No matter what direction you head off of Duquesne’s campus, you are bound to run into some of Pittsburgh’s many homeless residents. Pittsburgh homeless community is a large part of our own, even though they are treated like outsiders.
Homelessness in Pittsburgh is a serious issue, just as it is in cities across the world. According to an annual census taken earlier this year by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, there are 774 people currently living within our community without a home.
Today is World Homeless Day, an event created to draw attention to the needs of homeless communities and motivate people to take action locally in aiding this problem. Students can participate in this event through a number of ways, whether it’s educating yourself on the issues of homelessness, supporting local nonprofits aiding Pittsburgh’s homeless community or volunteering with those same organizations and getting out into the community yourself.
Another way to engage with this community is through personal interactions.
The misconceptions of homelessness only drive the problem further. When approached by a homeless person asking for money, many people refuse to engage, not because they are cheap or hateful, but because of the horrible stereotypes at the back of their brain. You all know what stereotypes we’re talking about – a middle-aged “junkie” that is too lazy to get a job.
The first problem with this belief is the assumption that all people living on the streets are there due to drugs, when according to the recent census, only 21% of Pittsburgh’s homeless population were found to have substance use disorder. In fact, the greatest subpopulation in Pittsburgh was found to be those with a mental health disorder, at 34.5%.
In addition, homelessness does not equate unemployment. Lack of affordable housing is another reason many people find themselves living on the streets. Even those who do work full-time, often have difficulty finding housing that their minimun-wage jobs can support.
Other causes of homelessness include loss of employment, lack of affordable health care and physical illnesses. Most of these causes are not uncommon and can happen to anyone. The difference for many is having someone to fall back on. But when you have no one to turn to in times of trouble, the streets are the only place to go.
When you spend so much time on Duquesne’s campus, it’s easy to forget about the struggles of our neighbors downtown. But as the weather grows colder, I implore you all to make an effort to engage during your next encounter with a homeless person. Whether you hand over your pocket change, hand over your leftovers, or engage in a simple conversation, ensuring that you treat them as they are – human beings – is crucial in promoting change.
One simple gesture is using a meal swipe from Tower’s Market and bringing it to the first homeless person you see on your way downtown.
Duquesne’s School of Nursing will be hosting the Tenth Annual McGinley-Rice Symposium on Social Justice for Vulnerable Positions, which looks at the “critical issues in health care practice and policy through the lens of social justice.”
Our university’s Spiritan mission compels the students of Duquesne to aid those in marginalized communities throughout the world. What better place to start then right next door?
And for God’s sake, PLEASE do not dress as a hobo for Halloween this year.