Debate Info

societal failure individual failure
Debate Score:53
Total Votes:76
More Stats

Argument Ratio

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 societal failure (14)
 individual failure (8)

Debate Creator

jubilee(109) pic


societal failure

Side Score: 37

individual failure

Side Score: 16
4 points

Single men and women make up 59% of the homeless population. 51% of the homeless population are 35 to 50 years old. Percentages of homeless people from 55 to 60 years old are 21.9%. Children under the age of eighteen were 27% of the urban homeless population

Families with children are now the fastest growing group of the homeless population, they account for over 40% of the people who become homeless each year. 38% of the people already homeless are families with children. 50% of America's homeless women and children are running from domestic abuse.

20-25% of the single adult homeless population are mentally ill. Only 5-7% of the mentally ill homeless need to be institutionalized. 40% of homeless men have served in the armed forces.

Those numbers still leaves many who choose to live without a permanent location. Many of these can be attributed to the vagabond/explorer/frontier drive in humanity. Since we have no place unexplored and no frontier, these (mostly) men drift about seemingly aimlessly.

The interesting thing about these drifters is that they do not hold many of the same values as mainstream society. They care not for fancy cars, high fashion, impressing peers, or brown-nosing for a promotion. Mostly they just wanna be left to their own devices. They are generally harmless and do not want your pity--just the occasional warm meal and safety from extreme elements.

In summary, some homeless people fail through their own choices and many more are victims of society, but a chunk don't hold to your definitions of failure. It is these you should have a nice chat with. Their world views are enlightening--and often entertaining.

Supporting Evidence: Homelessness on Think Quest (
Side: Stats and perspectives
2 points

I created this as a two-sided debate based on the observation that most people's views fall under either category up top. I have a family member who is homeless by choice, so in that case, I tend to view it as an interesting alternative lifestyle. Thank you for making this point! Great stats, by the way.

Side: Stats and perspectives
3 points

I think in a lot of ways, it is an individual failure, but what about the handicapped? What about people who are deserted or have decided to desert their families, and who have metal problems or physical handicaps? Can we justly blame the individual if the individual cannot recognize the extent of their problems?

I know that I cannot say that everyone is a failure, just as I cannot say that dead people are failures. People who die are victims of life and it's circumstances, right? If someone dies of lung cancer for smoking? Sure, they fail to heed to the warnings of others, but it's a drug that changes you, to keep you hooked. In some ways these people are trying to hold on to themselves by smoking. That's a form of self-preservation, something that every healthy person practices. Yet they die from this. Are they, as people, failures? I don't think so.

To say that a homeless person is being irresponsible when they blame society is to make the same mistake as they. We are at least responsible for not trying to help them beyond the change that they seem to demand from us. We all know what the change will do, keep them at bay. Even if you were to give them $100 in change, it will not fix the problem that they are in.

Homeless people are just as human as you and I, but what makes them different is being homeless for so long. It's a problem that recreates itself, that reinforces itself, and it takes a lot more to get out of than one might think... How are they supposed to do that without seeking help? How are they supposed to seek help if no one is willing? Like I said, it's a heavy heavy burden on someone to try to help, especially without socialized healthcare.

It is a problem with the individual, but it is a bigger problem with society when they become homeless and cannot find help out.

Side: societal failure
5 points

For the United States, the richest, supposedly most advanced country in the world, to have mentally- and physically-disabled people ending up on the street is definitely a failure of society. I would also argue that to have people end up on the street because of not being able to afford medical care constitutes a societal failure. The degree to which healthy, non-disabled people can blame their homelessness on society is, I think, debatable, and would tend to depend upon their individual case. But the least we can do as a society is provide better safety nets for our sick and disabled.

Side: societal failure
2 points

Homelessness is largely the failure of society. There are certainly many people who force themselves into homelessness through bad choices such as dropping out of school for no real thought-out reason or becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol but these people do not represent the majority of the homeless.

People love to say that in America everyone is given the opportunity to advance themselves and step out of poverty or homelessness but that is only a misguided dream. Some people manage to step out of such unfortunate positions but still the majority don't. If you are born into homelessness than you probably live in a poor area where the school if there is one is in terrible condition and probably underfunded. without a good education it is difficult to advance in class status. even more so now that more and more jobs are requiring college level education. Also natural disasters such as hurricanes are impossible to truly stop and capable of displacing many thousands and furthering the ranks of the homeless. How are these people responsible for their situation?

society puts people in situations that might force them into homelessness and if society continues to ignore those that are homeless it will only get worse. Those that are homeless have few opportunities to truly escape their situation and in many cases there is a greater probability that they will further compound their situation as well as force others to follow their path.

Society to properly function needs to be healthy and homeless people are rarely healthy for very long, physically or mentally, and because society(in its own interest of survival) has the greatest potential to help bring others out of homelessness, every new homeless person represents a failure on society.

Side: societal failure
2 points

"Oh, implacable march of human societies! Oh, losses of men and of souls on the way! Ocean into which falls all that the law lets slip! Disastrous absence of help! Oh, moral death!

The sea is the inexorable social night into which the penal laws fling their condemned. The sea is the immensity of wretchedness.

