Opinion: Creating hope for the homeless

Melissa Schwachenwald

Melissa Schwachenwald

Melissa Schwachenwald is a senior fine arts major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Pulling the ragged jacket around his slim body to shield the weather while trying to maintain his composure, he nervously stares around the crowded street.

Repeating in his mind are the three small words, but large issues, he’s been dealing with for the past few months: money, food, shelter.

He takes a deep breath, heads for the bus stop to take a break from the wind, and asks a passerby for spare change. The pedestrian glances back pathetically with no response.

He’s numb to this reaction and continues toward the temporary shelter. His money has been scarce, but treasured when in hand. His health is unknown to him, but apparently lacking. His home has been placed in random stations, cars, tents, dumpsters, shelters and benches.

He closes his eyes and questions what to do next, whom to turn toward, where to go.

This scenario is familiar to the homeless public and a part of their everyday life.

Just as going to work and school are common for many people in America, the situations homeless people deal with, such as seeking money, searching for food and needing shelter are a part of their daily survival.

A homeless person’s objectives are more of a day-to-day necessity, but it is a question whether leaving their lifestyle and situation is an obtainable target. It is arguable that homeless people don’t have many opportunities around them to accomplish their ultimate goal of not just living, but having a consistent and possibly permanent house.

There shouldn’t be a concluding aspiration of existence; There should be solutions to receive a better existence. The homeless community has made their mark in America and leaves us wondering what opportunities these individuals in our society have?

Many terms, stereotypes and phrases come to mind when the word “homeless” is spoken; without a home and/or family, unemployed, low-educated, dirty, poor, dependent on alcohol and/or drugs, mentally ill, hobo, hitchhiker and less fortunate, to name a few.

The subject of homelessness is generalized because the situation in America changes continuously. It is true a large percentage of homeless people lack family, are unemployed, have low levels of education, poor health, are in poverty, abuse alcohol/drugs and have mental problems.

These factors are possible causes; the point still remains that they are homeless.

In the text “Understanding Homelessness,” it is solidified that the term could be construed to mean everything from inadequate or unstable housing to the lack of social and environmental attachments commonly associated with being “at home.”

The word becomes further complicated when recognizing the fact that some homeless are bound to shelters, hotels or any place that provides temporary shelter.

These examples, however, would not usually define “home” for most people. Defining the term is not the only issue; population also affects the portrait of homelessness.

Some people are without homes for short or long periods of time and this affects the amount being discussed.

Dr. Kondratas explains in the essay included in Housing the Homeless that 2 to 3 million Americans (1 percent of the population) are homeless.

Mitch Snyder, a member of a homeless advocacy group, stated to a congressional panel in 1980, “These numbers are in fact meaningless. We try to satisfy your gnawing curiosity for a number because we are Americans with Western minds that have to quantify everything in sight, whether we can or not.”

Snyder’s opinion clarifies the fact that the homeless population is everchanging and the situation in general grows, fades, rises and falls, but nonetheless is still there.

Reformations within America’s institutions and overall care of the homeless, mentally ill, alcohol and drug dependent are necessary for the well-being of our society.

Concluding, the factors that cause and prolong homelessness are still works in progress. The issues take away opportunities for the homeless lifestyle to be abolished and need specific, direct attention from government policies, programs and funding, as well as continual support from the communities in which homelessness is a problem.

The social and individual concerns that are related to homelessness are not being prevented or fixed which is why the crisis is continuing today.

It is possible to decrease and prevent homelessness if each contributing factor toward the lifestyle is analyzed, funded and corrected.

Homelessness has been on the American Policy Agenda for close to two decades.

The opportunities for the homeless in our society include and are not limited to: Social Security, child care assistance, missions, soup kitchens, shelters, drop in centers, housing and finance outreach, programs and services (food, health care, and psychologically related.)

The McKinney Act, which passed in 1987, is a Homeless Assistance Act allowing the “literal homeless” (people without homes for a long period of time) to have access to shelters that are funded by federal income.

These buildings are renovated and have a matched income by the government with a percentage of other funds to run the shelters.

This act, along with HUD (Housing and Urban Development), generally uses the funded money to start structures in communities where homelessness is a large problem, typically cities and urban settings.

Along with these attempts to reforming the homeless lifestyle is the Priority Home Plan, passed in the late 90’s by Bill Clinton. “Health care, welfare, and expansion of earned income tax is in reform which will increase home ownership and rental opportunities for the homeless,” the plan states.

It also states that locals in communities should establish a continuum of care, which is a service system for housing. These three acts of the government did make an impact on starting and renovating shelters for the homeless, but there are flaws in the system.

No specifics were given about which of these certain factors would be helped: help with affording the housing, allowing continuous stay in the shelters rather than temporary, funding with social security to be more accessible for the homeless, low-rent group homes for the homeless mentally ill and free drug/alcohol programs to rehabilitate and treat the ill and disabled.

In a country that funds war before the society’s own citizens, it is clear the homeless do not have many opportunities to save them from this way of life.

Providing food and temporary shelter like the programs that are nonprofit, government-funded, church and volunteer-run help the homeless community survive and get by day to day.

There needs to be more effort toward finding the roots of the homeless problem, however, and changing the services to directly assist them out of the standard of living without a home.