"Home" has become such a scattered, damaged, various concept in our present travails. There is so much yearn for"¦How hard can we expect even a pair of magic shoes to work? They promise to take us home, but"¦ will they permit us to redefine the blessed word? -Salman Rushdie (Hopper&Baumohl p.3). Homeless people all around the world, stopped believing in ruby slippers a long time ago, because they know that fairy tales will not get them out of their predicament. They must struggle on their own, with the puny help of the government and the efforts of good-hearted people.
Homelessness, a devastating experience for people, disrupts virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with the children's education and development and most frequently resulting in the separation of the family.
To find a solution to a problem we must first know some things about it. Homelessness is not a recent issue. It dates back to the eighteenth century and is tied to changes in economic conditions, increasing with the economic downturns and declining with the returning of prosperity or the outbreak of war. For fear of social disorder the homeless were classified as a social problem which was left to the middle-class to care of (Richard D. Bingham et al. 17). And after all this time we still look upon these people as a problem, an inconvenience. Because nobody has taken the time to look past the stereotypes that concern these people.
The majority of the population believes that they're to blame for being homeless but the truth is that most of them are victims. Some suffer from childhood abuse or violence. Nearly one quarter are children. Many have lost their jobs and all of them have lost their homes. They also believe that the homeless are either mentally ill or heavy drug users, which is partly true. About 25% are estimated to be emotionally disturbed, 1%may need long-term hospitalization, the others are self-sufficient. As for drug abuse, research suggests that one in four are substance abusers but many of these are included in the 25%.
Most homeless people are not drunks or drug abusers or mental patients. They are not the perpetual social problem that many believe them to be. So who are they?
They are mothers and children. They are grandfathers and fathers. Brothers or your once next door neighbors. They are human beings, which weren't as lucky as we are.
A category of homeless people that keeps growing as the years pass, are homeless women. Not long ago, it wasn't very common to see a lady on the streets roaming around laden with all sorts of bags (there are now called "the bag ladies") or maybe pushing carts occupied with their worldly possession's, but nowadays it is so common that we pass them without even bating an eyelid. There is solid evidence that the number of homeless women has increased and that they may now constitute between 15%-25% of the homeless population. Many of these women have left children with family, friends or even foster care homes, in an desperate attempt to put their lives back on track and eventually take care of their children again. Some of them are victims of spousal abuse or are chronically mentally ill. Homelessness is a different experience for women than from men in part because severe psychopathology is more widespread and more intense among women (Richard D. Bingham et al. 56). Why should homeless women demonstrate more severe illness than homeless men? It may be that only the most severely disabled women become homeless in the first place. Because women are more susceptible to sexual assault, theft and pregnancy, their simple chances of survival are diminished. Women don't have equal chances on the street, as men have. The minute she's out one her own she is a very easy target even without being homeless, so being homeless only makes her more vulnerable. But women are not the only ones that suffer from homelessness.
Children are very prone to homelessness. More than 20% of the children of our generation are likely to live on the streets for a period of time. Family fights are the most common reason but there are others, that really have no choice, but to leave home and start a new life on the street which is not likely to have a happy ending. Children are very easily lured in to doing inappropriate things. The street-wise people are waiting with their claws sharpened to get holed of innocent children to domineer over. And since the children have no one to reach to out there cling to them and almost always get hurt. There are thrown in the deep end with no life raft. They become prostitutes, dealers, and drug or alcohol abusers. Ofcourse there are children that live on the streets with their family, so the elders do what ever is possible in order for their kids to grow up as normal as they can be. They live in shelters and go to school every morning while the parents go of in search of a job-if they don't have one- and as the evening falls they meet up again and spend the remaining hours as a family.
Another type of homeless people-who have suffered a recent surveys of homeless adults report that veterans appear to lot and don't deserve to be in this position- are the veterans. Several compose a substantial part of homeless population. Their presence among homeless populations contradicts popular notions about military service, since the military is perceived as a setting where physically and mentally fit adolescent males mature into men (Richard D. Bingham et al. 65). Also the military is surpose to provide long-term economic advantages, enchanced by earned entitlements such as medical care, housing loans and pensions. Several studies have indicated that 2% of the total population of veterans has actually been privileged with these services. Many of them suffer of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), meaning that they have nightmares, horrific flashbacks and are constantly reminded of the horrible things that happened during the war (Bauhmohl et al. 28). Many have tried to get help but most of them are so badly battered that can't do anything because they've crossed the borderline. (They call it the thin red line. It is the boundary between insanity and logic). They are people who have given the best of themselves for the sake of their country, and in return they lose their homes, their families and most importantly their mind.
But why are people homeless? The majority of them have graduated from high school, many have attended college, and a few have a bachelor's degree or higher degrees. They are not illiterate yet they have always worked in what Michael Piore calls the "secondary labor market" of low paying sporadic manual jobs (Rosenthal 20). These jobs pay minimum wages that when a time comes and there is not enough money to pay the bills or the rent, they find themselves living on the street. In 1986 Richard b. Freeman and Brian hall conducted an extensive study of homeless people in the U.S.A. and found that 33% are mentally ill, 29%are alcoholics, and 14% are drug addicts. From these figures they concluded that these are the reasons of homelessness. But Jonathan Kozol reached a very different conclusion. In his book Rachel and Her Children, his study of the homeless, he interviews dozens of people who lost their jobs, lost their homes to fire, or were forced into homelessness by economic disaster. Between 1980 and 1988 closings, company merges, and other factors caused two million industrial jobs to disappear each year. He believes that this has a lot to do with the increase of homelessness (What are the causes of homelessness 54).
Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for food, housing, health care, childcare and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of the necessities. Often it is housing which takes a high proportion of income that must be dropped. Being poor means being an illness, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.
A lack of affordable housing and the inadequacy of housing assistance programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness. The gap between the number of affordable housing units and the number of people needing them has created a housing crisis for poor people. Between 1973 and 1993,2.2 million low-rent units disappear from the market. These units were either abandoned, converted into expensive apartments or became unaffordable due to cost increases. These actions have left many people already homeless or on the verge of it (NCH Fact sheet #1, February 1999).
Domestic violence is a very frequent problem that leads to homelessness. Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. A 46% of cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness.
Approximately 20-25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from severe and persistent mental illness (Koegel et al, 1996). The mentally ill cannot cope with the stresses of the every day world. Therefore, they are vulnerable for eviction from their home, sometimes because of an inability to deal with difficult or even ordinary landlords. Many have a tendency to drift away from their families; they may be trying to escape the pull of dependency and may not be ready to come to terms with living in a sheltered low-pressure environment. Once they are out on their own they will probably stop taking their medication, which will cause further serious complications. They may become so disorganized that they won't be able to extricate themselves from living on the streets (What are the causes of homelessness 57-58).
Many believe that another cause of homelessness is addiction to a variety of substances. But the relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial. While rates of alcohol and drug abuse are disproportional high among the homeless population, the increase in homelessness over the past two decades cannot be explained by addiction only. Many people who are addicted to drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and addicted are clearly at risk.
Homelessness severely impacts the health and well being of the people. Compared with people who have a place to live, homeless people experience worse health, more anxiety, depression and behavioral problems. (Shinn and Weintzman). School age homeless children face barriers to enrolling and attending school, inability to obtain previous school records and lack of clothing and school supplies.
We must do whatever we can to help the homeless. It is really easy to do so. We can volunteer at a shelter, we can protest to the government; we can donate money or clothes. It is such a shame to just sit back an watch them struggling to survive in a cruel world.