What is the first thing that always pops into someone’s head when they hear “homeless”? Normally when we think about a homeless person we think an alcoholic or a junkie, sadly this is not always the case. A homeless person can vary from a struggling college student, a family who just went through hardship, veterans, and so many others. In this essay I will be talking about the different kinds of homeless people along with many other questions that many of us are possibly wondering.
The first question that I will be addressing is “ what is homelessness and how does it relate to public health?” Homelessness is when a person or even a family has faced a hardship that leads them to losing their homes; can be due to loss of employment, family violence, substance abuse.
Loss of employment can be a result of being homeless especially to those who rely on living paycheck to paycheck. Many people do actually live their lives like this and it is very sad and can be embarrassing for them to talk about, therefore when they lose their jobs and cannot find another job on time they get evicted from their homes or sometimes make the choice to live in their cars because they do not want to ask for help. When the father/ husband is the head of household and loses his job he will more than likely have too much pride to go and ask for help because society has told him that he needs to find a way by himself to provide for his family and give them a roof over their head. Them asking around for help or money would make him less of a man and would rather keep their pride in that aspect and live on the streets or in their cars till they find jobs that will allow them to provide a real home.
Family violence is also another reason why people can end up being homeless. This is mostly the younger generations because their parents are not accepting of who they are or whom they want to become. An example could be a teen who is considered to be a part of the LGBTQ comunity, most parents are still not understanding of this community and do not want to accept their child when they come out. Many parents give their child ultimatums to change and be “normal” or get kicked out of their homes if they choose to be part of that community.
Other family violence can be domestic violence and the person who is suffering would rather be living on the streets than be with their abuser. Although in many cases it is hard to get away from their abuser, when they finally find a way to do it they likely have to leave everything behind and just take what can easily be carried. There are so many different kinds of family violence that could lead up to becoming homeless.
In my opinion, substance abuse is probably the easiest way for someone to end up living on the streets and are considered to be a homeless person. When someone becomes addicted to a substance, it being drugs or alcohol, they will most likely use up all of their money to obtain the substance which can be the money they need for their rent or mortgage. Substance abuse is a real disease and families normally do not want to deal with these kinds of problems and pull away any and all support to the person and if the person does not want to help themselves then they will suffer financially and will most likely have to end up living on the streets.
Now, homelessness relates to public health because it can be considered to be closely connected to declines in physical and mental health. According to the CDC “homeless persons experience high rates of health problems such as HIV infection, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, tuberculosis, and other conditions. Health problems among homeless persons result from various factors, such as barriers to care, lack of access to adequate food and protection, and limited resources and social services.”
The homeless may be able to access some free clinical help from those who are willing to donate their time but even then they can only give so much free help without making things harder for themselves financially. Many homeless suffer from serious illnesses that require constant medication and are unable to even apply for medical or medicaid; they then end up dying on the streets or even possibly infecting others.
The next question that many may be wondering is “What special challenges do the homelessness face?” In reality there are too many challenges that the homeless must face in their lives, but I am going to be talking about three specific challenges that I feel are the most important from my research. The main challenge is having income insecurity, second is the ability to access basic necessities and finally healthcare.
Obviously a homeless person is going to have a hard time with income stability, if this was not one of their main challenges then they would have an actual home. This does not specifically mean that they do not have any income whatsoever, just that it is infrequent. With the little money that they do manage to make, in the times they do have jobs, it is used to pay other bills or even debts. This is what makes it harder for them to be able to save up enough to get somewhat of a home. They also find themselves stressing over the fact that the job they currently have can be taken away at any given time and will once again lose their only source of income, which I could only imagine it to be worse when there is an entire family involved.
Along with income insecurity homeless are unable to receive or provide the basic necessities of warmth, food, water, clean clothes. To many of us these necessities are given without much work or begging, but for the homeless it can be a mission to find or be given these items on a daily basis. Many of us have more than likely been to Downtown LA and have seen the poverty and homelessnes that is at every corner. None of the people that I have seen ever have clean or new clothing, sometimes my family would get some food before heading out there and my mom would take our leftovers and hand them to the homeless living in their tents.
Most would be very appreciative, yes there were a few that would get mad because what they wanted was money to maintain their substance abuse. As I mentioned these homeless people are living in tents out in the streets, in the winter they most likely do not have much warmth other than blankets and possibly hautiling together for body warmth. Then there are those who get to sleep in their cars, which can be a bit helpful but on really cold nights they would probably require having the heater of the car turned on. This would mean that they waste gas and car battery which costs money to replace, seeing as money being a problem they probably do not use the heater often if at all.
Having healthcare is an extreme challenge for the homeless because they do not have a stable income. Even having free insurance like medical, it is hard for them to provide the basic forms like identification and a permanent address. Many of them would not even know or be too sacred to start the application process, especially the homeless that are immigrants.
