Homelessness: A social problem in need of a social solution

By Cedar Gonzalez

This story began with an investigation of the theory that gender issues and homelessness are intertwined; if society were to confront the issues of traditional gender roles head on, then homelessness would be a much simpler issue to solve. While my interviews with Jessica Jones and Aliza Menashe – along with much research – did prove this to be true, the main finding was that the problem of homelessness faces a simpler but much larger roadblock to be overcome before the issues of gender can even be addressed – funding.

Jessica Jones is the therapist for the two Road Home locations in Utah, as in the only therapist, and while she tries her best to attend to the mental health needs of the over 400 clients, her main goal remains to be navigating the complicated network of social services in order to obtain basic care, like medications. In our interview, Jessica states that “there needs to be at least … five more” of her, but that when it comes to mental health therapists, “there is not enough funding, the therapists can’t even support themselves.”

Utah is consistently praised for being one of the best states when it comes to public services for homeless people, and while it is true that we have many resources, the majority of those resources are so underfunded that it is difficult to progress clients onto the next stage of regaining subsistence. Menashe is a case worker for Valley Behavioral Health at an independent living facility for people who struggle with mental illness and the stories from her are extremely uplifting because she works with clients who have been successful in navigating public services. Many people she works with were in the homeless shelters ten years ago, and now they are stable and able to live alone. Jones, on the other hand, has to see nearly 450 people each year, by herself, in order to get people off the streets, out of shelters and into permanent housing. Complicated resource systems thus become a leading contributing factor of the growing disparity between domiciled and undomiciled individuals with mental illnesses.

Even the gender separation that was originally being investigated is subject to discrimination of funding. While the numerous groups for abused women and children are a very necessary and well-used resource, this takes away resources from men, who make up an estimated one half to two thirds of the homeless population. The Road Home has to close part of the men’s dormitory during the summer months to make room  for more women and children. As stated before,women and children are completely deserving of that space, but it takes away from another, equally important group of unstabilized people and forces them onto the streets.

Jones explains one of the resources that is most lacking which is support for sexually and physically abused men. While usually seen as a women’s issue, 75% of the men that she deals with have been sexually abused, an incident that may occasionally even happen inside of a shelter. This extremely prevalent issue in men, however, is being completely ignored when it comes to social programs. Jones tells a story of a man who had been physically abused by his children’s mother for years, and when he finally decided to find a safer place for him and his children, he ended up at the homeless shelter because “when he was looking for resources, there was nothing for men in domestic violence situations.” Upon working with Jones at the homeless shelter, he shared his experience with her, saying things like “I feel really stupid telling you this,” and, “a lot of people don’t believe me.”

Believing a person’s story seems to be the biggest issue when it comes to getting help. In order to obtain social services, one has to go on an incredible journey, a path of endless paperwork, signatures, and mail-in proof, often despite numerous hospitalizations for things like delusions or voices. In the worst/best example of a vicious cycle, even someone who has worked hard to gain benefits, is able to ask for help and be hospitalized in the case of a serious mental emergency. But should they be hospitalized for longer than about three months, they will lose their benefits, completely resetting the frustrating process back to the beginning.

Everyone hates paperwork and bureaucratic systems, even without an anxiety or depression disorder; imagine if you could, instead of calling Comcast like we’ve all done and hated you’ve got to negotiate insurance coverage and rent payments with a government agency. Instead of the normal irritation, you’re having a panic attack, unable to breathe. Not fun.

When asking for help turns into a battle of proof of deserving it, there is little wonder that so many people are going without. Rejection is a powerful force, and some feel more pride in being able to take care of themselves out on the streets rather than asking for help. It seems the world would be a better place if reaching out for help ended not in paperwork trails but instead a gracious hand that is unjudging of why the offered help is needed. Unfortunately the world we live in is not that, but is instead one with a society which created homelessness, agrees on the fact that it’s a problem, and refuses to solve it.