Homelessness stereotypes persist, study by Albright professor finds (Reading Eagle)

By Andrew Wagaman

A recent study by an Albright College professor finds people haven’t relinquished stereotypes about homelessness despite expressing more empathy and a desire to solve the problem.

Dr. Lindsay A. Phillips, an assistant professor of psychology, surveyed 115 adult undergraduate students on what causes, and solves, homelessness.

She also tried to measure the “social distance” people maintain from the formerly homeless.Nearly 60 percent of participants, an average age of 41, said laziness/lack of work ethic was “definitely likely” or “probably likely” a reason for homelessness.

As the nation implements a more community-focused effort to house, treat and train people who are homeless, Phillips said, it needs to understand how stigma could undermine reintegration.

“Most people had a compassionate attitude, and my data does show there’s an understanding for how hard it is to face a financial crisis on minimum wage, but the stigma is still present,” she said.

About 3.5 million people are homeless each year in the U.S., according to the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness.

There are about 600 people homeless in Berks County, according to the Berks Coalition to End Homelessness.While most study participants (83 percent) indicated a willingness to volunteer to work with this population, less than half (43 percent) actually have.

“People want to help but don’t know how,” Phillips said. “It’s a call to service providers to better advertise volunteer opportunities and let people know what they can do to help.”

After reading a fictitious scenario involving a formerly homeless person, participants rated their willingness for the individual to live next door, work with them and date their child, among other options.The majority was comfortable with all three.

Phillips did acknowledge the limitation of self-reported measures versus observations in a real-world setting. She said more research should be done to study social distance.The study, “Homelessness: Perception of Causes and Solutions,” was published by the Journal of Poverty in October.Contact Andrew Wagaman: 610-371-5095 or awagaman@readingeagle.com.

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