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The Aquilian

My perspective on homelessness

The struggles of homelessness in DC are visible around Gonzaga. Photo by Peter Allen

Attending high school and living near D.C. has given me frequent encounters with people struggling with homelessness.  Whether it is serving at a homeless shelter and talking with the men and women, or driving to school and seeing familiar faces on the streets, I am accustomed to homelessness.  My family and Gonzaga have shaped me into acknowledging and having sympathy toward anyone struggling with homelessness.  

Homelessness is a constant problem, especially in D.C., which can’t necessarily be fixed, but it can be significantly reduced.  One solution that could potentially help this problem is shining more light on how and why people become homeless.  There is typically a stereotype surrounding homeless people that says they are either drug addicts or lazy and don’t want to find a job.  This is rarely true.  Almost all of the homeless people I have encountered have had considerable changes in their life that they had no control over, causing their homelessness.  Having people look at the homeless from a different perspective can lead to more acceptance and aid.    

Gonzaga has given me a unique perspective on the challenges people with homelessness face. Gonzaga’s central focus is shaping students into “men with and for others.” I have embraced this value and spent time serving the homeless in my community. 

A key moment of recognition for me took place during my freshman year.  Each day taking the Metro, I would see a homeless man selling flowers. The first few times I passed him, I lacked the courage to speak with him. As I became more comfortable, our small exchanges turned into longer conversations. I learned his name was Clarence, and after speaking with him and eventually hearing about his life and hardships, I realized that everyone has a story that has brought them to their current situation.  Through our conversations, I realized that I take for granted so many parts of my life, including regular meals, a bed and a loving family.  One of the unique attributes of Gonzaga is that it has a men’s homeless shelter on campus.  The shelter has allowed me to better understand homelessness and to give back, whether it is time conversing with men or serving them a hot meal.

In Washington, D.C. alone, 4,410 people suffer from homelessness.  While this is less than the 2016’s number of 8,350, it is still a significant problem.  Understanding homelessness creates greater acceptance, and greater acceptance is a crucial step in finding real solutions.  The more people with a greater understanding and appreciation for homelessness, the more willing they will be to give their ideas, money and time.

Education is also a key factor in the race to limit homelessness.  According to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, strengthening partnerships between education and homelessness is crucial.  Children with less than a high school diploma or GED “have a 346% higher risk of experiencing homelessness than youth with at least a high school degree” (USICH).  They also state that someone with less than a high school diploma has a three times higher chance of being unemployed than someone with a bachelor’s degree.  The USICH goes on to list many stats about the cost of living and income that relate to education.  By improving our education systems, we can help prevent homelessness.             

While some people still believe that educating people about homelessness would help this growing problem, there may be a more impactful strategy.  Instead of making the rest of the world view homelessness in a different light, we should not make any changes and force people suffering from homelessness to change themselves.  Neglecting people who struggle financially can be seen as a lesson that can push homeless people into trying their absolute best to find a job.  

The media and the internet are also filled with mass amounts of violence and have desensitized people into not caring as much towards homeless people. For example, almost every news channel seems to focus on negative stories.  Just because people understand the causes of homeless does not mean that they will sympathize with them.  The homelessness issue is likely to get lost in a sea of identity politics.  

These identity politics are when groups have particular agendas and issues that they care about and therefore, do not have the bandwidth to care about other problems.  The internet is also filled with essentially unlimited information.  The premise that “more information” will be useful is a fallacy because there is already enough information out there regarding homelessness.  Everyone who is inclined to help is already doing so, and making more information available will not change anything. 

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