Homelessness is a word that can conjure up a variety of emotions. For some it might be sympathy or contempt for those affected by it. For others it might be a fear of it possibly happening to them. The desire to find out how people felt on this subject served as the catalyst for my project team in a George Mason University communications class.
As part of the class project we had the opportunity to partner with the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs and the Office to Prevent and End Homelessness. When we were informed about the current situation involving homelessness in the county, I was shocked. We were told that back in 2008, approximately 1,800 people were found to be homeless in the county. Although there has been an almost 50 percent reduction in homelessness since then, it had never occurred to me that a significant number of people in the area were going through this problem.
We wanted to know more about what others thought about homelessness in the county. We decided to do a survey of county residents about their thoughts on homelessness and report on what we found out. We sent the survey out on March 23 and promoted it through social media and email. After two weeks, we got the results and I think what we learned surprised all of us.
Almost 1,600 people filled out the survey. One of the responses revealed that 65 percent of those who responded believe homelessness affects them personally. Some people said they often saw people who were homeless, while others said they have never seen a person who is homeless in the county. Yet, what broke my heart were the comments that read “They are like pigeons, you feed one with money and more will flock in” and “You don’t want homeless people in your neighborhood because they create trash.” It seemed that many people were more hung up on the negative image they feel homeless individuals create for the county instead of their plight. Some of the comments were difficult for us to read, while others were heartfelt and inspiring.
My classmates and I learned a lot through our project on homelessness, but mostly I think it is that we (even college students) all have the ability to assist those in need.
George Mason University