Unsigned: Homeless Americans Treated Poorly By Their Wealthier Peers

   Homelessness is a big issue in America, especially in California. According to CBS Los Angeles, California has the third-highest homeless population in the United States, with over 71 percent being unsheltered (losangeles.cbslocal.com). Despite the startling numbers, there remains a lack of proper knowledge about homelessness, and a pervasive stigma surrounds it instead. Americans treat their homeless population terribly, when their lives are already hard enough.

   Though people gripe that it’s the person’s fault that they’re homeless, citing drug use and other bad decisions, the increase in the homeless population in California has other causes. According to the Conversation, “The West Coast suffers from rising costs of rental housing, stagnant incomes for low-wage workers and a decline in federal support for affordable housing.” While governments have tried to tackle the issue of the increasing homeless population with shelters and sanctioned encampments, there are few attempts to address the underlying cause, which is a lack of low-income affordable housing (theconversation.com). Without addressing the root cause, nothing will change in the long run; to truly help the homeless in a way that will stick, there needs to be more affordable housing.

   Homeless people are treated like criminals when they don’t have many other options. According to USA Today, policies in several different cities criminalize homelessness and punish people in an attempt to combat the rise in the homeless population. In cities that restrict camping in public, “…police sometimes do sweeps of homeless encampments. […] If homeless people refuse to move themselves and their belongings, they may face arrest, fines or warrants.” This is in addition to an increase in laws that prohibit sitting, laying down in public, and living in a vehicle (usatoday.com). Rather than actually helping the homeless population, policymakers seem to be focused on putting them out of sight and out of mind, which doesn’t solve anything, and only makes the situation worse.

   Some blame the homeless for not going out and getting a job, but in reality, the stigma surrounding the homeless often keeps them from getting jobs. According to Backpacks for the Street, a grassroots organization that aims to help the homeless population, “Employers are put off by irregular addresses on job applications.” Considering most homeless people don’t have addresses, they’re much less likely to be hired for jobs. The same goes for many homeless people not having phones or items to groom themselves with; employers don’t want to bother finding other ways to contact their employees, or have them come to work ungroomed. It goes beyond simply not having the ideal conditions to be a worker, though. Since homelessness is often criminalized, employers will see the criminal record of a homeless applicant and be discouraged from hiring them. Additionally, a common belief about homeless people is that they’re all drug addicts, and this belief extends to employers (backpacksforthestreet.org). It’s not as easy as some people think to just “get a job” without the proper tools and with a stigma that has invaded the minds of employers. This leaves homeless people with no option but to continue as they are, and it’s extremely saddening to see.

   As if being without a warm place to sleep isn’t hard enough, the homeless are often discouraged from sleeping… anywhere. According to a website about engineering, there are several forms of hostile architecture, or anti-homeless architecture, that are designed to keep homeless people away. Armrests on public benches, street spikes, curved benches, barred corners, rocky pavements, and boulders under bridges all prevent people from sleeping and living on the streets. Raised grate covers and fenced off grates are both attempts to “…stop homeless people from huddling around them for warmth in cold weather” (interestingengineering.com). This architecture does nothing to help the homeless population; instead, it just makes life even harder for them by limiting the amount of even halfway-safe places to stay and sleep.

   Even if there are shelters available, they aren’t always the best environment for some people. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, “They are tight quarters with many rules and regulations, which can be confusing. Nearly all municipal shelters for homeless single adults have barracks-style dormitories with as many as 100 beds in a single room, and these arrangements often do not suit the needs of homeless people living with serious mental illnesses like PTSD or mood disorders” (coalitionforthehomeless.org). Shelters aren’t accessible for everyone, even though they should be, and it puts some people in a difficult position of whether or not it’s worth it to stay. That should not be a decision they have to make.

   Homeless people, unfortunately, live in a world where people don’t respect them. According to the Guardian, “Homeless people are some of the most vulnerable members of society — 28 percent of homeless adults are severely mentally ill, 22 percent are physically disabled, 15 percent have suffered domestic violence and 3 percent are HIV positive” (theguardian.com). They are suffering through an extremely difficult situation, and instead of getting help, they are faced with disgust, hostile attitudes, and a persistent stigma that blames them no matter what the situation. It’s truly disappointing how they’re treated when they’re just trying to survive. Homeless people need to be treated better, because as it stands, they’re hardly even treated like human beings.