In light of the recent severe cold and blizzard weather we have been experiencing here in St. Louis, I would like to take this opportunity to bring up a social justice issue that is often forgotten as we sit inside our warm houses and apartments waiting for the storm to pass…and that issue is Homelessness.

While browsing the internet, I came across an article on medscape.com titled Homelessness in the United States: History, Epidemiology, Health Issues, Women, and Public Policy.  This article offers us each an opportunity to examine the social justice and public health issues surrounding homelessness.  

Have you ever wondered how people become homeless in the first place?  Don’t they have some sort of family to turn to…or if not, doesn’t our nation have laws protecting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of all humans which states that “Everyone has the right to … food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”  Perhaps people really do not have anyone to turn to, or any means to get into contact with others.  The cycle of poverty is a devastating trap which often is hard to break out of even if given the opportunity to work part or full time  Why should we be the ones to judge them on their appearance or lack of motivation?  Just get a job, right, and everything will be fine!  Well unfortunately that is not the case!  Last time I checked college graduates were fighting for employment spots here in the United States. 

How do you feel when you see a homeless person on the side of the road begging for money?  Do you ever feel caught between wanting to help someone in need and worrying that others will judge you for your stereotypical act of  “encouraging their drinking or drug problem” which you assume has obviously led caused them to become poor and homeless?  Perhaps we fear that our money will go to waste on cigarettes or alcohol.  Yet even for those of us who do manage to share a few dollars here and there with the homeless, we know this is  far from a permanent solution.

Only with the correct policy and support from the entire society can homelessness become eradicated.   Attempts have been made in the past century to try to meet the housing needs of its citizens in the Housing Act of 1949 and again in the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  Regrettably, neither has proven effective in eliminating the problem of homelessness.  The result of this failure to provide adequate shelter for it citizens has resulted in a population with limited if not zero access to public health and preventative education.    As a result, homeless persons, according to the article, “tend not to get adequate preventative care and appropriate routine management of chronic illnesses as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and emphysema.”  In addition, the mortality rate for a homeless individual is four times that of the general population.  Unfortunately these high mortality rates and short life expectancy are a direct result of the many concurrent medical ailments that homeless people suffer from.  Medical, functional, and psychological limitations all factor into the health problems which tend to affect the homeless population at much higher frequency than the general population.  More specifically we see young women greatly affected signs of chronic diseases due to the lack of funding and time dedicated to providing preventative tests.

Homelessness is not so called “city problem.”   It is a social and humanitarian issue that cannot be ignored any longer.  What would you do if it was one of your friends or family members out there on the cold streets of Saint Louis tonight?  Would you be satisfied with just handing out a few dollars or a few items of clothing every now and then, or would you demand something more?   Well I would expect more from myself and from my community to support my friends.  We all have a story, and even a homeless person has intrinsic value and worth in this world.  Maybe it is time for our community to take a second moment to reflect on how homelessness reflects a deeper social justice matter about our own community’s selfishness and ignorance to those less fortunate than ourselves.


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