Thisessay will be bearing in mind homelessness in Australia as a social problemfrom the sociological perspective of a functionalist. To be able to understandand efficiently look at homelessness from a functionalist’s perspective some understandingsshould be met. To begin with, what constitutes a social problem; secondly, howhomelessness is interpreted and seen in Australia, thirdly, how thefunctionalist’s perspective is suitable by applying it in explaininghomelessness as a social problem. What is a social problem? A social problem is any condition or behaviorthat has negative consequences for large numbers of people, and it isrecognized as a condition or behavior that needs to be addressed (What is asocial problem? 2011). To be able toremember what is and what is not a social problem in a society, you mustunderstand the social structure and the culture of the society. Within everysociety the structure and culture are different, and yes there are comparisons.
However, no two societies are exact. Social problems cite to a distinct societyat a definite time due to the structure and culture of society varying as timeaccede, and each society is diverse in their societal norms, values, andmorals. So what may be a social problem in Africa, for example, may not affector be a problem in Australia. The era does not merely have an influence on whatdoes and does not make up a social problem, but geographic location, inaddition, plays a function in what is and is not the norm or sociallyacceptable within a society/ for example, in Iraq and middle eastern countriessociety it is the norm to wear a Burqa, while that is not the norm inAustralia. Homelessness is an example of a social problem within the Australiancontext. Chamberlain and Mackenzie (1992) provided the definition currentlyaccepted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is used in its studiesand research. The definition by Chamberlain and Mackenzie (1992) ishistorically and culturally derived from the meaning home. A person living in asubstandard or borderline substandard setup for the societal norms is living with no sense of security in the lengthof their tenure in one room without a bathroom and kitchen of their own, or ismoving between various temporary spaces, e.
g., hostels, friends, houses or iswithout living arrangements that are ‘normal’ for the society ( e.g., streetliving, under a bridge is termed homeless. In Australia, the norm is living inself-contained units or suburban houses (Chamberlain and “Mackenzie, 1992). Using this definite ion, theABS completed its most recent census 2011. The ABS 2011 recorded 105,237 peopleAustralia wide as homeless which equates to a rate of 49 per 10,000; thisdemonstrates an 8% increase since 2006 (45 per 10,000 which suggests that theproblem is growing. Homelessness presents a number of implications which makeit harmful to the individual and society; one significant effect for theindividual is their increased susceptibility to chronically ill health whilstone significant social implication is that over $27,000per annum is spent onthose ‘rough sleeping’ by the community (Homelessness Australia, 2013) The mostprevalent causes are domestic violence (25%) and financial difficulties (15%)(Homelessness Australia, 2013).
The Australian Government, by carrying outcensuses on population and housing, demonstrates that homelessness is perceivedto be a social problem and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)housing, and homelessness webpage states that homelessness is a ‘pressingissue’; a targeted initiative by COAG was to create over 600 new dwellings forthe homeless between 2009 and 2013 (COAG, nd). These factors clearlydemonstrate that homelessness is perceived as a social problem in Australia as isaffects a significant segment of society negatively; has been recognized as asocial problem by the Australian government, and; the Australian is seekingviable solutions. Functionalism is one of the threefundamental sociological theories of thought, also known as the functionalistperspective and the structural functionalism and works by consensus andcohesion within society. This theory will be applied to homelessness throughoutthis essay. Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parson and Robert Mertonare the works of this school of thought.
Mooney, Knox and Schacht (2015)explain that this theory contributes a macro (big picture) view of societywhich is recognised as a system constructed on interrelated, co-dependentsystems (referred to as institutions) that impact one another and, in turn, areinfluenced to preserve a steady social equilibrium based in consensus within asociety. These institutions are similar to puzzle pieces that fit together toform a bigger picture which, in this case, is society. It is regularlycorrelated as any society is just like the human body. The key institutionalstructures of society work like the body’s organs to keep society healthy andwell (Watts, 2007). Some sectors that firmly alter and add to this social equilibriumare known as functional elements, although others that negatively affect anddisturb the balance are known as dysfunctional elements; some of these elementscan be both functional and dysfunctional. An example of how an element is bothfunctional and dysfunctional is a crime. It is dysfunctional because criminalbehavior is conflicting to socially accepted behaviors but is functional due toits reinforcement of societal norms, values, and morals which increases socialcohesion and consensus. The function can be subdivided more into manifest andlatent functions to obtain an education with one of its latent functions beingto learn socially acceptable behaviors.
There are two major models used toapply functionalism to social problems; the social disorganization model andthe social pathology model. When rapid social changes occur, social norms areweak and unclear, and as a result, there is a state of normalizes (anomie) associety alters and restructures itself based on the rearranged norms (TheoreticalPerspectives in Sociology,2012). The latter, conceptualized by Auguste Comte inthe late 19th century, sees society as analogous to the human body with socialproblems occurring as a result of illness’ in one or more of the systems due toan institutional break- down( Levine, 1995). In addition to these models, thereis an extension of the social pathology model involving a person beinginadequately socialized, thus unable to contribute to the functioning of theinstitutions to which they are related. Homelessness as a social problem will be explained by using the socialpathology model. Homelessness Australia (2013) studied 25% of homelessness arecaused by domestic abuse and is the highest cause. Hence this is the samplethat will be used to demonstrate that dysfunction in one or more institutionscauses homelessness for some. Domestic abuse is an indication of adysfunctional family institution which means the roles of the family membersare not being fulfilled, for instance, females have an important role ofcaregivers where males have the role of defender/ guardian in the familyinstitution.
Due to a family member not doing their part within theinstitution, the institution falls apart and becomes dysfunctional and willprobably experience a breakdown. This break down leads to the abused party living in a precariousarrangement that is in agreement with Chamberlain and Mackenzie’s (1992)definition of homelessness under the clauses that there is no guarantee of howlong the abused party can stay and that they may be living in temporaryaccommodations in the worst case scenario wherein the abuser has alienated the abused party from theirsupport networks, the abused party may live on the streets or enter anemergency shelter. The domestic abuse is an indication of dysfunctions in theeducational institutions within the manifest function of educating children andthe latent function of children learning how to interact in a sociallyacceptable manner.This can be associated to governmental dysfunction, inpoor policymaking concerning what is comprised in the national education valuesand curricula, and the following disappointment of the educational institutionto apply curricula that acts as a solid guiding hand for the students underthat curriculum.
All of this can also link to insufficient socializationthroughout the childhood years, with adysfunctional family institution which the child sees as ‘typical’ that helpsand leads the child to behave in a socially unacceptable manner while in the educationinstitution, resulting in social isolation and exclusion. As an outcome of thisbarring, the child will not gather and learn how to function as a productivemember of society when their tenancy in the education institution has ended. Theywon’t be able to get or keep a job which leads them into a state ofhomelessness due to their incapability to make money thus causing them to relyon short-term places or livein the circumstances counter to Australian societal housing norms, such astaking up residence under a bridge or in an abandoned building. As shown, a social problem disturbs a specificsociety at a particular time and must be seen as a problem that troubles asignificant amount of the population that needs to be fixed. These standardsare encountered by homelessness in Australia in its rate of 49 per 10,000living in a state of homelessness which is described using the culturally andhistorically built meaning of the word ‘home’ by Chamberlain and Mckay (1992),The government has accepted homelessness as a social problem, proven by their applicationof initiatives to ease the circumstance and the ABS censuses and research intoit. It can furthermore be seen precisely through the functionalist’s socialpathology model as being caused by dysfunctions within one or more institutionand insufficient socialization.