Homeless people exemplify the failure of the social safety net envisioned in the Social Security Act but no doubt they still represent the new face of poverty at this millennium. Not only homeless people suffer from the withdrawal of the ‘safety net’, they also experience widespread denial of their entitlement to safety net income and in-kind benefits for a variety of reasons.
In such circumstances where gender and racial inequality exists among homeless people with respect to age, one may consider that the only positive outcome from the welfare state ideology has been the mobilization of professional social workers and other human service practitioners in favour of older people. (Stoner, 1995, p. 27) Of course there is every effort going on to play a more prominent and effective role in social welfare policy formulation, but the main question that remains is that would such welfare policy be able to eradicate gender, age and race inequality in the context of ‘homelessness’?
Let us explore the various discriminations subjected to gender, race and age inequality with this respect: Homelessness with respect to Ageism Arluke and Levin (1984) offer the most descriptive definition of ageism when subjected to homelessness and its effects when they describe such stereotypes as “culturally shared and institutionalized negative images which are used to justify unequal treatment, or discrimination, directed toward minority groups, ranging from perpetrating petty indignities in everyday life to slavery and genocide” (Arluke & Levin, 1984, p. 7).
Research indicates that homeless people whether of any age, gender, cast or creed are confronted to many social and societal stereotyped perceptions of homeless people, but old age people are the most likely to subjected to racial or gender inequality. However the damage and barriers subjected to older homeless people are more harmful as compared to the population of any age group. The most common sufferers of ‘homelessness’ are old aged people, as they are the ones who are often viewed through various angles of distortion, as it becomes easier to ignore their special problems.
Therefore it seems easy to ignore problems that society feels unable to address, especially what we fear most, poor health and dependency (Briggs, 1987). That means old aged homeless people are more likely to live with other homeless people and in such view, racial and gender inequality is the minimum among such old aged homeless people but maximum when compared with other age groups particularly homeless youngsters. Another reason for older people being confronted to maximum racial conflict is the tendency of tolerance in them.
Older people possess the capability to live anywhere provided they must see other aged people like them, means ageism represents both poor health and dependence and it is this dependence which distorts them anywhere in the world. The Michigan Department of Mental Health (Mowbray, Johnson, Solare, & Combs, 1984) conducted a research study of homelessness and reported consistent results from several sources. The data came from multiple sites, such as soup kitchens, emergency shelters, and a psychiatric hospital. The study concluded that many commonly held stereotypes of the homeless were not accurate.
These inaccuracies included beliefs that most homeless people are old, male, without recent work, transient, former psychological patients, career homeless, and homeless by choice. Some characteristics which do seem representative are (1) numerous health problems, (2) high alcohol use, (3) more psychiatric symptoms, (4) marginal education and work skills, and (5) lack of social supports. It is often evidenced that older homeless people have many problems in common with the general population of low-income older adults.
The difference between them is that for a variety of reasons, such as divorce and loss of job, individuals are unable to maintain themselves in independent housing and have become dependent for survival on the variety of homeless agencies. For the purpose of a survey, older homeless adults were defined as age 50+, the accepted age in the research literature. Defining older as 50+ describes well those living on the street, as they tend to age prematurely. Many programs intended to serve older adults are not available to those in their early 50s, and some programs are available at age 55, 60, 62, or 65.
This patchwork of age requirements for service complicates the existence of these people. A further problem is that some homeless are unaware of benefits and entitlements for which they are eligible; still others need assistance in negotiating the complexities of the application process. According to the survey only few of the respondents are collecting benefits. (Mullins et al, 1995, p. 12) According to Mohan (1993) “racism, sexism, and ageism, in my judgment, cannot be studied let alone be remedied in isolation from each other”.
(Mohan, 1993) There is no framework that presents these oppressive experiences within a unified conceptual paradigm. As manifestations of human oppression with variegated dynamics, these ‘isms’ often take the form of barriers to human emancipation with particular emphasis on currents events. There cannot be an exhaustive, much less encyclopedic, account of human oppression. However, it is conceptually valid to study these problems as dimensions of injustice in oppressive cultures. This point of view is validated by comparative analyses that deal with these issues on a global level (Mohan, 1993).
