Skip to main content

HOMELESSNESS

By

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 10.44.17 PM

WRITTEN BY JESSICA PARADYSZ

David Pirtle, the speaker’s bureau coordinator for the National Coalition for the Homeless, spent two-and-a-half years experiencing homelessness because he had schizophrenia and depression.

Pirtle remembers the first night he was homeless, recalling that, “I walked [under] the lights of Manhattan, and it’s funny, the first time I ever saw the Statue of Liberty, was sort of my first night as a homeless person.”

A citizen, who had a job in the restaurant business, suddenly found himself homeless, staring at the Statue of Liberty, feeling abandoned in the Land of the Free.

Since then, Pirtle has focused on advocacy issues surrounding the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness.

According to a 2014 report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, approximately 20 percent of the homeless population has a serious mental illness or substance abuse issues.

Health care issues and homelessness are part of a vicious cycle. Those who lack access to health care or resources to seek help can sink further into chronic homelessness.

“For one thing, I hadn’t seen a doctor in 15 years because I couldn’t afford health insurance,” Pirtle said.

The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that the homeless population is more susceptible to health-related issues due to increased “exposure to the elements, disease, violence, unsanitary conditions, malnutrition, stress and addictive substances.”

Pirtle needed programs to help him overcome his drug addiction, yet shelters were not equipped with the right resources.

“Anywhere, the summer is pretty deadly. Actually, I knew somebody who died in the shelter I was staying at in Washington, D.C. in 2006.”  Pirtle explains that with many people crammed into a hot room, the shelter that was supposed to be a safe haven, “was literally a deathtrap.”

Although Pirtle stole to support his addiction, it is common for homeless people to steal to survive.

Many condemn people for breaking the law, but those who are sick need treatment and it’s either starve or survive.

According to a 2012 U.S. government report, indicators of both homelessness and the criminalization of homelessness have increased steadily in recent years.

For example, 40 percent of the 234 cities surveyed for a 2011 report cited by the U.S. government had an anti-camping ban in at least some public areas, and 16 percent had a citywide ban, effectively making these cities partial or total “no homeless” zones.

“I don’t shy away from telling people that I had to do things that were against the law to survive. I stole food from a convenience store. Whenever I hear about someone who’s homeless and they make the news and they are arrested like, 30 times, it makes him sound like he’s some sort of monster,” Pirtle said.

The reality is the offenses are minor. These people are not monsters. 

According to Pirtle, most people experiencing homelessness are fined for  jaywalking, public urination or shoplifting food.

In order to survive on the streets, many people experiencing homelessness must resort to petty crimes or breaking the laws of states that criminalize homelessness.

As Pirtle said, “We put people in this position then we judge them for what they’ve done.”

Criminalization and mental abuse can prolong homelessness, yet at the heart of the matter is money and access to services.

Pirtle stated, “The number one cause of homelessness is not mental illness, it’s not drugs, it’s not domestic violence. Those are all up there, but…the reason people become homeless is they simply cannot afford a place to live.”

The minimum wage in America, during the first quarter of 2016, was $7.25 an hour. According to Pew Research Center, approximately 20.6 million Americans are “near-minimum-wage” workers.

According to Decade to Doorways Administrator Lauren Hutzel, ”We have about 615 people experiencing homelessness on any given night in Chester County and they’re not the people you think of when you think of maybe or when you see maybe in NYC or Philadelphia. Chester County is an affluent county, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have homelessness. Maybe that person who, the single mom who moved in with her grandma because her husband left her and she doesn’t have income, but then maybe her grandma passes away and she’s not on the lease so she’s evicted.”

Therefore, the difference between being a homeowner and living on the streets is not as distinct as many might think.

Without sufficient monetary resources to afford a house or monetary support of family members, individuals can fall on difficult times.

“Tens of millions of households are living paycheck to paycheck. If anything happens to stop that flow of money, they end up on the streets. And so it’s easier to pretend that homelessness is a character flaw rather than an economic one. And that way they say I’m not like those people, so it can’t happen to me. Right up until it does happen,” Pirtle said.

According Hutzel, experiencing homelessness can happen to anyone and all Americans should empathize with those in their community instead of shunning them.

Home

By No Comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The systemic issues in America have a wide web of roots but grow from the same trunk. A major player feeding the issues is the disparity of wealth between classes, races and genders. Essentially, wealth inequality affects everyone.

It is a business’ job to make a bottom line. It is a political system’s job to represent their constituents and develop policy. So, if a political system is knotted with business, money trumps the moral obligations of a society. At what point is a dollar worth more than someone’s livelihood or future?

The way to make a change starts with being socially responsible. By flexing your democratic muscles, you’re exercising your given right as an American.

But you can’t just do that.

In order to fix anything in this nation, we have to acknowledge where we are and everyone has to be informed. Right now people are suffering, struggling and barely surviving in this beautiful nation because of the inequality of wealth.

“America is so much stronger when we see ourselves as a quilt. When I take the best of you and you take the best of me and we put it together, we are so much stronger,” Renee Hughes, chief executive of the eastern Pennsylvania region of the American Red Cross, said. “I don’t have to be like you, you don’t have to be like me, but we do need to all share values.”

Everything in society today comes down to money. For a family of four, being in poverty means that the total income does not exceed $23,850, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2014, there were a total of 46.7 million people in poverty in the United States alone, meaning that people were not making enough to survive.

But that could change.

It is a very important time in the United States. A time when new leadership will be coming in, which means the importance of voting is higher now than ever before. If every citizen takes a stand by voting, lobbying, calling their congressmen and women, there is a high chance that the systemic flaws you want to see reformed, will be discussed by your government.

“I think the concept of the common good, is one that might be developed in a way to contextualize so much of what we need to do,” Mark Rosenman, a nonprofit sector scholar and activist, said.

Do you want to be a part of a nation that sits idle or turns a blind eye when the perpetual cycle of devastation is happening in your own backyard?

We hope not.

 

 

WRITTEN BY MACKENZIE HARRIS