Our Viewpoint: PSA — The homeless of America are people too

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, November 8th, 2017 at 5:25 PM

Homelessness, as defined by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, is the condition of an individual or group lacking “a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” In the United States, as of 2015, on any given night, there are 564,708 people sleeping on the streets or in homeless shelters. 

As of January of this year, the estimated total of homeless living in Erie County was approximately 1,400 with the number of children with homeless families on the rise. With winter months fast approaching, these numbers become more and more alarming, especially with the amount of cold days that the area witnesses yearly. 

According to the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC), approximately 700 homeless people die every year from a combination of treatable illnesses and exposure to the cold. In every demographic and age group, homeless people are three times more likely to die early than anyone in the general population.

With an average life expectancy of only about 50 years old, which was the average age of death for most Americans in the year 1900, the homeless are one of the most at-risk groups in the United States. So why aren’t we doing more for them?

The only piece of federal legislation that addresses this far reaching issue is one that was written into law by former President Ronald Reagan in 1987. Its purpose is to “provide urgently needed assistance to protect and improve the lives and safety of the homeless, with special emphasis on elderly persons, handicapped persons, and families with children.” 

Each year the amount of funding the programs under the act see slowly rises, but with homelessness being a problem in the United States since the 1870s, it appears as if it’s a problem that won’t be leaving anytime soon. 

What do you think, or what does your family and friends think when you first see a homeless person? Whether in a photograph or when walking by one on the streets, everyone has sadly seen one.

Do you give them a second thought? Do you scold others for throwing money their way because they’ll “probably just go buy more drugs with it”?

These are the kinds of toxic mentalities that help to make these people feel ignored and marginalized. 

Even without these kinds of thoughts pervading even the kindest of people, we must also worry about the fact that cities seemingly hate them too. While homeless shelters are heavily underfunded and understaffed due to their need for volunteers, they’re also extremely unhealthy environments that are often overcrowded as winter approaches, which forces many homeless back to the streets.

So where do they sleep now? Well, that’s where something called “defensive” or “hostile” architecture comes in.

Anything from ball bearings or spikes on ledges of buildings, or “arm rests” on park benches, these have no purpose other than to keep homeless far away from a business. Out of sight, out of mind, right? 

Now let’s hope for a second that these people can make it through the night in freezing cold temperatures and then what? Now that it’s day time, they are likely hungry and need to find a way to eat for the day, so they possibly panhandle, only to be looked straight through by people who assume they only do drugs and aren’t worth the money.

The homeless problem in America is one that will not be solved overnight whether we want it to be or not. It doesn’t help that the problem is caused by more than just joblessness, which tends to be the common thought amongst people.

The top reasons for homelessness are varied depending on sex, with women being homeless due to domestic violence, while men generally fall under the umbrella of insufficient income and lack of affordable housing. With the bulk of tech industries moving to the west coast, the price of rentals has skyrocketed, causing a new housing crisis for the homeless yet again.

After paying for rent and utilities, nearly 75 percent of extremely low income households end up with less than half their income available to be used for necessities like food, medicine and transportation. These are the problems that many face and this ballooning of rent prices will only help to grow the problem.

Now, I don’t expect you to go and spend all of your money on this cause, but merely to hold more compassion towards these people. They are people, just as much as you and I, whether they live in a home at night or not. 

All that I ask is the next time you see someone on the streets begging for food, think about the type of life they have and, if only for a moment, give them the benefit of the doubt. These people didn’t ask for this, so don’t treat them like they’re anything less than human. 

If you are interested in donating, try visiting the Erie City Mission’s website at eriecitymission.org to find locations and opportunities to donate or volunteer.

Roman Sabella can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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