The word “homeless” is used to describe many different kinds of people with a variety of problems; the “homeless” includes veterans, the mentally ill, the physically disabled or chronically ill, the elderly on fixed incomes, men, women, and families that have lost their source of income, single parents, runaway children who’ve been abused, alcoholics and drug addicts, immigrants, and traditional tramps, hobos, and transients (Martin, 1999). In “Helping and Hating the Homeless”, Peter Martin claims that although these people all have different backgrounds, histories, and reasons for not having a “home”, they are categorized and stereotyped by society and all looked down upon for being “homeless”. He addresses his readers, those that pass by homeless men and women on the street and those who look down upon the homeless, in order to “attempt to explain at least some of that anger and fear [directed towards the homeless], to clear up some of the confusion, to chip away the indifference”.
In order to support his argument, Martin uses many homeless people’s lives as examples for the reasons they became homeless and have stayed homeless, he also incorporates many public policies and homeless shelter’s policies to help describe the homeless life. By doing this, he is able to give his reader’s incite on the homeless, allowing them to have a further understanding of how they live. Due to lack of knowledge and understanding, many stereotypes have been able to affect and impact the way society looks at the homeless and creates homeless policies. By including multiple sources that reflect the views of Martin, this essay will create a better understanding of the homeless and how the stereotypes, although inaccurate, affect the lives of the homeless.
Martin states that “the homeless, simply because they are homeless, are strangers, alien-and therefore a threat” (para. 24) in order to help explain the feelings that society has towards the homeless. He then explains how he feels a sense of annoyance, intrusion, worry, and alarm while walking past homeless men and women on his walk home through the park, and how these feelings are not due to the threat of danger, but instead this is a response, “fed by a complex set of cultural attitude, habit of thought, and fantasies and fears” (Martin, para. 25), that has become second nature. In her essay “Exotic, or “What Beach Do You Hang Out On?””, while explaining definitions of the word exotic, Tara Masih explains how people try to appear familiar in order to be viewed as safe.
She states: By covering our bodily smells with the same scents, by following the current trends in hair styles, by spending all our energy/time/money to wear the same clothes during the same season, and by keeping up with the latest profanity, we are saying to our compatriots: “Hey, I’m just like you, therefore I’m safe and familiar” (para. 8). Although they are discussing two different topics, both Martin and Masih devote time in their essays to show how the unfamiliar is automatically categorized as dangerous, unsafe, and something to avoid. They explain how it isn’t even something people think about, it’s a response triggered by what society has taught us. Fearing the unknown is one of the reasons why many people fear the homeless; their lives are unfamiliar to us, we don’t know how they ended up without a home, and they’re not clean and groomed; because we cannot relate to them they become alien like and unpredictable.
In the recent study, Types of Automatically Activated Prejudice: Assessing Possessor-Versus Other-Relevant Valence in the Evaluative Priming Task, Juliane Degner and Dirk Wentura tested the participants’ reactions to different scenarios to see how stereotypes affect the way they perceive situations. They contrasted the reactions to well known negative prejudices with the reaction to the positive social groups. Within the study, the homeless were the only group that received both possessor-relevant and other-relevant reactions. Degner and Wentura state, “For the homeless-students comparison, we obtained the highest rating differences for the target traits. The effect size parameters point at a clear-cut negativity bias for both relevance types” (199).
This is the only study that received these results and explains that the homeless were scene as asocial, aggressive, weak, and contemptible. Throughout “Helping and Hating the Homeless”, Martin also reflects how the homeless are viewed. He uses many adjectives with similar, if not identical, meanings to the ones used in the study. He explains how the homeless are viewed as anti-social because many are trying to avoid our world, how they are viewed as a threat because they are not similar to us, how many of them are hungry and don’t have places to sleep and therefore they are weak, and many look down upon them and think that the are getting what they deserve. This study elaborates on Martin’s ideas of how the homeless are viewed, and gives further evidence and reasoning to why these are the automatically active prejudice thoughts, or stereotypes, projected toward the homeless.