Who are the homeless? In the video that was given for us to watch, I saw all kinds of homeless, from junkies, those trying to recover, college students, and those who did not consider themselves to be homeless, but that the streets were their home and they had the biggest home than any of us. Homeless people are not just the average alcoholic and junkies it can be people that are just going through a rough patch and are living from couch to couch or even in their own cars to save money. Homeless can be veterans, people with mental or physical disorders.
Many factors can lead to a person becoming homeless, it can start by people who just want to cut costs, living in their cars or RV is much cheaper, substance abuse, loss of employment, racism, tuition payments. The “On the Streets” video gives us examples of these factors. Seeing that homelessness can affect those who are trying to receive a higher education is very sad. From my experience in college there are many ways to find some kind of financial help for those of lower income. Although there are some who are considered to have a high income and are unable to receive help yet they do not have the financial means to make it through college. They then decide that living out of their cars is the best way to go, not only college students but other “homeless” as well.
As I have read in a L.A Times news article, Los Angeles decided to experiment giving those who are living from their cars a specific parking structure where they are allowed to park and feel safe during the night. It mentions that the first sight was successful and the homeless services have agreed to grant about nine more homeless parking structures and possibly more in the future. The 2019 article also states “Earlier this year, before the release of new data showing more than 16,500 people living in their vehicles, the authority put out a request to providers across the county to help them make good on that promise”.
Does the government and public health have a responsibility to fight homelessness? Yes, the government should have the responsibility to fight homelessness. The government finds ways to help fight homelessness and even provides shelters for them in order to keep them off the streets, although they seem to do just the bare minimum. The government only wants to keep their streets clean, meaning keeping the homeless off streets and that is what shelters are for. These shelters more than likely will reach a capacity and there will always be people on the streets.
In the “On the Streets” video there was a part where the officer who watches over a street in Downtown LA mentions that the people who live on the streets are not supposed to have their tents out during the day. Now as for public health being responsible for fighting the homeless relays mostly on how much the government is willing to help financially. Public health may want to do everything that is possible but without the financial means then there is a limit to where their help can go.
As citizens of our community there are steps we can be doing to help fight homelessness. According to the NCH there are many different things that we can do to help fight homelessnes; the three main things we could do is volunteer, advocate and contribute. As I have mentioned before there are shelters specified for the homeless where they accept volunteers to help make and serve food, wash dishes and clothes. There are many other things for the volunteers to help with at the shelters. Volunteering can be helpful for those who volunteer because it looks good on resumes, it proves that you are an active member in your community and that you are willing to give your time with nothing in return. Of course volunteering also helps your own self esteem because you know that you are doing good and helping others in their time of need, what goes around comes around and you may be extremely blessed and have great karma.
Sometimes we need to get out there in the community and use our voices to help the homeless who are more than often ignored when it comes to asking for help “Advocacy means working with people experiencing homelessness to bring about positive changes in policies and programs on the local, state, and federal levels.” “it also means changing your language and behaviors in small ways that may contribute to larger changes in the way people experiencing homelessness are seen and treated in our society”. Getting connected with a homeless coalition is a good way to get started. Advocating involves plenty of volunteer work and extra time on our hands, but wanting to help those in need and better our community is very good volunteer work.
Contributing to the homeless does not necessarily mean giving money but also clothing, survival kits, unwanted house goods. We all have a closet full of clothes that will never get used even when we tell ourselves that it will be used for specific occasions that is really just a lie and it is going to stay in our closets unused and most likely new; there are the items we can be donating to the homeless who have probably been wear the same clothes for over a month and been washed like twice. I have seen so many videos on the internet of people preparing survival kits and handing them out to the homeless in their free times. These kits do not take much to prepare and the items can be the ones from the travel size section that are very affordable. Mostly the items that are necessary are about 97 cents.
The videos of influencers doing these kits give a little more expensive items such as food and portable showers. There are even hairdressers and barbers that give their time. That does not mean that the little we can contribute ourselves means nothing because any small contribution will go a long way for the homeless and will always be appreciated.
The current pandemic that we are facing known as COVID-19 requires us to be in doors at all times except for the times we need essential necessities and it should only be one or two people from the household to go out and get these items. For the homeless it is definitely hard for them to be indoors because they do not have homes to go to.
As I mentioned before there are shelters for them but they get full quickly and these shelters do not house during the days, it is just a place for them to go and sleep at. According to the CDC there is an interim guidance that is supposed to help find permanent shelters for the homeless during this pandemic. “This guidance is intended to provide key actions that local and state health departments, homelessness service systems, housing authorities, emergency planners, healthcare facilities, and homeless outreach services can take to protect people experiencing homelessness from the spread of COVID-19”.