Homelessness is a social welfare issue that is predominant around the globe, and it has existed for quite some time. Over the most recent two centuries homelessness has increased, and has affected people all over. Scientists who have conducted research on homelessness all have their own interpretation of the meaning of homelessness. They also have perspectives on how people become homeless, and the population that is most affected by the issue today. This paper will go into depth about homelessness - the population that is most affected the theoretical framework-perspective, practice methods, service effectiveness, etc.
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One of the most significant components to think about when trying to understand homelessness as a social welfare issue is how to define homelessness. The definition of homeless is individuals who do not have permanent housing. In an article written by Anne Rufa, she believes that the social welfare issue can be characterized into three general areas. The first area are those who have absolutely no living space, and who consequently wind up dozing in their own vehicles, or open areas like the woods or under bridges. Secondly, individuals who live in shelters that are funded by their state or local government. Lastly, many are considered homeless if they are doubled up, meaning they are staying with multiple family members or friends, and don’t have much stability.
Homelessness has been around for years, but the most significant time in American history where many people where homeless was during the Great Depression. The Great Depression was an economic crisis that started in 1929 and ended in 1939. The crisis started with Black Tuesday which started on October 28, 1929. This led to major chaos on Wall Street as stock shares became no good and investors were dropped which eventually caused a sequence of incidents to occur as consumers reduced their spending, and many stopped investing. Many employed Americans lost their jobs and suffered a major crisis. In the midst of this major crisis, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president and under his presidency he put many policies in place to help the American political structure. The aftermath of the Great Depression had long lasting consequence.
Identify the Most Affected Population
Homelessness is known all over the world and it has been linked to lack of employment – housing, violence- incarceration, mental health, teen pregnancy, substance-drug abuse, etc. The social welfare issue does not discriminate; it affects people all over from older people to young people. In fact, homeless youth have been known as one of the fastest growing vulnerable groups (Coates, J, & Mckinzie- Mohr , S. (2010 ).Daily children are born into poverty and it carries on to their teen and adult years. Youth who are homeless have a hard time coping in life, many feel unsafe and not wanted, many are not mentally stable, and they lack self-confidence. Many suffer with dramatic loss of early development and learning; are held back from grade to grade; constantly absent from school, and have multiple disciplinary referrals which leads to them dropping out of high school; and enter the juvenile justice system. This issue remains largely invisible in most communities especially in smaller cities. In an article written by Mary Cunningham she believes that urban development increases the likelihood of people being homeless. She also believes that the homeless population is easier to pick out today. In areas where there is not much development, there is a decrease in homelessness , and it is very hard to pick out, but areas that are more developed – major cities homelessness increases and it is very easy to label and pick those who are homeless out.
Prisoners are vulnerable groups that are likely to become homeless. Statistics have shown that the conditions that prisoners go through while serving their sentences plays a major apart of their mental health and once they are released from prison, many have a hard time coping with life. As a result of not being able to cope many become homeless. The recidivism rate of homeless individuals who spent time in prison is very high due to non-violent and violent criminal activity (Fischer et al. 2008). The connection between poverty and non-violent criminal activity has been analyzed being that many ex-prisoners who have become homeless are at a greater risk at being apprehended for less serious crimes than homeless people who challenge with serious mental illnesses (Fischer et al. 2008)., but those who are homeless that suffer from mental health are more likely to commit a crime compared to the general public. Homeless people who challenge with mental health are more likely to commit violent crimes because they feel like they are not receiving the adequate support from society to be able to meet their basic needs. Homeless people who live in shelters are less likely to participate in crimes because their needs are being met.
Mental health in the United States is a topic that has been talked about for many years. The illness when intertwined with little to no opportunities can easily lead to homelessness. The topic was openly and often discussed during the 19th century and, many state governments controlled mental health facilities that housed mentally ill individuals. Like today, during this time mental health was looked at negatively and many places that were open to help this population were shut down and no longer in place. Many people who suffer with mental health have a very hard time gaining employment and seeking help for their mental health diagnosis which eventually leads them to being homeless.
Veterans also experience homelessness, specifically men over the age of 50. In 2016 about 9 in 10 veterans that were homeless were men. Women made up about 9 percent, and this has been the same since 2009 even with the number of Veteran women increasing. Veteran women are twice more likely to experience homelessness versus non- veteran women. A third of Veteran women, who have experienced homelessness, are usually a result of military sexual abuse. African Americans Veterans are 3 percent more likely to experience homelessness than all US Veterans. (Homelessness in America: Focus on Veterans. (2012). About 16 percent of Veterans that experience homelessness lived in rural areas while receiving services from the VA.
