Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Stigma of the Homeless

Stigma of the Homeless

[This is a student's reaction paper on the topic of housing, homelessness, the stigma surrounding the homeless, and the need for homeless persons to have use of a permanent street address (not a post office box) for mail while trying to get out of a homeless situation] 

Homelessness in the United States and in other countries has been an issue for many generations. The term homeless is defined as being without a permanent dwelling or living space. There is not a definite cause for a person becoming or remaining homeless, but instead a series of causative factors. Poverty is one of the major causes for homelessness, whether it's from a lack of employment or being underemployed. Another major cause of homelessness lies with the individual having a mental or psychiatric disorder where mental health services are difficult to access or are unavailable. However, once a person becomes homeless due to an unfortunate circumstance they often times turn to alcohol or other drugs (AOD) to cope. When he/she become addicted to AOD it becomes harder to obtain adequate resources to alleviate being homeless and continue to remain addicted. The issue remains a vicious cycle of deviant behavior of one form or another.

Unfortunately, the stigma of addiction is almost always connected to homeless persons as is a connection to mental instability. A society which places a stigma on such individuals only adds to their revolving problems. Local governments within the United States have, over time, enacted laws in an attempt to alleviate vagrancy amongst those who are homeless; like prohibiting sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and begging in public spaces. The laws were meant to ensure public safety, yet are often used to coral the homeless, adding further stigma. When a person finds themselves impoverished it becomes harder for him/her to attain affordable housing or even affordable healthcare. Often times, the individual will enter a state of depression due to lack of available resources. There are federal programs designed to help end homelessness, yet there is still a large number of individuals and families without adequate housing or shelter.

There are many community organizations and social movements in the United States working together to find solutions to reduce homelessness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in connection with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are the key federal organizations which attribute to a significant decrease of homeless persons. They have sought to counteract the causes and reduce the consequences by starting initiatives that help homeless people to transition to self-sufficiency. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (2015);   
"On a single night in January 2014, 578,424 people were experiencing homelessness—meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. From 2013 to 2014, a period of ongoing recovery from the Great Recession, overall homelessness decreased by 2.3 percent and homelessness decreased among every major subpopulation: unsheltered persons (10 percent), families (2.7 percent), chronically homeless individuals (2.5 percent), and veterans (10.5 percent)" 
(NAEH, p. 3).

Overall there have been great strides to alleviate the issue of homelessness, yet there is still a large number of individuals without shelter. Often times, the main issue revolves around program funding and available locations for housing. One solution by policy makers was to establish shelters meant to aid the homeless and some laws put in place to prevent impoverished persons from losing their home or obtaining one at their rate of income. Section 8 housing vouchers are utilized to assist persons in poverty with government subsidies to assist in paying for rent or housing, but are often time consuming and difficult to obtain. There are certain rules and requirements in place to warrant honesty and necessity amongst the many applicants. The hope, with government aid, is to rid society of the status of homelessness.

Currently, it is harder to find adequate shelter or available beds for the homeless. Most places that are established as shelters also have rules in place to prevent vagrancy and crime. Often times, men are turned away from many shelters due to the establishment only allowing women and children (under a set age). If these turned away individuals are without assistance from the government, where do they go? This slowly precipitates into incarceration, which is a success to some homeless persons seeking shelter.

The solution should be to educate and attempt to establish employment in succession with providing temporary shelter and/or medical care if needed. Almost no employers will legally hire a homeless person without a reoccurring address. The law is in place to prevent fraud and ensure proper taxation amongst the workforce. Policy makers may need to look past the current status of homelessness and look inward as to why.

Having a mailing address allows the person to receive mail and even the ability to maintain proper identification cards like a state I.D. and Social Security card. Employers also require proper identification to ensure citizenship and to prevent personnel fraud. Allowing government or church shelters the ability to provide a legal mailing address would ensure a greater chance of finding employment. The individual's quality of life may improve once employment is obtained, and with the end result being finding an adequate home or shelter. The policy should also include job training/education, along with supplying the address, to ensure the person is able and willing to work effectively.

The Federal government has many, many programs for promoting affordable housing, community development, and ending homelessness.  But, they are all relatively small (well, housing choice vouchers and public housing programs aren't really all that small: about 2.2 million persons live in public housing or public tribal housing, and over 5 million persons live in housing where housing choice vouchers (Section 8) are used.  But, there are no mandatory programs that deliver affordable housing. As your reaction paper shows, there are insufficient spaces (beds) in shelters for those who are homeless.  And, an emphasis on temporary housing in shelters or transitional housing is an inferior second-choice policy option to an emphasis on providing immediate permanent housing solutions.

No comments: