The Problem of the Homelessness

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Abstract

Statistics show that most of the cities in America are experiencing an influx of the number of homeless people. This shows that a step has to be taken to control the situation. On the other part, some cities have experienced a reduction in the number of homeless people. This shows that reducing homelessness is possible. This means that identification of the specific needs of the homeless and approaching them in the most appropriate way could be a solution.

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This can be done by understanding the causes of this problem. Issues like unemployment, soaring costs of housing, government policies concerning this issue of homelessness, disabilities and domestic violence should be approached in the most relevant ways so that fewer and fewer people are converted into homelessness. This calls for a strategy that is preventive. By understanding that unemployment causes homelessness, the stakeholders will then look for the best way of combating the problem.

This can be done through job training and the creation of employment. Each cause should then be tackled in its own format to ensure that all the causal effects are addressed. Success in this will lead to curbing of the several negative implications like the economic burden, diseases, stereotyping and several other mental and psychological repercussions that this social problem has on the society. This can also be achieved when all the myths are corrected and people have a clear picture of what homelessness entails. Finally, preventive measures should be taken to ensure that people do not continue flowing into this problem.

Introduction

With the ever-increasing economic strain, more people are finding their way to the streets for shelters. The number of homeless people is increasing every passing day. As a result, this paper will identify and define the term homelessness, identify the causes of homelessness, its implication on society, the myths associated with it and finally the ways through which the problem can be solved. While the term “homeless” is difficult to define due to the temporary nature of the phenomenon, most of the scholars in this field have assumed the definition offered by McKinney-Vento Act (P.L. 100-77). In this Act, the term is defined as:

An individual who lacks a fixed regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and a person who has a nighttime residence that is

  • a supervised public or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, transitional housing for the mentally ill); and
  • an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
  • a public or private place not designed for, nor ordinarily used as, regular sleeping accommodation for human beings (CRS, 2005, p. 5).

Statistical data

Several factors have contributed to the increase in the number of homeless people in America. In 2008, foreclosure led to the loss of houses by many American families. This was further catapulted by the lack of affordability of market-rate houses for low-income earners and the subsidized rental houses experiencing a long waiting list. Furthermore, the rate of unemployment increased from 4.8% in October 2008 to hit a 6.5% in the same month in 2008. However, it is not yet clear whether the loss of jobs and homes is directly related to homelessness. Based on data released after a survey of 25 cities in the United States, an increase in homelessness was reported in 19 cities while four cities (Miami, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Cleveland) reported a drop in the rate of homelessness (Leopold, 2008, p. 18).

Family homelessness experienced an increase in 16 cities with a decrease being experienced in two cities while no change was experienced in four cities. In almost every case of increased homelessness, the most prevalent causes to be cited were economic hardships and the inadequacy of affordable houses. The following graph by Leopold (2008, p. 19) shows the major changes in the rate of family homelessness in the year 2008 as compared to 2007.

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The major changes in the rate of family homelessness in the year 2008 as compared to 2007

In Louisville, the rate of family homelessness was reported to be a 58% increase. This represents an increase from 591 families in 2007 to 931 families in 2008. The main reason cited in Louisville was the difficulty in meeting the day-to-day needs of the family. The skyrocketing prices of food, home heating, health care and food were the reasons for the increased rate in the city. While most cities cited economic reasons for their homelessness, there were some cities that experienced an increase in family homelessness that were not economically oriented. For example, Des Moines reported a 145 increase in family homelessness that had no economic basis but an addition of a new reporting on family shelter whose participants were recorded in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS).

To sum up the rate of homelessness in the US, the 2007 report by the Conference of Mayors indicated that in 2006, at least 183 people used a transitional shelter or an emergency shelter. Of the 183 persons, individuals comprised 23% a percentage shared by households with children with unaccompanied youth taking 3%. In another statistical bracket, the singles and children who are not accompanied account for an average of 4.7 months a year of homelessness a duration that is slightly lower than their counterparts with families who accounted for an average of 5.7 months of homelessness. Single men accounted for 51% of the overall homeless population with 30% going to families with children.

