Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Advanced Conversation with Jennifer on Homelessness in the U.S.

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In this video, I'm going to share vocabulary and information related to homelessness

in the U.S. I'm not here to blame anyone or promote a specific political agenda.

I'd like for us to consider different viewpoints as we try to identify causes,

effects, and possible solutions to the problem. As an English language teacher,

I'm here to offer support that language learners will need to follow and

participate in discussions about homelessness.

Are you ready to get started?

"Homeless" can be a noun or an adjective. We can talk about "the homeless" to refer

to all people who have no home. Just as we can talk about the rich, the poor,

the elderly, the famous, we can also talk about the homeless to refer to that

whole population. They're people without homes. They're homeless: be homeless,

become homeless, a homeless person, homeless people, the homeless. We can also

talk about "homelessness" as a situation or a state. In this video, we're going to

address the current homeless crisis. Homelessness is an increasing problem in

certain areas. When people are homeless, they generally live on the street.

That could be a park, bench a city sidewalk, or a bridge underpass -- that place under a bridge.

You may also hear a reference to Skid Row.

This is a really run-down place in any city. Skid Row is associated with cheap

businesses, cheap bars, cheap hotels, and buildings in bad condition.

It's a place where you'd expect to find homeless people, drugs, and alcohol.

Someone can be on Skid Row, live on Skid Row, end up on Skid Row. Today we also hear about tent cities.

A tent city is a large group of tents being used as temporary housing.

We sometimes associate tents with emergency situations, like housing for

refugees, but in the U.S. today, tent cities are appearing in cities that have

large populations of homeless people. Tent campers may need to move from location

to location, depending on how strict the local authorities need to be with the

homeless. The closer these tent cities are to neighborhoods and to businesses,

the more anxious residents and business owners become.

We've had homeless people in the U.S. for a long time, but the numbers in some

places are so high right now that people are referring to the situation as a

crisis, a humanitarian crisis. Have we reached the breaking point? That's the

point at which law and order fall apart.

A society, a city, or a community can be

at the breaking point, reach the breaking point, or be past the breaking point.

There's a lot of evidence that points to how serious conditions are. People are

dying on the streets. There's crime, disorder, and gang activity. The problem

is the seeming inability to stop the spread of all these crimes and tragedies.

We can say that crime is rampant in some areas. That means that it's spreading and

beyond control. Sometimes street fights are among the homeless. We can call them

brawls. They are noisy and very public. Some acts of violence are between the

homeless and ordinary residents. Crimes have gone both ways: crimes are committed

by and against the homeless.

Living on the streets isn't allowed by law,

so if homelessness is a crime, why aren't more people being arrested? Some police

departments are feeling the stress of trying to keep order, but knowing they

lack authority to enforce the law.

Arrests are sometimes made if a more serious crime is committed, but then

people are let go. There are repeat offenders -- people who have committed the

same crime multiple times, but the criminal justice system isn't working, and

residents in certain cities feel vulnerable to attack.

They feel their streets aren't safe anymore.

A lot of finger-pointing

is taking place. People want to place the blame somewhere. Are the police officers

doing their job? Are local politicians and officials taking authority away from

police officers? Have the drug dealers and gangs made the situation worse?

Are cities not providing enough housing? Some complain that too many people

have turned their backs on the problem; they've chosen to ignore it.

Politicians argue that it's hard to implement solutions without enough

funding and support.

What are some contributing factors? Is homelessness merely a social problem?

Most recognize that its larger and more complex than that. It's an economic

problem. It's a mental health problem. It's a drug abuse problem.

Some argue we've become a society of the haves and the have nots: some have money;

others don't. Some point to the need for affordable housing as a cause. They argue

that there's a connection between homelessness and a housing crisis.

Is there really a shortage of housing? Some say yes; others argue no. It's true

that rent in Los Angeles, for example, has gone up dramatically. Tenants, the people

who rent property, complain that landlords jack up the rent. But others

say it's just a fact of life. Not everyone can live where they want to.

They find smaller and cheaper housing in less popular areas. Is that the answer?

Move to another city? Move to another state? Some choose to find roommates to

share the rent or they move in with family. Some politicians and residents

believe that one solution is rent control. They say that the law should

limit how much a landlord could ask for, and that rent hikes increases should

take into consideration what the minimum wages.

However, rent control has a downside. Landlords could choose to convert their

rental properties into owner-occupied properties. And if the law makes it more

difficult to evict someone, meaning force them to leave because they can't pay,

then landlords will become increasingly more cautious and they'll choose to rent

their properties only to people they feel confident can pay.

It's important to consider the housing market as a possible factor in this problem

because not all homeless people are unemployed drug addicts. That would be a

stereotype. Some homeless people do have jobs, but their wages never increased as

much as their rent, and they had to leave their homes. There is a so-called hidden

population of homeless people who live out of their cars. You don't see them on

the street. Some may have jobs. Some may receive government money, but that money

isn't enough to pay rent in the city.

Some politicians proposed building denser housing and creating more

available space for low-income housing. But other residents worry about the

safety of their neighborhoods and the value of their properties. If they have

more expensive real estate and then cheaper housing is built in their

neighborhoods, the value of their property may go down. Similar worries

arise when politicians talk about building homeless shelters in a

community. On the one hand, people want the homeless off the streets. On the

other hand, they don't want to live next to a homeless shelter. This kind of

attitude is called nimbyism. You'll hear and see the word NIMBY. It stands for "not

in my backyard." NIMBY can be a person or an attitude.

