Homelessness Pt. II
If you haven't read my first blog: Homelessness Pt. I, then go there now.
Did you finish reading that? Okay good, now you have the background information.
This is a little follow up. It was a required paper for class and I know school is over and I'm pumped about that and I do have a ton of summer excitement and all I swear! But I wanted to share this one last thing from school because it's a paper I'm actually quite proud of. Maybe that's because it's about something I believe in and think that everyone should be more aware of. So here's my paper. I know it's a lot of words, but I hope it makes you think. I hope it influences you to think about yourself and encourages you to challenge your own ways of thinking.
My Analytical Essay
Going into St. Stephen’s for the first time created a variety of emotions for me. I was nervous, but excited; stressed yet enthusiastic. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I know it wasn’t the same as the thoughts I came out with. From my own experience being an overnight volunteer at St. Stephen’s I have expanded my own knowledge and interpretations of what homelessness is and how it affects our public life. Several of these ideas have remained the same while the others have shifted throughout the 24 hours of volunteering. My thoughts on the value of privilege and how it relates to those experiencing homelessness remained the same, while my thoughts on the public’s misconceptions developed over time. I also learned to recognize them among not only society but also myself. These concepts and experiences have allowed me to think critically and analyze how homelessness relates to our society.
The concept that I noticed immediately was privilege, first noticing it in myself. As an overnight volunteer I handed out many basic necessities that the men asked for such as a toothbrush, socks or combs. From that, I recognized how privileged I am as an individual and how underprivileged people who are homeless are. In the article White Privilege, it discusses the many privileges of those who are white, but I believe it can also be applied to people who are not homeless if you ignore terms like “race” or “skin color.” Number 37: “I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally” (McIntosh, p. 2). This is not true for all people who are homeless. If they are fortunate to be involved in a place like St. Stephen’s then yes, they have access to their own personal advisors. Otherwise they are on their own, this privilege is taken from them and are likely turned down by others due to the situation they are in. Number 50: “I will feel welcomed and “normal” in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social” (McIntosh, p. 2). Number 50 is another privilege stripped away from people who are experiencing homelessness. When someone is homeless, they typically don’t have anywhere to place their belongings. They must carry them in bags, constantly shuffling around with their hands full. From there they may receive judgmental looks, glances or comments, things that would make anyone feel uncomfortable. This is something I also witnessed in the men who left in the morning. Some tried to stay in the shelter as long as possible, because this was their home; their comfort zone. As I drove home I would see some of them walking in the street with a change of character. They were content and social in the shelter, but outside some looked lost and somber. These are only two of the many privileges I realize have been taken from people who are experiencing homelessness. However, the reason why is even more distressing but so common in our society.
Misconceptions, misinterpretations and incorrect ideas all come from society’s snap judgment calls and stubbornness to not become educated. Judgments are mental thoughts that everyone makes about everybody and everything, which is normal. However, once those impressions are made, they go straight to the Internet, social media or television where our society begins to engrain them and believes that they are true. Nevertheless, “homelessness is not an inherent quality of trait and it is not linked with any particular identity, nor does it define the people experiencing it” (Homelessness Defined, p. 1). I can say that after my own experience I’ve been able to debunk all of the myths and stereotypes. One being that people whom are homeless are lazy and chose that lifestyle, and that it’s their own fault. After speaking to many of the men, I learned that most of them had jobs and were quite happy about them. In fact, “over 45% of people who are homeless have a job(s) while they are homeless” and are being affected by a “wide variety of circumstances such as: family problems, abuse, mental illness” or suffering from a natural disaster (Homelessness Defined, p. 2). Another common idea people believe is that people who are homeless are uneducated, which is why they can’t hold a higher paying job. This is also not true and “many people who are homeless have high school diplomas or their GED, college degrees and even Masters Degrees” (Homelessness Defined, p. 2). One man I spoke to within the shelter is one year away from his degree in engineering, he even showed me all of the equations he’s been working on as well as the scientific articles he’s been reading. While these are only a few of the many misconceptions our society makes, the most common mistake when discussing homelessness is taking the situation and creating a label.
This is a mistake many make without even thinking about it. They label people “the homeless” or call them “homeless people.” An excerpt from Homelessness Defined puts it into words better than I. It describes how homelessness is not a person or a definition of someone’s character. It is not an identity, a type of person or a population filled with people who are all the same. Homelessness is a situation that unique individuals face. Still, society has addressed people who are homeless as a mass population, as “the homeless” when “each person is worth of being treated equally in society and should be given the utmost opportunity to succeed” (Homelessness Defined, p. 1). This mistake is so typical it may seem like a miniscule problem, when it is not. When we as a society define a person and their entirety based on a situation, we are stripping them away from not only their privileges and opportunities but from their own identity.
From my own experience and by taking in the readings from our class I have been able to expand my own thinking regarding homelessness and the relationship with public life. However, one question still looms over my head and involves a topic we have discussed multiple times: power. Who has the power to create these misconceptions and share them on social networks? Who has the power to then use those misconceptions to continue degrading unique individuals? Who has the power, the right to take away these individual’s privileges? Did you know there are “some people who are chronically homeless who have lost faith in society” (Homelessness Defined, p. 2)? These are people who “don’t think that there is another way out because of society’s treatment towards” people who are homeless (Homelessness Defines, p. 2). How is that fair? Why do we as a society have the power to put others down, to take away their privileges and opportunities based on a situation they’re facing?
So what now? How do we change our society and our perceptions? From my service learning that has been my key take away. How do we as a society become more educated and knowledgeable on homelessness and its entirety? How do we create an atmosphere that those experiencing homelessness find comfortable? How do we strip away societies misconceptions rather then stripping away someone’s pride? How do we change? Change doesn’t mean there’s an uproar or giant protests walking through all the major capitals of the world. I think it takes baby steps to get there. I believe it starts with “acknowledging someone with a smile or a nod and showing that we recognize them—most importantly, that we recognize them as human beings” (Homelessness Defined, p. 1). Someone once told me that the key is compassion. They said, “I think when we do that, when we can all really start caring for each other and have that compassion then that’s when we can really change things” (anonymous).
"Homelessness Defined." The Suitcase Clinic. 2009. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.
McIntosh, Peggy. "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack." Moodle. Web. 21