Homelessness is a social suffering experienced by human beings throughout the world. In 2013, the NYC Department of Homeless Services reported that about 1 out of every 2,662 people out of the general New York City population of 8,244,910, experienced homelessness (NYC Department of Homeless Services, 2013). Preceding these findings, in 2012, the US Department of Housing and Development reported that New York’s homeless population accounts for about 11 percent of the US’s homeless population (2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report). In our society, the homeless are a highly stigmatized group that is subject to negative stereotypes about their situation of being homeless (Knecht & Martinez, 2009). Stereotypes are generalizations about a group of people (cultural, ethnic, racial, social, socioeconomic status etc.) that are held as rigid beliefs despite not being true. They can be positive or negative, and can be attributed to a person’s internal characteristics or external characteristics (Mio, Barker & Tumambing 2011). Some of the common attributed stereotypes to individuals experiencing homeless are that they are all alcoholics, mentally ill, dangerous, or substance abusers (Knecht & Martinez, 2009). As a result, homeless individuals are often overlooked as being human beings who can benefit from increased help from society in terms of policy and advocacy. What part of human beings leads them to be inclined to aid or ignore a homeless individual as a result of their understanding, or lack of understanding of “the other’s” current emotions?
Empathy, is a self-conscious characteristic human beings hold that allows them to understand another individual’s situation and feelings (Segal, Cimino, Gerdes &Wagaman, 2013). In regard to homeless individuals in society, empathy would be a person’s ability to understand the feelings that a homeless individual is experiencing when they see them in the midst of their situation. In societal interactions, interpersonal empathy is an individual’s ability to respond with compassion and understanding to another individual’s emotions(Segal, Cimino, Gerdes &Wagaman, 2013). In interactions with the homeless, it would be an individual’s ability to respond with compassion to a homeless individual.
Exposure to the Homeless Population
Studies have found that exposure to and direct contact with the homeless population results in diminished stereotypes about the homeless and an increase in support for policies to aid the homeless (Kim, 2013; Knecht & Martinez, 2009). A study done in 2013, found that pre-service teachers with minimal exposure to homeless children, had stereotypical perceptions about homeless children’s lives and abilities (Kim, 2013). However, after repeated exposure, individuals gained a more complete understanding of the challenges the children face and challenged their stereotypical views (Kim 2013). This is an important finding because it demonstrates how lack of knowledge, can lead to lack of...