bought out by wealthy

entrepreneurs who remodel and restore them and sell them for a large profit.

The main streaming of institutionalized mental patients is another reason for

homelessness. According to Microsoft Encarta nationally 0-5% of the

homeless population suffers from some sort of major mental illness. These

people are less likely to be able to obtain support such as treatment, case

management and the help that is necessary to find and maintain permanent


The most recent cause of homelessness in the United States is the

feminization of poverty. Because of the high expense of child care and the

increasing numbers of single mothers, the number of homeless women and

children is on the rise. According to Stacey Chambers the rise in the number

of homeless women is partially due to domestic violence. In an interview of

homeless mothers ninety-two percent had been assaulted at one time in their

lives. More than half had suffered from bouts of major depression in their

lives where as only twenty percent of the housed United States female

population had suffered from similar depression . Despite these facts and

statistics, little else is known about these people. Most sociological surveys

are conducted by phone or mail and obviously cannot reach the homeless

people. The lack of affordable housing forces many homeless people to

dwell in more remote and isolated places and are, therefore, more difficult to


Many homeless people who are available to be interviewed are too incoherent

or paranoid to do so. An additional reason for so little being known about

the homeless is that homelessness is such a controversial issue that many of

the interviewers are biased and base the findings of their interviews on the

personal beliefs. The direct effect of homelessness is that approximately

700,000 people are sleeping on the streets each night. Controversies on File

points out that people stay away from areas where homeless people are

because they do not wish to be confronted by panhandlers. People often feel

threatened in areas where homeless people are because the homeless are

often mentally disabled or on drugs. Areas inhabited by the homeless

become run down and barren and businesses are hurt. Controversies on file

explains that during the past twenty years the government has imposed

pollicies that were to encourage people to get off the streets by offering them

help with health care and finding jobs and residence. By taking a laissez-faire

approach it was hoped that the homeless would just integrate into society.

Currently laws regarding the homeless have become much more strict. In

October of 1 Mayor Giuliani, of New York created a policy, which

obligate the homeless to work in return for shelter. Later he had the homeless

arrested if they refused shelter. These policies are an out of sight, out of

mind solution. They make poverty a crime when it is often not the fault of the

homeless people themselves. Every year thousands of people flock to our

nations capitol to see our beautiful cherry trees. Imagine for a moment a nice

young couple and their two children taking a trip to admire our nations capital

at its most beautiful. They walk along the avenue as the father explains some

of Washingtons history to his little girl, but he notices she is distracted by

something and he directs his attention to the direction of which she is


He sees an old looking man who appears not to have seen a shower in

months, dressed in what used to be military fatigues, but are now rags. He

sits in the shadows next to a rusty old Folgers can containing some loose

change and a piece of cardboard that reads, A Vietnam veteran, please help,

God bless you. Once the homeless man sees that he has the attention of the

little girl and her father, he starts to approach them and ask for some spare

change. At which point the father then grabs his daughter by her hand and

says to his family, dont even look at him, and then rushes them away. See no

evil, hear no evil, tends to be the mentality of our society. We do not want to

see the ugliness of our own country. We want to think of America the

beautiful, not America the country with 700,000 people that have no roof

over their heads. Every time a person walks down the street and sees a

homeless person, it is programmed into their heads to look away. Society

thinks, dont give them a dollar because they are just going to spend it on

boose and drugs. We do not even think about talking to these homeless

people because we just might find out that they used to be just like anybody

else. They may have had a normal life, but somehow they lost their footing

along the way and were never able to regain it. Nobody wants to think about

this. It ruins our image of America the beautiful, the land of the free and the

brave. Society sees the homeless as a growing and unsightly blemish and

wants it to go away.

The government dropped the more compassionate pollicies of the past and

began evicting the homeless. According to Stacey Chambers the National

Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty discovered that laws have been

passed to make many of the activities that are associated with homelessness

illegal in forty-two cities. This is mainly achieved by not allowing the

homeless to use public property as a place to rest or sleep, placing

restrictions on begging, and targeting specific areas where homeless are and

forcing them to relocate or in some cases arresting them. The National Law

Center on Homelessness and Poverty determined that penalizing people, will

not detour them, since they have no alternative. Homeless people who are

chased out of one public area and have nowhere else to go will simply appear

in another area. The governments current out of sight, out of mind policies

are simply not dealing with the problem. In our current booming economy

there is truly no excuse for the degree of poverty in the United States. The

obvious solution to the problem of homelessness is to increase the amount

of affordable housing and the number of living wage jobs. New York

University did a study that concluded that low-income housing projects are

ultimately the best solution for getting families off the streets. The Christian

Science monitor reports that a builder in Columbus Ohio is erecting 800

housing units distributed around the city in order to alleviate this problem.

This project will be backed up by the support of caseworkers and around the

clock supervision for mentally ill persons. Our society must make these types

of efforts because the root cause of homelessness is society itself. In order

to combat the homelessness problem society must quit taking a blind eye to

the issue. 700,000 people have no roof over their head because of lack of

work, mental disabilities, or lack of support and few people can recognize

that these things are of no fault of the homeless individuals. The problem is

not being properly addressed by enforcing strict policies such as arresting

the homeless or not allowing them the necessities of life. We should realize

that society, as a whole is to blame for the homelessness situation and refrain

from placing the blame on individuals.

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