For my Each One Teach One project, I chose to create an information pamphlet on homelessness. In the pamphlet, I attempted to give a brief overview of those concepts from the Hunger and Homelessness In America class which I found most important and believed would be most worthwhile for the public to understand. My inspiration for the project was those pamphlets and information packets which I have seen distributed during talks at conferences, or found on nonprofit websites, including those which focus on homelessness, which present key information for the recipients. At the start of the semester, I was struck by how little I knew about homelessness, not just with regards to the greater themes, but also concepts as simple as how homelessness is defined by those who work in the field. I believe that in order for people to have a fruitful conversation about homelessness, they need to have a basic understanding of what they are speaking about, and I wanted to prepare something which could be used to improve such conversations.
The project forced me to evaluate what was most important to me that I tell others. When first beginning to draft the project, I revisited all of the different topics discussed in Hunger and Homelessness to decide what ideas I wanted to incorporate. Initially, I wanted to include everything, but I quickly realized that doing so would not be an effective means of providing an overview to the concepts of homelessness, especially if I wanted to create something that the average citizen would be interested in perusing. Rethinking the structure of my report forced me to tease out the ideas that I would most want to inform an audience of, while setting aside those ideas that, while still important, were not relevant to creating a basic overview.
By articulating for others what I have learned, I developed a better understanding myself, particularly at seeing how all the pieces we discussed fit together. After working on this project, I think I might have a much better chance of offering a cohesive answer if questioned about what I learned. While in some ways I wish I had chosen a project which allowed me to more easily measure its success as a teaching tool, I still believe my endeavor was a worthwhile one. EachOneTeachOnePamphlet
Taking this class has reinforced for me how lucky I have been in my life. While I have always known that I live a more privileged life than many others, I never realized quite how many things I have taken for granted. Having a place to live, food to eat, the ability to spend time on interests and hobbies rather than trying to make ends meet. Growing up, I always assumed that I would have a job, and even after realizing that for many, an education and a resume do not guarantee a paycheck, I still know that even if I were to become unemployed I would have the resources and support to have a place to stay. Until I was forced to reflect on my position in life, I never realized that for many, such things are not a given. While I will hopefully never truly understand homelessness, as I have no desire to experience it for myself, I like to think that my experiences in this class have allowed me to reflect on my many blessings, while reminding me that there are many others who are not so privileged.
Over the time spent during this course, it has become clear to me that there is no single solution to homelessness. The fact that homelessness is in many ways a symptom of the structure of our nation means that adjustments to the economic, political, and social design of our nation if homelessness is to be reduced before it occurs, rather than simply a dressing the symptoms. Such adjustments cannot possibly come from any one particular direction, but from multiple avenues at once.
At the same time, the chances of homelessness ever disappearing are nearly nonexistent. Therefor, the efforts of various organizations to provide housing and aid are necessary. The current multiplicity of these organizations, whether governmental, private, or non-profit, is evidence of the depth of need for such aid, as well as the necessity for a large support base for such efforts. To better address the issue of homelessness, the participation of a wide variety of parties is necessary, and all of these parties’ efforts must be greatly improved.
This week, we watched a documentary focusing on homeless, and nearly homeless, children in Orange County. The common factor for many of these children was that they attended a school whose mission was specifically to serve their particular demographic. The school offers many valuable services to the children who attend it, beyond its baseic function as a institution of learning. It provides meals to the children, both during the day, and groceries for the family. It also provides a bus service which goes anywhere necessary to pick them up, even if they are currently living in the park. And it provides a measure of stability to lives which are often anything but.
At the same time, what the school offers isn’t nearly enough. One classroom often hosts several grades, which is not conductive to learning. The food is not exactly of the highest quality, as one teacher says, “I wouldn’t eat it”. And the efforts the staff makes cannot possibly alleviate all of the problems the children face.
For me, the film raised an important question. What do we do when the services provided by organizations meant to serve the homeless are inadequate? To ignore or condemn organizations which do good work simply because they do not do enough seems unfair, yet at the same time it cannot be ignored that the work they do is often not up to par with the problems they face.
After having spent so much time this semester discussing homelesness as a general issue or examining its presence in Redlands, particularly at the policy level, I became curious to see how the issue plays out in my hometown, Sacramento. I have notices the increasing number of homeless in Sacramento the past few years, particularly those camped along the river, but knew little else about how the city approaches the issue.
During my research, I found that the mayor, Steinberg, has proposed to increase the amount of funding directed towards the issue. Others, however, oppose this plan, either because they feel the funding should be directed elsewhere, they believe the measures proposed will be too expensive, or because they feel that Steinberg’s plans will be ineffective. For example, some, like “Councilman Larry Carr, think that Sacramento’s homeless effort needs to be smaller in scale because of Sacramento’s lack of permanent housing where homeless people can be moved… also believes that Steinberg’s plan to erect homeless shelters in every council district in town will invariably place homeless shelters in poor neighborhoods while affluent neighborhoods are spared.”
I understand the reluctance that some feel, and the criticisms they profess. At the same time, these critics don’t seem to have an answer of how they thing the homelessness crisis should be addressed. Even if a perfect plan cannot be presented, simply ignoring the problem will not help. As one article put it: “The cost of doing something about homelessness is insane. The cost of doing nothing about homelessness is even more insane. Because doing nothing means spending millions just to clean up the mess, move people along, move them in and out of jail, emergency rooms, river beds, doorways, alleys.”
