A Big Problem At Homeless Shelters

Most homeless shelters use homeless people to perform chores and other tasks that need to be taken care of, even the chore of watching and supervising other homeless people, a supervisor of sorts, or providing security, or performing administrative tasks, etc. depending on the size of the shelter and the number of homeless people staying there.

This has been the cause of one of the biggest problems at homeless shelters, instigating the perpetual disharmony and often violent atmosphere found in shelters. The people running shelters call this “work rehab.” But really, it’s coerced, if not forced, labor.

This article from CNN.com explains “why” it’s bad news:

Los Angeles (CNN) — A new study by three universities shows that people holding positions of power with low status tend to demean others, one of the authors said.

The research sheds light on why clerks can seem rude or even why the Abu Ghraib guards humiliated and tortured their prisoners, the researcher said.

In an article to be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers studied the relationship between the status and the power of a job, said Nathanael Fast, assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

The study, “The Destructive Nature of Power without Status,” determined that the combination of some authority and little perceived status can be toxic.

“We found that people who had high power and high status, they were pretty cool,” Fast told CNN. “But it was people who had power and lacked status who used their power to require other persons to engage in demeaning behavior.”

In a field of study where psychologists and business schools are now jointly looking at how power shapes business relationships, the study’s authors examined the notions of how low status is “threatening and aversive” and how power “frees people to act on their internal states and feelings,” the researchers say.

“The world was shocked when pictures circulated in 2004 showing low-ranking U.S. soldiers physically and sexually abusing prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq,” the study says.

“One could point to these examples as support for the popular idea that ‘power corrupts.’

“However, we believe there is more to the story. Although it is true that the prison guards had power, it is equally true that their roles provided little to no respect and admiration in the eyes of others. They had power but they lacked status. We posit that understanding the combinations of these two variables — power and status — produces key insights into the causes of destructive and demeaning behavior,” the study says.

~~~   The article goes on, but I think you get the idea.

In shelters, often one homeless person, usually someone who has been around longer than others, is chosen to do something like supervise the behavior of the other homeless people.   They are often given the title of “security guard” or some such.  It is their job to make sure the other homeless people follow rules and behave themselves properly.  But what usually happens is that the “security guard” takes advantage of his position and engages in inappropriate behavior himself.  I have seen such guards take advantage of others, harass others, make up rules to justify harassing people, falsely accuse others of inappropriate behavior, ban others from the property without warrant, give personal friends preferential treatment, etc.  And the administrators, wishing to be supportive of their “program people” will summarily side with their program people without actually looking into any facts of the situation.  Among other things, this sends a signal to the security person that he can get away with  his demeaning behavior towards other homeless people.

As you can imagine, there is usually a good deal of animosity towards the program people (still homeless themselves) from the general homeless population..   Funny, but the administrators of religion based shelters with usually dismiss complaints on their program people by declaring that the regular homeless are either jealous or still suffering from their sins.


About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
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