Here’s an extended comment yesterday from a reader referring to a post from Nov. 2006 in response to a Facts and Arguments piece by Dan Hilton in the Globe and Mail. We thought it worthy of posting on the blog itself. [Also see the thoughtful comments to this posting.]
Re: Designer Java for a Regular Joe
“If this province wasn’t so ultraconservative and didn’t see every homeless person as a druggie or alcoholic then I think the whole province would be a lot better. Unfortunately, that’s what they see and that’s what they think and that’s what they write in the newspaper” – Doug, Homeless.
And write they do, at least Dan Hilton does. he Designer Java for a Regular Joe straightforwardly asserts that people are homeless because of “their own choices” and aren’t truly as poor as we’re made to believe. An example of how prejudice against homelessness is all too prevalent and sadly misdirected. However, homelessness has been growing globally, figures indicate that the total number of homeless people in Canada on any given night is probably of the order of tens and thousands, and has been growing rapidly almost six times faster than the overall population of Canada (Statistics Canada,2008). Unfortunately as homelessness increases, so does misconceived stereotypes and stigmatization of the homeless. Sweeping generalizations like “there are few truly hungry on the streets of Canadian cities” is a poor and inadequate representation of the truly homeless and has a severe impact on poverty initiatives. Hilton’s article redirects the lens of poverty onto the individual and blames them for their weaknesses, further contributing to stereotypes that exist for these individuals which hinders the ability for the needy to seek financial assistance. He establishes a binary between individuals living on the streets to those in subsidized living will only create further polarization between the deserving and the undeserving.This is dangerous as it’s hard to calculate who the homeless truly are. Studies conducted state that one-fourth of homeless individuals have gone in and out of homelessness numerous times, the rest experiencing a first or second episode which lasted more than a year(Dragan,2002). This highlights the diversity of the homeless population and proves; no model stereotype or labels could possibly exist contrary to Hilton’s belief. Hilton has glorified homelessness as a mere choice, yet the prevalence of mental illness 25-50% and substance abuse between 50-70% in homeless individuals refutes his assumption (Gelberg,2000) Homeless persons are vulnerable to victimization such as harassment, violence and abuse by members of the general public for simply being homeless(Fischer,1992).The daily struggles they must face is a hardship in itself and they shouldn’t be forced to suffer further by articles that inaccurately represent them. Hilton’s ignorance to poverty as being a serious issue is baffling to me as a Toronto citizen living downtown as well as a student studying social work, and the combination of the two has opened my eyes to the severity of poverty in our country. It’s difficult to live in an urban centre and not see the conditions or lack of conditions some people live in every single day. Individuals sleeping on a subway vent to maintain warmth hardly sounds like an appealing choice. Becoming or remaining homeless is not a choice but a result of a combination of community and societal factors (Eberle,2001).Homelessness has been labelled as a national disaster by Canadian mayors in 1998, yet anti-poverty attempts have remained at a standstill (CMHA,2004). Programs established are focused on serving people who are already homeless, yet if assistance is restricted solely to those homeless tonight not much can be done for those who are homeless tomorrow. Advocates argue that if all governments increase their spending on housing by 1% of overall spending, homelessness could be eliminated in 5 years ( Dagan,2002). However, the silence of our society denying homelessness as an issue works to exclude the experiences and lived realities of the homeless and hinders strategies to effectively deal with the homelessness crisis. Denial of poverty as a social crisis must be re-examined and there must be pressure to invest in prevention and more affordable housing. We must lose the stigmas that are so sadly attached to homeless individuals and rectify the crisis that Canada is in.