“Over the past year, over two million men, women, and children were homeless” in America. (NLCHP) Homeless people face an intense struggle just to stay alive despite the fact that society turns its head from the problem. The government makes laws that discriminate against homeless people, which make it, illegal for them to survive. The mistreatment of homeless people is an issue that is often ignored in our community.
When you see a homeless person on the streets how do you react? Do you turn your head and ignore them? Do you become angry that they are living on the streets? Do you feel frightened and avoid the situation all together? Or do you see these people as human beings and treat them in that way? Homeless people are “subjected to alienation and discrimination by mainstream society”. (NLCHP) Most alienation and discrimination comes from the lack of education about homeless people.
There are numerous untrue myths about homeless people. Many people believe that homeless people “commit more violent crimes than housed people.” (NLCHP) The reality is that homeless
people actually commit less violent crimes than people with homes do. Dr. Pamela Fischer, of John Hopkins University, studied arrest records in Baltimore and discovered that even though homeless people were more likely to commit non-violent and non-destructive crimes, they were less likely to commit violent crimes against people. (NLCHP) The crimes that these people are committing are necessary to keep them alive. These crimes include sleeping, eating, and panhandling. Making it illegal to perform necessary daily activities in public when homeless people have no where else to go makes it impossible for homeless people to avoid violating the law. (NLCHP)
Another myth about homeless people is that they do not work and that they get their money from public assistance programs. A study done in Chicago discovered that “39% of homeless people interviewed had worked for some time during the previous month”. (NLCHP) Many of the people who do not work are actively trying to find jobs, but are discriminated against by the work force. In an interview done at the River Street Homeless Shelter I found many people who have experienced this discrimination. “People can’t get a job without an address. When they use the shelter’s address they get turned down.” (Mike) Speaking from experience, Mike and other homeless people feel that “the second you put down the shelter’s address, they turn you away.” (Rick) Many other
homeless people cannot find jobs because they are handicapped or have unstable minds. Those people often try to earn money by selling jewelry or panhandling. This is also illegal. Between the work force and the laws that the government creates, it is impossible for a homeless person to support his or herself.
There are many other laws that also discriminate against homeless people. In “liberal” Berkeley the city council voted to make illegal the following actions; sitting on a sidewalk, asking for change near an ATM or parking meter, asking for change after dark, holding a cup, ect. (Ott 18) Also, Santa Cruz currently has a camping ban that prohibits having sleeping materials on the ground between certain hours. Jim, a homeless person in Santa Cruz has seen people with “guns drawn on them, mace sprayed in their face, and hands broken” because they were camping in the woods. (Jim) These rules make it illegal to sleep in the United States. Jim feels that they are using these bans against the homeless to “try and run them out of town”. (Jim)
Many of these laws that discriminate against homeless people are in direct violation of the constitution. The first amendment says that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech.” (Constitution) Making it illegal for homeless people to ask for money limits their right of free speech. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released a report about
homeless children attending school. Homeless children are often denied their right to attend public schools because of residency requirements. Also, for many homeless children, it is impossible for them to obtain birth certificates and immunization requirements needed to attend public school. This is a violation of the federal law guaranteeing equal access to public education. In many cases, separate schools are created for homeless children. These schools are not taught by certified teachers, do not follow the same curriculum other public schools, group children of different ages and grade levels in the same classrooms, and do not provide special programs and activities available in other public schools. “The segregation and inadequate education of homeless children in itself violates state, federal, and international law”. (NLCHP)
Besides the problems homeless people face with the law, they are also disturbed by their communities. While interviewing at the River Street Homeless Shelter I found that many homeless people have experienced hate crimes and mistreatment because they live on the streets. When I asked one man how he usually spends his days he replied, “I get beat up”. (Anonymous) Another homeless man said, “People blow us off like we’re not humans… we paid taxes once…we had homes, families, and cars too.” (Rick) Many homeless people hide in the mountains because they
