Homeless Mike Dick
A Critique of “Homeless Mike Dick Was 51, Looked 66”
In the essay “Homeless, Mike Dick Was 51, Looked 66” Kevin Fagan (2015) expresses great concern over the growing problem of homelessness in the US and pleads that we as a nation must do everything in our power to help rectify the situation. Using a homeless man he had met as an example of the harsh life homeless people endure, he attempts to persuade his audience to take action. Mike Dick has serious health conditions and a background of drug and alcohol dependency. While I felt emotionally touched by his essay, I think that Fagan barely touched the surface of this very serious problem. He did not go into much detail regarding the causes of homelessness. I do not see how we can begin to solve a problem without first knowing its causes. Fagan mentioned cutbacks in housing and poverty programs but failed to give any other examples of help available to the homeless. I see homeless people on the streets nearly every day looking for money, work, or a hot meal. I too feel that homelessness is a growing problem and I wish that we could all do a little more to help.
In this essay Fagan (2015) introduces the reader to a homeless man by the name of Mike Dick who lives in downtown San Francisco. Mike was 51 years old when Fagan met him, but his appearance was that of a 66-year-old man. Fagan paints a very crisp and clear picture of Mike and his harsh living conditions. The reader quickly finds out that Mike has many health issues like emphysema, high blood pressure, and a congestive heart condition. He also has a very rough and haggard appearance from repeatedly being beaten and abused. According to the author, by the time that Mike was brought in off the streets and given refuge in a hotel, it was too late. He was so worn and broken from his life on the street that he died soon after in the hotle lounge. Fagan also refers to the 1980s as being a time of extreme growth in the number of the homeless. He suggests that many of the homeless never really had a chance at a good life. Fagan mentions that the pattern for homelessness comes from alcohol and drug addiction, as well as poverty and abuse during childhood. In his conclusion, the author states that immediate action needs to be taken. He states that there are many programs and homes in larger cities but these will not get everyone off the streets.
The article is very accurate in the way it provides specific details about Mike’s life and experience. We learn, for instance, that he read Tom Clancy novels and Eric Clapton’s music. This is a significant issue because homelessness has been an issue for a long time and especially since the 1980s which was the “‘big boom’ of homelessness” (Fagan, 2015, p. 335). This is a valid argument because it delves into the problems and hardships that typical homeless people experience. Fagan explains that the common denominator of these people is the fact that “almost everyone grew up poor and abused” (p. 336). The organization of the essay seems random at first because the transitions between paragraphs were abrupt. The author goes back and forth between details of Mike’s life and larger issues. The audience for this essay is the general public and particularly readers who live in urban areas where homelessness is so apparent. The style of the writing makes it very accessible to average readers and the personal approach makes it more interesting and compelling. For instance, Fagan uses a very descriptive and homely way of explaining the devastating effects that homelessness has on the psyche: “homeless decay doesn’t leave your bones just because you leave the sidewalk” (p. 335).
The majority of the article uses emotional appeals because any personal story about another person is a sensitive topic. For example Fagan (2015) states how people passed by Mike “with revulsion” and treated him as “invisible” (p. 336). One homeless woman was “beaten and set on fire by thugs” (p. 336). These descriptions are meant to make readers sympathize with the homeless. Because this is a personal story about a homeless man, the readers get the opportunity to relate on a more emotional level. We can visualize Mike when Fagan writes, “He shuffled more than walked, had a bushy gray beard to his chest, and the worry lines in his face looked carved” (p. 335). Fagan also uses logical appeals when relating the facts about Mike’s background, and he relies on an academic study by Professor Judy Hahn which discovered that the “median age of street people in San Francisco was 50” in 2006 but only 37 in 1990 (p. 335). This statistical evidence shows readers that this is a valid issue because people on the street are getting older and therefore more vulnerable. The use of ethical appeals is apparent throughout the essay, but it is pointed at the end when Fagan states that “the nation needs to commit, emotionally and economically, to saving these older folks” (p. 336). This sentence tests the readers’ ethical values, gets them to think about the right and wrong of this situation, and urges them to act and make a difference. All three appeals are necessary in making Fagan point clear, but the emotional seems to dominate since readers are more likely to become engaged in social issues when their feelings are stirred.
