Society’s Own Discrimination

June 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Holistically grappling with the topic of homelessness is not an easy task, especially in such an ethnically diverse city as Durham.  Behind the traffic vests and tattered appearance lies a distinct subculture that remains disregarded and unseen by the general public.  While the topic of homelessness raises a myriad of opinions and political stances in the public, the fact that each situation varies from homeless person to homeless person is often overlooked and subsequently targeted as a uniform problem. My research this week very much refuted this thought, and from this, I plan to adjust the rest of my project accordingly.

I began my research by talking with a man (who asked to remain nameless) who sat on the side of Hillsborough Road.  Appearing in his mid forties or early fifties claimed that he had been homeless for twenty-one years.  According to him, the hardest part of being homeless is not living on the street (not to say it is easy by any means), but “how difficult it was to move up in the world.”  He continued to explain the difficulties of getting a job without a permanent address, as many employers tend to stereotype homeless applicants.  “Employers aren’t the only ones though,” he said.  Banks, police, public officials, and even the general public seem to treat homeless people the same way: in some manner different from everyone else.  Whether it is the turn away of heads as the stoplight turns red and cars pull up to the intersection, or the denial of any sort of housing privileges without being fully employed and an appropriate background check, the man explained that he did feel alienated, set aside, and discriminated against.  He was stuck.  Unable to become employed due to the alienation of employers, he could not progress his way up in the socioeconomic world.  This is a sad but true fact for the majority of the homeless population.

Talking with the man this week showed me a few major points in my research.  One of these being the fact that not all homeless people are the same.  While this point seems basic, it is almost always bypassed.  Quite often, the statements that “homelessness is a life choice” or that “the homeless beg because they are too lazy to work” are imprinted in the general public’s mentality.  This is far from the truth and wrongly categorizes all homeless people in an unjustifiable stereotype that abundantly exists throughout the community.  Most often, society’s response to the homeless is a lecture on a “lifestyle change” or to get a job.  This commonly misconstrued response is a demonstration of not a problem with the homeless, but rather a problem with society.  Society tends to succumb to blaming the homeless for their state, denying the fact that each situation is different and subsequently alienating them from the job and housing market.  This results in a perpetual state of socioeconomic stagnancy for these homeless people.  This research helped me see that it is not necessarily these people’s fault for their poverty, but rather more commonly society’s own discrimination against their progression.

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§ One Response to Society’s Own Discrimination

  • ethnolust says:

    This is a really interesting post. I look forward to seeing what comes of this project. There are a few questions that I would like to see addressed in future posts. First, you start the post mentioning Durham’s ethnic diversity, but I’m wondering how that complicates homelessness. I may agree that the city’s diversity contributes to the particularities of homelessness, but I would love to know how.

    Next, I like your descriptive writing, but in the first paragraph you mention “traffic vests and tattered” appearances. Although this might be a common image associated with people living in the streets, it isn’t the only one. I would suggest that you make sure readers understand that you are talking about a common perception as opposed to something that you deem fact.

    Last, I agree that “not all homeless people are the same,” but how does this post show it? What did this man say or do to show you this? Is this something that you’re going to bring up in the next post?

    I’m sure it will be interesting.

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