The Issue of Homelessness in US
Homelessness is a huge area of concern in the United States and it is something that social services and government officials are struggling to deal with. It is estimated that at any given time there are more than 500,000 people homeless in the United States. Of the half a million homeless Americans, approximately a quarter of them are children. One of the biggest factors that is contributing to the large number of homeless people in the country is that there is a substantial lack of affordable housing. Let’s take a look at some of the most important facts.
Who Is Affected By Homelessness?
If you have never had any personal experience of homelessness, it is likely that you have a pretty inaccurate idea of what, or who, a homeless person is. It is very easy to assume that homeless people are the stereotypical drunken bums we see in the movies. However, in reality homelessness is something that can affect anybody. As already noted, around 25% of homeless people in the United States are children and there are currently around a million children in the public school system who are classed as homeless. It is hard to pin down an exact figure because different organizations define homeless as different things. For example, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development base their figures on people who are living in homeless shelters, transitional housing, in cars or on the streets. However, the National Center for Homeless Education also includes children who are sharing housing on a temporary basis and those currently waiting for foster care placement since they have no fixed address of their own. It is believed that several thousands of homeless children are unaccompanied, meaning that they have no parent or othe adult caring for them.
Another group of people who are a large part of the homeless population are veterans. On any given night at least 57,000 veterans are homeless and almost 40% of them will sleep unsheltered in parks and alleyways. This accounts for more than 11% of the total homeless population in the United States.
Contributing Factors Of Homelessness in The United States
One of the biggest causes of homelessness in the United States is a severe lack of affordable housing and with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development having their budget slashed this is set to continue. It is estimated that around 10,000 units of subsidized low income housing are lost each year. Since 2001 one eighth of the nation’s low income housing has been permanently lost. It is not only the low income families who are suffering. It is estimated that most people are spending half of their income on rent and since 2008 one in ten mortgaged properties has been foreclosed on, making the demand for affordable housing even greater. Public rental assistance does exist, but waiting lists are several years long. As an example, Charlotte, NC just opened up their applications after 14 years of not accepting new applicants and 10,000 families applied!
Another major contributor to homelessness is actually domestic violence. It has been suggested that as many as 90% of female homeless people are victims of physical, sexual or mental abuse. They have found themselves homeless after fleeing from their homes often in fear for their own lives. They have nowhere else to go and are forced to make the choice between remaining in a dangerous and abusive situation or sleeping rough.
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Other Problems Stemming From Homelessness
Being homeless and not having a safe place to sleep is a big enough issue by itself, but it also leads to many other issues. For example, a growing number of cities across the country are criminalizing homelessness meaning that not only are people battling homelessness, but they are also at risk of gaining a criminal record making it harder for them to get a job or rent an apartment thus making it even more difficult for them to get out of homelessness. The National Law Center conducted a study in 2014 on Homelessness and found that 18% of the 187 cities asked consider sleeping in a public place illegal, 43% will arrest someone sleeping in their car and 53% make it illegal to sit or lay down in certain public places.
Another major issue relating to homelessness is the detrimental affect that it has on health. Statistic show that 6% of the general population suffer from severe mental illness. However, in the homeless population this figure rises to 25%. Around half of these people are self medicating and are likely making the situation worse by adding addiction and poor physical health into the mix. Studies suggest that homeless people have a life expectancy of 30 years less than the average person. The average life expectancy in the homeless population is just 47, but homeless women are unlikely to live beyond 43 years of age.
In conclusion, homelessness is a big issue in the United States and it is one that affects people from all walks of life. A lack of affordable housing and support for the poorest of our population has resulted in large numbers of people left with no place to live.
How many times have you passed by people sitting on the street, with a plastic glass or a small cardboard box asking for spare change? Have you ever noticed the amounts of people who have neither home, nor a job to sustain themselves? Perhaps you think it is their own fault; you might think if they wanted, they would have it all. “Go find yourself a job” is a regular phrase homeless people hear. However, this advice is pointless, because there are objective reasons why people lose homes and jobs, and why they cannot return to normal life.
One of the most frequent causes of homelessness is property-destroying disasters of any kind. It can be an earthquake (like in Japan in 2011), a hurricane (like in New Orleans), a flood or tsunami, and so on. At the same time, it can be a disaster or accident of a smaller scale, but still a significant one. Domestic fires, for example, destroy hundreds of residences annually; usually, if a brigade of firefighters does not manage to arrive on time, people suffer severe material damage. Left without a home, victims of these disasters also often lose their IDs, property documents, credit cards, cash stashes, and so on. It can take months (or even years) to renew them. And friends and relatives are not always willing or capable of helping a victim during the time he or she recuperates (IFR).
Another group of factors leading to homelessness includes unhappy marriages and their outcomes. Divorce and abusive relationships are among the major factors of homelessness (Homeless Resource Network). In particular, divorce can often leave one of the spouses homeless. When divorcing, former family members usually try to divide the property they acquired in marriage; in some cases, one of the spouses can find themselves deprived of any property, including a place to live in. Another possible reason for homelessness is domestic violence. Although it is usually considered that women suffer from domestic violence more than men, it is not true; as a result, a number of people of both genders prefer to live on the streets rather than stay in abusive relationships.
The institutional backgrounds of people can cause them to end up living on the streets (Shelter). In particular, people who served in the armed forces and participated in war conflicts can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can prevent them from fitting into normal life, living with their families, and so on. As a result, they are at risk of not being able to get along with the peaceful environment around them, and end up on the streets. Another group of people who can potentially become homeless are former prisoners. A prisoner does not necessarily remain a villain after getting out of jail; moreover, such people could have committed some minor crimes, or even were unjustly convicted. Still, non-criminal citizens usually do not give them a second chance, so they often become homeless as well.
It is obvious that homelessness is caused not only by a person’s unwillingness to work and sustain themselves; rather often, there exist objective factors causing people to become homeless. Among them, one should mention disasters (both natural and human-caused), divorce, abusive relationships, PTSD, and non-conducive backgrounds like being a former convict.
Doe, John. “What Causes Homelessness?” IFR. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.
“Factors Contributing to Homelessness.” Homeless Resource Network. N.p., 03 Aug. 2011. Web. 27 May 2015.
“What Causes Homelessness?” Shelter. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 May 2015.
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