Women On The Street Essay Research Paper

Women On The Street Essay, Research Paper

Women on the Street

Have you ever rushed down the street and felt that nagging feeling of

guilt, as you breeze by someone lying in a doorway? Is she alive? Is she

ill? Why do we all rush by without finding out is she’s all right?

People sit in train stations, bus stations, parks, doorways,

unmistakably sick, with what, we don’t know. All are seemingly alone.

Some beg. Some don’t. Some have open sores that ooze and bleed.

Some are drunk. Some talk to themselves or formless others. They have

no homes.

Street people make up a small percentage of the homeless

population. Most homeless people blend into the daily flow of urban life.

Many families are homeless. Many babies go from the hospital into the

shelter system, never knowing what it is like to go home. Women are

another subgroup of the homeless.

Solutions to homelessness are not easily found. But before we can

solve problems, we must be sensitive enough that we create the will to find

the solutions. Often if we do not feel the problem, if some emotional

response is not made, we are not moved to seek solutions. We are often

unmoved to even recognize the questions. We cannot afford to keep

walking by.

“Work is a fundamental condition of human existence,” said Karl Marx.

In punch-the-clock and briefcase societies no less than in agricultural or

hunting and gathering societies, it is the organization of work that makes life

in communities possible. Individual life as well as social life is closely tied to

work. In wage labored societies, and perhaps in every other as well, much

of an individual’s identity is tied to their job. For most people jobs are a

principal source of both independence and correctness to others. It should

come as no surprise that, in the work force or out, work and jobs are

important in the lives of homeless women.

There are women who want to work and do, and women who want to

work and do not. There are women who cannot work and others who

should not work and still others who do not want to work. Some work

regularly, some intermittently; some work part-time, some full-time; and

there are even those who work two jobs. At any given moment, there is a lot

of job-searching, job losing, job changing, and job avoidance. Within

months or even weeks, these may all appear in the same person.

The process is almost routine. A homeless woman registers with an

unemployment agency. Since there is no way for them to call her when a

job comes up she calls them – three, four times a day. By the third day they

usually tell her, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” If she confesses there is no

way to reach her, they lose interest. Although since 1985, the shelters help

reach people.

Several women reported losing their jobs or the opportunity to get

them when their homelessness became known. One women had been

working as a receptionist in a doctor’s office for several weeks when the

doctor learned she was living in a shelter and fired her. The doctor told her

if he’d known he wouldn’t have hired her, shelters are places of disease.

The jobs homeless women can get do not pay enough to enable them

to support themselves. But, the women desperately want and need the

money, the independence, and the self respect that most of us have come

to take for granted from a job. But, for women to get a job and keep it, the

women must run an obstacle course at the end of which is a low-pay, low-

status job that offers a little more than they have without it. The women -

perfectly socialized to the values of work – continue to value work for what

they know their jobs cannot provide. Even with the starts and stops, and the

periodic surrenders to a workers shelter life.

There is an importance and complex connection between family

relationships and homelessness. For the never-married women, “family”,

usually meant family of orientation – the families they were born into. For

women with children, “family”, included family of procreation – their

husbands and children. Perhaps predictably, mothers and sisters were

more likely to be sources of support than fathers and brothers. Homeless

women had not always been families. Like everyone else, they were born

into families or family-like networks of human relationships. On the street

and in the shelters, one meets many homeless women who had been kept

afloat by family members until, for one reason or another, the family had to

let go. For most women, living with relatives or receiving significant financial

or other support form them was the last stage in their descent into

homelessness. Peter Rossi reports that “the time elapsed since last being

employed is much longer than the time homeless.” (Ferrill 123). From this

is properly inferred that while they were unemployed, even for years at a

time, they now homeless persons “managed to stay in homes mainly

through the generosity of family and perhaps friends.” (Ferrill 123).

This is an ongoing process and many people continue to avoid

homelessness through the support of family members. Of course, we do

not know how many about-to-be-homeless there are, but it is reasonable to

suppose that they far out number the “real ” homeless. In New York City, it

has been estimated that the doubled-up families in public housing

outnumbered the officially homeless by 20 to 1. (Ferrill 125).

Shelters are dynamic social systems whose moods are in constant

movement. If, for a moment, the system appears to be in a steady state, it

is a balance of forces rather than a state of rest. The forces are many.

They operate at different directions. At the individual level, personalities

clash and personalities mesh, producing smaller groups within the system.

Some forces enhance group solidarity, some of which work against it, and

some of which can go either way.

It is unlikely that the staff people and shelter rules by themselves could

have contained the explosive forces of racial animosity, social class

differences, competition for resources, overcrowding, individuals who were

not always in control of their actions, and individuals who wanted to

disassociate themselves from the group. but came against these forces,

and born mainly out of shared homelessness and common needs, was a

powerful impulse to group cohesion and solidarity. Most of the time, the

impulse to solidarity was strong enough to hold the negative forces in check,

there by providing the minimum of peace and good order that made social

life possible. On many evenings, as the women came together in the

shelter, there was sufficient good feeling and fellow feelings, when coupled

with their common needs and circumstances, to allow a sense of community

to sputter into life. For most women, the loneliness of their homeless state

was a terrible burden to bear; this fragile bit of community, however small,

was precious indeed.

“Homelessness is the sum total of our dreams, policies, intentions,

errors, omissions, cruelties, kindness, all of it recorded, in the flesh, in the

life of the streets.” (Marin 41).


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