Just another day on the street: homelessness in New Bedford
Authors: Asia Strothers, Azia Johnson, Rachelle Jeanty, and Samantha Panek, students in Professor Gloria de Sa’s SOC/ANT 350, ‘Urban Issues in Public Policy’ (learn more about their collaboration with the UI by reading this post)
For our research topic, we focused on homeless single adults in the city of New Bedford. Homelessness is a major issue in the city of New Bedford and has been for many years. What is homelessness? Homelessness refers to the lack of stable, safe, and permanent residence that is fit for human habitation. This is an important issue to cover because it affects many people on a day-to-day basis. It is also important for understanding the causes and circumstances of people who become homeless. The question that our group set out to answer was how does it feel to be a homeless individual in New Bedford?
We went about answering our questions by visiting homeless shelters in the city that welcomed our presence. We visited two shelters, which were Sister Rose House and the Donovan House. We were able to interview the program directors about the type of residents in the shelter, the procedure for a person that has been accepted to stay at the shelter, and their personal solutions for homelessness in New Bedford. We found that the causes for most of the homelessness in the city of New Bedford are loss of job, domestic violence, disability (physical and mental), and substance/drug abuse.
Here is a graph that represents the number of homeless people living in New Bedford and Fall River. This graph clearly shows how homeless individuals make up most of the homeless population in New Bedford, while homeless families make up most of the homeless population in Fall River.
Based on our findings we concluded that the major reason for homelessness in the city of New Bedford is the lack of services and resources needed to help people of this underprivileged and impoverished class. As a group, we believe one solution for homelessness would be to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Not many people can afford housing in these areas, especially working a minimum wage job. For many people living in this city it seems that the only possible way to live comfortably while eliminating issues is by living on assistance whether it is housing, food stamps, etc. The two program directors that we interviewed came up with their own solutions for homelessness in the city of New Bedford. The program director from Sister Rose House solution is for the city to facilitate the homeless to help them with their job search. She recommended that the city make use of the vacant buildings to create career centers. “All you need is heat and lights,”are her exact words. She claims that this will give the homeless something to do rather than sitting around and loitering throughout the day. As for the program director of Donovan’s House solution, she believes there should be stricter laws regarding drugs and domestic violence. Her words, “The system is failing, giving too much time for abusers to be free.”Coincidentally a day after we conducted this interview, the Massachusetts House passed a bill on domestic violence. It included new bail guidelines and tougher penalties for abusers. As for the city as a whole’s solution, New Bedford nonprofits were recently awarded a grant of $1.8 million to fight homelessness. The competitive awards were made through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continuum of Care Funding. With that being said, grants are one of the ways nonprofit organizations such as Sister Rose House and Donovan House receive funding.
Limitations of our study included not being able to conduct interviews with actual homeless persons. We felt that it would be intrusive and offensive to interview the homeless that we came across on the street. Another limitation we faced was that we were unable to conduct interviews with homeless residents in the shelters to do confidentiality issues. We were really looking forward to interviewing homeless to get a better understanding of their day-to-day routine. We also wanted to interview them because it would make for a more accurate representation of the personal struggles and dilemmas a homeless person living in this city faces.
Our initial interest in this project was sparked by our own personal experiences with the homeless. Over the course of the semester, we realized the prevalence of homelessness in New Bedford, the numerous factors that cause the issue, and the programs that help. In addition to obtaining more insight on the problem of homelessness, we also improved our research, organization and collaboration skills. The limitations and problems we encountered in conducting interviews and acquiring information may have been disappointing and frustrating, but will aid us in improving on future projects and endeavors. We also gained even more empathy and compassion for those struggling with homelessness and a great appreciation for those whose efforts make a difference in the lives of the homeless. This experience has inspired us to raise awareness about the issues that cause homelessness and join the efforts in preventing and solving homelessness in the city.