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Op-Ed Submission: Lauren Beam, Candace Casale, Ashah Pervez
We see people experiencing homelessness every day, even if we don’t realize it at first. Some are obvious like the person standing on the side of the road asking for your change. Others aren't as obvious like the person you work with who has three jobs and is struggling to pay their bills.
There is no way to know the exact number of people who are homeless in Baltimore. Health Care for the Homeless estimates, at the very least, 3,000 people in Baltimore will suffer from homelessness on any given night, tallying more than 30,000 people a year. This means that throughout Maryland, over 50,000 people will experience homelessness annually.
How is this possible when Maryland is among the wealthiest states in a country that is arguably the wealthiest in the world? It is important that we find a way to end homelessness in Baltimore and throughout our country.
As students enrolled in an Honors Communication course at CCBC, our mission was to research homelessness and to become advocates for the people who are currently experiencing homelessness. Our research consisted of participating in service learning, administering surveys of CCBC students to further understand the issue of homelessness, conducting an on-camera interview of a CCBC student who has experienced homeless, and giving a presentation to our class on the issue of homelessness.
The term “homeless” is not as straightforward as one might think. Many different definitions have been offered. A common definition of homeless is the condition of someone without a permanent shelter such as an apartment or house. People who are identified as homeless are unable to maintain safe, adequate housing…and as a result…may end up living on the streets.
In order to combat this disturbing reality, Project Homeless Connect in Baltimore City was created. Project Homeless Connect is an annual event that provides medical exams, screenings, haircuts, legal advice, identification, and healthy food for people who are experiencing homelessness.
In order to better understand the struggles of people who are currently experiencing homelessness, we volunteered at Project Homeless Connect. When we arrived at the Baltimore Convention Center, the organizers told the crowd of volunteers that today we were going to touch hearts and change lives. We did not truly understand those words until later that day. The people we were helping definitely touched our hearts and changed our lives. They opened our eyes to their personal struggles and started a fire within us to learn what more we could do to help.
After our volunteer experience, we wanted to gain a better understanding of homelessness. Through our own research, we learned a great deal about the realities of homelessness as well as what average CCBC students think about the issue.
We created and administered 100 surveys to students at various CCBC campuses and discovered many interesting perceptions about homelessness. Some of the perceptions reported were that people who are experiencing homelessness are probably older, and are likely to be equally African American and White. Another interesting finding was that most college students had never had a conversation with a homeless person.
Our findings also reported that there is a stereotype of homeless people in our society that is created and held up by a vast collection of myths and assumptions…most of which are wrong. These misconceptions are dangerous and they seriously interfere with attempts to help those in need. Some of the common misconceptions of homeless people are that they are all criminals, drugs addicts, or that they are all too lazy to work.
Through academic research, we have concluded that the biggest issues that contribute to homelessness are the cost of living, physical health, and mental illness.
The first issue that contributes to homelessness is the low cost of living wage people receive for their hard work. The minimum wage in Maryland is at an embarrassing $8.75 per hour. This is not nearly enough for a living wage. This forces people to choose between housing, food, child care, health care, and education. Most people choose to experience homelessness than give up the necessities of life such as food and health care.
The second issue that contributes to homelessness is a person's physical health. Poor health is a major cause of homelessness. If a person has poor health they might not be able to hold a job or adequately support his or her family. Additionally, when a person is homeless it can create new health problems and makes existing ones worse.
The third issue that contributes to homelessness is mental illness. Mental illness may affect a person's ability to take care of themselves as well as to manage their own home. Mental illness can also affect a person's ability to form relationships. This may result in the person pushing people away who are trying to help them from becoming homeless.
Through our research, we have discovered ways that will lead us towards ending homelessness. These ways include improving access to affordable housing and increasing funding for supportive services. Maryland should adapt the Housing First program, which is a homeless assistance approach that promotes finding permanent housing for people a top priority. This program also provides voluntary supportive services as needed.
Another way to help is to contact your local, state, and federal representatives and let them know that no person should be living on the streets. Also, contact Baltimore’s new Mayor, Catherine Pugh, and let her know that helping people secure permanent homes must be a priority of her new administration. If we do not make these changes…people will continue to unnecessarily struggle to survive.
Homelessness does not discriminate, it can happen to anyone at any time. If you think it cannot happen to you…you may want to think again. Please join us in ending homelessness.