Single women and unaccompanied youth accounted for 17% and 2% respectively. Further statistics indicate that 42% of all this homeless population in the United States was made up of African Americans a percentage that was closely followed by the whites who accounted for 39%. Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians accounted for 13%, 4% and 2% respectively. Of the single people who were homeless, 37% of them were substance abusers while adults with families who are substance abusers account for 10%. It was also pointed out that 13% of the singles who passed as homeless were employed with 17.4% of their counterparts in childbearing households (CRS, 2005).

Finally, about 9% of all the homeless in America are in rural areas. With the national Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty pointing out that the actual number of homeless people usually outnumber the available space provided by the emergency shelters and other facilities, it is estimated that most of the rural homeless are forced to stay with relatives and friends in crowded environments. This identifies a drawback in the statistics. Most of the studies identify their participants from emergency shelters and transitional housing.

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They, therefore, fail to account for those homeless people who live with friends and relatives. FY2000 statistics by the department of education where only 35% of all the youths identified in the study were found to reside in transitional and emergency housing. In the study, 34% lived with family and friends with a further 23% in hotels and other residential locations. This poses a great challenge in the identification of the youth as homeless.

Causes of Homelessness

This phenomenon is believed to result from several aspects. While some aspects like alcoholism and substance abuse had been identified for a long time as major causes of homelessness, it is important to understand that there are more factors that complement this factor so that they end up in homelessness. This part of the paper will therefore highlight the major causes of homelessness.

Unemployment is one of the major factors that contribute to homelessness. However, it should be noted that there are homeless people who are still employed. According to Burt (2001), there are several people who work but still remain homeless. In a study, Burt et al (2001) most of the respondents pointed out that they had experienced a drop in their income before turning to homelessness. The drop in income was a result of unemployment. In most cases, less skilled and semi-skilled employees lose their jobs to technological innovations which act more economical with less input and larger output. In addition to a complete lack of employment, there are those who are employed but earn wages that are below the poverty level.

Another great contributor to homelessness is the rising cost of housing. According to Burt (2001, p. 2) without such unreachable housing prices, many people would not experience homelessness. Unfortunately, the rents have experienced a great increase in most parts of the country. Eventually, the high rents have gone beyond the affording ability of those who are unemployed and those who are employed but with a very small wage that is below the poverty range. To make matters worse, it is the same group that experiences job losses due to their lack of skills and possession of semi skills.

Government policies also play a great role in this matter. When the government stops aiding its citizens through subsidies, the weight of the housing rent becomes heavier on the individual. This exerts more pressure on the individual’s earning forcing him to opt for cheaper housing. Unable to get cheaper housing, the individual may resort to homelessness. This has been experienced in the United States where housing experienced a great drop in terms of federal support in the last 20 years. Lack of government support and increasing housing costs subjected more families to the danger of homelessness due to their limited resources (Burt, 2001, p. 2).

Disabilities might also subject one to homelessness. In the ’90s, about 46% of all homeless adults were found to possess a form of disability. In addition to this, most of the homeless adults reported cases of alcohol and drug abuse together with mental health problems. In the same study, 31% of the homeless adults had a combination of both mental health problems and drug abuse. The number of adult homeless who did not have a mental health problem and did not abuse substances was a mere one out of four (Burt, 2001, p. 2).

Another prevalent cause of homelessness is foreclosure. This is the process of barring or shutting out the rights of a mortgagor to redeem an estate that is mortgaged. In clearer terms, it is the termination of all mortgage rights of a homeowner. In the process, the estate becomes the property of the institution that lent the homeowner. With this prevailing, the condition in the United States’ homeownership is experiencing great challenges. According to Burt (2001), foreclosure is contributing greatly to homelessness in the US. Study shows that of about 120 homes in the United States, about 4.8 million of them are facing foreclosure. It is clear that most of the homes facing threats were as a result of economic hardships, a phenomenon that can highly subject a homeowner to foreclosure. This is, therefore, one of the greatest causes of homelessness.

