Homelessness as a Social Problem

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 5
Words: 1390
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Bachelor

Introduction

While several issues exist in the United States, homelessness is one of the most urgent. Homelessness is a social problem that received major attention in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and is yet not solved these days (Hanson & Toro, 2020). At the time, community psychologists identified homelessness as a complex situation affected by individual, societal, and economic factors (Hanson & Toro, 2020). Since the 1980s, many fields have studied the issue, including political science, economics, and public health (Hanson & Toro, 2020). Homelessness is a social crisis due to unaffordable housing, a lack of regulations, and stigmatization.

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Main body

Homelessness is a social matter, and one should review it concerning sociological imagination (SI) and the person-blame approach (PBA) contrasted with the systems-blame approach (SBA). Sociology studies society and other social organizations and how they are connected to human behavior (Eitzen et al., 2011). Consequently, SI refers to one’s ability to see societal patterns that affect “individuals, families, groups, and organizations” (Eitzen et al., 2011, p. 12). SI encourages focusing on a combination of circumstances that produce problems and establishing a critical distance to assess an issue to the full extent (Eitzen et al., 2011). Furthermore, sociology examines whether problems emanate from individuals or whether people are the victims of situations (Eitzen et al., 2011). Person-blamers and victim-blamers view a matter differently and ask dissimilar questions about its causes (Eitzen et al., 2011). The public tends to condemn individuals because of their character flaws, maladjustment, or illnesses (Eitzen et al., 2011). However, social problems are complicated and originate from people and the system (Eitzen et al., 2011). Therefore, it is crucial to analyze multiple aspects of every issue.

Homelessness affects many people across the United States each day. Over half a million people in the nation can be considered homeless, and about 65% of them have a shelter while the rest does not (MacNeill et al., 2021; Markowitz & Syverson, 2019). However, news media tends to underreport housing security issues and depict homeless people in ways that undermine their experiences and cause stereotypes (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). Although homelessness had existed before, it has grown significantly due to several circumstances since the 1890s, such as the tramps and the Great Depression (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). Later in the 1980s, the Raegan era affected housing security and caused considerable structural changes (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). With the rise of poverty rates, homelessness rates also grew dramatically (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). While the media does not portray homelessness accurately, certain historical and economic events have shaped the system to prohibit people from having stable housing.

In addition to historical antecedents, homelessness in the modern US persists for several reasons. Borum Chattoo et al. (2021) suggest that homelessness mainly emanates from housing insecurity and is “rooted in systemic structural conditions” (p. 4). Therefore, it is important to understand why people remain on the streets and sheltered venues. The lack of affordable housing is caused by poverty, government regulation, and gentrification (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). The latter refers to increased housing prices due to shifting the balance of wealth and class in an area by displacing lower-income occupants with wealthier residents (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). Gentrification is driven by corporate development, social stratification, and inequalities in education and employment (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). Government deregulation fosters homelessness as the regulation lacks affordable housing mandates and rent control (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). The public’s imbalance concerning wages and uncontrolled high prices leaves some people without homes.

Following that, the demographic characteristics of homelessness play a significant role in the problem. Homeless people lack access to sanitary facilities and are at increased risk of mental illnesses and substance abuse (Markowitz & Syverson, 2019). Consequently, they face stigmatization that distances them from the rest of the population (Markowitz & Syverson, 2019). Although mental health issues can be forerunners of homelessness, the problem is frequently due to societal matters, such as racism and inequalities (Markowitz & Syverson, 2019). For instance, African Americans comprise more than 10% of US residents and represent almost 40% of homeless citizens (Markowitz & Syverson, 2019). Borum Chattoo et al. (2021) proposes that housing insecurity disproportionately impacts historically marginalized racial and ethnic minority groups. Homeless people often are military veterans or victims of trauma, violence, poverty, and unemployment (Markowitz & Syverson, 2019; MacNeill et al., 2021). People with disabilities, seniors, and female-headed households with children are also at risk of becoming homeless (Borum Chattoo et al., 2021). Social minorities do not have equal access to education and sufficient job positions, resulting in low income and the inability to afford a home.

