Summary Jonathan Kozol’s article “The Homeless and their Children”
Jonathan Kozol’s article “The Homeless and their Children” extracted from the text Rachel and Her Children (1988) focused on the lives of the poor in the United States in the 1980’s. His focus was on the relationship between poverty and illiteracy, and aimed at indicating why a majority of the homeless people are also illiterate. The poor are confined by their poverty and illiteracy and are forced to rely on the government through social services and welfare to survive. In addition, the levels of illiteracy among the poor restricts them from accessing proper services such as medical support, education and welfare largely because they are unable to interact and engage in formal matters.
From the article, it is evident that society has grown to shun people who are illiterate, poor and homeless largely due to their social stature and perceived level of hopelessness. In addition, the increase in unemployment levels, the declining levels of welfare support provided by the government and the overall increase in cost of living are to blame for the deplorable levels of poverty and illiteracy witnessed within the article. Furthermore, the author notes that poverty and illiteracy have created an underclass that is confined by high unimaginable levels of hopelessness, suffocation and shame.
According to the article, it would be impossible for Laura to access appropriate services such as quality education for her children, quality medical services for her ailing children and herself and renting a good home due to her state of poverty and illiteracy. Kozol is provided with a rare exposure to interact with homeless families living in the crowded Martinique Hotel under deplorable conditions. They are deemed as lucky because they have access to shelter and limited services within the hotel. The author notes that the government is inept by failing to provide the homeless with funds to pay for their rent in locations of their choices but opts to pay exorbitant prices for deplorable-state hotels for homeless families.
The author deeply empathizes with the families and is shocked by the amount of rent paid for each family in the hotel. All families in the hotel seemingly have common problems such as food, money, the need for change and space. From such it is evident that the government-subsidized homes for the homeless and poor families are ineffective means of enabling them to step out of poverty and illiteracy. The dependence created by the government for the poor families towards government programs can be termed as a primary reason for the significant number of homeless individuals in the city.
The article provides a deep insight into the lives of poor and homeless families struggling to survive in harsh conditions such as the one identified by the author. In addition, it has been termed by many readers as emotionally appealing and moving as it indicates honest struggles by families to survive in a fast-paced society. The author used the platform to highlight a growing concern among the population, the need for appropriate policies that would enhance the lives of homeless people by providing them with rigid solutions to their problems.
Additionally, the problems of the poor and homeless individuals are oblivious to the government, thus the laid-back approach towards enhancing their lives and enabling them to access equal opportunities that are essential for eliminating poverty and illiteracy. This presents a challenge for the society and lawmakers in the United States in terms of providing appropriate solutions for poor families. Access to quality education, enhanced equality towards employment opportunities and provision of basic and quality health services are among the primary concerns for the homeless families. Homelessness and the associated levels of poverty also have negative effects on families in terms of psychological and psychosocial wellbeing.
The hotel manager treats the families with little concern such that he carries a gun as a means of asserting control and threatening the families. Laura recalls her interaction with the hotel manager, Mr. Salvatore Tuccelli, and notes, “he had a gun. He had it under his waist. You know, under is belt.” (Kozol 39). This is an indication that the gun was used as a tool for instilling fear among the families towards any concerns on the deplorable services and living conditions inside the hotel. The homeless families are intimidated by the hotel manager on issues of negligence of the management of the hotel.
The author notes in his epilogue of the need to pay tribute to the strength and dignity of the homeless families for the conditions and challenges that they endure. Similar feelings have been induced by the writer by the audience due to the delicate nature of the lives of the homeless families. The article indicates the low levels of literacy and associated problems are primary impediments for a majority of homeless families to achieve and access quality services. In addition, illiteracy is an impediment towards efforts aimed at enhancing their social status and lifting them from deplorable living conditions and poverty (Kozol 43).
The homeless are exposed to humiliation, diseases that pose dangers to their lives, shame and hopelessness all due to poverty and high levels of illiteracy. Kozol is successful in illustration the high correlation between poverty and illiteracy. Illiteracy is an impediment towards accessing employment opportunities that would enable an individual achieve self-sufficiency. In addition, the author also succeeds in drawing and inducing empathy from the audience by providing real life narratives of interactions with homeless families and their respective experiences in government funded shelters.
Kozol, J. (1988). Rachel and her children: Homeless families in America. New York: Crown Publishers.
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