Domestic violence also contributes to the subjecting of people to homelessness. When the parents fail to cope, it can sometimes result in forcing one of the parents to look for alternative shelter. As a result, some of them resort to emergency housing. In a survey of homeless people nationwide, it was found that domestic violence accounted for the second most common reason for homelessness. In Massachusetts, 92% of the women respondents reported having experienced a severe assault either physically or sexually while 63% of the respondents had been subjected to violence by their intimate partners.

Finally, natural disasters also contribute to homelessness. Hurricanes and earthquakes damage homes forcing the inhabitants to become homeless. Apart from the direct destruction of homes, it causes a rise in rent as the demand goes higher. A good example was hurricane Katrina which destroyed more than 200,000 homes forcing 6,000 people into homelessness while the rent increased three times the normal price. In 2009, more than 30,000 people were subjected to homelessness after the floods in Fargo, ND (Burt et al, 201).

Implications to the Society

The implications of homelessness are so vast. First, homelessness has a negative economic implication on the government. In Florida, for example, the government spends an approximated $168 million every year on all its programs that are aimed at assisting the homeless. This cost does not include other expenses by other organizations like the emergency service providers, police departments, hospitals and other charitable organizations which also spend a hefty lot of money on ensuring services to the homeless people.

Homelessness poses a great threat to the well-being of the youth victims (Meredith, 2007). Unlike their non-homeless counterparts, the homeless youth experience great problems. First of all, at the teen ages, the youth are usually subjected to great problems. These are further catapulted by the effects of homelessness. Due to their status of homelessness, these youths are usually more prone to finding themselves on the wrong sides of the law and thus frequent the juvenile justice system as compared to their non-homeless counterparts. In addition, the same state leads them into loitering and trespassing which are also petty crimes associated with this group of youths. Another effect of homelessness on the youth is that homeless youths are likely to spend more time with deviant groups thus running a risk of being involved in gang activities.

The state of homelessness subjects its youthful women to survival sex. It leads them to prostitution so that they can get a place to spend a night and earn something for their survival. As a result of this, the women run great risks of being victims of rape and sexual assault. Their association with deviant groups also puts them at a higher risk of engaging in drug and substance abuse as compared to their non-homeless counterparts. Finally, the homeless youth have a higher rate of suicidal tendencies as compared to the youth who have homes to stay. According to a study by Kidd and Krall (2002), the number of youth that had attempted suicide was 76%

Due to the circumstances faced by the homeless, they are prone to high rates of diseases. This could be caused by their inaccessibility to “home base and supportive network,” stress that comes both physically and psychologically, exposure to harsh environmental elements, exposure to chaotic and overcrowded environments, lack of protection from bacteria and viruses within their living conditions and finally the hardships that follow the people living in the streets. In line with the same, the streets people are prone to complications like cold injuries more common for people living in Northern parts of the United States and in the greater Canada. This results from a lack of proper shelter from the biting cold.

The homeless are also prone to cardiovascular complications including high blood pressure. Tuberculosis is another complication that is more prevalent with homelessness. The survey showed that this disease had increased by 20% between 1987 and 1992. Unfortunately for the homeless, the rate of spread was more within the street families than in the other citizens. In fact, the chance of getting infected was a hundred times more for the street families than other well-housed people. Other complications associated with this phenomenon include skin diseases, nutritional deficiencies, sleep deprivations, emotional and mental complications for adults and children, high mortality rates and finally sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS (UCLA, 2009).

Education performance and the emotional stability of the student are always intertwined. It is impossible for a student to perform greatly if his emotional status is unstable. One of the greatest causes of homelessness is domestic violence. Most of the children have experienced domestic violence or sexual aggression before fleeing their homes either alone or accompanied by one of the parents.