In their study, Perspectives of Employed People Experiencing Homelessness of Self and Being Homeless: Challenging Socially Constructed Perceptions and Stereotypes, Michael Shier, Marion Jones, and John Graham introduce their study with this sentence, “Negative public perspectives and stereotypes of homelessness is a significant issue that needs to be addressed to help eliminate the stigma attached to people who are homeless and to the shelters that provide services” (14). The study was conducted in order to challenge stereotypes and have a better understanding of the pathways to and from homelessness and the perspectives of homeless persons who are employed. The participants in this study were asked four questions: How does being homeless impact the way I perceive myself? How does being homeless impact my personal outlook and/or personal development? What/how strong are my hopes of getting out of this situation? And what is my perspective on having a permanent residence or home? Many participants felt like those around them were judging them, which made them embarrassed of their situation. They also expressed that they try to look at the positives of where they are and where they are going. Throughout their answers they discuss how the stereotypes impact they way they perceive themselves and those around them, one participant said:
For a lot of us, it is just that we are here. You can beat me over the head all you want; I have to figure this out myself, and thank you for offering. [Nonetheless] you know I’m going to try to be as nice as I can. It is not the end of the world: I do not have to be a bad person because I am homeless. I do not have to be mean and scream and yell and tantrum like a three-year-old either (23). Many of these homeless people feel like they are completely looked down upon and expected to act out of line because of the way they are viewed by the public. Another participant explained that lots of times people will hassle them on the street and treat them like they are scum. He explained how this hurt his feelings and said, “we are not all criminals; there are a lot of good, hard-working honest people like myself that are just trying to start over and build a life for themselves the best way they can in these days and times” (23).
The participants of this research study also explain that they enjoy shelter services because not only do they provide places to sleep, but also they provide social support from those in situations similar to their own. They explain that more of these services would be greatly appreciated in the homeless community. In the essay, “Helping and Hating the Homeless”, Martin discussed how he talked to many homeless men and women throughout his life, in the essay he uses their stories of how they became homeless and their perspectives on being homeless as examples to support his claim. This research study elaborates on his examples by providing 61 more stories and perspectives. Like Martin explains throughout his essay, all of these people have stories and reasons for becoming homeless, each person has a different history and a different perspective of where they are. Many of them don’t fit the stereotypes that society has placed on the homeless, especially the ones in this case, because this study represents the homeless persons who are employed.
What Martin does not express in his essay is how the media has an effect on how society views and stereotypes those without homes. In the study Representations of Homelessness In Four Canadian Newspapers: Regulation, Control, and Social Order, Barbara Schneider, Kerry Chamberlain, and Darrin Hodgetts explain how the simplest recognition of the homeless being a social problem rather than a personal circumstance can affect the way society views the homeless. This is something Martin could have used to help further his explanation on how the homeless are viewed, because this day in age many people receive their information from the media and are persuaded in to believing or thinking a certain thing based on the wording and point of view the article is written in.
They state, “While news coverage is often sympathetic to individuals who are homeless, it tends to portray homelessness as an individual rather than structural problem, thus blaming individuals for their circumstances” (Schneider, Chamberlain, & Hodgetts, 150). This idea directly relates to Martin’s statement, “Even more disturbing is the fact that it is often our supposed sources of support-family, friends, government organizations-that have caused the problem in the first place” (para. 18), because it reflects that it is not the individual’s fault, but the often resulting factors of problems within the government. Within Schneider, Chamberlain, and Hodgetts research study, they discuss how it is important for the homeless to be able to communicate with those around them and the media, because it will allow society to understand them further. They state:
Homeless people find it difficult to get their voices into the media and to affect the ongoing public narrative about themselves. Various scholars (Greenberg et al.,2006; Iyengar, 1991; Klodawsky et al., 2002) assert that framing in media coverage informs the policy solutions that are considered; if so, then homeless people are excluded from full participation both in defining and in finding solutions to their “problems” (168).
If they were able to communicate with the media, government, and society, they would be able to express their main concerns and help their current situation. This would possibly allow them to expand policies that are made to help the homeless.
