The homeless men and women I spoke with while volunteering repeated the same stories.
“I got sick and couldn’t afford to pay rent anymore.”
“I went to work one day and they told me not to come back.”
“I couldn’t find another job.”
“My spouse left me.”
“I’m just want to feed my kids. I’m just tryin’ to live, ya know?”
Before volunteering in the city and speaking with homeless people, I wasn’t sure what to believe. I had only seen those who slept on the sidewalks or asked for change, assumed that they were by themselves, and viewed them as just another part of the city. But after eating and conversing with them numerous times my incorrect preconceptions have melted away. Homeless people are like any other people. People with jobs, families, and needs like anyone else, but because of bad luck, they do not have the stability of a space to call their own.
Most people I speak with have the same outlook on the homeless as I did, or worse. It’s easy to ignore those who are not relevant to our daily lives and easier to assume that they are just a bunch of lazy bums who don’t want to work. Everyday life in the city is busy, so why bother paying attention? Aren’t homeless people just another part of living in the city? We can just rely on the food pantries and shelters to take care of them, right?
It’s easy to sweep the homeless problem under the rug, but it is more severe than many realize, and I say that we need to start fixing it now. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in New York City has reached its highest level since the Great Depression. As of November 2014, over 60,000 people slept in a homeless shelter each night. Out of all these people only one in five is a single adult. The rest are all children and families. 60,000 people may not seem like very many in comparison to New York City’s estimated 8.4 million people, but considering the fact that most smaller towns and cities hold between 20,000 and 80,000 people, 60,000 is clearly more urgent, and that number does not include the many others who are unsheltered.
There are countless factors to consider when trying to figure out why more people are becoming homeless, but there is one that will always be first on the list: a lack of affordable housing. According to Census Bureau data, New York City lost thirty-nine percent of the apartments affordable to households below twice the poverty line from 2002 to 2011. Furthermore, median apartment rents increased by twenty-five percent from 2005 to 2010, rising every year during that period. This means that there are fewer options available to those below the poverty line, and that what is available is slowly becoming more expensive. More people will be forced into shelters and onto the streets if these trends are not adequately addressed.
After having read this far you can probably see that there are many homeless people in the city, but is being homeless really that bad? To answer the question I will explain three scenarios: couch-surfing, street life, and shelter life. Couch-surfing is when a person stays with a friend or an acquaintance for a short period of time because he/she does not have a place of his/her own to stay. This is one of the least visible and least severe situations a homeless person can be in, but it is often very volatile. It can be very discouraging to turn to an acquaintance for something as basic as a place to stay, and nobody wants to be a burden for too long. Unless the homeless person can get back on his/her feet relatively quickly, couch-surfing will transition to shelter or street life. Shelter life has a number of struggles but most of the homeless people I spoke to deemed losing control of their own life and bodies as the worst part. Every shelter differs, but since they have to accommodate several people they have rigid schedules. Most have early curfews every night, set times for mandatory showers, set meal times, and set times in the morning when everyone must leave for the day. People living the shelter life build their lives around the shelter’s schedule and closely follow the shelter’s rules in unless they want to be ejected. Living on the street is the worst of the three, because there is no protection on a street corner or an alleyway. Those living on the street need to worry about the elements, thieves, criminals, animals, and any other danger that comes with the streets of the city, and since many homeless people suffer from some kind of mental or physical ailment, it can be difficult to acquire proper medical care without a permanent address to refer to.
The levels of homelessness may be high, but they are not unassailable. The best way to reduce homelessness is to create more affordable housing options. Long-term housing assistance and permanent housing are proven to be effective at reducing homelessness and to be cost-effective. Housing subsidies can make it possible for low-income families to afford an apartment and permanent supportive housing can be established to assist those with mental illnesses or serious health problems, the best way to fight homelessness is to prevent it. One way to do this is to have the government support people who cannot afford rent due to sudden medical costs, the death or departure of an income source, or an abrupt layoff. A single event can trigger a family’s transition into homelessness, but with the proper support it can be prevented.
So what can we as ordinary citizens do to help homeless people? Be kind! Giving money and saying hello to the street-dwellers are nice things to do and show that you are acknowledging them as people. They aren’t very helpful in the long run, but these small gestures can make a difference to their recipients. Volunteer! Many shelters are understaffed and need all the help they can get. Shelters support homeless people and do their best to provide as much as possible, so they deserve any help they receive. Spread awareness! Many good people are simply unaware that homelessness is a problem, and if more people know, more will help. Finally, pressuring the government into action is key to solving the problem, because without legislation to back the expansion of affordable housing it will be very difficult to make affordable housing widespread and accessible for those who need it. Write to your elected officials! Organize petitions! Do anything that will force the government to treat this problem with urgency!Homeless people are not a problem, the problem is that people are homeless, and any action taken to help them will be appreciated by somebody.