This approach enables policy makers at national and international levels to stamp out the forces of oppression that dehumanize the vulnerable groups. This approach enables policy makers at national and international levels to stamp out the forces of oppression that dehumanize the vulnerable groups. It is now generally recognized that enormous differences exist in the condition of the elderly from culture to culture. This is true both of the popular beliefs about the elderly, and also of the bearing that increasing age has on the social status and power of the elderly.
Because of this diversity, which clearly exists within any particular subculture, as well as between one subcultural or cultural group and another, it is more difficult to generalize about the behavior and social status of the elderly than about more junior age cohorts. (Kertzer & Schaie, 1989, p. 23) The residential environment of homelessness has not only a major influence on young jobless individuals but also it affects older people’s capacities to remain independent, to participate in the community and to maintain their sense of meaning in life.
That means inequality exists among different age groups of homeless people. The reasons may be different but ‘homelessness problems’ are the same. Home provides protection, a shelter which supports individuals irrespective of any inequality. Particularly for older people whose mobility is limited, the home environment encompasses the major activities of everyday life such as eating and preparing food, sleeping, socializing and spending time in meaningful ways. However, older people do not like being dependent on anyone.
Therefore it is essential that health and other professionals understand how environments influence the lives of older people. This is not necessarily an easy realization given that the caring professions focus primarily on individuals’ difficulties and their related treatment and care. However, in order to improve outcomes in terms of independence and well-being, it is essential to recognise that social and physical environments can play a crucial part in enabling (or disabling) positive ageing for individuals and for the society.
The complexities of meaning inherent in understanding housing need are not only highlighted by research and surveys conducted regularly in the United States, but are also conducted internationally as today homelessness is subjected to age inequality. According to the surveys the majority of older persons do not make special alterations to their homes, nor do they choose housing based on any preconditions for easier living (Filion et al, 1992). They also do not spend time planning future alterations to their living environment and, given a choice, opt for living situations identical to their present ones (Wister, 1989).
What older persons want from their housing can be different to what is perceived as rational by government and other interests (Kendig & Gardner, 1997). Older consumers, families and health care professionals agree that appropriate accommodation can be a critical factor in the reduction of institutionalization and in promoting integration and inclusion. Older persons consistently report that cared accommodation is a last resort and that they would prefer to live in their own house or apartment, either alone or with a partner, and not to live with others (Cooper 1996).
While moves to more appropriate housing can be beneficial, re-housing to achieve higher care levels can create ‘transition stress’ with consequent impact on quality of life and elevated risks to mortality (Bruce 1986). Relationships So much is said in defence of the family as a first resource and last resort for elderly people that it might seem strange to speak of empowerment of the older person within the more intimate relationships of everyday life.
The fact is that, in all the under researched segments of gerontology, possibly no segment is less adequately investigated than the true quality of family care, especially in less developed societies. Some personal experience suggests that the quality of care is sometimes very inadequate. This can sometimes relate to the attitude or condition of the elderly persons themselves. Retirement in western capitalist societies is now being recast to mean more than the point at which a person withdraws from ‘an occupation or business to enjoy more leisure’.
It is now a life stage and a ‘life style’, characterized theoretically by unlimited leisure as a result of freedom from the need to earn a living and the reduction in child-rearing responsibilities. The vision of retirement as a lifestyle stage is now an economic and marketing opportunity embraced by a wide range of industries and services, including the finance, housing, travel and entertainment industries. Research and colloquial use still indicates that for many ‘retirement’ is used synonymously with ‘old age’, and as such remains an event and a term with negative connotations.
The heavy involvement of government in supporting seniors’ organizations and promoting activities for seniors serves to dampen the initiative of the older people. There are two main reasons why the government is so eager to encourage social participation by the elderly: (1) the hope that their participation as volunteers can help reduce social service costs, especially for the frail elderly; and (2) the hope that an expected beneficial impact on their health may reduce government medical expenses.
