Alexa Schwartz. Final Essay.
Project Humanize has influenced many parts of my life, and I decided to write one of my final papers about it.
This course has raised some interesting questions in my head about certain topics, especially the modern ethical issues that have been covered. More specifically, however, my focus was drawn to topics covering human rights, and justice issues. As I had stated in my introduction at the beginning of the course, my friend and I have been working hard over the last year to found an organization to aid homeless individuals. After learning what I have in this class, it is clear that the work we are doing directly ties into these ethical issues
Homelessness is a huge problem in this country and while there are many organizations fighting to lower the rates of homelessness, we have learned that the system is flawed. People are caught in an endless cycle of trying to get off the streets but not having the means to do so. In order for a person to successfully get off the street, they need a job. However, without a permanent residence, they cannot get a job, and without a job, they cannot get a permanent residence. There are organizations in place whose goal it is to help these people find temporary housing so they can find jobs, but we have seen firsthand that the wait list for temporary housing is extensive. People have been living (and waiting) on the streets for years before they have seen any forward progress in their effort to obtain housing. It is an unfair process that these individuals have to go through in order to receive the most basic necessities.
On a single night in 2017, 553,742 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States. For every 10,000 people in the country, 17 were experiencing homelessness. In 2017, 40,799 people were experiencing homelessness as unaccompanied youth. This means that people under the age of 25 are experiencing homelessness on their own. Overall, the rate of homelessness has dropped by 14.4% since 2007 (2018). According to the most recent annual survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, major cities across the country report that top causes of homelessness among families and individuals were: (1) lack of affordable housing, (2) unemployment, (3) poverty, and (4) low wages, in that order (2015).
Utilitarianism is the principle that “the Good” is what serves the greatest amount of physical and emotional pleasure for the most amount of people, instead of for an individual (O’Sulivan &Pecorino). Act Utilitarianism analyzes a single act, and Rule Utilitarianism analyzes repeated acts based on their outcomes. The amount of pain and happiness needs to be examined in the outcome of the decision. While there are many variables included in Utilitarianism, the concept as a whole is very applicable in situations regarding poverty. Actions and systems put in place may not positively affect one individual, but can positively affect group as a whole, and can be very beneficial, especially with the homeless issue in this country.
Consequentialism is the idea that morality is about creating the correct kinds of overall consequences. Through Project Humanize, our actions are creating positive consequences for the people we meet. “For example, if you think that the whole point of morality is (a) to spread happiness and relieve suffering, or (b) to create as much freedom as possible in the world, or (c) to promote the survival of our species, then you accept consequentialism” (Haines). Project Humanize embodies the ideas behind consequentialism because we are actively advocating for the homeless and doing everything in our power to help them in their journey off the streets.
Project Humanize is dedicated to humanizing, and de-stigmatizing the homeless through first person conversations, photojournalism, and additional advocacy efforts. It is our goal to provide the homeless population in the U.S. with the necessary tools to live as comfortably as possible in their current situation and help them to take the necessary steps to get off the street. We go into cities, mainly New York, and meet with homeless individuals. If they allow us to, we sit down with them as well as take their photograph and write a blog about the stories they share with us. We want others to see these people as equals, and put their situations into perspective for others. We also have been collecting donations of food, clothing, toiletries, and other items to bring to the people we meet in order to offset their living costs while they are on the streets. Many people don’t realize that while a lot of homeless individuals are panhandling, the money doesn’t only go to their bus tickets or travel costs to where they want to begin their new life, but this money is also used for their basic needs such as food, water, and possibly hotels if the weather is bad. So, these items we bring them can help them save more of that money towards other things. Project Humanize has also been meeting with other organizations to partner with that aid the homeless in similar ways. We have met with Family Promise of Sussex County, Helping Hearts & Handbags, and others in order to figure out how we can all work together towards the same goal.
I have also seen many Ted Talks about the “Housing First Approach”, which does exactly that. The governors in a couple different states have successfully reduced the homeless population by providing these people with housing, which allow them to find jobs easier, and in return, keep their housing. There needs to be more systems in place with a similar approach, as it has a proven success rate, and will help the homeless population as a whole.
In conclusion, there are many ways philosophy can be helpful with poverty and human rights issues. People need to think about the bigger picture instead of what is best for themselves. If this means some more tax money needs to go towards helping others, then people should take the time to put themselves in these people’s shoes, and realize that it could be them tomorrow, or next week, or next year. Life happens and we all need to be kinder to one another.