I will be writing my op-ed assignment on the problem of homelessness in large cities. Many people have several misconceptions about homeless people and I want to demonstrate that the stereotypes are untrue. Homelessness affects people of all genders, race, and age. The frighteningly common belief that homeless people are bums who are trying to scalp off of government welfare programs is not only dehumanizing, it is entirely untrue. So many of these people are families struggling to survive. In November 2014, homeless shelters in New York City recorded an all-time high of 60,352 homeless people, 14,159 homeless families, and 25,640 homeless children spending their nights in shelters. Homelessness in New York City has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression, and families account for approximately four-fifths of the homeless shelter population, and these numbers do not include the countless others who cannot go to the shelters because the shelters may be full or they may have a mental illness. This is a problem that effects every major metropolitan area in the United States, yet so many are comfortable turning the other cheek the same way they look away when they pass a homeless person on the street.
Although my experience working with homeless people is mostly limited to the DC area and Massachusetts, I want to have my op-ed published in the New York Times because of how much worse the problem has gotten there over the past decade. On top of that, it is the biggest city in the United States, and the New York Times has a substantial reader base, which would help to maximize the reach of the message I intend to convey. Furthermore, an article highlighting the rise in homelessness in NYC was published in late October, so it has already been deemed a worthy topic by the paper.
Shouts to Clare for having this idea first. This is my reply to Alle’s post, for some reason comments don’t work on it:
Interesting take! I think the best thing about her op-ed is that, although it is mainly focused on foreign students trying to assimilate, its core can apply to anyone trying to fit in in a new place. Despite having a narrow focus her message still manages to be broad enough for anyone to take something away from it. Overall your post was good but I think it would benefit from one more sentence, as your last sentence leaves an end loose.
Out of all the op-eds, Leonard Lee’s “Is National Service in Singapore truly necessary?” is the most successful at showing me why I should care. I find Lee’s writing the most persuasive because he does an excellent job in making his case to my brain and my heart. He points out that Singapore’s strong military creates a secure environment and helps attract businesses and stimulates the economy. This section appeals to me logically because it pushes me to the conclusion that the military protects its citizens’ financial security along with their personal security, making it necessary to preserve their quality of life. On top of this, Lee puts a focus on the camaraderie of being in Singapore’s military and the feelings protecting his country gave him. By addressing the emotional aspects his writing feels more human and personal, which appeals to my emotions, helping me understand his reasoning on a level that goes deeper than the statistical advantages he mentioned earlier. He merges his facts with his feelings seamlessly, making his argument stronger and convincing me easily. As a result, I see his point more clearly than the others, which makes me care more about what he is saying.
In “The Truth about Torture,” Charles Krauthammer rejects the McCain amendment, which would outlaw any torture from being performed on a war prisoner of the United States. Krauthammer asserts that there are certain scenarios in which torture is not only permissible, but morally required.
Krauthammer separates war prisoners into three categories: ordinary prisoners of war, captured terrorists, and terrorists with information. Krauthammer agrees with the McCain amendment in regards to ordinary prisoners of war, as they are lawful fighters who happen to be on the opposing side of a legitimate conflict. Krauthammer believes that terrorists do not deserve the same leniency because they harm innocent civilians, but because we are not amoral they are still not to be mistreated.
Unlike the first two categories, Krauthammer believes that torture can be used to deal with terrorists who have information. He argues that any means necessary should be used on a terrorist who is captured during a situation like a bomb threat because there is limited time and information is necessary to save as many innocents as possible. This is followed by the assertion that a high-ranking terrorist should also be tortured because his/her information could be used to prepare for upcoming attacks and preemptively save the lives of thousands of people. In a sentence, Krauthammer concedes that torturing someone is wrong, but when innocent lives could be at stake, not torturing a terrorist for preventative information is abhorrent.
Kenneth Burke compares writing to entering a party and joining a heated intellectual debate that started before one arrives. I would say that Burke’s quote sums up my writing experiences very neatly and accurately. The way I see it, entering the party is deciding what my topic will be, catching the gist of the argument is researching both sides to form an opinion or idea, and putting in my oar is the actual act of putting my opinion into writing. Writing about anything intellectual is like joining a party with a heated discussion because whenever I write about something someone has usually written about it before and someone will probably address the same topic after, perpetuating the discussion and keeping the party going
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