As a result, virtually every government ministry currently sponsors activities for older people, including but not limited to senior citizens’ clubs, traditional arts and crafts, sports festivals, gardening, and raising cattle. Although some of these government programs help to organize or increase the size of seniors’ groups, their efforts almost never lead to greater involvement by the individual members, who tend to depend on the government policy or on the initiative of a professional staff paid by the government.
Many groups are expected to cooperate in the campaigns of bureaucrats running for elected office. Although these politicians depend on older voters, they do not necessarily work for them. Dependent on government money, these groups find it difficult to exert pressure, and many of them prohibit political activities by their members except during elections. Understanding and valuing people’s emotional attachments to physical environments and the objects within them is critical in understanding the individuals themselves and their stance in the world.
For instance, a house may be viewed as affording stability, privacy and intimacy in an otherwise hostile universe. Remaining in place from the perspective of older persons preserves familiar and comfortable patterns, including leisure and socialisation patterns, and serves as a locus of meaning. However, environments can and do mean different things to different people, and usually evoke emotion, either positive or negative. For environmental interventions to be valued and useful for the individuals who live with them, it is important to explore what they mean to the individuals concerned and to their sense of self.
(Coulson & Minichiello, 2005, p. 146) Older individuals desire to create and maintain continuity with the world but they may be restricted in their access to it, so emotional nurturance from familiar places becomes increasingly important. Failure to explore the significance of objects and home itself to the occupiers is a failure to address the personalisation of space. Personal objects evoke memories of people and places in the past and in so doing make us feel connected and rooted.
Strategies are implemented to promote age diversity in communities and workplaces and the formation of healthy neighborhoods where ‘everyone is valued equally, regardless of race, age and gender’ and ‘where people are responsible citizens and support each other’. The policy recognizes the links between worklessness, poverty, poor mobility, poor mental health and social exclusion for various sectors of the community, including older citizens, and seeks to redress their marginalisation within a broad-based approach to social inequality in the nation’s health and well-being.
Within the policy, the ‘Age Positive’ strategy emphasises the value of older citizens to the community through a focus on potential, skills and ability rather than age. Positive ageing in general terms is a discourse that links to a number of influential discourses to do with healthy lifestyles, anti-discrimination and inclusion, productive and active lifelong citizenship, ethical work practices, fairness and social justice, and the need to disrupt some of the ideas that have constructed the ageing in negative or abject terms.
(Coulson & Minichiello, 2005, p. 25) Much of the social work is devoted to the problems of younger homeless people instead of older homeless people. According to Cox, “Paying attention to aging processes reminds researchers that someday they too will grow old and die”. (Cox, p. 2) The days are not far away when this century will see a revolution in terms of the relationship between older people and other age groups and the way society views the status and position of older people.
Time will bring an end to devaluation and discrimination against older people, especially when they are growing in numbers and have the potential to be an influential activist group. Conclusion Homelessness where on one hand upholds similarities in the field of social exclusion and social support, on the other hand it upholds various differences in characterization of the homeless people. Age, gender, ethnicity and race matters a lot for homeless people whether they are young, adults or older people but exist only among different age groups as far as the issue of ‘homelessness’ is concerned.
Although some studies characterize the typical homeless person as male, young, and single, recent evidence reveals larger populations of people with special needs, including older adults and families with children. Older homeless adults are a small but growing vulnerable subpopulation that needs special attention. As Kutza and Keigher (1991) have indicated, “their age alone renders this group particularly vulnerable. Their options for reintegrating into the dominant social and economic structure of society are few.
Their physical capacity to withstand living on the streets or in shelters is limited” (p. 288). Their plight is exacerbated by stereotypes of age. (Mullins et al, 1995, p. 9)
Arluke A. , & Levin J. (1984). “Another stereotype: Old age as a second childhood” In: Aging, 346, 7-11 Briggs H. (1987). Images of aging. In H. Briggs (Ed. ), Teaching aging. (pp. 1-40). Tampa, FL: University of South Florida, Center for Applied Gerontology