The soul, going down stream in this gulf, may become a corpse. Who shall resuscitate it?" - Victor Hugo

Although Hugo's referring to victims of the penal code, I think the sentiment applies to anyone forgotten or tossed blithely aside by mainstream society. Would you fault a drowning man for losing his footing? For lacking a life-vest?

To condemn an individual for missed opportunities or an irresponsible youth is cruel; to assume that these are the primary causes of homelessness is unreasonable. Excluding the voluntary nomad, people become homeless because their wages are low and housing costs are high. Many people living without a permanent residence already have jobs that are insufficient to meet their needs. As for the chronically homeless, how are they supposed to work their way up out of poverty without an address, a telephone number, transportation, food, clean clothing, a set of teeth...? With an estimated 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness a year, shelters, government housing, charities, etc. still aren't adequate to address the needs of all the people living without a permanent residence.

If you say that homelessness is caused by drug abuse, dropping out of school, and low personal expectations, realize that these are also products of poverty, which is a difficult cycle to break. Sure there are anecdotal accounts of people rising above their circumstances, and there are also stories of individuals with every educational and financial opportunity available to them falling into ruin. On the whole though, I think it's a lot easier to talk from above the poverty line than below.

Supporting Evidence: national coalition for the homeless factsheets (
Side: lack of opportunities

Well there are a lot of great arguments and feelings on this debate...but if I had to pick a side and I do...I would say society.

A point in case...just this week a woman died in a hospital waiting room. Laid there for over an hour and died. The room was on surveillance and a security guard even came into the room and did nothing. There were other people and children there. No one did anything.

This woman belonged to someone...someone's mother, sister, or daughter. She was not a piece of meat on the floor.

There are many reasons why people are homeless. I for one have been a couple of times.

Ask the people of Louisiana and Florida what it is like. Ask the homeless what it is like...ask the children.

It amazes me that the Government will take care of people out of this country and not take care of the people in this country. It says a lot about who we are and where the greed is.

The homeless are not all uneducated.

I see them.

I do not step over them.

Not all can be helped, but all can be prayed for. But, prayers are not enough!

Southern smiles and world peace,


~The Baby Boomer Queen~

...for more rants...

Side: societal failure
3 points

i would have to say that homelessness is an individual failure. education in america (through grade 12) is free. if you don't drop out, you're halfway there. maybe you fail a lot of classes during high school...go to community college. it may be some out of pocket money, but that'll help you. once you've got a decent GPA, transfer to a regular 4-year university. however, people use the argument "but college is expensive". that, my friend, is why there are these clever little magical things called student loans. if you do well in college, and land a decent job that has somewhat to do with what you majored in during college (or just a decent job in general), then you'll be able to pay those loans off. saying that you weren't able to attend school is BS because in america, all children have the right to an education...but it's up to YOU to use opportunity, not society.

Side: individual failure
ta9798(316) Disputed
2 points

I agree i think there is little reason to drop out of school until at least 12th grade but i believe most people do not make the decision that they want to be homeless. i would not consider education above 12th grade a right if you have to pay additional money to get it(even though it should be a human right). Yes there are student loans but what happens if you don't do well in college? what happens when it comes time to pay back those loans and you don't have that nice job that can pay for it? Just because you might have a right to higher education doesn't mean you have the opportunity for it. There are things out of our control that happen to us that may present or deny opportunities in life it is those that as an individual we have no control over, but society just might. I am not ruling out that people make bad decisions and those decisions alone are responsible for them being homeless but the majority of people are caught in unlucky circumstances that force them down a path to homelessness. Societal failure may be only a little greater a cause of homelessness than individual failure but once one is homeless society generally keeps them that way not the individual.

Side: societal failure
ENDT91(36) Disputed
1 point

Well, if something were to just "happen" while you're in college, why would you just throw away your education for that? It goes along with the whole theme of "picking yourself up". That's part of life and if John Doe wants to drop out of school because he wants to let the hardships in his life get the best of him, then he gets the right to do that because we live in this grand country called the US of A. That would not be a societal failure though. That would still be an individual failure. Now you bring up the argument of not doing well in college. If you sit by and let yourself fail, that is also an individual failure. If you don't know what's going on, then you need to get help. Some people might say "well nobody can help me!" That would be a sign of a steamy, hot pile of BS. There is always someone that can help you. It's again, up to YOU to find the person that can help. We live in a country where we have a middle class. So people can work their way up. I'm not saying that they're going to go from homeless to millionaire, but they can at least build up enough to get their own place and a decent job to keep them off the streets. Now, in my city, we have a shelter (I forgot the name) that helps men (and another one for women) get off the street and on their feet again. These kinds of shelters accept all kinds of people. BUT! it is up to the individual to find these places so that they can be helped. If a city or town didn't have one of these shelters, now that would be a societal failure, and the only one too.

Side: individual failure
1 point

For information on dropouts, check out this:;=en&ct;=clnk&cd;=1≷=us&client;=firefox-a

It indicates that there are a number of causes leading to a drop-out, alot of them have to do with the local economic environment, school quality, and race.

