Why is Being Homeless Mean You Have No Worth in Society?

Why is Being Homeless Mean You Have No Worth in Society?

Commentary by Alma Jones

                         In the United States, there are millions of homeless men, women, and children that live on the street everyday. This is one of America’s largest social problems that need to be addressed more aggressively because in a country of such wealth, no citizen needs to be homeless. The homeless population is quite diverse in terms of their length of homelessness and the number of times they have cycled in and out of homelessness. Some previous year statistics have shown that 38% of the homeless are families with children, 27% of the total homeless population are children under the age of eighteen, and one quarter are veterans of the US military. There are some 40% of homeless people who work, and only a small percentage of the population receive government assistance.  None of this assistance is enough to maintain housing and other vital needs to sustain a family.

            There are some issues that are vital to ones’ well –being; these include shelter, food, income and accessible health care. Some shelters make a Mom and Dad split up, and there are some shelters that offer several programs the mother is required to complete in order to obtain housing.  Most shelters have a strict time curfew that must be followed by all homeless people who reside there. The entire homeless population has a shared need for all of us, such as, affordable housing, adequate income, and health care services primarily focusing on mental health services. The most important thing the homeless population need in their lives is stability and people who truly care about their well-being.

            From a survey that we recently undertook, we found the following results. There are three particular reasons in which I feel we should focus on solving, (1) severe housing cost problems of these households with earnings are at $23,000 or less annually, (2) housing cost is more than most people make in wages, (a full time worker making minimum wage cannot afford a one bedroom apartment at market price anywhere in the county), and (3) the disparity between the wealthy and the impoverished continues to grow without much attention by elected officials. Living in a country of prestige, wealth, and an abundance of resources, these statistics and stories are appalling.

            The survey looked at interactions with police and questions about harassment issues.  Several of those who responded spoke about their human and civil rights being violated by our local police officers.  Many of the homeless citizens have been harassed for sleeping, sitting/lying down, panhandling, and “appearing homeless.” Some have been cited by the police for loitering and sitting/lying down. They have been ticketed by the police; they feel because of their economic status, or their race, and/or disability. Lastly, the biggest issue is the fear that the homeless individual will face arrest. Nine people believe because of race, two believe that they were arrested because of their disability, and one person believed they were arrested for having a dog, which was in fact a seeing-eye dog.

            I will admit there are some legitimate reasons for issuing tickets for violating the law, such as public drinking, urinating, and private property laws. I am sure that a few did break the law, but I don’t think that that gives the police officers the unconstitutional right to harass and demoralize homeless citizens?  Many felt that there were police and security guards harassing homeless people outside the perimeters of the law. Those who responded said the police don’t care about them and would much rather see them in jail.  They claim that they are looked upon as being nothing and worthless by security guards and police. One homeless person was called a derogatory name (“gimp”) by an officer, because he used crutches.  Some of those who had to appear in court said they did not have attorney representation; others who answered said that they knew their rights and tried to assert those rights themselves. These citizens are human beings and they deserve to be treated fair and equal like all citizens in this society. Perhaps we need to train our police officers more efficiently when it comes to dealing with the homeless population.

            Lastly, because of shelter rules and regulations along with shelter over-crowding, we have a number of people who sleep outside. Some of the homeless biggest complaints from the survey include: the police wide use of loitering laws, no place to go to get a shower or wash up, a lack of jobs downtown, no place to live that is affordable, no safe place to hang out without violating the loitering laws, being stereotyped, and no respect from the police.

            There are a lot of homeless people who work and make contributions to this society and because of whatever reason, they became homeless; this does not mean they have no worth in this society. Some citizens are too judgmental and prejudicial when things don’t fit into a traditional way of life. Those who harass homeless people need realize in this housing market, homelessness could very well happen to anyone. 

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless December 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio.