Why Is It So Easy for People to Discriminate Against the Homeless?



The number of people that end up living in the streets of Chicago is not surprising. With almost 140,000 people homeless in the city, including public school students, every citizen passes by at least one homeless person a day. Whether in the middle of the street, underneath road tunnels, or on the sidewalk, those without proper homes are everywhere – both in and outside of the city. They are forced to move from block to block in search of shelter, always on their feet even in the blistering sun.

Not only is the life of homeless citizens filled with personal and economic hardship but also discrimination.  This is exemplified, at times, when others avert their eyes as a man in ragged clothes walks toward them with a cardboard sign in hand. As drivers speed past women and men in the middle of the street holding paper cups in their hand they neglect to give these men or women any acknowledgment – as if walking past a stray on the street.

Whenever people are looked at in a subpar manner, pain is inflicted.  They are still human beings and should be regarded as such.  At times, even city officials treat them as if they do not matter.  Instead of attempting to help these victims, it seems they would rather get rid of them.   For example, cities have reported putting rounded spikes on ledges to deter the homeless from sleeping near the building. Parks enact tent prohibitions and install bars on park benches, allegedly, to prevent homeless people from sleeping in public spaces. Inconsequentially, pushing the issue of homelessness out of sight.

Still, thousands of people are seen in tents, sleeping bags, and underneath coats across Chicago. Sleeping in plain sight, even on the banks of the Chicago River. Some who are homeless are fortunate enough have access to a car, so as not to be stuck on the streets.

The city’s action of pushing hundreds of homeless people out of public spaces is seen as “a type of discrimination… that is immoral,” by homeless organizations.  However, in response to these claims, the city describes it as a way to “encourage people to seek a safer, more appropriate shelter.”

“Just Why Can Homeless People Not Stay in Shelters?” 

Yes, there are nonprofit organizations, shelters, and churches that contribute to helping others find accommodations and other resources. However, many would be surprised to learn that some homeless people refuse beds at homeless shelters. This may sound absurd, but shelters can be dangerous. Many of those who stay have to constantly worry about their belongings being stolen, especially shoes.  Food is not always accessible in many shelters as well as other personal items, and despite them being in demand among the homeless, available items are always in short supply – not to mention medical aide.

Also, shelters often come with additional concerns such as bed bugs and body lice, which are inevitable when a different homeless person sleeps in a bed each night. Contagious diseases are also common among a population that lacks access to nutritious food and adequate medical care. Shelters do not have the means to quarantine those with illness from the general population, making a night in a shelter a health risk.

Due to the number of people that come to shelters, many shelters must enforce strict rules. This at times, includes, sometimes separating families (men, women, and children) and not allowing personal belongings or pets in the building.  For many of them, it is a struggle to even get inside a shelter before they become full, and then the shelters would not allow them to leave until the next morning.

There are many things to consider when talking about the homeless community.  Far too often, they are not treated as individuals deserving respect but as a part of a group that gets neglected. Stores and businesses regard the homeless as a “they” while going to great lengths to prevent “them” from stealing or even walking inside the building. However, the belief that the homeless will take any opportunity to steal does not come from discrimination alone, but also a lack of understanding.

Homeless men, women, and children spend their days thinking about when or where they could possibly find their next meal, with no certainty about the future. Despite their troubles, these people still spread love and happiness to those around them. It is time to change the negative perception surrounding the homeless men and women in our community.

It is difficult to determine how many people are homeless, but according to national estimates, homelessness is on the rise. Foreclosures are partly to blame, and there are a whole host of other factors at work, as well, from mental illness and addiction to the availability of public assistance and jobs.

Life has a way of humbling even the best so instead of viewing the homeless community as less than or with a discriminatory eye, find compassion and find ways to help them.  They are people too who need love and community, not disgusting stares or painful jesting.

Written by Brielle R. Buford


HuffPost: Why Do We Discriminate Against Homeless People?
WKRN: Florida city blasts ‘Baby Shark’ to deter homeless from sleeping in park
abc7: A story the city won’t discuss: Homeless population explosion

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of anonneymouse1’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons

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