The causes of homelessness are more various than those which Fagan pointed out. In “Analyzing the Impact of Social Factors on Homelessness” Vijay K. Mago, Herbert K. Morden, and Carl Fritz (2013) argue that homelessness frequently occurs from such forces as mental illness and family breakdown, although drugs and alcohol are also factors. They state, “Homelessness is a complex social problem with a variety of underlying economic and social factors such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, uncertain physical and mental health, addictions, and community and family breakdown” (p. 2). Job loss also can have devastating effects on the economic well-being of the family and increase homelessness. In “Community-Level Characteristics Associated with Variation in Rates of Homelessness Among Families and Single Adults,” Jamison Fargo and Earl A. Munley (2013) take a more economic approach and argue that homelessness in cities across the US is increasing due in large measure to such factors as “housing adequacy, income, and unemployment” (p. 346). They suggest such solutions as temporary low-income housing and subsidies that can tide people over the flux of economic conditions.
Other social analysts pay attention to specific groups of homeless people, such as veterans. In “Elderly Homeless Veterans in Los Angeles” Carissa van den Berk-Clark and James McGuire (2013) researched veterans who live in temporary homes or shelters. These veterans were asked questions about their sociodemographic characteristics in order to find patterns in homelessness. The authors calculated that “39% of homeless veterans were aged 51 to 61 years” (p. 232) and this corroborates Fagan’s argument that the homeless are getting older. Homeless veterans, however, exemplify the same background problems as the normal population: “Risk can include life events (death of spouse, marital breakdown, exiting employment, evictions), problem conditions (mental illness or medical conditions), and internal and external factors (minority status and higher levels of disruptive events during childhood, including parental incarceration or history of substance abuse)” (p. 232). Older homeless people experience more intense psychological and physical problems which make them more vulnerable.
In conclusion, in “Homeless, Mike Dick Was 51, Looked 66” Fagan (2015) delves into the tragic life of a homeless man who was not able to get off the street until it was too late. The harsh conditions of the street took a toll on his physical and mental health, but unfortunately homelessness was something he got used to ever since he was a child. Most of the homeless across the nation have the same problem patterns in their lives and this involves drugs, alcohol, and abuse. Other factors, such as job loss and mental illness, also increase the risk of homelessness. Fagan makes the reader aware that action needs to be taken to get the homeless the help that they need. Big cities all over the US are being affected with homelessness and the process of getting the homeless help is not progressing the way it should. Federal housing and more poverty programs need to be put into place and effectively run. Any person can start to make a difference by contributing to outreach programs, and as a nation we can get homeless people the help that they need to live healthier and more productive lives.
Fagan, K. (2015). Homeless, Mike Dick was 51, looked 66. In K. A. Ackley (Ed.), Perspectives in contemporary issues (pp. 334-336). Stamford, CT: Cengage.
Fargo, J. D., & Munley, E. A. (2013). Community-level characteristics associated with variation in rates of homelessness among families and single adults. American Journal of Public Health, 103(2), 340-347. doi: 44402028585ths90999f08
Mago, V. K., Morden, H. K., & Fritz, C. (2013). Analyzing the impact of social factors on the homeless: A fuzzy cognitive map approach. BMC Medical Informatics & Decision Making 13(10), 1-19. doi: 33340ttp40222888o
van den Berk-Clark, C., & McGuire, J. (2013). Elderly homeless veterans in Los Angeles: Chronicity and precipitants of homelessness. American Journal of Public Health, 103(2), 232-238. doi: 3338402t00ssh05836