Out of sight, out of mind

Linfield students learn the harsh realities of homelessness in Yamhill County

 

For the Review by Kelly Copeland, Ashley Hollenbeck, Janelle Levesque and Elizabeth Schwinck

 

As students of the Sociology of Community class, we have learned about rural homelessness
and housing instability in Yamhill County. Before this class we had limited knowledge of the local homeless epidemic, but through research and service experience we now understand the harsh reality of housing distress in rural communities such as McMinnville.

In light of our learning experience, we interviewed Linfield students and asked about their perceptions of local poverty.

Of 13 students, administrators and faculty interviewed, most said when they think of homelessness words such as dirty, beer, old, men, greasy-haired, sad, unnecessary, camping and Wal-Mart came to mind.

These words describe the harsh stereotypes people carry about the homeless. This is a visual of typical urban homelessness that we are constantly exposed to through the media and in our daily lives.

Next, we asked students whether they thought homelessness was an issue in McMinnville. While many students said they are sure it is a problem, they were unaware of the extent of the issue. Some assumed it wasn’t a problem, because of
the climate.

One student who was surveyed said: Homeless people usually move to warmer areas, and because McMinnville experiences frequent rain and cold winters, homeless people are less likely to
live here.

Another question asked
was whether or not students
were aware of local service organizations in McMinville, and if they knew of any resources that are available
to help those who are homeless or homeless-affected.
Of those surveyed, most said they were aware of resources such as the St. Barnabas Soup Kitchen and religious-based organizations that help
the homeless.

While students are somewhat aware of homelessness and know there are services available, it is possible to attribute the overall ignorance of the issue to the fact that most students spend little to no time off campus and in the McMinnville community. This reality, that the distinct separation between the Linfield bubble and the outside community, is the overarching reason most students are uninformed.

One issue we are more aware of is the majority of Americans who buy into the stereotype that homeless people are the bums and throwaways of society. That is not true for many people who find themselves without a place to stay.

The majority of families simply fall on hard times, such as losing a job or having a medical emergency that leaves them in debt. However, many students have not had the opportunity to look beyond the stereotypes.

Another student reported: To help the homeless, I would become a motivational speaker and tell them to get off their lazy asses and go to work at McDonald’s.

Comments such as these highlight the general perception that homelessness is purely a product of laziness and lack of income. But, as the Sociology of Community class has studied this semester, the problem is much more than that. Howie Harkema, the operations director for the St. Barnabas Soup Kitchen, said this is not the case for the majority of those who come in for a free meal. More often than not, he
said, most people have homes but simply cannot afford to buy food after their rent has been paid.

It  can often be a balance between having a warm bed to sleep in or a hot meal for some, and many have to choose the bed. These
people, while they may not be
homeless at the time, are dangerously close to losing
their homes.

In order to gain a better
understanding of the issues of homelessness, it is necessary to know that it is not just the result of poor decision making. Sophomore Samantha Jordan is one student who is
more cognizant of the broader scope.

“I do understand that homelessness means exactly what it says: without a home,” she said. “A person who is kicked out of their home and is living with friends, passing time in multiple houses without a fixed permanent place of his or her own is also homeless.”

In contrast to the general views of the Linfield community, homelessness in Yamhill County is an increasingly dramatic problem. The first step to solving this problem is to raise awareness and to break the stereotypes.

Our generation can help solve the homeless epidemic, and as college students, we have the power to make
change and influence society.

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