In today’s society, the homeless population
of this country is looked down upon by a majority of the population.
The homeless are shunned from the normal walks of life, but
have you ever thought why? Why does most of the middle
and upper class American society look down on these people?
Is it because of the stereotype that the homeless population
is just to lazy to go get a job, is it because they feel like
they are spending their hard earned tax dollars on people who
could help themselves, or is it because they just don’t like
the thought of the homeless …
Horatio Alger Jr.
Horatio Alger Jr. was a post-Civil War
author and poet. “He wrote more than 120 books with the
inspiring theme of onward and upward” (Horatio Alger and the
American Dream). His books were directed toward young
people in the attempt to show them how good virtues would help
them achieve the American dream. This is reflected in
the title of many of his novels. “Fame and Fortune”, “Sink
or Swim”, and “Do and Dare” are just a few examples of the relationship
between the titles of his books and the general plot that is
found throughout Alger’s writings (Rags to Riches, to Rap).
The general plot for an Alger novel was
“An adolescent boy with a rural
background sets off to earn his livelihood in an urban setting.
He triumphs over circumstances and temptations and starts advancing
his career. At some point in his career he will be betrayed
or falsely accused by one of his peers. Ultimately, the
hero will be vindicated” (horatio-alger-faq).
The main virtues that Alger taught in his
novel were hard work, study, loyalty to superiors and subordinates,
abstaining from alcohol, frugal living, importance of dress and
personal grooming, speaking and writing effectively, speaking
the whole truth, courtesy to all, and, accepting the success of
others (horatio-alger-faq). The American public who have
been successful in life have followed a majority of the virtues
taught by Alger, and are content with their lives. I feel
like this is one of the major reasons for their negative attitude
toward the homeless population. They feel like if the homeless
would live by these virtues then it would help turn their lives
around and at least make them more respectable citizens.
A good percentage of homeless people are immigrants who came to
this country in search of the American dream. There are
countless stories of immigrants who came to America with only
the clothes on their backs and took whatever jobs they could find.
These people slowly but surely saved up and worked their way up
to a “big office, big house, and a big car. Then their children
get a great education and become part of American society” (Horatio
Alger and the American Dream). Americans feel like all that
the homeless have to do to get themselves off of the streets is
do what the other before them have done and what the ones to follow
will do. What the American public doesn’t understand is
that most of the homeless population is not that way by choice
but by circumstances.
Mental and Substance Abuse Problems
Research shows that “deep seated behavioral
problems, far more than a lack of housing, cause people to become
and stay homeless” (Another Homeless crisis). A survey
conducted in 1987 showed that more than 71 percent of the homeless
that were surveyed said they had been in one or more of the
following situations: 20 percent in had been in a mental
hospital, 35 percent had been in substance abuse treatment,
56 percent had been in jail for five or more days, 26 percent
had been in a state or federal prison, and two in five of the
population that was surveyed said that they were associated
with more than one of the instances listed above. Out
of those statistics it only leaves 29 percent of the population
that was survey with out some kind of mental or substance abuse
problem (Another Homeless crisis). This leads me to believe
that if these people could help themselves that they would.
Welfare was created to help people in these exact situations,
but there is not enough money to go around.
This is another reason why Americans look
down upon the homeless and poverty driven population.
They feel like their hard-earned tax dollars are going to waste
on people who could go out and get their own job instead of
living off of the government.
“The general public views poverty
as the result of personal failures and deficiencies. This
perception rest on several myths. The most prevalent are
that poverty results from a lack of responsibility, welfare
leads to chronic dependency, it provides a disincentive to work,
and recipients of welfare hand down to their children a set
of defective behaviors, values, and personality traits”(myths
and facts about welfare).
