Homelessness: More Than Just a House(by Micah Sharp)


micahpicI spent this term looking at the role and problems of families within our society.  I volunteered at Habitat for Humanity for this course.  This opportunity allowed me to gain a brand new perspective on poverty on a local level.  The research that I did for other parts of the class gave me a broader view of this perspective allowing me to see this even more clearly.  Along the way, I discovered what a problem homelessness is.  It seemed only logical to me to have my final bit of research, and my last piece of writing for the course, to be centered around this idea.

 The Research 

Question: What are the struggles of escaping homeless life?

Kasperkevic, Jana. Homeless college students and the fight to escape poverty through education. The Guardian, 8 June 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

This article gives a lot of good information on the struggle of taking part in higher education while being homeless.  It details a few stories of college students who have become homeless due to familial rejection and their struggles.  The issue that normally arises in these situations is that these students need to be recognized as independent, but most universities refuse to view them as such.  The article finds its credibility in the fact that it contains mainly quotes from primary sources and some experts.

This is a very important part of my theme.  It explores the challenges of gaining a higher education while homeless.  Without a degree, many people will find themselves unable to acquire a job that provides the income that they need.  Conversely, the bills involved in going through college add up and often force young people to the street, and once they have arrived there it becomes very difficult to leave.

Bourke, Justin. Homelessness Report Shows Mixed News. kdrv.com, 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

This article speaks mainly to the fact that homelessness in Oregon has been decreasing, but the burden on most shelters has not at all been lifted.  This article uses a number of federal statistics and some primary accounts to prove its credibility.

Shelters are crucial for the homeless.  Ideally shelters would not exist at all, but this could only happen if there was no homelessness.  Oregon has one of the lowest homeless rates in the nation and it is decreasing, but of those homeless, it has one of the highest rates of unsheltered homeless.  Now, of course, shelters are not enough, but it is better than no place at all.  The article suggests that this is because shelters provide some structure to get people’s feet on the ground but many people don’t want that.

Kohan, Sharan. Is the Housing First Model a National Elusion [sic] or is it the Solution to End Homelessness? Harvard Law School. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

This article focuses on the flaws in the Housing First system.  It speaks to how this system only affects a symptom of poverty, rather than curing poverty itself.  This article originates from Harvard Law School, which gives it some credibility.

While this article opposes some of the ideas I want to promote with housing, it is helpful to see the other side.  It suggests that housing just hides the homeless away in slums, rather than helping their real problems.  The article also suggests that it provides no incentive for the impoverished.  I am no expert on Housing First, but from what I can tell, I think I would be more in agreement with the Habitat for Humanity model, which produces quality houses.

Neugeboren, Jay. Housing the homeless: a program that works. Academic Onefile, 21 Dec. 2007. 19 Nov. 2014.

This article looks at a program in New York City to provide housing for the mentally ill.  This program has no conditions and is meant to protect the most vulnerable people on the streets.  It also refers to many of the problems for other people seeking aid in New York City.

This article is an academic review of a program taking place in New York City.  This is an interesting look into a specific area of homelessness.  The other important part about this article is that it speaks to a population that often is unable to escape homelessness.

The Public Writing

Director Traci Manning

421 SW 6th Avenue, Suite 500

Portland, OR 97204

Dear Director Manning:

Congratulations on your position of director at the Portland Housing Bureau.  The work done by you and the Bureau over the last three years has worked to positively influence not only the homeless of Portland, but moreover the entire atmosphere of the city.  The Director’s Messages you have written recently prove that above all else your heart is committed to the well being of those without adequate housing in Portland, and all of Multnomah County.  While the Bureau has performed fantastically, homelessness is still an overwhelming problem in Portland.  I would appreciate your consideration of the struggles still faced by families, students, and the mentally ill attempting to escape homelessness.

In times such as these, the dangers of a homeless life are more apparent than ever.  I find that these dangers are most concentrated around families.  Any parent would desire more for their child than an experience of growing up on the streets.  The sad reality however is that millions of parents wake up every morning, all over the world, with their child held tightly to them, praying that this horror would not be a reality.  Not in any way to disregard the tragedy of adult homelessness, I think homelessness in children is a larger issue.  There are many overt dangers presented to children on streets.  The cold bites harder, violence is closer, and the gangs appeal more.  These alone are incredibly dangerous, but beyond all of these is the formation of a mentality of poverty.  Such a mentality will only develop over many years of homelessness, but it is rooted much earlier, stronger and faster in homeless children.  The problem with developing this mentality is that it perpetuates homelessness.  If a child grows up in poverty and homelessness, this becomes all they know, all that is natural to them.  This is to such a degree that even if they are housed, they are much more apt to return to homelessness than others.  This is a very significant problem that must be addressed if homelessness is to be ended for good.

The mentally ill are an often-overlooked faction within the homeless population.  These are people that desperately need positive social and medical attention, both of which are hard to find on the streets.  While homelessness is a major problem for them, they are even more in need of the care and attention that homelessness normally steals from them.

Students dealing with homelessness also have great burdens to bear.  In the modern society, a strong education is the only way to improve one’s socioeconomic standing.  During the years of public education, homeless students struggle with shame and secrecy, but amazingly a wealth of studies shows that homeless students perform better in school than their average housed counterparts.  After these years end however, their trials double down on them.  Finding a way to pay for tuition, while also staying on top of their studies becomes an almost impossible task.  This usually results in massive student loans being taken out.  At this time, they find themselves in between a rock and a hard place.  Either they do not pursue higher education, leaving them with almost no way of escaping their poverty, and therefore homelessness, or they do attend a university, only to rack up massive debt that disables them from escaping homelessness after college.  This is the struggle of many young, bright minds all over America.

The Housing First strategy is brilliant in many situations, but in regards to families, students, and the mentally ill it is just not enough.  I do not suggest that I know the scope at which the Bureau is dealing with homelessness, but I can see that nationally a more holistic approach may be necessary to end homelessness.  If homeless children were shown and taught a different way of life, not one plagued by homelessness.  If the mentally ill on the streets were cared for.  If students were able to receive a higher education, without receiving a higher debt.  Then and, I believe, only then could the most important issues causing homelessness be solved, resulting in a widespread drop in homelessness.

You and the Bureau have done extraordinary work in improving the lives of thousands of Portlanders.  I simply ask you to look once again at some of the deeper issues within society, and though they may be beyond the scope of a housing bureau, I would encourage you to seek to solve these issues regardless.  Though they may have little to do with housing, they have everything to do with the homeless. Families, students and the mentally ill desperately need your help.  I beg you to answer their call.


Micah Sharp


One comment

  1. Taylor Reynolds


    Great job on your culmination project. Homelessness is a huge problem today in our society, and you did a great job of addressing some of the main issues in an efficient way. You have really good sources. By using a source that countered your argument, it added a nice balance to the research. (This is something I wish I had done!) The thought of being homeless having a relationship with higher education has never really crossed my mind. This is a really interesting aspect to homelessness, and it’s good you added it! Both of your sources have a direct correlation with your question, while still making it interesting.

    I also think your letter to the Portland Housing Bureau was very well done. I also think that a more holistic approach needs to be taken in order for things to change. You provide good reasons, but not exactly a concrete idea of how to change the process. However, it’s such a big topic and area of concern that it’s not expected that you have the answer. Your letter was very well written and inspiring. Your message to them is clear, and also ties in with the bigger picture and your research question. Great job this term!


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