do not want to face the exploitation. It is difficult to understand how society can be so heartless when dealing with these people. All of the people I interviewed felt misunderstood by the world. Rick said, “You have to come out and join us on the streets before you can pass judgment…then people will realize what we’re going through.” (Rick)
There are some organizations that aid the homeless. The River Street Homeless Shelter and Human Resource Agency have dinners and showers available seven days a week. Shelter availability is a more difficult obstacle to overcome. “What the shelters really need are funding for year round shelters” that have beds available for more people to sleep in. (Rick) The Human Resource Agency also has programs such as employment training, childcare services, medical programs, food stamp programs, veteran’s service programs, and aid to families with dependent children. (Human Resource Agency)
Although these programs do assist the homeless, they still have many needs. It all starts with the attitudes of the people in the community. Homeless people need to be treated with the respect of any other human being. When they are ignored while asking for money it is mentally damaging. People need to have enough courtesy to at least acknowledge their existence. Communities need to be more educated about the issues surrounding
homelessness. Education on homelessness would lead to more involvement in aiding the people. One organization that is extremely easy to become a part of is Food Not Bombs. I have worked with Food Not Bombs groups in Los Angeles and Monterey. What they do is find donations of food that would be thrown away by companies who discard large quantities of food. It is estimated that 26% of edible food is wasted. They cook the vegan food and serve it in a public place. This not only feeds hungry people, but supports political activism. “Food Not Bombs is committed to building a vital and caring movement for progressive social change and to challenging the invisible barrier that separates the poor and homeless from a so-called ‘normal’ society.” (SCN)
With so many misunderstandings on homelessness it is hard to determine exactly where the problem begins and how to solve it. Jeff Ott, a former homeless man, concluded that
There is one fundamental reason that people are homeless. This is the idea of the Earth belonging to an individual or group of individuals…you cannot pick it up and take it. When you die you don’t retain it. It is not really someone’s possession because they write, ‘this is mine’ on a piece of paper. (Ott 16)
Homeless people are discriminated against in every way they
possibly can be. The community needs to become more active in contributing to this issue. To completely abolish the misfortune of homelessness would take complete unity and dedication from communities around the world. The first step is recognition.
Works Cited/Annotated Bibliographies
Anonymous. Personal Interview. May 8, 2000.
This person is a homeless man with a PHD in Chemistry. He lives in Santa Cruz and spends much of his time at the River Street Homeless Shelter.
Flanagan, Chris. Food Not Bombs Seattle. 8 April, 2000. http://www.scn.org/activism/foodnotbombs/.
This website describes the nationwide organization, Food Not Bombs. It also contains information on feedings and activities taking place in various locations.
Human Resource Agency. Human Resource Agency County of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz: HRA, 1993.
This is a pamplet produced by the Human Resource Agency in Santa Cruz. It contains information on programs that assist the homeless in northern California.
Jim. Personal Interview. May 8, 2000.
Jim is a homeless man who words at the River Street Homeless Shelter. He is also a writer of personal experiences. Originally from Chicago, Jim moved to Santa Cruz five years ago. Although he feels that the homeless are mistreated, he is enjoying the time he spends living on the streets of Santa Cruz.
Mike. Personal Interview. May 8, 2000.
Mike is a homeless man who lives in Santa Cruz. He has spent time in jail for various violations of the law, which he has to commit in order to survive.
NLCHP. National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. 1 Feb., 2000. http://www.nlchp.org.
This Website provided me with many facts on civil rights violations dealing with homeless people as well as basic facts on homelessness and poverty in America.
Ott, Jeff. My World. Van Nuys: Sub City. 2000.
This is a book written by a former homeless man. He has overcome drug addiction as well as sexual abuse as a child. In this book he describes personal feelings as well as facts about homelessness.
Rick. Personal Interview. May 8, 2000.
Rick is a homeless man who works at the River Street Homeless Shelter. He has worked with many different homeless shelters in northern California. He feels that the Mayor needs to spend a night with the homeless people of Santa Cruz so that he understands what they go through. Rick is fighting the camping ban as well as working towards receiving funding for a year round shelter.
United States. Constitution. First Amendment. United States: 1788.
The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”