The study has found out that the children who have experienced these types of violence stand a great chance of experiencing emotional problems and behavioral complications. This means that with behavioral problems and emotional conditions, homeless children are unlikely to perform at school due to impaired ability to adjust and also low concentration levels. These two play direct roles in the performance standards of a child. In addition to the indirect effects, homelessness in itself subjects children to harsh conditions that expose them to sicknesses. For example, the children are exposed to poor nutrition, health care that is insufficient, medical conditions that arise from overcrowding, high violence incidences, etc.

Finally, homelessness subjects its victims to frequent relocations which eventually tempers the children’s feeling of safety, predictability and stability. These three are very important in the healthy growth of the child which is equally important in good class performance. With such complications, the level of performance of the student is highly tempered. This thus justifies the fact that homelessness implicates negatively on education (UCLA, 2009).

Myths about Homelessness

Many people have mental conceptions about the issue of homelessness that are actually baseless and misinformed. Based on the report called All Roads Lead to Home: A Homelessness to Housing Stability Strategy in 2007 triggered actions from several organizations to work together and come up with ways that would assist in the ending of homelessness. Among the strategies was educating the masses to have a true picture of the state of homelessness. One group in Cambridge took upon the effort of identifying the common myths and educating the public about the cost-effectiveness of housing stability. Among the myths identified included the fact that homeless people are drug and substance addicts.

This was found to be a prevalent belief within the community concerning homelessness. In addition to this, it was also believed that all homeless people are mentally ill. This could be widely held but the truth stands out that although some homeless people are mentally ill, there are several who are neither ill nor drug addicts. It is therefore important to note that there are inhabitants of the emergency shelters who were forced into homelessness by other economic factors and therefore are normal people without these weaknesses (CAHG, 2008).

Another myth is that if there were enough houses, the issue of homelessness would be solved. This is not true because housing is not only about the number of houses present but also the availability of the houses in terms of affordability. To afford shelter, people must have proper income that will be able to support them to pay for their shelter, food, clothing and other basic necessities. Also, the government must offer support to its citizens in places where the expected cost of housing is too high for the people to afford. Lack of the identified things will always lead to homelessness despite the availability of houses (CAHG, 2008).

There is also the myth that homeless people are just lazy and they don’t need any assistance system and that the little money they get is usually spent on drugs and playing bingo. The homeless are usually not just lazy. Before someone attains the benefits, he is usually subjected to rigorous scrutiny before being justified to access the benefits. In addition, the benefits are usually so little to allow these homeless people to engage in entertainment activities. For example, in Cambridge, a homeless person with one child is allowed $1,029 each month from which he has to pay a housing limit of $480. This leaves him with only $548 to cater for all the other expenses (CAHG, 2008).

Another prevalent myth is that the homeless youth prefer to stay in the streets than come home and stay under the rule. The truth is that while some youth would do this, most of the youth (80%) in the streets were found to have a similar background. Most of them had experienced domestic violence and abuse or were affected by family conflicts, poverty and victims of substance abuse. This means that if the conditions at home were better than what they found, the youth could easily return home.

They also believe that homeless people are criminals. This is another misconception. Most of these people are not criminals. While others have found themselves on the wrong side of the law, some have never been part of this. In fact, those who have been found on the wrong side of the law have been victims of the struggle for survival including petty crimes like trespassing, shoplifting and prostitution. These are not crimes that would label one a criminal (CAHG, 2008). There are several other myths associated with the issue of homelessness but those named above are the most prevalent.

Solutions to Homelessness

With the number of the homeless increasing each passing day, it calls for the stakeholders to come up with ways through which this problem can be solved. Several scholars have come up with suggestions through which the government can free itself from the burden of homelessness. These solutions do not only focus on direct solutions that remove the homeless from transitional shelters but solutions that also provide ways through which the homeless can remain in permanent housing. The solution should also put into consideration the different demographic dimensions of the homeless population.

