Skid row suffering ignored in today’s society

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DePaul University and DePaul International made the announcement Sept. 26 that there is a new addition coming to Chicago: the Institute for Global Homelessness. The goal is, according to DePaul’s Newsroom, to “establish an institute to provide research, leadership development and creative consultancy in homelessness.”

This news may come as a shock to many, as the topic of homelessness is one that is often ignored and commonly stigmatized. Perhaps it is such an undesirable subject because it is one that, when confronted about it, will most likely make a person feel extremely uncomfortable.

Eric Plattner, a professor at DePaul University, said, “Perhaps we are annoyed by homeless people because they confront us subconsciously with the undeniable fact that we live in the most unjust, inequitable society in the industrialized world, and we feel slightly – although only slightly – embarrassed by this fact.”

The common stigma is that most homeless people are on the streets as a cause of consistently making poor life decisions including drug use, dropping out of school and committing crimes.

However, this does not account for the many people suffering after unforeseen circumstances such as losing a job or young people being put on the streets due to family conflict. Many veterans wind up without a home due to disabilities attained while serving the country.

In addition, it is no secret that men and women coming out of jail find that re-entering society can be increasingly difficult with a tarnished record. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, on any given night there can be more than 600,000 people in the U.S. living without a home.

It is reasonable to be confused as to how such an immense problem is not being looked at with greater action and force to try to be fixed. I suppose it feels much more comfortable to ignore a problem this tremendous than to find the root of the problem and try to fix it.

Plattner said, “We do not view these people as people, we view them as things. The term ‘the homeless’ goes a long way to dehumanize these people; it groups them together, a fundamentally dehumanizing act, like Nazis repeating the term ‘the Jews,’ or like our use of the term ‘the slaves’.” Plattner explains further.

“‘Homeless people’ or ‘people who have no homes’ or ‘suffering people’ need help but are not getting any because we as a society have chosen to devote $4 trillion over the last 10 years to war, (equal to) $33 billion a month every month for 10 years! But only $25 billion total (has been set aside) for all federal homeless programs over the same 10 years,” he said.

The real problem with homelessness is that once someone is in this state of destitution, it is incredibly difficult to escape. How is one supposed to hold a job without access to a shower or a place to sleep? These people don’t even have a permanent address to write down on a job application.

Where can they possibly begin to fix the mistakes they have made in the past? It’s understandable for some to have simply given up hope. To best confront the ever growing issue of homelessness, the next best step is to do exactly what DePaul University is working on: to investigate the problem on hand and educate the public on how best to handle it.

“The ultimate solution to ‘end homelessness’ will be far more complicated, of course,” Plattner said. “One would have to end the extreme poverty and unjust income inequality that drives many people to make bad life decisions that gives them little hope or vision for a better life, that dooms them to substandard schools, that surrounds them with neighborhoods that reflect back the worst our society has to offer.”

The challenge of minimizing the number of homeless people is immense, but action must be taken now. The country as a whole must stop pretending that this is an issue that will fix itself.