Helping and Hating the Homeless

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The word “homeless” is used to describe many different kinds of people with a variety of problems; the “homeless” includes veterans, the mentally ill, the physically disabled or chronically ill, the elderly on fixed incomes, men, women, and families that have lost their source of income, single parents, runaway children who’ve been abused, alcoholics and drug addicts, immigrants, and traditional tramps, hobos, and transients (Martin, 1999). In “Helping and Hating the Homeless”, Peter Martin claims that although these people all have different backgrounds, histories, and reasons for not having a “home”, they are categorized and stereotyped by society and all looked down upon for being “homeless”. He addresses his readers, those that pass by homeless men and women on the street and those who look down upon the homeless, in order to “attempt to explain at least some of that anger and fear [directed towards the homeless], to clear up some of the confusion, to chip away the indifference”. In order to support his argument, Martin uses many homeless people’s lives as examples for the reasons they became homeless and have stayed homeless, he also incorporates many public policies and homeless shelter’s policies to help describe the homeless life. By doing this, he is able to give his reader’s incite on the homeless, allowing them to have a further understanding of how they live. Due to lack of knowledge and understanding, many stereotypes have been able to affect and impact the way society looks at the homeless and creates homeless policies. By including multiple sources that reflect the views of Martin, this essay will create a better understanding of the homeless and how the stereotypes, although inaccurate, affect the lives of the homeless.

Martin states that “the homeless, simply because they are homeless, are strangers, alien-and therefore a threat” (para. 24) in order to help explain the feelings that society has towards the homeless. He then explains how he feels a sense of annoyance, intrusion, worry, and alarm while walking past homeless men and women on his walk home through the park, and how these feelings are not due to the threat of danger, but instead this is a response, “fed by a complex set of cultural attitude, habit of thought, and fantasies and fears” (Martin, para. 25), that has become second nature. In her essay “Exotic, or “What Beach Do You Hang Out On?””, while explaining definitions of the word exotic, Tara Masih explains how people try to appear familiar in order to be viewed as safe. She states: By covering our bodily smells with the same scents, by following the current trends in hair styles, by spending all our energy/time/money to wear the same clothes during the same season, and by keeping up with the latest profanity, we are saying to our compatriots: “Hey, I’m just like you, therefore I’m safe and familiar” (para. 8). Although they are discussing two different topics, both Martin and Masih devote time in their essays to show how the unfamiliar is automatically categorized as dangerous, unsafe, and something to avoid. They explain how it isn’t even something people think about, it’s a response triggered by what society has taught us. Fearing the unknown is one of the reasons why many people fear the homeless; their lives are unfamiliar to us, we don’t know how they ended up without a home, and they’re not clean and groomed; because we cannot relate to them they become alien like and unpredictable.

In the recent study, Types of Automatically Activated Prejudice: Assessing Possessor-Versus Other-Relevant Valence in the Evaluative Priming Task, Juliane Degner and Dirk Wentura tested the participants’ reactions to different scenarios to see how stereotypes affect the way they perceive situations. They contrasted the reactions to well known negative prejudices with the reaction to the positive social groups. Within the study, the homeless were the only group that received both possessor-relevant...
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