Guest Post: Homelessness

By Michelle Adams, Contributor

A man in the street begging for money, a women on the side of the road holding up a piece of cardboard saying “Homeless, Will Work for Food,” a family sleeping in their car, a tent city underneath a bridge—all these images represent homelessness.

Most people, millenials included, have certain stereotypes about homelessness. They view people who are homeless as lazy, dirty and mostly suffering from drug problems. Homelessness pervades all aspects of culture and every walk of life.

These views about homelessness were collected from teenage volunteers at South Oakland Shelter during Global Youth Service Day.

homeless

“What I think about homelessness”
-Most homeless people didn’t finish high school
-Most homeless people are veterens
-Most homeless people have drug problems
-Most homeless people had an unpleasant childhood
-Most homeless people had financial problems

Some of these views are actually accurate views of homelessness, while some represent misconceptions throughout society. Many people view that homelessness can be easily solved by giving people money or food. Others believe that homeless people can attain jobs easily. If there are part time jobs available, why not apply and start working? Multiple problems lie with that issue. Where can these people receive their social security cards, what do they put down as their address, how will they have clean clothes for the day, do they have transportation to get to work? These are some of the questions that people face when they are homeless.

I am sure a few of you donate money to homeless or give them food. This only alleviates the problem temporarily. If you have the time, instead of giving them money or donating food, show them to the local shelter food pantry. The solution is not to provide quick fixes, but find affordable housing. This solution is deeply complicated and extremely hard, especially with the sequestration cuts to housing and limited resources non-profits are forced to operate with. I could write articles upon articles about this issue, but that is for another day.

When I was younger, I viewed people who were homeless as lazy, dirty and suffered from drug problems. I started to volunteer with homeless people in college, realizing that these people are from all walks of life. I have met college graduates who were homeless. One person was a college graduate of Michigan State University, started to have health problems, was unable to pay their bills and next thing they know, they were out on the streets. Working with the homelessness ignited a passion and led me to my career choice. My dream is to be an executive director of a homeless rehabilitation center, providing soft skills needed to balance a budget, teaching them self-sustaining skills to stay out of the system.

Currently, I serve as an AmeriCorps member for the Michigan’s Campaign to End Homelessness as a volunteer coordinator. Members of my program serve at 20 agencies throughout the state of Michigan providing direct service to homeless or at risk individuals in hopes of attaining housing. Here are some awesome viewpoints that members have learned about homelessness.

“After working with AmeriCorps and the homeless population I have come to learn many things about the homeless population.  The Homeless population can vary. I think society is quick to judge the homeless population, asking questions like why do they have a car? How can they have a cell phone?  Educating people is key when it comes to the homeless population.” -Rachael Sanders, CETH member serving at Housing Services of Eaton County.


“I have several thoughts about homelessness from what I have seen and experienced through my visits.  First and foremost, the individual experiencing homelessness is physically and emotionally drained.  They suffer everything from stomach issues including diarrhea to anxiety, and severe depression…They feel isolated and alone.” -Hillary Dodds, CETH member serving at Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency.  

Clearly, these two members views have changed about homelessness. Even throughout my year serving as an AmeriCorps member has opened up the doors and made me realize how much is involved.

While some of you may argue that people who are homelessness want to stay in the system and want this lifestyle. I will agree on that. There are multiple people who are comfortable with that type of lifestyle. They receive 3 meals a day, knowing what shelters serve food when, what shelters will allow a bed, where you can and cannot stay throughout the day. Some individuals play the system. The thing that I tell myself is there are individuals who want to get out of homelessness. If I can help one person attain housing, then I will feel like I accomplished something. Unfortunately, my position doesn’t allow me to that (other members do), but I help indirectly.

Some of you will argue that it’s Obama’s legislation that caused the sequestration, some of you will argue that it’s Bush’s fault. I am sure I will receive comments that will discuss more in depth the policy aspect of this problem. That is not the purpose of this article. The purpose of this article for you to start realizing that homelessness affects everybody. It does not care if you are white, black, gay, lesbian, rich, poor or anything. I know there are many other important causes such as domestic abuse, environment, gay rights, refugee issues and immigration reform, these are all equally as important. This is my cause that I am passionate about and hope to shed some light on stereotypes.
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Big thanks to Michelle for being the first guest post on SoCalledMillennial.com! Follow Michelle on Twitter at @usha88, and read her articles on PolicyMic.com.