What most people don’t know is that welfare
only cost approximately one percent of the federal budget and
two percent of the state budgets. Another misunderstood
fact is that when you hear that the government is making budget
reductions in welfare entitlements, 93 percent of the times they
are cutting funds away from programs that are designed for the
low-income people and not from the programs that are designed
to get the people off of the streets. Yes, welfare is used
to get people off of the streets but it is not designed to make
these people dependant on it. Analyses conducted in 1996
showed that 56 percent of people who received AFDC support ended
within 12 months, 70 percent within 24 months, and 85 percent
within 4 years. Not all of these people stayed off of welfare,
but it shows that they are not dependant on it and are attempting
to support themselves. Another common myth about welfare
is that a majority of the recipients are adults. In 1995,
less than 5 million of the 14 million people on welfare were adults,
the rest were children. Also a majority of the population
that receives welfare is not a minority race but in fact 37 percent
to the recipients are white (Welfare-to-Work). These are
just a few of the misconceived notions about welfare
Welfare is not the solution to getting all
of the homeless off of the streets but it is helping. Some
welfare reforms are trying to change the way welfare works and
make it more practical so that once people get off of welfare
they stay off. One solution is to “invest in the creation
of new jobs that would pay a wage that allows a worker to support
a family. This would require the welfare reformers to put
their money where their mouths are and expand economic opportunity”
(Welfare-to-Sweatshops). Another solution is to take away
personal welfare and give companies tax credits for hiring welfare
recipients (Welfare-to-Sweatshops). If Americans knew that
a majority of the welfare recipients were putting their money
to good use and really trying to better their situations I feel
like there would be a more positive attitude toward them.
In 1995, Washington D.C. was spending 1.6
billion on trying to help the homeless. That breaks down
to $2,667 per person per year or $222 a month (Welfare Reform).
This is enough money to help someone get off the streets and find
a job where as if you had no money how could you even worry about
getting a job when you are more worried about food and a place
Recession of 1981
During Ronald Reagan’s term as president
the economy slipped into recession due to a new economic policy
known as Reaganism. In an attempt to alleviate the national
debt, government spending was cut in many different areas; this
caused a great deal of problems. Between 1980 and 1982,
the economy recorded it greatest decline since the depression.
By January of 1982, there were 11,534,000 Americans that were
officially declared unemployed. As bad as that sounds
there were somewhere between two and three million Americans
that had been out of the work force for so long that they had
quit looking for jobs so they were not officially counted as
unemployed. With the tremendous amount of job losses approximately
17,000 businesses were forced to close down. The job situation
was so bad during this time that in January 1983, there were
approximately 20,000 people lined up outside in 20 degree weather
to apply for two hundred positions in a auto-frame factory in
Milwaukee. During this recession, Reagan’s approval polls
dropped to an all time low of only 41 percent. Finally
in 1984 after an optimistic attitude for the last four years,
Reagan was quoted saying, “I think there is a slight recession
and I hope a short recession” (Cannon, 260). He blamed
the recession on his predecessors who he said had been bingeing
the last thirty years and let the national debt get so great
and now the economy was just experiencing a hangover.
Also Reagan believed that the recession would have been over
a lot sooner if the publicity would have been positive instead
of negative. He felt if the news would have been showing
positive things about Reaganism instead of the reality then
it would have all been over with sooner. On April 21,
1982 CBS aired “People like Us”. This was a documentary
of four accounts of hardship that were caused by the recession.
The first was an Ohio man who with cerebral palsy who had been
dropped from the social security rolls, next a Hispanic woman
who could not afford preventive cancer surgery for her thirteen
year old son, a Wisconsin mother who was caring her Comatose
daughter was forced to move to a institution at far greater
cost to the government and finally a Milwaukee church that provided
food for the homeless was overwhelmed by the increasing masses
that were in need of aid (Cannon, 264). As a result of
the recession the homeless population was increased dramatically
and funding for welfare was cut.
So why do Americans have a negative attitude
toward the homeless population? Mainly they feel like
the homeless population is a drain on their pockets and a disgrace
to their society. They feel like all the homeless need
to do is live by the virtues taught by Horatio Alger and it
will turn their lives around. What they don’t understand
is that 71 percent of the homeless population is the way they
are due to circumstances. They either have had mental
illness or substance abuse problems that left them penniless
and homeless. These people do not like their current situation
that is why they use welfare to help themselves get off of the
street and get on with their life. Most of the welfare
recipients do not become dependant on welfare, and most of them
are off of the streets and off of welfare within a year.
I feel like if Americans understood how things really were then
they would have a 180-degree attitude adjustment.