Thursday, August 14, 2008
America, The Land of Unequal Opportunity
by Pat Spradley
Homeless people are not all the same.
Homeless people are not all the same. There are some who for some reason, no matter what you do, will never break out of the homeless trap they are in. That might be due to mental illness, drug use, alcohol addiction, disability or a multitude of reasons, many of them cumulative. These are the individuals who require assisted housing with social service support, or they will just return to the streets. In some cases, they will return to the streets even with supportive services, and there is nothing we can do about it. Fortunately, this is a minority among homeless individuals, and most often these are the ones you will encounter during your day-to-day activities on the street. Unfortunately, too many of us keep that perception of homeless people in our minds, unwittingly thinking it is representative of all of the homeless population.
What about the majority?
The majority of homeless individuals and families are down on their luck. They may be suffering from the consequences of poor decisions, abuse, and loss of work, injury or other unfortunate circumstances. In these cases, a little help and encouragement can go a long way. These are individuals who are seeking a chance to start over or just need a little help to get them back on their feet. Many are individuals who just need someone to have faith in them, offer encouragement and give them a hand when assistance is needed. In many cases, with proper help and guidance early on, these individuals will escape homelessness never to return. Unfortunately, it is this population that often has the most difficulty getting the help they need and may find themselves caught in a downward spiral with no hope.
Why is this happening?
The squeaky wheel approach is being taken, and those who are seen and wanted out of sight are getting the focus. In the process, there is no safety net, or giant holes are created in the small net that is there, for those who could be saved from chronic homelessness early on. They are left with very little help, especially single men who are childless. It does not take long for the social stigma and predicament to take a toll on these individuals, and our opportunity to help with minimal assistance is lost. They are trapped in no man’s land and left to flounder on their own. They are in survival mode, and a whole new psyche evolves. Depression overwhelms them; many develop drug or alcohol habits just to cope. They aren’t bad people, they just give up hope or learn to survive in a different world than the housed.
Prevent homelessness with opportunity.
Everyone in this great country deserves an opportunity for meaningful work and a roof over their head to compensate for that work. Job skills differ, and we are not all learning abled in the same way. We know that jobs at all levels need to be performed to keep a healthy economy. We must recognize that the need for affordable housing in ALL areas is needed to support ALL workers, including those who may be differently abled or performing in the lower-paying jobs. That should include being able to live in the neighborhood where you work. More affordable housing is needed in all areas and needed now.
Our one-size-fits-all method of education must change. It is time, once again, to start teaching trades and skills in schools that prepare youths who are not college material how to make a meaningful living and life for themselves. Not everyone is college material, and we must stop selling the fallacy that no degree equals failure. We need people with trade skills and always will. Create and encourage job training programs in our schools which will create opportunity. This will prevent homelessness for many and offer an escape from homelessness for others.
Every homeless person has a story, and we must remember that their story is as unique and different as each individual we encounter. In a democracy, you will never find a level playing field for all, but there is more we can do to help those who desire to succeed. It may be a different degree or level of success than our own but no less important.
Pat Spradley is the Editor of Street Zine, a newspaper which provides self-help for people living in poverty.