In addition to this, the solution should look for a way through which the rural homeless population can also be put into consideration. One of the suggestions is the provision of permanent housing. This, according to Granruth and Smith (2001) is the basis from which poverty can be eliminated. By coming up with such permanent shelters, the stakeholders will have focused on prevention instead of waiting for the problem to come up before they are solved.

For the organization to be prevention-oriented, it should focus on issues such as the involvement of the local government. This is important because most of the homeless people not only need shelter but also, are in need of several other assistance programs. This, therefore, calls for a way through which all these programs could be merged and coordinated. This is the best role for the local government (Burt et al).

In addition, the gap analysis should be done to identify the actual homeless and those who are at great risk of becoming homeless. Furthermore, the real needs of the people should be identified for example; they should identify whether the people need rent assistance or whether the provision of employment would be a better solution. Then, the best way of providing the service should be identified. A way that will be coordinated and organized. Due to the temporal aspect of the rural homeless, they should be provided with temporary shelters that would keep them till the condition that led them to homelessness stabilizes (Singleton et al).

In addition, Burt et al () specify that the job training should be a continuous process that should take the client for at least a year. This is important because most of the homeless will need time as they always start from nothing, especially in their financial aspects. Training should also be provided for financial management as the homeless people need the skills to handle the money that they will attain in case of getting jobs. Also, there should be a follow-up program that would be useful in the identification of the progress of the beneficiaries and would also be important in the identification of the real service needs of the people.

Conclusion

With statistics pointing out that the phenomenon of homelessness is growing larger and larger, it is important that appropriate measures be taken so as to ensure that the problem is tamed. It is important that the stakeholders understand the diversity of the homeless starting with their age brackets, gender and all their geo-demographic distribution and the individual characteristics of each category so that the appropriate measures could be taken.

For example, by identifying that the rural homeless usually tend to be temporary because the reasons for their becoming homeless are in most cases domestic violence; the stakeholders can come up with a solution of using temporary shelters to host them. In other cases, it is important to note that each group could have a specific need. For example, while the homeless youth might need employment and job training, this could not be the same need for old age homeless.

Myths should also be corrected because this causes people to make inaccurate pictures of the situation at hand and hampers the collective effort of curbing this social problem. With all the myths and strategies to control the problem well made, all the social, economic and psychological implications to the society that are caused by homelessness will have been controlled. Although the nation cannot be without the homeless, the number will be highly reduced.

References:

Burt, M. (2001). “What will it take to end homelessness?” Fammie Mae Foundation. Web.

Burt, Martha R., Laudan Y. Aron, and Edgar Lee (2001). Helping America’s homeless: Emergency shelter or affordable housing? Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute.

Cambridge Action on Homelessness Group. (2008). “Myths and facts about homelessness.”. Web.

CRS Report for Congress. (2005). “Homelessness: Recent Statistics, targeted federal programs, and recent legislation. Web.

Granruth, B., Carla, S., (2001). “Low income and housing services program: Towards a new Perspective.”. Web.

Kidd, S. and Krall, M. (2002). Suicide and prostitution among street youth: a qualitative analysis. Adolescence 37(146) 411-431.

Leopold, J. (2008). “Hunger and Homelessness survey.” The United States Conference of Mayors. Web.

Meredith. (2007). “Youth homelessness: A comparison of communities’ efforts to alleviate the number of homeless youths in their area.”. Web.

Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability. (2005). “Economic impact of homelessness is significant; Improvements needed at state and local level.”. Web.

Singleton, Theresa, Christopher Holden, Amy Rose, and Mary Stover. 2002. Continua of care best practices: Comprehensive homeless planning in rural America. Web.

University of California, Los Angeles. (2009), “Effect of homeless on the individual.”. Web.

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