Homelessness Social Problem: Understanding the Causes and Challenges

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Updated: Aug 28, 2023
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Homeless means to have fallen flat with nowhere left to go, but what causes this to happen? Homeless people face a bitter cold home in a tent, under an overpass, or in the woods. Some homeless people choose to stay in a shelter or rough sleep on the streets.

Challenges Inside Shelters

In Teresa Gowan’s article “Hobos, Hustlers, and Backsliders: Homeless in San Francisco,” she quotes a homeless man named Ray, who expresses his distaste for shelters. “I like to keep on the move.

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I’ve always been that way. But they have your standing -then having to deal with some nasty little crackheads hustling you every second you don’t pay attention. One guy gets you talkin’; the other is in your bag, in your pocket, taking your shit.” This description by Ray in Gowan’s article can help us understand the problems and challenges homeless people can face daily inside shelters. These types of challenges lead homeless people to turn away from shelters in order to avoid this type of harassment.

Causes of Homelessness and Racial Disparities

What led homeless people away from their homes to the streets can be explored and analyzed. The causes of homelessness are varied and complicated, and many of the issues point to challenges that people of color have faced their entire lives. If you happen to be born a person of color in the United States, your chances of becoming homeless at some point in your life are greater than for whites. Akihiro Nishio, in the article, “Causes of Homelessness Prevalence: Relationship between Homelessness and Disability,” tells us of the homeless people reporting why they are homeless. Most of the 114 homeless people participating in their study blamed their situation on debt and problems with finances (Nishio et al.). People also had family relationship problems, but if they had mental illness as well, they did not want to recognize that that was an issue. The individuals who had mental illness and cognitive disabilities were people who could not easily escape homelessness and remained homeless.

Facing Harsh Realities

The homeless, who may have cognitive disabilities and suffer from mental illness, have to live outside during the winter months and face the cold hand of Jack Frost while they are nearly freezing to death. These folks may have no hope in sight, people just walk past them in the street as they ask for a little change, but most of us tend to ignore them. In Gowan’s article, she presents, “the majority of thousands of the homeless people moving through the Tenderloin streets in any given week are there to eat, to obtain other services provided in the neighborhood, or to buy crack speed or other drugs; some of them are sleeping in one of the large shelters that border the neighborhood, others coming in from other parts of the city.” Homeless peoples’ lives, described by Ray, a homeless man, in Teresa Gowan’s article, include long expansive times of just waiting. Ray tells of getting shoved around from place to place to get meals and other services, and it amounts to a huge amount of time spent on nothing. Cognitive disabilities combined with mental illness can be a combination that creates the potential for an individual to end up on the streets.

Diminishing Safe Havens

Gowan shares how the various homeless haunts in the San Francisco neighborhoods that have been previously homeless hangouts and camps have been shrinking. We diminish the lives of helpless people of color in the world, people who have nowhere else to reside other than the heartless, cold streets, and the ignorance of our blindness we all share in and choose to ignore.

The Core Issue: Racism

Homelessness in America is caused in part at its core by the racism that exists in the United States and by the ongoing continuance of white privilege and the bias that follows against men and women of color. There are other causes that branch off of this core but look carefully into the truth of the matter when it comes to homeless people in our world. Police often patrol the streets that border the homeless and are diligent in their police work to keep the homeless inside of their unofficial areas of the city. People of color are wise to the methods of law enforcement and will quickly adapt and know how to avoid interactions with the police. Homeless person of color has a special set of challenges, and that is they must watch for law enforcement and understand where they fit in. Race is the harsh lash of actual reality that no matter how most of us would like to see ourselves or our children thriving in this world, we are often disappointed by society and what occurs in our lives.

There is an enormous divide between the poor people of color and the remainder of our county. Gowan points out this has not been getting better since the “deindustrialization of the 1970s and 1980s”. This period of time was definitely tougher on people of color. The prevalence of unemployment and the increase in incarcerations all combined into a thick quicksand that pulled people of color down and under. The result is more homeless people of color.

Ray’s Story: A Glimpse into Homelessness

Author and researcher Teresa Gowan invite into the life of an African American homeless man living on the streets of San Francisco in the Tenderloin district. The reader of this article is able to carefully trace the chain of events that led to Ray’s homeless situation. Ray began life with a single mom and his sister changing homes and states frequently. When he was in high school in South Philly, he was introduced to heroin. This was important to what follows in Ray’s life journey. Ray traveled to Africa in his twenties and spent two years there, he sold hashish to white travelers, and Ray’s dream was to trade goods in Africa. Soon he returned to the U.S. Things began to go downhill. Ray was never able to save enough money to return to Africa. Ray did have some jobs and bounced around, living with his girlfriends. In his thirties, he got booked for heroin possession. His problems increased in illegal activity, and he had a third possession charge. While he was serving time, his mother had passed away. He lost contact with his sister at this time. His girlfriends grew weary of bailing Ray out, and at this point in his life, he had felt all alone. From a single parent through a difficult childhood to his first introduction to hard drugs in high school, Ray’s sequence of life events that lead him to the streets is complex. When Teresa Gowan and her team meet up with Ray, he is hardened and deep into homelessness and not likely to leave it easily.

Complex Causes and Potential Solutions

According to Dr. Vijay, the social problem of homelessness is that it includes so many factors. Some of these are; low income, mental illness, family relationships, cognitive disabilities, and lack of services, and they are all at varying degrees at any given time and change continuously (Vijay). The Fuzzy Cognitive Map that Dr. Vijay created captures the dynamic characteristics of the causes of homelessness. The causes can not be put into a picture easily. We diminish the lives of helpless people of color in the world on a regular basis in many ways. The homeless people have nowhere else to reside other than the heartless, cold streets. In the ignorance of our blindness, we all share in and choose to walk by and contribute to it remaining in place. “Homelessness is difficult to define. Thus, governments struggle with uncertainty when creating and implementing policies they hope will effectively manage or eradicate this problem” (Vijay). Eliminating this problem will take all of us working together in a combined effort. Solving this problem will take time and patience. There are programs in place in many areas around the United States that can serve as examples for others to begin to implement. We must begin to address this problem on all of its levels. We can do this. We have the ability and the knowledge to assist one person at a time and change lives for the better forever.

Works Cited

  1. Gowan, Teresa. “American Subcultures: A Bedford Spotlight Reader.” American Subcultures: A Bedford Spotlight Reader, by Eric Rawson, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018, pp. 62–73.
  2. Mago, Vijay, et al. “Analyzing the Impact of Social Factors on Homelessness: a Fuzzy Cognitive Map Approach.” BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, vol. 13, no. 1, BioMed Central, Jan. 2013, p. 94, doi:10.1186/1472-6947-13-94. 
  3. Nishio, Akihiro et al. “Causes of Homelessness Prevalence: Relationship Between Homelessness and Disability.” Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 71.3 (2017): 180–188. Web. 
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Homelessness Social Problem: Understanding the Causes and Challenges. (2023, Jun 21). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/homelessness-social-problem-understanding-the-causes-and-challenges/