The Ying and Yang of Homelessness

It seems appropriate for my first topic to be about homelessness, an issue I’ve been thinking on recently for the past month or two. The homeless, and other people who fall into the extreme lower brackets of society, present moral, economical, and social questions that seem to be forever relevant.  After years of searching for appropriate ways of dealing with such matters, the amount of people who are homeless in the United States is still quite high.  The annual 2009 Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that “some 1.6 million Americans stayed at homeless shelters from October 2007 to September 2008.” Though the standard of living and the opportunities to people in or close to this state of poverty have increased over time, its apparent the right solution has yet to be applied.

It’s been a number of sources who have continued to inspire me to roll such thoughts around in my skull during my long drives to and from work.  Most recently my friend told me about a community of the homeless who had been living in Lowell along the river. The now defunct “tent city” was broken up on November 20th of 2008 by a force of police officers who were reportedly disrespectful and used gratuitous force during the dissemination. The displaced homeless were pushed out of the area without being made aware of any other alternatives to sleeping on the street or an overcrowded and under-prepared homeless shelter.

This one instance inspires so many typical questions surrounding this issue; Was the city right in breaking up the camp? Was the use of force appropriate in this matter? What options did the homeless have? What should the city do to solve this problem?

Before any of these questions or any of the other long held questions related to this issue can be answered, the most appropriate thing to do is to back track to the question that is the root of the matter: How should we think about the people who occupy the lowest brackets of society?

The appropriate answer to most social problems lies at some happy medium between morality and objective practicality. As a whole, American society will never consist of a population of people who are equal in all respects. At least, not any time soon. Leaders always emerge in every community and not always with completely altruistic motives in mind. Thus, inequality is born out of man’s greed and natural inequality. In a heirarchal society, there will always be people at the bottom just as there will always be some at the top. Even if a city such as Lowell could make the homeless and those who leech off the system simply disappear, there would still be a lower rung. However, would there be a re-emergence of a poor and/or homeless population?

Yes, there absolutely would. The homeless aren’t born homeless (for the most part), they become homeless. They transition into this state of destitution as a result of a multitude of factors, most of which the majority of Americans do not experience to the extent they have. Such factors include

1. Mental/physical disability (coupled with lack of health care)

2. Job loss or lack of work opportunities (coupled with a lack modes of transportation to increase access to jobs). Someone may have been breaking even with a full time minimum wage job but was pushed into homelessness with the loss of that meager income.

3. Lack of support (to what extent has your family helped you out financially?)

4. Drug addiction (never leads to any good)

5. Dependents (it’s hard keeping one’s own head above the poverty line, let alone being responsible for others)

The homeless population is made up of people who transitioned into it from other socioeconomic groups. If we were to eliminate the groups that contribute the most to the homeless and impoverished, economic operations would be harmed as certain necessary functions would cease. Eventually, there would be a re-emergence of those groups because of operational demand would need workers to fill those empty spaces. This goes along with Emile Durkheim’s Functionalist Theory, which states that every part of a society serves a function and that it emerged to serve that function. In a heirarchal structure, the bottom dwellers will always be living in undesirable conditions relative to the rest of society.

The best any society or government can do is provide the necessary supports to make living in those conditions more bearable as sort of a “thank you” for serving a necessary societal function. At the same time, provide them greater opportunities to climb the social ladder seeing as opportunity is stacked heavily against them. Though the specifics of how to do this are wholly another topic altogether, I’m sure the answer consists of a combination of culture and financial ability. 

For another time …


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