Laziness is not root cause of homelessness

by Staff

Artwork courtesy of Kevin Muymh

By Stacey Oparnica, Staff Columnist

People love to complain. Think about it. How often do you hear your friends grumbling about fairly trivial events? All you have to do is linger on Facebook for about 20 minutes and the gloomy, theatrical statuses will start popping up in no time: “This weather sucks.” “I hate school.” “I have the worst phone ever.” Don’t be surprised to see the popular, idiotic acronym “FML,” as if a lagging phone or a rainy day is reason enough to profess your hatred for life. If we believe that cold weather and back-to-back midterms equal suffering, our melodramatic, attention-thriving generation needs to take a trip to downtown San Diego.

Just blocks away from trendy Horton Plaza and classy downtown restaurants, what appears to be an impoverished, desolate city peeks out from behind street corners. “Tents” made of blue tarp draped over shopping carts line the pavement as feet poke out from beneath the material. Fascinated tourists gawk at the incredible scene with widened eyes; both horror and pity are discernible in their facial expressions. I imagine them thinking, “Geez, San Diego is crawling with these people. Get off the streets and get a job!”

The truth is, while many of us are accustomed to stereotyping the homeless as “lazy”, the reasons why the approximately 8,500 homeless men, women and children end up living on the streets of San Diego County are far more varied and dynamic than you may think. Unemployment is often the result of incessant financial hardships, a lack of proper education, mental illness and war-related injuries, just to name a few. A 2010 summary provided by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless estimates veterans account for 22 percent of San Diego County’s homeless community, which has the highest number of “recently separated veterans” in the entire country. According to, one in four of the homeless are adults ages 18 through 30. What’s more devastating: The chronically homeless account for 24.3 percent of the transient community, which the University of California San Diego School of Medicine reported, “… is most often associated with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, substance abusers and people who have no publicly funded health care.” After hearing “substance abusers,” this is usually where people get lost. Immediately, a scenario runs through our heads of a self-destructive individual too out of control to make good decisions and too drunk to care. While there are some people who’ve actually thrown their lives away for drugs and are living on the streets as a result, this still doesn’t change the fact that many are homeless for reasons out of their control. With the cost of living in San Diego — which is 36 percent more than the national average — combined with the 9.6 percent unemployment rate in the area, is it really hard to imagine some people simply can’t make ends meet? So often these people are looked down upon, when in fact their stories of abuse or neglect aren’t unlike stories I’ve heard from friends. The major difference is the way their stories end … with a life of instability and even worse, dangerous day-to-day circumstances. A sample survey reported that since becoming homeless in San Diego, 26.4 percent of men, and 34.4 percent of women, were victims of assault. Women, specifically, had higher rates of victimization from sexual assault, robbery, kidnapping and rape.

My intention isn’t to make you feel guilty, but to explain to you that the insensitive and ignorant stereotype of the 50-year-old bum pissing on the sidewalk is not an accurate representation of the homeless community. Neither is the stereotype that every person begging for money is an imposter taking advantage of generous citizens. Although these types of people exist, assuming all homeless people are like this is a thoughtless and severely misleading generalization. The bottom line is that many are desperate not only for employment, but for a life of safety and security. It is important to see for ourselves how the homeless live so we can gain a little perspective on the quality of our lives. Perhaps then we will be more willing to offer a helping hand to the community and think twice before uttering “FML” because of a little rain.

—Stacey Oparnica is a journalism sophomore.

—The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.