Social Structure and Homelessness
In Gescl schaft societies such as the United States, a prevailing core value is that people should be able to take care of themselves. Thus, many people view the homeless as "throwaways"-as beyond help or as having already had enough done for them by society. Some argue that the homeless made their own bad decisions. which led them into alcoholism Of drug addiction. and should be held responsible for the consequences of their actions. In this sense. homeless people serve as a visible example to others 10 "follow the rules" lest they experience a similar fate. Alternative explanations for homelessness in Gesechafe societies have been suggested, Elliot Liebow (1993) notes that homelessness is rooted in poverty; overwhelmingly. homeless people are poor people who come from poor families. Homelessness is a "social class phenomenon. the direct result of a steady. across the board lowering of the standard of living of the working class and lower class" (Liebow, 1993: 224). As the standard of living falls. those at the bottom rungs of society are plunged into homelessness, The problem is exacerbated by a lack of jobs. Of those who find work, a growing number work full time. year-round. but remain poor because of substandard wages. Half of the households living below the poverty line pay more than 70 percent of their income for rent-if they are able to find accommodations that they can afford at all (Roob and McCambridge. 1992). Clearly. there is no simple answer to the question about what should be done to help the homeless. Nor. as discussed in Box 5.3. is there by consensus on what rights the homeless have in public spaces. such as parks and sidewalks. The answers we derive as a society and as individuals are often based on our social construction of this reality of life.