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6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Homelessness

  1. Good intro article about homelessness, Michelle. I’d be interested to read a followup post digging a little deeper on one aspect you feel strongly about.

    I have given food, given money, helped build homes with Habitat for Humanity and worked in soup kitchens. They are each drastically different ways to help people. Habitat for Humanity was, by far, the most rewarding. But, my number one tip is to look someone in the eyes and simply see them. I can’t imagine how demoralizing it is to be looked through each day.

    I appreciated you addressing some people elect to stay in their situation. The church I attend in Manhattan has a daily breadline, which has been running since 1930. A few months ago, I walked out of Mass and a man solicited me for money. I said, “I don’t have change on me, but this Church has both a food pantry and a free meal in the morning at 7. I’m sure someone in there can help you.” He responded, “I don’t like their food.” Frankly, I didn’t know how to respond.

    Other times, people are so appreciative to just have a simple conversation or receive a granola bar.

    This is an unbelievably complex issue with no single “right answer.” Thanks for kicking off the conversation!

    • Thanks Erin! When writing this article, I knew some of the people over at PM would get up in arms, so I wanted to address that. The thing is that you have to find the right people who want to better their situations. I can’t tell you how many people working in this industry have worked with clients for 6 years and finally, they get somewhere. It’s a tricky situation with no “right answer” The best thing is to come across affordable housing, but that requires follow-up care as well. I am just only learning all the steps it goes into the process by doing AmeriCorps.

  2. 1) “instead of giving them money or donating food, show them to the local shelter food pantry.” There is a huge homeless population where I live, and the city has started an anti-panhandling campaign. You’re statement about directing homeless people to a food pantry and the local campaign have put my mind at ease that it doesn’t help to give money, but to support a bigger cause. Even though I do still give out food sometimes.

    2) “There are multiple people who are comfortable with that type of lifestyle. They receive 3 meals a day, knowing what shelters serve food when, what shelters will allow a bed, where you can and cannot stay throughout the day. Some individuals play the system.” Yes, some homeless people have drug issues, and are not interested in changing their life. Some people are victims who have stumbled upon bad luck, and want to change. It’s kind of like we want to evaluate if a homeless person is going to use our charity for good… the truth is we DON’T know each individuals story or intention, but the problem remains. The take away I got from this post is even though it’s a complex issue we still need to do what’s needed to alleviate the problem.

    • Hey Rachel! I’m glad that that suggestion eased your mine. I never give money to homeless people. It is ridiculous sometimes.

      “The take away I got from this post is even though it’s a complex issue we still need to do what’s needed to alleviate the problem.” Yes!!!! It’s completely true. I mean, the first thing is changing people’s perspectives. Then, you can start showing them. It starts with a little seed and then grows. And, here in Lansing, there are huge panhandlers. They stand on teh street and probably make more than what I make in a day. It aggravates me. Then sometimes I see their signs saying “homeless vet” and my heart breaks. It just ignites the fire in me again. While I work at a non-profit, I want to go volunteer at a shelter, but I think I’d get burnt out, so I just keep my stuff limited to work.

      5 people and I are organizing these events to help change perceptions in homelessness/housing issues. It’s a housing issue. Should’ve mentioned it. Check it out at http://movinoninholland.eventbrite.com/

      We did one in GR a few months ago. Had 31 volunteers making 25 laundry baskets filled with stuff. Email me if you want more details about the event. 😉

  3. Great post.

    I recollect in 1971 as an English lit major I was approached by homeless man on the downtown streets of Cincinnati. He started in on this story about his mother, medical bills, etc.etc. and said he had a degree in English Literature but was down on his luck. So being the smart-ass cocky know-it-all I asked if he had ever read Ulysses by James Joyce, my new found adventure and he began reciting the first lines of the book “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay . . . ” I was put in my place and emptied the content of my wallet into his hands.

    As an aside, at the museum where I am the director we just finished hosting our third AmeriCorps NCCC team. See:

    http://wp.me/pJf2X-Ue

    I cannot say enough for the fine young men and women I have the privilege to meet through this process.

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