We often use "shelter" as a noun.

A homeless person needs shelter, finds shelter. A tent is a form of

shelter, but when we talk about a homeless shelter, we're talking about a

large building that can temporarily house and feed hundreds.

Some homeless people don't like shelters. They may say that shelters can be too crowded.

Maybe they're not clean enough. Maybe they're not completely safe, or they have strict rules.

Some politicians see bridge shelters as a possible solution.

These would be places that could help the homeless get off the streets and ideally

transition to a stable life. But if such shelters are to provide clean rooms,

health care, and drug addiction treatment, will there be enough tax dollars to pay

for everything? And don't forget that many don't want any kind of shelter

built in their neighborhoods. They feel it affects their safety and the value of

local real estate.

One argument for homeless shelters

and low-income housing is that it's likely cheaper to house very poor

people than to pay for all their needs once they become homeless. People living

on the streets cost a city money in terms of emergency room visits, police

enforcement, sanitation, and such. So is the answer to have more safety nets?

More ways to catch people before they become homeless?

Drug abuse needs to be considered. A trip to Skid Row in any city will likely

reveal drug use on the street. Needles are among the things that litter sidewalks.

Many recognize that substance abuse is fueling homelessness. If someone

is mentally ill and on drugs, how can they be a functioning member of society?

But what's the answer? Treatment or jail? Some say that a new

level of tolerance has appeared in certain U.S. cities. Do we now have an

open-air drug market? I've heard that small amounts of drugs on your body will

no longer get you in trouble with the police in a city like Seattle, Washington.

That's not to say that the police officers don't care. It more likely means

they lack authority to fight this crime or that the criminal justice system is

too lenient on drug users and drug sellers. Should we as a society talk

about large-scale drug intervention? What would that look like? How would it be

funded? Some argue for drug treatment programs within prisons.

Could specialized prisons handle people with mental illnesses and drug addictions?

Some propose that prisons with health care, counseling, and medication would

help us slowly crawl out of the current homeless crisis, but again we'd have to

consider where the funds would come from.

I recently watched a video about the homeless problem in Seattle, Washington,

and I listened to the concerns of some local business owners. There was a

grocery store owner and a woman who ran a clothing boutique. Both could report

incidents of shoplifting by homeless. A shoplifter is someone who steals things

from a store. They felt that little could be done to stop the situation.

In the case of the clothing boutique owner, she closed her store and then reopened it

in a neighboring city.

And in some areas where the homeless population is increasing,

some small business owners are choosing to stay and they search for temporary solutions.

Increased trash from the homeless population tends to litter the

sidewalks. Some small business owners hire private sanitation control.

That means they hire people to clean up around their businesses. It's a helpful

act, but it's a band-aid solution. That's the kind of solution that repairs things

on the surface, but it's not a solution that addresses the source of the problem.

Residents of communities where the homeless population is growing are

concerned that increasing taxes may not necessarily be part of the solution

because the money may not be well spent. When people complain about throwing

money at the problem, they're worried about how the money is being spent.

Is the money being used to find long-term solutions? In all their frustration, some

people become numb to the problem. They're emotionally overloaded, so they

feel nothing. They appear to be apathetic.

The west coast has been hit hard by the homeless crisis. The media has given a

lot of attention to Los Angeles and Seattle in particular. Property crime in

Seattle is higher than in most other U.S. cities. People point to the correlation

between homelessness and crime. What are the numbers? In Seattle, there are about

11,000 homeless people. In LA, there are about 36,000 in the city and about

60,000 and LA county. California and the entire West Coast have seen the worst of

this problem in recent years. There are similar concerns about homelessness in

San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. But there are other regions battling

homelessness in our country. I just read about Austin, Texas, for example. I don't

have the time to share all the details of this problem, but I do want to mention

a group within the homeless population: veterans. A veteran is someone who served

in the military, and, sadly, a good number of veterans are homeless today.

Mental health issues and disabilities often contribute to their situation.

It's also sad to note that the beautiful city of Seattle now has a new nickname: Freeattle.

It's supposedly attractive to homeless people because of free services and the

lack of law enforcement in the downtown area, which some people describe as a

free-for-all, meaning you can do as you please.

The police haven't been able to enforce the law in many cases. Arrests often

don't lead to convictions. In one documentary, I heard that Seattle police

stopped issuing tickets for small acts of incivility. That means there are

things that shouldn't be done in public, but they're being done so frequently

that it's hard to stop them from happening.

Again, residents complain that officials are turning their backs on the problem or

they're throwing money at the problem. There's a need to address the causes and

stop focusing on the symptoms.

However, there is a bright spot in all of this.

There are communities with much lower populations of homeless people.

That means they're doing something right, something that could be copied by troubled cities.

These other towns and cities have community outreach programs

that offer services, inform people of services, and refer people to the places

where they can get help. Sometimes local firefighters and police officers

participate in these efforts. What more can be done? You can be sure that more

proposals will be made during election season.

We'll end here. There's a lot to think about. I invite you to post opinions in the comments,

but I ask that everyone express their ideas respectfully and with maturity.

Let's be open to hearing different views.

If you found this lesson useful, please like this video

and share it with others learning English.

If you'd like to talk about homelessness or any other topic with me one-on-one, book a 30-minute

private lesson. The link is in the video description.

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The Description of Advanced Conversation with Jennifer on Homelessness in the U.S.