Eisner's diving" activities reflect a specific pattern of social behavior. All activities in life-including scavenging in garbage bins and Jiving "on the streets"-are social in nature. Homeless persons and domiciled persons (those with homes) live in social worlds that have predictable patterns of social interaction. Social interaction is the process by which people act toward or respond to other people and is the foundation for all relationships and groups in society. In this chapter. we look at the relationship between social structure and social interaction. In the process homelessness is used as an example of how social problems occur and how they may be perpetuated within social structures and patterns of interaction . Social structure is the complex framework of societal institutions (such as the economy, politics, and religion) and the social practices (such as rules and social roles) that make up a society and that organize and establish limits on people's behavior. This structure Is essential for the survival of society and for the well-being of individuals because it provides a social web of familial support and social relationships that connects each of us to the larger society. Many homeless people have lost this vital linkage. As a result, they often experience a loss of personal dignity and a sense of moral worth because of their "homeless' condition (Snow and Anderson. 1993).
Who are the homeless! Before reading on. take the quiz on homelessness The characteristics of the homeless population in the United States vary widely. Among the homeless are single men, single women, and families. In recent years, families with children have accounted for 40 percent of the homeless population (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2(05). Further, people of color are over represented among the homeless. In 2004, African Americans' made up 49 percent of the homeless population, whites (Caucasians) 35 percent, Latinos (Hispanics) 13 percent
Native Americans 2 percent, and Asian Americans percent (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2(05). These percentages obviously vary across communities and different areas of the country.
Homeless persons come from all walks of life. They include undocumented workers, parolees, runaway youths and children, Vietnam veterans, and the elderly. They live In cities. suburbs, and rural areas. Contrary to popular myths, most of the homeless are not on the streets by choice or because they were de institutionalized by mental hospitals. Not all of the homeless are unemployed. About 22 percent of
homeless people hold full- or part-time jobs but earn too little to find an affordable place to live (U.S. Conference of Mayors. 2005).