One of the biggest trends discussed with regards to the public perception of the homeless is the idea many have that the homeless are lazy. Many people believe that those who are homeless could easily find housing or a job, but continue to live on the streets because they are unwilling to put in the work necessary to ‘better themselves’. This perception characterizes homelessness as being a symptom of deviance, and a failure to operate within the confines of social conventions. In a survey I conducted in Redlands, I saw many examples of such attitudes in the responses I received, some of which are as follows:
“Maybe my belief is harsh but I believe so many are there just because they lack the drive to pick themselves up, work and earn their keep. The effort it takes to carry hundreds of cans to earn a few dollars could be spent finding a real job.”
“…. have no desire to better their lives.”
“I would encourage them to better themselves”
“…majority of people that are homeless choose to remain so…those that are homeless by circumstances beyond their control can find services available to help them with jobs and housing”
I don’t believe in completely absolving the homeless of their own responsibility, because to do so assumes that they lack agency, but at the same time, placing all of the blame for homelessness at the feet of the homeless seems overly simplistic. I believe, at least to some extent, that people prefer to assume that those who are homeless could stop being homeless at any time, if they were willing to work for it, because this belief allows them to feel that they have no responsibility to help.
On of the things which this class has changed for me is that I have become much more aware of the homeless in Redlands. Prior to taking the class, I never realized how many homeless are present in this city. Now, it seems like everywhere i go, whether the grocery store, the library, or along the freeway, I always see at least one person who appears to be homeless, and that is excluding those individuals who might be living on the street but not fit the stereotypical image associated with such a state. I cannot help but wonder if this shift in my perceptions is indicative of one of the reasons why so many are able to ignore the issue of homelessness. Perhaps simply because the issue is not one which they think about often, they fail to notice how many people they walk by everyday.
Hearing these past two weeks about the various parties who work with the homeless, one of the most frustrating aspects for me has been the impression I have been given that very few people care. Obviously, a great many people do, as the number of organizations and other efforts we have been introduced to indicates. However, these people seem to be coming up against the general consensus that the homeless are not wanted, but also that no one wants to help them either, they simply want them gone.
I cannot help but think that some of these ideas come from the assumption that these people should try harder, that they have put themselves in this situation and therefore ought to (with the implicit assumption that they can) get themselves out of it as well. There often seems to be the idea, I have found, that people need to earn their own livelihood. That they should work for the things they need, and not subsist on handouts from those who have already earned what they have. Personally, I think this concept has many problems. Of course, I am not saying people should not work hard, or that the idea they should earn their living is entirely wrong. But there are a great number of factors I believe this attitude ignores. And, perhaps most importantly, is that really the type of society we should strive to create? Are we willing to ignore the needy because they do not deserve our help? What must they do to deserve it? Personally, I feel that their position as human beings automatically makes the homeless worthy of a decent life. In a society where so many have so much, I think we can afford a little generosity, to give without qualifications or expectation of repayment.
This week, several members of the San Bernardino Police Department who are a part the of H.O.PE. team came to class as guest speakers. They spoke about the ways in which the majority of law enforcement approach to homelessness entails criminalization, or as they put it “handcuffs and jail”. The H.O.P.E. team talked about how they take a different approach, focused on outreach and various programs rather than arrest.
I appreciated hearing about the issue of homelessness from the perspective of the guest speakers and enjoyed learning about their work. I was also emotionally torn when I heard them speak about how long it often takes to get individuals to accept help. While I admire the efforts of those involved, and was happy to hear about the success stories, I also wish there was some way to get members of the homeless population help more quickly. I also was saddened to hear about how organizations often cherry-pick from the homeless population, choosing those who are easiest to help, while abandoning those with more severe issues. While I understand that they want to help as many as possible, ignoring the most vulnerable of an already vulnerable population seems contradictory to the principles of these organizations. As a whole, I found the presentation of the guest speakers to be interesting and enlightening, and very much appreciated their willingness to take the time to speak with us.
For class this week, I and the other members of my group read a book called Sidewalk, which detailed the observations of sidewalk life of several blocks of New York City in the 1990s by the sociologist and professor Mitchell Duneier. At the core of his argument was a condemnation of “broken windows” policies and an advocation for a ‘fixed windows” approach. Duneier suggests that sidewalk life and its participants can have beneficial effects, and that policy makers should accept the continued existence of sidewalk life rather than viewing it as inherently problematic.
I found solidifying my ideas on Duneier’s proposition to be difficult. On one hand, I agree that simply approaching those who live on the street as a problem and trying to eliminate the homeless by making life as difficult for them as possible, is not a policy I agree with. At the same time, I struggle to see the benefits of wanting to allow homeless lifestyles to continue. Yes, some benefits to some aspects of street life exist, but I still believe the end goal is to eliminate it. i may not like the idea of approaching the homeless as broken windows, but i am not sure they are fixed either. Perhaps my difficulty lies in the fact that in “fixed windows” Duneier presents an alternative attitude, rather than a concrete approach, leaving the details of efforts to assuage homelessness to the reader. Despite my reservations, I appreciate the added perspective Duneier provides to my understanding of homelessness, and I respect a great many of his ideas.