Conflict theory can be used in understanding why homelessness happens. Conflict theory was created by Karl Max and it states that the world is constantly changing as a result to conflict. It looks at social life as being competitive. Based on this theory, society is made up of individuals competing for limited resources such as money and free time. Competition over limited resources is major part of all social relationships. Competition, rather than consensus, is characteristic of human relationships (The Conflict Perspective. (2019). Other social structures and organizations such as religions and the government imitate the competition for resources and the inherent inequality competition entails; some people and organizations have more resources and power and use it as a way to keep their positions and stay in power. Sociologists usually use this theory as a way to research the distribution of resources, power, and inequality, and they ask the question who benefits from this?
Another theory by Karl Max can be used in trying to understand homelessness. This theory is Marxism. Marxism states that capitalism is a class system in which confrontation is unavoidable because it is in the interests of the ruling class to exploit the working class and to try to resolve this exploitation in the interests of the workers"(The Conflict Perspective. (2019). Homelessness therefore involves capitalism and competition to economic resources and power, according to Marx. This literally divides people into two categories in a capitalist society: those with money and power (capitalists) and those without money and power (workers). The theory of conflict recognizes homelessness as an issue because of bourgeois motivations arising from social inequalities and social stratification.
Social inequality is affected by social stratification; people who live in poverty are at the bottom and people with money are at the top. As a result, homeless people face many social inequalities and social conflicts because they have no power and are struggling to make progress in life. This theory also states that because of the constant resentment of capitalist towards workers, capitalism is the reason for homelessness. Capitalist dominate social institutions in favor of their prosperity, while workers are outstripped without the ability to advance their status in life and run counter to the interests of homeless people (The Conflict Perspective. (2019). It assumes that homeless people do not realize their subordination and assumes that all aspects of social life are based on capital and profit in society. Capitalism is therefore responsible under Marx's theory for indicating certain social conditions that have led to homelessness.
There are many ways to solve and help with homelessness today, many people just don’t want to take the time to do it. As stated earlier, homelessness is often misinterpreted, and stereotypes make it extremely hard to help those who are in need. We can help this social issue by learning the various paths leading to homelessness. Each individual on the street has a story of their own. Some people struggle with addiction. Others lost everything due to finances; some are suffering from mental illness. It is important that we educate ourselves on these challenges and spread the word so that others will understand.
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It is also important that we as people not only take the step, but the community, and groups also take the needed steps. Whether if it is church, school, NGO- Nonprofit organizations, etc the community plays a major role in helping with homelessness. Volunteers of America is a group of people who come together to help stop homelessness. They meet homeless people through street outreach and mobile outreach programs and once they connect with homeless people, teenagers and families with children, they provide assistance such as paying a first month's rent to providing permanent supportive housing so that people with disabilities can become safe and productive members of their communities (Volunteer of America .(2019). The group supported more than 10,000 homeless in 2017 by finding them homeless shelters in their area, drop in centers, permanent supportive housing, and transitional housing. Volunteers of America are similar to United Way and the Salvation Army. They all work together to help individuals and families who are in need.
Another community agency that helps assist homeless people is Family Promise. They help homeless and low income families achieve stability. Family Promise is a home that holds up to three families depending on the county you live in. A family can stay in the home for up to 6 months. There are staff members there that help care givers or parents find employment, and also home that they can transition into. In many areas they offer trainings for parents and caregivers that could possibly help them gain employment. I was able to attend Effingham Family Promise Shelter during my internship. While there, I was able to meet a lady who was getting ready to move out and into her new place. She expressed that she enjoyed her time at Family Promise and was a little sad to leave because she developed such a wonderful relationship with the staff members and the other family members there. She stated that it felt like a family. Everyone in the house would look out for one another.
There are many programs state and federal such as Medicaid, food stamps, free and reduced lunch, and the McKinney Vento Act that also help assists youth and families that may be in need. The McKinney-Vento Act is a federal law that ensures the right of students to go to school even when they are homeless or don’t have a permanent address. The Act aims to decrease barriers that stop homeless youth from enrolling, attending, and succeeding in school, including transportation; residency requirements; and documentation requirements, such as birth certificates and medical records. All homeless young people can get assistance under the McKinney Vento Program including those young people who are not in the custody of their parents, but these youth must be living in emergency shelters, doubled up with family or friends, or staying in motels, campgrounds, or cars (McKinney Vento Program. (2012).
Medicaid is an assistance program to help low income individuals despite their age. Many who have Medicaid pay little to no cost for medical expenses. Medicaid like the McKinney Vento program is a federal state program that is ran by local and state governments within federal guidelines. Free and Reduce lunch is another program that is beneficial, children can be eligible for free lunch if they live in households that participate in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, runaway youth, youth who are homeless, or youth who have participated in Head Start.
