homelessness and racism
if it weren't for my parents, i would be completely homeless at this point. i'm so broke that i'm paying my phone bill for this month with money from recycling bottles and cans.
since moving out on my own and struggling financially because of school and a terrible job situation, it has really occurred to me that the only thing keeping me off the streets is a supportive family. it makes me wonder if there are a lot of people living on the streets that simply didn't have anyone to help them out when they fell on difficult financial situations.
a lot of people i know look at homeless people and just think "lazy" or "addiction problem" but i feel like there is probably so much more to homelessness than that. maybe they were fired from their job because of the current economic bust and had no back up and couldn't find another job because of the economy. maybe they do have an addiction problem. maybe they had psychological or physical problems and no family or friends to support them and get them help. maybe they come from a racial background that is attached to negative societal stigma and struggle to find a job because of it. or maybe, like in the glass castle they simply prefer to be homeless because it provides greater freedom from the government and societal oppression and expectations. it's too easy to look at someone who is homeless and just assume that they are not willing to get themselves out of that situation or that they even want to, too easy to compact all the complexities of homelessness into one box of "lazy", "crazy" or "addicted". there are so many factors that prevent homeless people from changing their situation, often the same factors that put them in that situation in the first place.
i think that the reason most people in middle or upper class situations dislike homeless people and consider them a "societal problem" is because on some level, they are aware that it could so easily be them in the same situation if it weren't for the privileges they have, such as being born into a higher socioeconomic class and always having that monetary support, being able-bodied, being of healthy mind, being free of addiction, having a supportive social/familial group. homelessness could happen to anyone, if enough of the supportive legs of privilege were knocked out.
i'm terrified of becoming homeless, but also i know that the likelihood of it ever happening to me is extremely low, because i was born into a middle-class family wherein i gained the privileges of having both monetary and emotional support. i have parents with money but also i have extended relatives with money in case my parents were ever unable to assist me. because i am white and middle class, i'll always be able to find a job somewhere, even in hard economic times. i recognize that without these privileges, it would be just as likely for me to end up on the street, and this is true for anyone in the same situation. it's not fair to say that homeless people are just lazy because most of the time that really isn't the case. usually it's a combination of socioeconomic and racial situations that the individuals have very little control over.
for example, in canada, if you are a native american individual born to alcoholic parents who struggle to budget their money, or parents who are unable to keep jobs for psychological reasons, or a number of other factors, it is likely that you will be affected by these factors through no fault of your own. or, if you are a native individual born to alcoholic parents who are bad with money but end up being able to avoid being affect by these problems, you may still not be able to get a job because of the stereotypes applied to people of native american descent and/or because your parents would not have enough money to be able to provide you with nice clothes in which to apply for jobs and go to interviews. more often than not these sorts of situations are completely beyond individual control. it takes a combination of luck and hard work for someone to pull themselves out of this kind of a situation.
also in canada, a lot of white people complain about how native american individuals are provided with government support, especially with regards to education. several people i know have made the comment that "if school is free for native people, why don't they take advantage of it?" and "they are too lazy to get off their asses and just go to school", both of which are extremely racist things to say. but you have to imagine the kinds of situations that would prevent someone from taking advantage of such educational opportunities. perhaps they are unable to go to school because they need to work full-time in order to support their family, perhaps they feel that the racism and prejudice they have to confront in largely white institutions [university and college] are too psychologically damaging, perhaps they lack the transportation to get to school, perhaps they live outside the city limits and are unable to afford accommodations that would bring them close enough to educational institution. again, it is never as simple as just being too lazy to do something about their situation. there are always factors we have no way of knowing about and no right to judge.
this rant ended up being a lot longer than i intended it to be. it just is very frustrating for me to see how people are so quick to diminish complicated situations into their most basic and stigmatizing possibilities. there are so many social factors at work that place people into difficult situations that it is impossible to place all their blame on their personality traits, and it is really unfair to do so.