Homelessness as an issue in today’s society is largely ignored. To many, the problem of homelessness is invisible or barely noticed. When these people do see the homeless it is found in the form of beggars who need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” or mentally ill people who “just can’t help themselves”. In either case the central point remains; the homeless must be people who are incapable or unwilling to help themselves. After all, wouldn’t they stop being homeless if they just tried? These sorts of rationalizations cover a more disturbing truth; that for many in today’s society, the spectre of homelessness is more pressing of a problem than helping those who are already on the streets.
The millions living below the poverty line live in constant fear that at any time an event may occur that will drive them below the cultural and economic radar. Therefore, one major effect of homelessness is the creation of a threshold that forces people to remain in poverty for fear of losing what meager possessions they have.
The economic structure of the US, while changing from a product-based to a service-based job pool, remains with a similar split of the rich and the poor that has existed throughout the world since the beginning of recorded history. The illusion of the middle class in the 1950s created an expectation in modern America that great material achievement is not just possible but almost a birthright of anyone who enters the country. The American Dream is one of financial and material success. Nevertheless, the poor most often remain poor.
This creates a jaded population of impoverished citizens. This is not to say that people are happy being poor, but that when one is taught by popular culture that they deserve better they become a victim. Someone or something has caused them to be poor; therefore, it is ultimately not their fault. One effect of this victimization is that it can breed complacency. Through whatever means, some reason, I will get what’s coming to me. I am owed.
Instead of using what meager opportunities are out there some will simply wait for their piece of the pie. Another effect of this idea of being a victim is the homeless are different than the mere poor because they must have done it to themselves. As they are owed just as much as everyone else, they must have done something to cause them to be homeless. This helps to calm the fear that perhaps being in America does not guarantee success or even a decent shot at it.
If there were a support system in place to truly help those who are in poverty and cannot support themselves and their families, then perhaps the population could attempt to do better for themselves. Given real opportunities instead of self-serving token attempts from the rich, those in poverty may have a chance to break the generational cycle that poverty and the threat of homelessness creates.
The jobs in this new service-based economy often do not allow for a living wage; that is, a salary that allows a family to live with the basic necessities of life; shelter, food, clothing, and the like. For some this is merely an ideological or ethical issue but for those who it truly affects, it is a prison. Those who are willing to act to change the system have no choice but to contribute to it by working within it. The only other option would be to drop out of society, but this would involve entering the ranks of the homeless. So, the fear of being the invisible, the pathetic, the out of control drives the impoverished to work in poor conditions for little pay, doing whatever society allows them to do to sustain and supposedly better their lifestyle.
An option for the poor, some may argue, is to attempt to be self-sufficient by removing themselves from the larger economic system.
In an urban society this is just not possible. Urbanity creates an environment where people cannot create their own food, shelter, and other basic needs. Instead they must rely on the existing infrastructure for these needs. What is this infrastructure based on? It is based on services. .