Homelessness in the Movie “Pursuit of Happyness” Short Summary

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            Homelessness is a sociological problem that is strongly and creatively presented throughout the movie “Pursuit of Happyness,” which narrates the inspirational story of Chris Gardner as played by Will Smith. It is a movie that revolved around the life of Chris Gardner and his son Christopher, who is played by Jaden Christopher Syre Smith, as they constantly move from one shelter to another with the feeling of uncertainty as to where the two would live next. In a video uploaded at YouTube that presents an interview with Chris Gardner, he mentions that when they needed to choose whether to eat or have shelter, they chose to eat and that led them with no permanent residence for a certain period of their lives (Litehammers, 2006).

            While it is seen that defining who the homeless are, a clear understanding of the concept is still required because of the implications that this has over addressing the issue. According to the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, the homeless are those “who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence or a person who resides in a shelter, welfare hotel, transitional program or place not ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodations, such as streets, cars, movie theatres, abandoned buildings, etc.” (as cited in Chesnay & Anderson, 2007, p. 256). It should be added that there are also the “hidden homeless” and the “invisible homeless” with the former to include the people who has the chance of having temporary shelters with homes of friends and families and the latter are those who simply are not included in the count (Altman, Wohlwill, & Everett, 1981).

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            With the difficulties faced in categorizing people who are homeless and those who are not, an estimate of homeless individuals are considered to be around 3.5 million people, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless 2002 (Shi & Sing, 2004). Likewise, it is estimated that around 26 million people experienced being homeless at some point in their lives and that most of these people are in the urban areas.

Homelessness and the Urban Life

            In the last decade, 80% of the total population growth in the world belongs to the urban areas (Green, 2003). This has led to the rise of problems related to housing as the shelter capacity of the urban areas is not able to keep up with the number of warm bodies that choose to dwell within these urban areas (Green, 2003). This phenomenon has no distinction for the developing and developed countries and that it is something that occurs in the urban territories regardless of the level of development (Green, 2003).

            The condition of being homeless can not be attributed alone to the lack of a roof under which a person can live. There are several implications of this that affects the other aspects of the individual. As argued by Bell, Greene, Fisher, and Baum (2005), the condition of the absence of a home is tantamount to “the loss of security and social or economic support” (p. 346). This is because of the uncertainty that is brought about by the permanence of a home. It is more than the loss of a structure but also the things that are associated with a permanent address. There are several opportunities today that have become associated with the permanence of an address such as the ability to receive correspondence and traceability for the provision of services. Likewise, the concept of the “household” is lost among the individuals who are considered as homeless.

            Likewise, in the studies with regard to the health of the population in the urban areas, it is not the living conditions per se that are seen to be determinants of homelessness but is actually urbanism and urbanization (Galea & Vlahov, 2005). In this particular argument, it can not be said that the conditions upon which the people live in are the ones that cause them to be homeless. However, it is the onset and the existence of urbanism and the systemic problems that are brought about by this that makes it hard for the people to acquire decent homes. Some of the problems that can be seen in the systemic web of urbanization include poverty, lack of access to social welfare services, and high population growth rate.

Social Work and Homelessness

            There is an increasing interaction observed between the social workers and other members of the social science field and the homeless (Wodarski & Thyer, 1998). There are several aspects from which the role of the social worker can be felt in the dilemma of homelessness. In terms of the medical aspects of the homeless individuals, the social worker has the responsibility to coordinate with the related social institutions and communicate regarding the condition of the person (Gillig & McQuistion, 2006). In addition to this, the support of the social work is deemed to be important in terms of the provision of social welfare services for the homeless (Kennett & Marsh, 1999). However, beyond the remedial services rendered by the social workers, it has also become imperative for lobbying and advocacies in order for the desired changes to come into effect for the homeless (Wodarski & Thyer, 1998).