Ethical Framework Philosophy
There are many values that I would use within the NASW Code of Ethics, but the two that are most significant when working with the homeless population are service and dignity of a person. Based on the NASW of Code of Ethics, social workers elevate service to others above their self-interest. Social workers draw on knowledges, values, and skills to help people in need and to address social problems. Social workers are encouraged to volunteer some portion of their professional skills with no exception of significant financial strain (Workers, N. A. (2008). Providing services can include helping individuals find resources in the community that may beneficial. The next is Dignity and Worth of the Person. Social workers treat each person in a caring and respectful fashion, mindful of individual differences and cultural and ethnic diversity.
Social workers promote clients socially responsible self -determination. Social workers seek to enhance clients and capacity and opportunity to change and to address their own needs. They are cognizant of their dual responsibility to client and to the broader society (Workers, N. A. (2008). They seek to resolve conflicts between client’s interest and the broader society’s interests in a socially responsible manner consistent with the values, ethical principles, and ethical standards of the profession. With that being said, it is important to treat everyone with respect and in a caring despite their social class. Many people find themselves dismissing the homeless population because of the stigma that many just beg for money simply to get drugs or for their own personal gain. It is important that social workers continue to advocate for this population as many continue to dismiss them. It is important to remember that despite their social class/ position they are human beings first and should be treated as such.
I chose these two values because I believe they both are very significant and they will help me to become a better social worker when working with this population. Many people who are homeless often feel worthless, hopeless, and as if no one is there for them or no one really truly understands them or their story. As a future social worker, it is my duty to advocate and speak up for vulnerable populations such as the homeless population because many of them feel like they don’t have a voice and that they are alone. It is my job to let them know that there is hope and that they will be able to make it through their current situation. As a future social worker it is also important that I do my own individual research and connect individuals and families to the appropriate resources in the community that may be beneficial to them. The ultimate goal should be to help them become stable whether if that is finding them a home or helping them find employment or trainings that may be useful. The NASW value social justice is also significant when working with the homeless population especially in big cities. Many feel invisible and as though no one really truly notices or sees the challenges that many of them face. Many want to reach out for help, but just don’t how or who to reach out to. The NASW Code of Ethics states that it is our job as social workers to pursue and focus on social change on the behalf of vulnerable individuals and population. Social workers primary change focus mainly on issues such as poverty, unemployment, and discrimination which all could lead to homelessness. As social workers it is our job to push ourselves to research needed information, services, and resources, and meaningful participation in decision making for all people. We want people to make the right decision and we do this by making sure they have enough information and understand the information that is given to them (Workers, N. A. (2008).
I believe it is important that the community and groups continue to come together to bring awareness of homelessness, and also educate those who may not really truly understand how homelessness can start. A person losing their job is at risk of being homeless especially if they have little to no support. I use this example because some situations are simply out of people’s control, and many outsiders don’t think like this . We have to stop the stigma of homelessness and educate others. I believe if many are educated the more likely they will be willing to help. I also believe in the importance of the community collaborating with one another. Schools, churches, nonprofit organizations coming together as one to help a social issue such as homelessness will definitely be beneficial. The collaborations will promote, restore, maintain, and enhance the overall wellbeing of individuals and families.
- Rufa, Anne, "Housing Choices Among Homeless Families in Child Welfare: A Mixed Methods Study" (2016). College of Science and Health Theses and Dissertations. 182.
- Volunteer of America . (2019). Retrieved from https://www.voa.org/.
- The Conflict Perspective. (2019). Social Science Libra Texts. Retrieved from
- https://socialsci.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Sociology/Book:_Sociology_(Boundless)/1:_ Sociology/1.3:_Theoretical_Perspectives_in_Sociology/1.3C:_The_Conflict_Perspective
- Fischer, S., Shrout, P., & Maybeth, S. (n.d.). Homelessness, Mental Illness, and Criminal Activity: Examining Patterns over Time. Community Psycology , 42, 251–265.
- Workers, N. A. (2008). NASW Code of Ethics (Guide to the Everyday Professional Conduct of Social Workers). Washington, DC: NASW.
- Coates, J, & Mckinzie- Mohr , S. (2010). Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire: Trauma in the Lives of Homeless Youth Prior to and During Homelessness. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare , 37.
- Homelessness in America: Focus on Veterans. (2012). United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.
- What is the difference between Medicare and Medicaid? (2015). HHS.gov U.S. Department of Health & Human Service. Retrieved from https://www.hhs.gov/answers/medicare-and- medicaid/what-is-the-difference-between-medicare-medicaid/index.html
- McKinney Vento Program. (2012). Runaway and Homeless Youth Program, Family and Youth Services Bureau.
- Cunningham, M. (2009). Preventing and Ending Homelessness . Metropolitan Housing and Community Centers.
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