Side: societal failure
1 point

i hate it that whenever someone screws up, they want to blame someone else. it's actually the nature of man to blame someone else for their mistakes. poverty and homelessness is another example of how pathetic human beings can be. they want to blame someone else for their failure... the white man, the government, the rich people.

there are plenty of people in the world who started off in the slums and worked their way up to a decent job, and most homeless people who are interviewed admit that they dropped out of school or started a drug addiction which lost them money or gambled everything away. people in poverty on the other hand always try and blame someone else (figures, since the government gives them aid). homeless people already know they're fucked, so they just don't care about the blame game anymore, they acknowledge the real problem.

maybe instead of looking for other people to blame, we should see the real problem. how to help individuals themselves not make these mistakes. how to protect these people from drug abuse, gambling problems, bad financial choices, and not caring about education.

Side: individual failure
Cdelvalle(196) Disputed
3 points

While there are those that screw up and end up homeless, there re far more that are homeless due to mental disease which is, beyond their control.

Why are people like that out on the street? Because they have no one to take care of them.

In this case, homeslessness is a societal failure because the individual was never in the 'capacity' to take care of themselves in the first place.

Side: societal failure
Bradf0rd(1428) Disputed
0 points

"it's actually the nature of man to blame someone else for their mistakes". <---Citation please.

I could have dropped out of school, or gotten out early by taking a G.E.D, and I could have fell victim to habitual drug use had I not been well watched over by family and good friends. Drug abuse isn't something that defines a person, I would be more inclined to say that one's drug problems would better define a drug. It's not something that they can control if they are healthy and seek their well-being. Once you start, the most evil becomes quitting because of withdrawal. Also, dropping out of High School shouldn't define one as a failure. That is definitely a failure of society. When you're in school, you are not an adult, the school system should recognize that you're struggling and try to get you through. If you cannot pass tests and you're not retarded, perhaps you are having problems at home... Whatever the case, if the school is responsible for your safety and your education, then they are equally responsible for your drop-out.

"homeless people already know they're fucked, so they just don't care about the blame game anymore, they acknowledge the real problem."

What problem is that? I think this is more, they've forgotten about the "real life" and how they are compared to it. When you're on the streets for months and months or years and years... things change. You see the world, in part, relative to your position. If you have no one telling you that you have serious problems because everyone else has acknowledged that you're just going to be homeless forever... that you are just a homeless person... Who do yo expect will give them a reality check? Life for them is just normal, as a bum, and they just accept it... no one else bothers them, or at least no one else that is close to them bothers them anymore...

I agree with you on the last part though, we still need to help these people so long as they are willing to help themselves. If it's medical care that they need, give it to them, if it's a job they need, find them a job. I have no doubt that a lot of people out there would respond well to these services and be able to look back and realize their mistakes themselves... I think helping one person would be worth 20 failures.

Side: societal failure

Homelessness is an individual failure that society may or may not be able to remedy through re-education / training programs.

Side: individual failure
1 point

It depends on what degree of homlessness you are talking about but mostly I think it is individual failure. There are systems in place to prevent people from becoming homeless and shelters where one can stay. As long as you're not disabled, you should be able to make it out of your homeless state.

That said I have never been homeless or needed the welfare systems, but with time, anything is possible.

Side: homeless
0 points

In america, if no other country, everyone is born with the right to better their lives. those who don't are completely to blame for their own actions. Just look at my "sister" (as my parents call her in relation to me)! she is 21, has a kid and a husband and is living with my parents still! Yet she refuses to admit that it is her fault for ending up in this situation, instead it is everyone else's fault for not giving her the things she "deserves"! i say that if you lost your home it is your fault for not taking advantage of all the wonderful things this country has to offer and you can only blame yourself if you lose your home.

Side: individual failure
Bradf0rd(1428) Disputed
1 point

"everyone is born with the right"

In America, we always "have the right", but do we always have the opportunity to exercise this right? Hell, look at voter turnout and you'll see that many of us don't use our rights. Does that mean America is failing and there's no one to blame but ourselves? I blame me, you blame you, steve blames steve... and that's just how it is. No one can help but ourselves?

Be realistic. There is more at work than one person's choice to exercise their rights. Why doesn't you "sister's" mom kick them all out? She has the right to, so why doesn't she? Oh, maybe it has something to do with her grandchild, and how she is accepting the fact that her daughter and her husband aren't in the best condition to raise a child alone... Maybe her mother is being responsibly selfless to ensure her grandchild doesn't turn out worse than her child...

This is what I'm talking about. Your mom has the right to kick them out and declare them failures, even though they have a child... she has every right to, but she doesn't have the opportunity because of the circumstances.

(Also, I don't know if you've read what I said. I never said that it was solely society's failure, I said that it's a little of both, but that once someone becomes homeless, that it's easier for society to help than just have them do it themselves.)

Side: societal failure
0 points

Although i understand some people have it VERY rough at the beginning, there is always an oppurtunity to better yourself and choose the right path. Where there is a will, there is a way. No one owes money, healthcare, etc. to the people living in poverty. If they want out, they need to do it themselves or with help, not become a government freeloader.

Side: individual failure