Seeing the Homeless in a New Light - Page 2

Bryan ROctober 11th, 2007
By: Bryan R

(Page 2 of 2)

Based on the testimonies from “Tell Them Who I Am”, ending homelessness seems to have less to do with the raw strength of the U.S. economy and more with the availability of affordable, state-subsidized housing. Though it may cause free-market theorists to plug their ears, when Liebow checked-up on many of the women some years after collecting his notes, those who managed to jump over the homeless hurdle nearly unanimously did so by qualifying for housing assistance. Jobs weren’t enough. Many, if not most, of the women at the shelter worked full time jobs or were at least seeking employment. However, most of the jobs didn’t provide a living wage and many of the women experienced sudden job termination (even after years of work) when their homeless status was discovered. This ‘big picture’ conclusion seems reasonable especially if you aren’t a full convert of the trickle-down theory.

thumb-homeless-woman2.jpg

An Elderly Homeless Woman

From time to time, Liebow does us a favor by turning his analytical lens right back at us. When dealing with the homeless, social workers, volunteers and individuals sometimes adopt a philosophy of ‘we can’t make it too easy for them’ because we fear the homeless may become too comfortable. Liebow suggests that “armed with this theory of behavior, we are freer to deal harshly with them”. From the perspective of the women, this theory causes considerable stress during an already stressful period of their lives and ultimately may do more harm than good. Liebow also acknowledges that many of the homeless women seem to struggle with mental health issues. But when doing so, he also posed something of a chicken-or-the-egg paradox: Liebow clearly described the incredible stresses of being homeless. At times, it seemed almost impossible to determine whether the “mental illness” often described in the homeless was present before they become homeless (or even the cause of it) or as a result of having lived so long without a home. In a subtle manner, he almost seems to pose the question of how the reader believes they, and their own personal struggles, would fair under similar conditions.

Liebow untimely concedes that these women are fundamentally different from those of us with a place to call home. “What sets these homeless women apart [from those of us with homes] is that, sane or crazy or physically disabled, they are all engaged in a titanic struggle to remain human in an unremittingly dehumanizing environment. Most of them are successful.

“Tell Them Who I Am” makes an excellent effort by attempting to look at the problems of homelessness through the eyes of the women in the shelter. Liebow digests and summarizes many of the common trends and themes present in these women’s lives. However, he doesn’t attempt to significantly cross-reference other published works and, admittedly, doesn’t conduct an exhaustive study. Much of the evidence is anecdotal, which is excellent for comprehension, but doesn’t result in solid data. But it does succeed in sowing seeds compassion and empathy and on these grounds, it’s highly recommendable.

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  1. Seeing the Homeless in a New Light
  2. Seeing the Homeless in a New Light - Page 2
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