What’s the Use?

One of the largest concerns with homelessness is the constant increase in the number of citizens that find themselves on the streets; especially with the decrease of jobs, and the ample amount of money being asked for housing. Many who oppose the idea of someone living on the streets would discuss that homelessness is a decision. Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked; those with less money are frequently unable to pay for food, housing, healthcare, child care, and an education. These people are faced with extremely difficult decisions seeing that their limited resources cover only some of their many expenses. Having less money than others means you are only an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets. And unfortunately work provides no escape from poverty. The number of people living in extreme poverty has increased, and is still increasing, because of the eroding employment opportunities and the declining availability of public housing. The 2009 homeless census counted 9,566 homeless men, women, and children residing in Hillsborough County as of February 26th, 2009 (8). Unfortunately, the number of homeless people continues to expand more and more. Homelessness is an issue that should be taken extremely seriously; these are people we are talking about, not objects!

Encountering opposing views towards homelessness is something that will be constant as long as homelessness persists. Where there is a pro, there is a con; homelessness is no exception. While some people believe that the homeless can use as much help as possible and people should do as much in their power to help those less fortunate, others assume that the homeless choose their lifestyle. These other people are under the impression that just as they ended up on the streets, the homeless can work to get off the streets and get their lives back on the correct path.

Many people who help the homeless by giving them money question what they will do with that money – will they use the money in a way that will benefit them and get them off the streets, or in a negative manner on drugs and alcohol? Many refuse to give these people money because of the simple fact that they might be enabling them to keep living in the same wrong path. These “donors” sometimes feel that they may be subject in supporting drug and alcohol abuse indirectly. Many homeless people are not very honest; they lie to get money and then use that money in ways that will not aid them in any way. Some people that give the homeless money to help them with food, clothes, etc. are not financially sound, however, they go out of their way to help others that are in much more need then them. These people would obviously want to make sure that their money is being used adequately not just thrown around. Some of these generous people may also argue, “Is my money even helping them?” You may give a homeless person money to buy food, but what happens when that money runs out, and they need yet more money for food? It is a never-ending cycle leading to failure, and these citizens feel as though they become more of an accomplice to a broken way of life. It is also argued that maybe giving the homeless food instead of money would be more beneficial for them, but one could then also debate the fact that if you give these needy people food you are only allowing them to save their money and accumulate it for further drug or alcohol use. Homelessness is obviously not cured by money, for if it was, homelessness would be cured already. If money is not helping, there is evidently some other problem that needs to be improved to help these people.

Another common fallacy directed towards the homeless is that they do not want to get a job; these people do not want to work, as they know that they can inch by each day with the small amount of food or money they receive from others. However, the fact of the matter is that many homeless people are actually working; they just unfortunately do not receive a large enough income to support housing. Many of the homeless that work live in shelters to accumulate a large enough sum of money to be able to get them off the streets. Inclusively, many of the people that we see out in the streets today once had great paying jobs but with the falling economy, lost them. In fact, in Pinellas Hope, the location of our social action, we met a man who was once a successful graphic designer, earning $27 an hour. Currently, he has been homeless for over 6 months with no luck in finding a job. It is appalling to see that many of the homeless people once earned a degree in higher education, yet find themselves in a hole that is deeper than they had anticipated.

Many homeless people suffer from acute and chronic mental illnesses. According to the National coalition for the Homeless, 20-25% of the homeless suffer from severe mental illnesses (9). Many are retired veterans, some with missing limbs, many with Gulf War illness; all of whom the government denies help and even accuses of malingering. And it is a shame that those who served our country, who put their lives in danger and at risk for their country, are abandoned in their time of greatest need.

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