Acknowledging Human Dignity: The Plight of Individuals Experiencing Homelessness Open Access

Coolidge, Sarah (Summer 2020)

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Individuals experiencing homelessness possess an unconditional dignity that is present in all human beings. However, these individuals experience disproportionate social, mental, and physical health issues and are subject to dehumanizing attitudes, behaviors, and policies. Harmful language and misconceptions about these individuals fail to acknowledge their dignity and further maintain unethical conduct towards them. The pervasive impacts of the dehumanization of individuals experiencing homelessness exist through the attitudes and language that aim to separate these individuals from their dignity. In order to respect the dignity of these individuals and support ethical treatments towards them, accurate and diverse narratives that emphasize their humanity is necessary. The advancement of narratives can be done through increasing both the use of dignifying language and exposure to the impacts and experience of homelessness. Narrative approaches to homelessness must occur at all levels of society and address individual interactions, community and institutional actions, and systemic policy implementation in order to enact lasting societal change. Failure to humanize these individuals’ and protect their dignity is an issue of both current dialogue and ingrained societal beliefs. The denial and disrespect of the dignity of individuals experiencing homelessness is an ethical issue that requires multifaceted approaches and lasting narrative changes. Translating the philosophical concept of dignity into realms of healthcare, society, and policy is possible, attainable, and worthwhile. By tackling dehumanizing language and advancing accurate narratives, the respect that these individuals deserve due to their human dignity can be better advanced.

Table of Contents

Reflexive Statement


Chapter 1: The Experience of Homelessness

1.1 Introduction to a Vulnerable Population

1.2 Types of Homelessness

1.3 Who is Affected?

1.4 Myths About Homelessness

1.5 Criminalization and Legal Actions Against Homelessness

1.6 A Public Health Concern

1.6.1 Exacerbating Existing Health Concerns

1.6.2 Health Consequences of Homelessness

1.7 Conclusion

Chapter 2: Human Dignity and Its Attributes

2.1 Uses of Dignity

2.1.1 Kantian View

2.1.2 Christian View

2.1.3 Intergovernmental View

2.2 The Attributes of Dignity

2.2.1 Foundational

2.2.2 Relational

2.3 Denial of Dignity is A Moral Concern

2.4 Conclusion

Chapter 3: Dehumanization as Anti-Dignity

3.1 Why Does Dehumanization Occur?

3.2 The Role of Implicit Biases

3.3 Features of Dehumanization

3.3.1 Acceptance and Promotion

3.3.2 Indifference

3.4 Why Does Dignity Alone Not Motivate Change?

3.5 Impacts on Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

3.5.1 Health Impacts

3.6 Cyclical Nature

3.7 Combating Dehumanization

Chapter 4: Promoting Dignity Through Narrative

4.1 The Need for Language and Exposure

4.1.1 Language

4.1.2 Exposure

4.2 Housing First Approach

4.2.1 What Makes This Successful?

4.2.2 ‘Built for Zero’

4.3 Using Narratives to Advance Dignity

4.4 Narratives at all Social Levels

4.4.1 Engaging Narratives and Ending Stigma

4.4.2 Allocating Resources and Funding to Supportive Services

4.4.3 Decriminalizing Homelessness

4.5 Employing Each Level


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