Social Exclusion and the Transient Population: Understanding the Challenges

Transients and Social Exclusion: The Role of General Social Services

Most studies on homelessness originate from the U.S., with social isolation being a dominant perspective. As early as 1936, the homeless were described as “unfriendly people, isolated from all social contact and personal intimate nature” (Snow and Anderson, 1993: 172).

Early Research on Homelessness and Social Disaffiliation

In the early 1970s, Howard Bahr (1973) emerged as a prominent researcher on homelessness, framing it in terms of social disaffiliation. Unlike Castel, Bahr’s work emphasizes a psychological aspect, linking homelessness to the personality of individuals experiencing exclusion. This early academic reflection highlighted nomadism, rootlessness, and the absence of family as key factors.

Theories of Social Exclusion

Theories of social exclusion, influenced by Durkheim’s concepts of anomie and social cohesion, originated in France. The French unemployment crisis of the 1980s shaped these theories, which equate exclusion with the separation of individuals or groups from the formal job market and primary social ties (Paugam, 2007; Laparra, 2004).

Robert Castel’s Perspective

Robert Castel (1997), a leading figure in these theories, connected exclusion with the decline of the wage society. His sociological analysis points to the disintegration of the social fabric due to labor market restructuring and welfare state changes. Exclusion, synonymous with disaffiliation, represents a social space where individuals lack economic resources, relational means, and social protection.

Urban Poverty and Social Isolation

These perspectives suggest that urban poverty is intertwined with isolation. Labor market restructuring, urbanization, and modernization have contributed to fragmentation, jeopardizing traditional bonds of social solidarity.

Defining the Modern Transient

A transient is an individual who wanders from place to place, institution to institution, with minimal resources, seeking support or work for short-term survival. It’s crucial to recognize that this social phenomenon, while characterized by isolation, exists within a specific social context and is interconnected with other social issues.

Factors Contributing to Social Exclusion

Social exclusion arises from a complex interplay of factors: precarious employment, homelessness, illiteracy, educational failure, illness, disability, and personal motivation. These factors reinforce each other, creating a vicious cycle where poverty perpetuates itself. Individuals trapped in poverty often lack class consciousness and fail to organize to demand their rights.

The European Observatory for Transients

The European Observatory for Transients highlights that while economic resources play a role in overcoming social and economic hardship, personal factors are equally important. Individuals in similar situations may react differently.

Characteristics of the Transient Group

The term “transient” encompasses a diverse group facing various challenges: rootlessness, lack of resources, marginalization, exclusion, loneliness, low self-esteem due to repeated failures, dependence on institutions, and a blend of traditional values and marginal behaviors. Notably, many elderly individuals within this group experienced hardship at a young age.

Tuberculosis and Immigration

Tuberculosis has exacerbated the challenges faced by immigrants, who are more likely to exhibit these behaviors. Poor physical and mental health is a significant characteristic of this group, who often lack knowledge of social support institutions.

Three Major Groups of Transients

Three main groups of transients can be identified:

  • The initial stage is marked by strained family relationships due to scarce resources and sporadic use of support services. Individuals in this stage struggle to escape their situation.
  • The chronic stage involves individuals who have spent years on the streets, experiencing significant physical and psychological deterioration.

Goals of Social Action

Social care aims to provide dignified treatment, promote personal growth, and empower individuals to rebuild their lives, fostering autonomy and social participation. These objectives are directed towards social integration.

Powers of General Social Services

The powers of general social services are rooted in the Spanish Constitution (Article 78) and Article 148.1, which grants Autonomous Communities responsibility for social action. The Statute of Autonomy of the Valencian Community (Article 31.27) designates institutions as responsible for protecting vulnerable social groups, including the establishment of centers for protection and rehabilitation.

Law 5/97 and Shelters

Law 5/97, regulating social services in the Valencian Community, defines the powers of general social services in Article 6. These powers include analyzing social needs and problems, planning social activities, and managing economic support programs. Article 29 addresses shelters, providing emergency and temporary accommodation for homeless individuals. These shelters offer comprehensive assistance, residential services, specialized treatment, psychosocial support, and legal aid.

Soup Kitchens

Soup kitchens provide free or low-cost meals to meet the basic nutritional needs of individuals in need.

Residential Shelters

Residential shelters offer non-permanent accommodation for individuals facing social displacement. They provide emergency accommodation and guidance whenever possible.

Transient Action Plan in Castellon

The Transient Action Plan in Castellon involves a draft agreement between the municipality, Caritas Cross, and Caritas Roja. Caritas Cross commits to providing information, advice, and initial accommodation to transients at their center. They also manage municipal aid through the high social and shelter management for transients. The Red Cross offers free food services to transients through a team of volunteers.

Population Served

The population served by these services includes long-term unemployed individuals, young people seeking work outside their hometowns, seasonal workers, individuals with alcohol or mental health problems, women experiencing abuse, and divorced or separated individuals.

Villarreal’s Social Marketing Program: “The Pati”

Villarreal’s social marketing program, “The Pati,” focuses on:

  • Bringing the program back to its intended state.
  • Intensifying community action to facilitate collective integration.
  • Deepening research on user participation in program development.
  • Studying grants and scholarships for center users.