Stigma and Prejudice Against Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
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More than two million people experience homelessness annually in the United States, with point-in-time estimates indicating the presence of greater than 500,000 homeless individuals nationwide in a single night in January 2014. Despite these numbers, homeless individuals struggle every day under the weight of anti-homeless stigma and oppression that render them seemingly invisible yet vulnerable to acts of violence, restrictions on the activities related to homelessness, sexual assault, exploitation, and human trafficking. This stigma, reflected in general society, city legislation, law enforcement, and even the health care system, dramatically decreases the quality of life of homeless individuals and further marginalizes a population that already struggles with meeting the basic human needs of food, clothing, and shelter. These anti-homeless sentiments date back centuries in America to before the birth of the nation, and vestiges of historical anti-homeless ideologies dating back to colonial times can be found in modern iterations of legislation and societal attitudes toward individuals experiencing homelessness today. Individuals experiencing homelessness are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than the general population, reflecting marked disparities in health outcomes for this population compared to the general population. Eliminating stigmatization of homeless individuals will require multi-disciplinary, concerted efforts involving the legislative, social services, law enforcement, and health care fields.
KeywordsHomelessness Stigma Prejudice Discrimination Health care
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