Life Stressors, Coping Mechanisms, and Social Support Resources in the Movie

            There are several life stressors, coping mechanisms, and social support resources that are seen from the movie, “Pursuit of Happyness” as it relates to the social problem of homelessness. It is found throughout the flow of the story within the movie and this makes the problem more apparent and highlighted in terms of the different pictures and images of Chris Gardner and his son. It is important to consider these aspects of the story in order to have a grasp of the real-life events that is seen through the lenses of Chris Gardner. Likewise, this gives an in-depth and primary experience that gives the audience the chance to critically understand the events as it proceeds from one point to another.


            The sources of stress for the father and son include the need to compete with others for housing, separation of Chris and his wife, and the need to choose among the basic needs.

            First, the Chris and his son are compelled to compete with others in order to survive and have incorporated this into their everyday living. In the first parts of the story, the problems are starting to build up and have been aggravated by the succeeding events. Focusing on housing, the transition of the father and son is from problems with regard to paying the rent for their house that later on transcended to become a problem with regard to where they would rest for the night. They have come to live on a daily basis and have to plan only for the day they are in. For this particular situation, they are seen with hundreds of others who are of the same, if not worse, plight and requires the need for a place to live in at a low cost. In this particular aspect, the social work profession could find ways in alleviating or mitigating the effects of the loss of the other basic need. It could be through lobbying or the provision of low cost resources for this purpose.

            Second, the separation of Chris and his wife also brings to the picture several implications of a broken family. Despite the fact that Chris has the capability to cover for the responsibilities of a mother and a father, the situation is still different because of the loss of one of the foundations of the family. Instead of having two hands working together to be able to achieve the life they wanted for their children, the separation has made the setting worse, but still fruitful at the end for Chris. In relation to homelessness, the reduced capacity to pay for the bills because one of the sources of income has left made it a worse picture for Chris and his son as they faced difficulties in finding the additional income that should have been provided by his wife.

            Third, Chris has to make choices in prioritizing which among the three basic needs should be addressed first. Despite the fact that these three are important in order for them to live in decent existence, there are really difficulties within their urban community that force people to choose which among the three should be considered first. In this case, Chris has to prioritize food and place shelter in second.

Coping mechanisms

            Coping mechanisms, otherwise known as defense mechanisms, are seen to be the “unconscious intrapsychic processes serving to provide relief from emotional conflict and anxiety” (Seligman, 2000, p. 51). There is one coping mechanism that deserves to be highlighted among the rest that has been witnessed throughout the movie. This is the “phantasy defense,” which is evident when an individual slips to an imaginary world that is definitely dissimilar with that of reality (“Defense Mechanisms and Coping Strategies,” n.d.). This is especially evident in the scene where Chris, having no other way of urging his son to sleep in the restroom of the subway station, decided to use his and his child’s imagination in thinking that dinosaurs exist. As they hid from these “dinosaurs,” they stayed in the restroom in order to sleep for the night.

Social Support Resources

            As Chris and his son faces the problem of homelessness, they are given the chance to have temporary remedies for this that includes the availability of temporary shelters and low-cost housing that is offered to them for a night. Nevertheless, this is considered to be, still, within the gambits of homelessness. A more strengthened social support resource is that of the church which provides charity meals for them to be able to relive their selves of the liability of buying food.


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Galea, S. & Vlahov, D. (2005). Handbook of urban health: Populations, methods, and practice. New York, NY: Springer Science+ Business Media, Inc.

Gillig, P. M. & McQuistion, H. (2006). Clinical guide to the treatment of the mentally ill homeless person. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

Green, B. (2003). Trauma interventions in war and peace: Prevention, practice, and policy. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Kennett, P. & Marsh A. (1999). Homelessness: Exploring the new terrain. Bristol, UK: The Policy Press.

Litehammers. (2006, June 8). The Pursuit of Happyness Part 1 [Video File]. Video posted to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58vkmQklbdU.

Seligman, M. (2000). Conducting effective conferences with parents of children with disabilities: A guide for teachers. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Shi, L. & Singh, D. (2004). Delivering health care in America: A systems approach. (3rd. Ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Wodarski, J. & Thyer, B. (1998). Handbook of empirical social work practice: Social problems and practice issues. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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