People that lose their homes seem to become invisible to the rest of society, given the extent to which the problem is ignored. However, the loss of a place to live has a tremendous impact on one’s life, turning one into a social pariah and eliminating any opportunity for one to regain any modicum of weight in society. In his book “Tell Them Who I Am,” Elliot Liebow sheds some light on the lives of women that crossed the specified line and lost any opportunity to reclaim their social status.
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Due to the lack of focus on the problem of homelessness among women as the topic for social decisions, the mechanism of losing a home and finding oneself being left entirely without any support is rather obscure to most citizens. Liebow, in turn, lifts the veil of mystery over the specified problem, disclosing the fact that it is not the cause of homelessness but the factors keeping a woman in a perpetual cycle of having no resources to sustain the required quality of life that aggravate the situation. According to Liebow, the presence of social programs does not alleviate the situation since “Many homeless people do not have the strength to reach out for them or the persistence to keep trying” (17). Creating an unending cycle, the lack of resources, and the devastating feeling of despair make the task of avoiding homelessness or escaping it nearly impossible.
The idea that homelessness is a choice is another misconception that has a potentially destructive impact on homeless women since it gives the false idea that any of the women in Liebow’s book had personal responsibility for their current situation. The idea that homelessness is a lifestyle that can be chosen and be opted out from could not be further away from the truth. As Liebow’s book clarifies, none of the women that the author met had any chance of escaping homelessness or choosing to be homeless (5). Instead, each of these women was deprived of her basic right to meet her basic needs and have a place where she could stay to sleep and call it her own. As Liebow emphasizes, “Most homeless women are engaged in an unremitting struggle to remain human in the face of inhumane conditions” (13). The attempt at retaining the semblance of humanity and keep their basic human dignity shows that homeless women have been affected by the injustice of the existing system and did not choose to be homeless for unknown or incomprehensible reasons.
The lack of economic stability and the presence of poverty are the main factors that keep the cycle of homelessness unending for most women that have found themselves on the street. As Liebow explains, the problem of economic imbalance in the lives of homeless women is also aggravated by the presence and persistence of social stereotypes and prejudices, contributing to the deterioration of the target demographic and affecting their lives in the most detrimental way possible (13). Specifically, Liebow states he realized “how inadequate it was to think of them in one-dimensional, stereotypical terms such as ‘mentally ill’ or ‘alcoholic,’ as incomplete persons deficient in morals or character or even as ‘disaffiliated’ persons” (Liebow 14). With the statement above, the author emphasizes that there is a strong tendency in the rest of society to distance itself from homeless people and label them as different.
Liebow, Elliot. Tell Them Who I Am. Simon and Schuster, 1993.