Homelessness in America

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Homelessness in American Society

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The United States of America, as a member nation, voted in favor of this declaration. Article 25(1) of this declaration states: “Everyone has the right to … food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” In 1949 the United States government further defined the nature of this commitment with the American Housing Act which stipulates the “realization as soon as feasible of the goal of a decent home … for every American family.” Despite these noble efforts, homelessness in America exists and continues to increase in most communities across the country.

I have chosen to focus on this social problem since it is, for the most part, ignored by the media and the general public even though it continues to grow. It is estimated that more than 7 percent of US residents have been homeless at some point in their lives (Link, Susser, Stueve, Phelan, Moore, & Struening, 1994). In the last twenty years the rate of homelessness has increased dramatically. Estimates put the annual number of people experiencing homelessness somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 million with half of that number being families (Lewis, 2007). Since the great economic collapse of 2008, this problem has been given even more impetus as the resources of the unemployed are depleted.

From a functionalist point of view perhaps homelessness might be considered as nothing more than a mere blight on society, a chosen manner of existence, and as such a burden that society as a whole must bear. Viewing homelessness as a functionalist then, resolving this problem would mean simply raising the minimum standard of living for all members of society so that such individuals may have the opportunity to have a more productive and contributing role within the structure of society (Sullivan, 2010).

In contrast to this, a conflict-theorist might deny that homelessness is in and of itself a problem at all. From such a view point, it could be argued that social classes inherently oppress those who are either unable to work or unable to find work or who may have been displaced from their place of residence. From this perspective, the haves oppress the have-nots by denying them that which they need. The homeless as a result are denied a home and the jobless a job. As a self perpetuating problem then, homelessness results in the homeless being forced to maintain their existence as underclass victims of capitalism (Sullivan, 2010). Whatever your point of view, homelessness is a troubling and complex social issue that is difficult to resolve.

It is clear that new approaches need to be considered that address the causes of homelessness as opposed to the symptoms. One clear problem is unemployment. Much of the unemployment in today’s market can be attributed to the change in the skill set needed as traditional jobs are replaced by technology and cheap labor. The new job market requires that applicants have up to date skills and training. For the unemployed there are limited opportunities for this type of re-training and as government funding decreases it is likely that even fewer services of this type will be available. Therefore, since industry stands to benefit, I propose that industry should be looked to for implementing broader intern based training programs that take viable candidates from the ranks of the unemployed in exchange for tax considerations. This type of hands on training will produce a more job specific workforce that can grow and adapt to the changing needs of each area of industry.

A second considerable cause of homelessness is mental illness. In the late 1970’s the United States de-institutionalized the care of the mentally ill replacing it with outpatient psychiatric and social services. This resulted in a drastic increase in the numbers of homeless that persists down to this day...
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