Homelessness in America
Introduction to Human Services/ BSHS 302
January 21, 2013
The Pursuit of Happyness portrays the true story of Chris Gardner, homeless man turned businessman. His story has inspired the homeless to take charge of their lives by not letting their past define who they are. Raised by a single mother and having a childhood wrought with poverty, physical, and sexual abuse due to alcoholism, (Gardner, 2006) he found himself faced with the same factors contributing to his homelessness as an adult single parent. This story is all too familiar with the history of homelessness in America. The evolution of this struggle has a large range of social problems and covers a varying demographic of the overall population. The history of the homeless population
There has been homelessness as long as there have been communities. In the early days of America colonies, those that were able bodied but refused to work were driven out of and forced to “freeze and starve to death” (Baum & Burnes, 1993, p. 94). The American Civil War also made way for runaway slaves that made a break for their freedom to the north. Because there were a large number of slaves without homes, “runaway slaves should be considered an early example of American homelessness” (Johnson, 2008, p. 584). The Civil War also caused many Whites to be without homes and land thus forcing those families to become homeless as well (Johnson, 2008) With the continuing influx of immigrants, there were sometimes little to no resource help for men who could not find jobs. This began the push for those to seek work out west, thus starting a trend of transient life. They traveled from place to place working either on the railroad as it expanded out west or working fields in the Midwest. Others began making their way out west to try their luck in the gold mines (Martin, 2011). The Great Depression brought about a whole new side of transient living with displacement of whole families. Families that were considered stable were then homeless due to the financial collapse. Parents were not able to care for their families and were forced to travel to find work to provide for their families. Another contributing factor in the history of homelessness in America was the beginning of deinstitutionalization. In 1963, the United States government passed the Community Mental Health Centers Act that focused on care outside in the community rather than care within and institution (Feldman, 2003). The reality of this bill is that most mentally ill patients had no family or friends to turn. With fewer mental facilities to help and the lack of funding from the government, those individuals were pushed into the streets. In the 1970s and 80s, we became witness once again to displacement of families in the homeless population. Due to abuse and economic hardships, the number of families were once again were growing in the homeless community. This time however the makeup was primarily single mothers with small children. Social problems of the homeless community
The experiences throughout the homeless community are about as diverse as the demographics of the population itself. However, the social problems that exist within the community are fundamentally shared. They include poverty, racial, sexual, ethnic discrimination, lack of education, and shortage of affordable housing (Wright, 2000). Other issues that contribute to homelessness are a decline of public assistance, domestic violence, mental health issues, substance abuse, and lack of job opportunities. Not all homeless persons experience all the same issues; however one issue is at the core of each experience. Poverty is the number one factor when discussing homelessness. Not possessing the income to pay for the essentials, such as housing, food, and health care force those to seek assistance if available. When there are a lack of resources for...
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