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Homeless Stereotypes, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Google the phrase homeless stereotypes and you will have a wealth of responses detailing the most popular ones. Chances are you’ve already read or heard what they contain, namely a listing of things that the public believes causes individuals to become homeless. Yet seeing these websites at a glance and in one place made me think of something else. In this short paper I am going to discuss in part what that is. I have limited my discussion to urban cores, first because that’s where most of the homeless are, just as that’s where most of the public is during the day; and second because doing so allows me to personalize my conclusion somewhat.

The Google results-page noted above provides a familiar litany: the public considers the homeless to be lazy, crazy, alcoholic, drug addicted, physically disabled, unemployed criminals. However, I now propose another stereotype: a misinformed public that ignorantly and unjustly believes in all of those homeless stereotypes.

Many surveys of public views of homelessness have been made, and they necessarily include what the public actually thinks about the homeless, acknowledging that most do not casually and consistently tars the homeless with the same brush of personal dysfunction (Scottish). However, the results of those surveys have evidently not found knowing acceptance in either the common culture of shared Western values or among the professional culture of social workers. If they had, all those homeless-stereotype websites would be re-written to express the more complex truth. As it is, I believe that at least some of them, intentionally or not, perpetuate a simpler lie. One reports that The homeless among us are our neighbors, our coworkers, our family and our friends. They are victims of circumstance [sic] which have resulted in a condition of homelessness (Facts). The site then provides some statistics intended to back up its claim, but none at all for that unqualified statement that Many people seem to believe that the homeless can be stereotyped into the panhandler, the beggar, the bum. That statement, in addition to perpetuating its own stereotype by implying that many is most, also ignores a basic division among the homeless: the employed and unemployed. By definition, the employed homeless are not bums, nor are mothers and their children whose home is a charitable shelter. And surely few employed persons panhandle for long during their off-hours. (Like prostitution and marriage, to attempt to practice both is to no doubt settle, finally, for one or the other.)

To live in a shelter and be unemployed is bad enough, but that condition is not quite completely ostracizing. One may perhaps not even think of it as homelessness. But from what I’ve seen, to be entirely homeless and unemployed is ultimately fatal to mental and physical health because it denotes a very real, visible, and downward change of caste. I personally have never been homeless, but I have spent time in a downtown core, and like everyone there have been constantly exposed to the unemployed homeless, which is to say, the visible homeless. I have noticed that nearly all of them (and perhaps all of them at that) are isolated even from each other, never mind the working, busy public passing them by. And the single homeless are predisposed to substance abuse and mental illness (Figures). After a point, nothing can be done for them or about them. I suspect that most of them effectively become insane. They are the kind of homeless that breed and sustain the stereotypes that homeless-advocates accuse the public of believing in. In their place those advocates would apply the virtues of the stable shelter-homeless to those who are neither, and who know they show it, every day, on the streets of your city.

Works Cited

“Facts About Homelessness.” Chattanooga Community Kitchen. 2008. <http://www.homelesschattanooga.org/facts.html>.

“Facts and Figures: The Homeless.” Now on PBS. 2 June 2009 <http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/526/homeless-facts.html>.

“Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2006.” The Scottish Government. 2006. <http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2007/11/13153139/9>.

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