Martin explains that the three main homeless shelters in Santa Barbara, California are private, and two of them are religious. Between the three shelters they provide fewer than 100 beds per night and have strict rules for how often you can stay, how long you can stay, and who gets to stay. He explains the conditions of the rooms you stay in; how crowded, muggy, and uncomfortable they are. Martin discusses how the policies toward the homeless are projected the same way that the homeless are viewed. He explains that the policies hurt the homeless more than help them, he does this in order to gain the audiences understanding of the situation. For example, Martin expounds how a recent campaign to do away with “sleeping ordinances” was successful; this campaign made it illegal for the homeless to sleep at night in public places. Stephen Lillenthal explains in his article, “The Problem Is Not The Homeless”, that many places do not want to make policies that support the homeless because they are afraid that the homeless will create a “problem” in their facilities by being disruptive. His article further develops what Martin explains on how the policies are not made in support of the homeless.
Lillenthal explains that by making homeless policies in public libraries to create programs for the poor and homeless will build job experience, and social skills in order to further improve the lives among the homeless. “During the visits, DPL provides instruction on job interview techniques and how to use audiobooks and MP3 players. After the class at the Gathering Place, participants receive bus tokens to go to the main library for a tour and to get library cards” (Lillenthal, 31), this is another way the library’s with the policies supporting the homeless help get those in need back on their feet. Many libraries refuse to make this a policy for fear, due to stereotypes, that the homeless will ruin the appeal of their facility. The libraries that have started programs for the homeless have said that it’s only improved the way the library runs. By explaining how the homeless are able to help work in the library, gain social skills, and receive free food, Lillenthal, like Martin, promotes the idea of having more policies in favor of the homeless.
Throughout all of these research studies, essays, and articles, stereotypes among the homeless are discussed in order to explain how they affect the lives of the homeless. In “Helping and Hating The Homeless”, Martin explains how the single word “homeless” represents so many subgroups of people. These people come from many different backgrounds, and have had many different drawbacks in their lives. This one word is accompanied by many stereotypes that society has used to view the homeless, and to make policies against or for the homeless.
These stereotypes not only impact the way others view the homeless, but it affects the way the homeless view themselves. People often make snap judgments based on the things they have seen or heard about prior in their lives, that is why these stereotypes can often lead to the alienation of the homeless. Each text discusses a lack of communication between the homeless and the rest of society, in Martin’s essay he explains that the homeless “reduce their world to a small area, and thereby protect themselves from a world that might otherwise be too much to bear” (para.22). The other sources reflect how the rest of society tries to stay away from the homeless; this helps represent the barrier that has been created due to stereotypes. Each of these texts demonstrates the idea that it is important to have a better understanding of the homeless in order to break the stereotypes that have affect the lives of many people. After all of the different categories people put in, and all the different stereotypes and prejudice thoughts, we all are human and have feelings and social needs.
Degner, J., Wentura, D. Types of Automatically Activated Prejudice: Assessing Possessor-Versus Other-Relevant Valence in the Evaluative Priming Task. New York, NY: Guilford Publications, Inc, 2011. 182-209. Print. Lillenthal, Stephen M. “The Problem Is Not The Homeless”. Library Journal June 2011: 30-36. EBSCOhost. Web. 6 May 2012.
Martin, Peter. “Helping and Hating the Homeless.” Border Texts, ed. Randall Bass, Houghton Mifflin, 1999. 228-238. Print.
Masih, Tara. “Exotic, or “What Beach Do You Hang Out On?”” Beyond Boarders. 2nd ed. Boston, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. 79-83. Print.
Schneider, B., Chamberlain, K., Hodgetts, D. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. In Representations of Homelessness in Four Canadian Newspapers: Regulation, Control, and Social Order. Western Michigan University, 2010. 147-173. Print. Shier, M., Jones, M., Graham, J. Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare. In Perspectives of Employed People Experiencing Homelessness of Self and Being Homeless: Challenging Socially Constructed Perceptions and Stereotypes. Western Michigan University, 2010. 13-38. Print.