The Misunderstood: The Problem with Homelessness In America

By T.J. Chiang

 

I felt disheartened to see some people in America stereotype the less fortunate because stereotypes hurt. Some of the stereotypes of the homeless and the poverty-striken are that they are lazy bums who aren’t willing to work. And even worse, some believe that they are taking advantage of the system. This creates a system where we put in policies that support systemic poverty. Keeping people poor and not lifting them out. In fact, according to the U.S. Census, there still were 43.1 million people living in poverty in 2015.

These stereotypes are beyond false. Yes, there are some who do take advantage of the system, but based on my two years experience interacting with the homeless and the poverty-stricken this is not the case universally. Throughout the last two years, I have volunteered with various organizations that allowed me to travel to different places to interact with the less fortunate. I have had one on one conversations with them at gatherings or at their volunteer sites. I have also read research and watched documentaries about the less fortunate out of interest and to enrich my volunteering experiences.

For ethical reasons, I have not mentioned the names of parties involved, but I can tell you it’s the same story. They weren’t lazy bums and they weren’t taking advantage of the system. They were people, with hopes and aspirations, just like us, who were put into situations that forced them to go into poverty. One woman a while back served in a past war and through circumstances in her life after the war she became homeless. She had a passion for science. In fact, she filled journals with physics equations and she was explaining to me what they meant. Another woman was put into poverty because she was an elderly widow. She had a passion for dogs and owned a few. Documentaries about the less fortunate show the same thing. It wasn’t because they were lazy bums that they became less fortunate, it was the lack of jobs, poor paying jobs, and medical bills that caused their predicament.

There is a solution to this. If we start treating the less fortunate as decent people with a narrative, not as problem, not as lazy bums, not as people seeking to take advantage of the system, we will find a solution. I would argue for a better safety net, better paying jobs, and lower medical bills.

T.J.  is a senior Sociology major.

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