When people see the homeless on the street they pretend they’re invisible, they look the other way, ignore them or even worse call them names, like bum, or shout at them to go and get a job. Unfortunately however, it’s not that easy.
Due to the complexity of the issue I have split this topic into a question and answer format so that it is easier to read and understand.
Q: Why are people homeless?
A: Although everyone’s story about how they became homeless varies, the most common reasons they give as to how they got there fall into one of the following categories;
- Being unemployed or having been made redundant
- Coming from broken homes or abusive families
Out of the people surveyed in online social experiments, over half said they were homeless due to unemployment and the rest spoke mainly of coming from broken homes.
Reasons relating to homeless due to unemployment stemmed from being made redundant or loosing a job without having savings to fall back on. In cases where people did have savings, that money then running out or they were unable to get another job due to being too old, having an illness or having a criminal offence in their background check.
For those whose reasons were due to broken homes or family problems, they mainly spoke of divorce among spouses. Separation of parents causing an unbearable living environment. Fall outs with parents. Abusive, uncaring or unsupportive parents. Being kicked out of foster homes once government funding stopped. Youth trying to take care of themselves after parents failed to look after their well-being, or being kicked out of home. A staggering number of youth interviewed said that they were either asked to leave by their parents or that their parents knew they leaving and simply did not care.
Out of all the people asked, all of those who did not choose to be homeless – and yes, some people decide to become homeless in search of greater freedoms and less responsibilities – the majority admitted to having low self-esteem which kept them on the streets, depression and helplessness, after which they then turned to drugs and alcohol to in hopes of an improved outlook on life.
Studies conducted by those who work alongside homeless people give the additional reasons people become homeless;
- Grief or loss of a loved one causing people to abandon hope and go onto the street looking for someone to listen to them.
- Mental institutions or rest homes being closed down
- High rents and foreclosures forcing people into poverty
Q: What is the general perception the public holds of homeless people?
A: Most often people think of homeless people as older men who are unclean, dangerous and have drug and alcohol problems. Unfortunately this perception of the homeless couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact a large majority of people living on the streets both here and abroad are teenagers or younger, sometimes living alone, other times alongside their parents.
In addition, although there is a percentage of homeless who do have substance abuse problems, the majority of these people never developed these habits until after they became homeless and many only turned to them to ‘numb’ their sorrows and help them escape the reality of their situations.
I’d like you to put yourselves in their shoes for a moment. Imagine you had lost everything, you had no family that cared, no friends that could help you, you had exhausted every possible option and saw no real hope of ever getting out of your situation. To add to all of that you were constantly being treated as though you didn’t exist or otherwise kicked when you were down, called a bum or other nasty names and generally just treated like dirt. Your city didn’t care about you, you were constantly being told to move on – but to where was anyone’s guess and those who were trying to help you were largely unsuccessful. What would you do?
For most of us we would probably commit suicide, turn to a substance which alleviated our suffering, or for a very few of us, become as optimistic as possible and live with an attitude that it was us against the world – of which the latter would probably only come after a long duration of pain and suffering.
I think it is easy for us in a comparably better situation to condemn those less fortunate, especially those who we do not understand. But, if we were to ever find ourselves in their situation, would we really be that much different? It’s hard to tell.
Q: What are the biggest barriers for homeless people returning to society?
A: When asked why they continued to live on the streets almost all of the people interviewed said that there was no real support available to them, many felt that they were stuck in a vicious cycle which they had no way out of and almost all homeless people said that if they were just given an opportunity or a foot in the door they wouldn’t still be homeless.
Aside from being unable to get money, barriers to getting off the streets were an ability to get to and from job interviews, an inability to be contacted if an employer did want to offer them a job (largely due to having no fixed address or cellphone number) and the perception people hold that most homeless people have drug and alcohol problems which turns most employers off from wanting to look into hiring them in the first place!
Q: When there is government funding for homeless and places that they can go, why aren’t these being utilized?
A: If you were to ask people working at charities set up to support the homeless many would tell you the same story; a large percent of the homeless population don’t know that they’re even there. It could also be suggested that those who do know about such organisations are too embarrassed to seek help or have simply given up on themselves to the point that they do not believe they are worthy of support or think there are others more deserving than themselves.
In regards to government funding, many homeless felt that at the current time governments were doing more to hinder than to help. Examples they gave were that they were often banned from entering certain places or facilities and given trespass notices or fines they could not afford, thus adding more pressure and stress and hindering the chance of getting off the streets.
Q: Are homeless being just being unappreciative?
A: If you were to visit any single YouTube video online, the answer to this question would be clear in seconds. The genuine homeless person is usually one of the most appreciative people you’ll ever see. They have a high appreciation for the small things in life, they are very sensitive and emotional beings down on their luck and usually always respond to those who help the, with an immense gratitude unlike anyone of us are probably ever likely to truly display.
To give an example of what I mean one YouTuber on the Christmas of 2014 went about asking the homeless in his city what they wanted for Christmas if they could have anything in the world, their responses are as follows;
Everybody to be happy
Peace on Earth
A nice watch
A black sweatshirt
A woolen blanket
A gift certificate for food
A calculator to practice mathematics and keep a track of budgeting
A cellphone charger
A Star Bucks gift voucher
A box of cereal
Missing from this list were the usual expensive items most people would ask for if you asked them the same question. What’s more, everyone was excited to answer this theoretical question and when the YouTuber unexpectedly went on to buy everyone what they wanted, their responses were heart wrenching. Recipients did victory dances in celebration over the simplest of items, one man screamed in joy upon opening a box of cereal, several cried and all round, everyone who were shown in the video were genuinely over the moon.
There are many videos of similar nature on the web, all with the same response. Genuinely thankful homeless people.
Q: What can be done then to help our homeless?
A: Given that in many circumstances the one size fits all approach to dealing with homeless people is largely unsuccessful, what we need is to work with homeless people on a case by case basis according to their individual needs.
In an online social experiment people in homeless communities were asked what help would be most beneficial.
Most asked were very keen to get jobs and said that; An agency where they could go to look for a job with a middle person available to take messages on their behalf from prospective employers (in the absence of a personal cellphone). Enough money to obtain an ID which would help them in ways such as securing a place to live and a way of proving their identity. A service where people could take them to and from job interviews. An advocate to speak on their behalf to remove the stigma employers have of homeless people. Access to free courses and affordable housing in affordable areas.
All round homeless felt that there were too many handouts being given and said in general consensus that hand outs were a band-aid solution and what was required were less funding but more people involved in getting together with them to help out in reaching their goals.
– The Rambler, 2016