Homelessness: How Perceptions Lead to False Judgment

Homelessness: How Perceptions Lead to False Judgment

by Jamanae White '17, Politics & Society

Friday, May 6, 2016

Homeless person begging for money on the street

Copyright: ginasanders / 123RF Stock Photo

If you are like most Americans encountering a homeless person — your first thought is to blame them for their state of homelessness. You might assume that they chose to be homeless because of their lack of motivation to gain employment, or their choice of substance abuse. But causes of homelessness are more than mere speculations of laziness and addictions. Though your perceptions may not be entirely wrong, it is my goal to educate you comprehensively about the contributing factors of homelessness — and to limit the bias that homeless people choose to be homeless.

The leading causes of homelessness in New Hampshire are mental illness and substance abuse. Other contributing factors are the lack of employment, affordable housing, proper education, and the job skills needed to compete in the global market. Such constraints make social identities like women and children, people with disabilities, minorities and veterans more susceptible to the demands of society. 

According to a recent report published by the New Hampshire Coalition, homelessness is widespread in nature for various reasons. These reasons are identified as barriers to services, lack of affordable housing, underemployment or unemployment and histories of trauma and violence.

People who are mentally or physically disabled are at a higher risk of chronic homelessness, and are less likely to have access to healthcare and social services. The same goes for victims who suffered past trauma and violence — these individuals are more vulnerable to homelessness because of life experiences that have altered and prevented them from leading healthy, productive lives. This inevitably causes the crisis of homelessness to become systemic in nature.

You might have thought homelessness is the fault of the person or persons, but the truth is that it is systemically reinforced through social exclusion or social marginalization. Social exclusion or marginalization are institutionalized policies which have been created to place marginalized identities at social disadvantage and relegation. Exclusion and marginalization is used to block or deny full access to an individual or entire community from various rights. Such exclusionary tactics have caused people of color, people with disabilities, people of low socio-economic status and drug users to be discriminated against by society.

As human beings living in a global competitive economy, we should become more supportive of people who are experiencing the misfortune of homelessness. Instead of dismissing and blaming those who are homeless, we should seek to be understanding, knowing that homelessness is like a domino-effect — a few missed paychecks might place us in the same predicament. Let’s broaden our knowledge to help those who can’t help themselves, without the negative perceptions.

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