No Place To Go 

With so much happening in our world today, the news can be overwhelming as well as misleading. Inaccurate information compared with reality’s reports reveal the roots of inequity that grip the widespread American issue of homelessness, which has only worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, shelters are inadequate to house as many people because small spaces with sparse staff result in prime conditions for COVID-19 transmission. New York City is just one of many examples of the disaster of shelter shortages, as information summarizing the effects of the virus does not always account for homeless individuals. The statistics of positive cases inside shelters are not all inclusive or accurate. In actuality, the mortality rate of sheltered homeless individuals was found to be more than double that of New Yorkers who had homes. This is definitely a dilemma because people who are able to quarantine in their homes likely do not consider those people without homes. And for staff of shelters, they suddenly become workers on the front lines.

Grappling with the already pervasive issue of homelessness is amplified for these workers as the conditions of many shelters, like the ones in New York, are breeding grounds for the virus and general poor health. These physical problems make for a situation challenging to navigate, but workers and communities should not let hardships be intimidating. The persistent presence of homelessness is nothing new, and this is no time to take a break from chipping away at solving it. Despite common tendencies to overlook and stereotype the homeless population, we must recognize the systemic flaws in the insufficiency of our response and adopt a perspective that allows us to share resources in care.

For The Record

The records reveal issues of insufficient space and conditions in shelters, but they also further expose the discrimination against minority people groups, even in the ways we handle mass homelessness. Systemic racism in America has been a hot topic for a while, and we must not neglect the Americans who are without homes too. The news tends to avoid reporting the fact that minority groups are at higher risk for being neglected because they are subjected to homelessness on a much more skewed scale than is often shown. The truth of the matter reveals two layers of disadvantage for minority groups, as they are also more heavily affected by the virus on top of homelessness. And besides racial biases, perceptions towards the homeless population in general prevent us from feeling motivated to help. Tendencies to see homeless people as dangerous, incompetent, or dirty cause us to be overly cautious and uncaring towards them. Some may reason that homeless people are not worth helping, but this judgement is made through the clouded lens of dehumanization. Other views that figure they are resilient enough to survive on their own are through the same lens. Their environments and lifestyles may be starkly different than ours, but that doesn’t give us excuse to ignore their need. Recognizing the extent of our unjust treatment and biased policies, we must realize that we can’t expect to work towards bridging the gap between equity and homelessness without addressing the underlying unfairness. 

No More Blinders 

Thus, the first step we can take is mental, as we actively break down common stereotypes about the homeless population and examine our individual and collective reservations. Restructuring our patterns of thinking will set us up back on track for appropriate ways of responding to such a crisis as this. The National Alliance to End Homelessness provides ideas of how this can be done through the supplying of housing, mobilizing of helpers, and organizing of COVID testing, placing huge emphasis on the fact that any effort must be made as a collective community without bias in order to be effective. Though biases may be impossible to completely eradicate, it makes sense that we must individually be vigilant about guarding our thoughts and perceptions if we are to have any hope of caring for other people who are different than us in any way. A diverse community includes the backgrounds, economic stability, and living conditions that the individuals experience. The divides may appear and feel very deep between those who are sheltered and those who are homeless, but the reality is that we must correct as much bias as we can to still help the homeless population even if we cannot relate to them as much. The existence of bias is then no excuse to look the other way, because the space and resources should ideally be shared among all the individuals in the community. 

One Step Forward

Once the subtle but significant barrier of stereotype is tackled, progress can be made as people work together and communicate. Santa Monica’s program for fighting back against homelessness has yielded small but still encouraging results. Their multifaceted program to fight homelessness includes the involvement of many people coordinating together to embrace individuals on the streets and help them, which has resulted in fourteen percent less homeless people in the past year. We can learn from the way this model highlights the racial and sociocultural divisions within the homeless population and between them and us. Reaching out to those suffering on the streets may seem like an insurmountable task, but by organizing and working together, it is possible and positive. 

It Takes A Village 

We can further educate ourselves specifically regarding homelessness in our local areas by accessing the many resources and ideas online for providing safe shelters, monitoring the health of the homeless, and tending to their basic needs. Safe guidelines may seem limited and miniscule to us, but if we let small opportunities pass us by, then we won’t be prepared or inclined to take larger ones. The CDC lists many good ideas to help communities get started, such as utilizing available hotel rooms for sheltering people, various sites correlating to individuals’ contacts with COVID, donations for supplies, and signage to raise awareness about the issue and ways to help. These steps may seem small in the face of a big dilemma. But by uniting for the cause and with our fellow neighbors, we can slowly but surely work together in pushing back the tides of inequity and poverty. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and/or student and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of United 4 Social Change Inc., its board members, or officers.
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