My name is Matthew Parker. I am a senior at North Carolina State University studying Industrial Engineering. I grew up in Cary, NC, and now proudly call Raleigh my home. I love this City of Oaks. However, it is heartbreaking to see the increasing number of homeless people surrounding our university and city. In an effort to better understand the homelessness crisis in the United States, I enrolled in a “Hunger and Homelessness” course at NC State. In this course I volunteer at local homeless shelters and also research potential solutions to end homelessness. Through this class, I’m learning some common causes of homelessness, that the current services provided are not sufficiently meeting the demand, and more preventative measures need to be put into place. NC State is a school full of brilliant minds searching for problems to solve. Homelessness is a huge problem right outside of NC State’s door. NC State can lead the way for preventing homelessness in people who are addiction-prone through education programs on the dangers of addiction.
We all know homelessness is a problem. We also know it is not a new problem. The cause of homelessness has traditionally been attributed to two things: personal limitations, and structural factors. Personal limitations include such things as mental illness and substance abuse, whereas structural factors point towards social/economic issues. It is true that a lot of homeless people do suffer from mental illness and substance abuse, however, since the 1980s, the drastic increase in homeless has been attributed to the rising cost of living. Both of these causes can clearly be seen in Raleigh. If you spend time volunteering at the Oak City Outreach Center, serving food on a Saturday or Sunday, you can talk with many homeless people and catch a glimpse of their story. Some might share with you their mental illness or substance abuse history. Others you might not even be able to tell are homeless, but when you hear their story they will tell you that the cost of living in Raleigh is simply getting too high for those who live on the margin. Still others might tell you a reason that no one has even heard before. Therefore, finding one root cause to homelessness is impossible. There are too many factors and too many different scenarios.
Although issues such as substance abuse are coming to light in newer media coverage, I believe this issue should not lead to homelessness. According to a New York Times article about a rural Indiana struggle with HIV and homelessness, addicts will turn to substance abuse before addressing the issue that are truly affecting their lives. I believe there should be an intervention at the beginning of a substance abuse phase, rather than after the effects of this problem render homelessness within people who cannot truly cope with the world around them. According to Bell et al 2009, problems with alcoholism can start as early as college for some people. Many universities are implementing addiction prevention programs in an attempt to stop the issue before it becomes a life-crippling issue. Among addiction issues, socioeconomic issues are a factor as well. People who cannot find an adequate job to pay their bills or cannot pay for private insurance and do not qualify for government assistance cannot truly combat the issues they face. However, if North Carolina State University, as well as universities nationwide would provide the first step in education for all students surrounding addiction, I believe we would see a gradual decline in the homeless population.
In college, students are experiencing a new freedom for the first time, as they are on their own to make their own decisions. If a student gets acquainted to the partying atmosphere, this can lead to a continuous, crippling addiction. This addiction contributes and worsens considerably when stressful life events arise, causing a dependency on the known and familiar outlet. To begin combating this issue, universities should require a minicourse before a student’s first year in university to educate all students on the dangers of addiction, negative behaviors associated with a non-sober state of mind, and to encourage students to seek help while providing resources if a student ever finds themselves in risk of dependency or a mental health crisis. Further, students in the Master of Social Work program at North Carolina State University could develop an educational program to help the homeless population to resources in the community, and online resources that they otherwise would not have access to. This not only would benefit the undergraduate population and the community outside of the university, but the students in the master’s program would gain first-hand experience executing methods they have learned in the classroom, too.
An early prevention program would not solve the issue of homelessness; rather, it would help educate the population and create opportunities for growth and strengthening of the surrounding community. This is a perfect opportunity for students at NC State to make a lasting impact in the community around them. Our school motto is “Think and Do the Extraordinary.” Tackling the seemingly impossible task of ending homelessness is nothing short of extraordinary.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope you were able to learn a little bit about what our university could do to combat homelessness.
Matthew Parker is a fourth-year studying Industrial Engineering