It is necessary to reduce homelessness, but society seems to prioritize the problem rather than the people. According to MacNeill et al. (2021), The National Alliance to End Homelessness indicated the ineffectiveness of prevention programs since it is difficult to predict precisely who and when will become homeless. Instead, the Alliance recommended focusing on those who already need shelter and providing them with temporary housing and opportunities to obtain permanent homes (MacNeill et al., 2021). Moreover, continuous communication and collaboration must be present between homeless people, community organizations, and the government (MacNeill et al., 2021). Preventing people from losing homes is essential, but it may be better for the nation to concentrate on the current homeless population.

I live in Long Beach, California, and occasionally find evidence of person-blame and system-blame approaches to homelessness. I witness PBA on the streets when people say to a homeless person something similar to “go find a job,” but SBA usually comes from homeless people themselves. I heard homeless people accusing the system and certain authority figures’ policies a couple of times. Although it may seem that homeless people do not want to take responsibility for their lives, research suggests otherwise. For example, Borum Chattoo et al. (2021) state that the media portrays homelessness as “deviant and animalistic” rather than presenting socioeconomic problems and structural solutions (p. 7). The public may blame homeless people without considering other factors. Changes in society’s mindset towards homelessness and better housing regulations would make the most difference in Long Beach. MacNeill et al. (2021) advise that to reduce homelessness nationally, it may be helpful to investigate the causes of chronic homelessness and to form “intimate and reciprocal” relationships with homeless people (p. 125). The public and the authorities should cooperate with organizations supporting homeless people to understand the issue better.

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In Long Beach, Long Beach Rescue Mission (LBRM) is a program that assists homeless people and strives to reduce homelessness. LBRM is a church-related program that aids people in overcoming homelessness and achieving long-term goals while offering meals and worship services (Long Beach Rescue Mission [LBRM], n.d.). The Mission has learning centers and offers emergency and women and children services (LBRM, n.d.). LBRM organizes annual breakfasts to unite the community, has a thrift store, and accepts donations and volunteer help (LBTM, n.d.). According to LBRM (n.d.), California has the highest rate of unsheltered homeless people, and in Long Beach, they consist of homeless families and individuals. More than 50% of homeless individuals in Long Beach struggle with substance abuse or mental illness (LBRM, n.d.). The percentage is substantial, but it also indicates that the other half has other reasons preventing them from having a home. Almost 45% of people in the Mission’s community are women and children who experience financial hardship, abandonment, addiction, or abuse (LBRM, n.d.). Long Beach Rescue Mission offers shelter and food, provides emotional support, and delivers learning opportunities for homeless people to live better lives.

Summary

To summarize, homelessness is widely spread in the US and California, including Long Beach city. Sociological imagination encourages one to view problems from multiple perspectives, but the system-blame approach is more prevalent in the analysis of homelessness. Certain historical events, issues in government regulation, prejudices, and inequalities in society are evident in promoting homelessness. Although a person can become homeless due to substance abuse or other individual reasons, it is crucial to determine what caused them to abuse substances or develop other conditions. Therefore, while the person and the system can both cause homelessness, it is reinforced by the latter. The nation should collaborate with public service groups and programs and focus on the needs of homeless people to reduce homelessness.

References

Borum Chattoo, C., Young, L., Conrad, D., & Coskuntuncel, A. (2021). The rent is too damn high: News portrayals of housing security and homelessness in the United States. Mass Communication and Society, 24(4), 553-575. Web.

Eitzen, D. S., Zinn, M. B., & Smith, K. E. (2011). Social problems: Census update (12th ed.). Pearson Education.

Hanson, D. M., & Toro, P. A. (2020). Contributions of community psychologists to research, theory, intervention, and policy on homelessness since 1980. Journal of Urban Affairs, 42(5), 750-764. Web.

Long Beach Rescue Mission. (n.d.). Helping the homeless. Web.

MacNeill, J., Lahey, A., & Teo, N. (2021). Homelessness and COVID-19. Purdue Journal of Service-Learning and International Engagement, 8(1), 120-127.

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Markowitz, F. E., & Syverson, J. (2019). Race, gender, and homelessness stigma: Effects of perceived blameworthiness and dangerousness. Deviant Behavior, 42(7), 919-931. Web.