Homelessness is defined as the situation where one has no decent place to stay mostly because they cannot afford it. Homeless families are those who lack permanent places to live in and instead have to live in shelters, motels, cars, campgrounds or with family members or friends. The extent of homelessness varies with varying factors in the US for instance the geographical location, gender and age. (Levinson D, 2004). Homelessness in the USA is a social or rather a national problem that has been increasing over the years.
Giving the exact or accurate figures of homeless people in the US is a difficult task as it tends to be a temporary problem. Again, the approach used to count the homeless people is using the service providers who deal with them paving way for miscounting as not all homeless people would use such facilities. According to a research by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in 2007 there were approximately 3. 5million people in America out of which 1. 35 were children.
The population affected by poverty is diverse in the sense that it incorporates single adults, adults with children as well as the homeless youth. (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2008). This paper will focus on the nature, scope and population affected by homelessness in the US; it will also highlight the possible solutions to the problem. As David in ‘Encyclopedia of homelessness’ noted one way of estimating the extent of family homelessness in the US was to establish the number of homeless people who were from homeless families.
It was established that over 41% of the homeless people came from homeless families. (Levinson D, 2004). The National Coalition for the Homeless estimated that in 2003 the number of children below 18 years was 39% of the total homeless population 42% of which were children below five years of age. In terms of gender, the proportion of the males versus females varied when varying factors were put into account. For the single adults without children males were more than females at 65% but for those with children the proportion was lower at 35%.
The number of homeless people with children has been increasing over the years in both the rural as well as the urban areas. (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2008). The history of homelessness in the US dates back to the period before the American Revolution and is therefore not a recent phenomenon. This was triggered by the need to seek better employment opportunities in places far from homes. The issue however came to the public domain in the 1980’s and the federal, state as well as local governments channeled finances to resolve the problem. (Rossi P, 1991).
These efforts included the establishment of shelters and housing programs but the problem persisted precipitating the adoption of another model to address the issue. It became apparent that the homeless needed the provision of supportive programs and the housed ‘homeless’ would be treated as tenants in their permanent housing. (Levinson D, 2004). As various scholars have established the major cause for homelessness in the US is poverty which makes houses unaffordable to many who can barely afford the necessities of life let alone the expensive houses. (Ploeg J and Scholte E, 1997).
Such people cannot afford food, health care, education and child care. Despite the fact that over the years the economy has been growing and it is expected that people’s standards would improve this has not been attained in a uniform manner. Low income earners have faced the music as their pays have remained relatively low and this situation is made worse by the fact that their jobs offer minimal or no benefits. (Burt R, 1999). Their wages have either remained stagnant or have been falling all attributed to the fact that the bargaining power of the labor unions has reduced and the value of the minimum wages eroded.
Temporary or part time jobs, increased globalization and a reduction of jobs in the manufacturing sector also contribute to reduced wages. Reduced wages make housing unaffordable to many as housing costs more than the minimum wage. Proof that the reduced wages play a significant role in perpetuating homelessness in the US can be seen in the high numbers of fulltime employed worker living in shelters. (Levinson D, 2004). A reduction in federal assistance to the poor has also led to aggravated poverty rates which lead to homelessness.
Programs that initially assisted the poor for instance the Food Stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families have been reduced and the poor have to feel the full weight of all the costs they need to meet. (Levinson D, 2004). Lack of housing assistance programs also makes the problem of homelessness intense. Low cost housing units introduced were ineffective in realizing the intended goal of assisting the needy. Some were converted to expensive apartments and the poor were left unassisted. A stronger economy sees the prices of housing rise making them unaffordable to many poor people. Levinson D, 2004).
There were also minimal house assisted units against a massive number of poor people and many had to stay on long waiting lists. As people wait to be placed on the low cost housing units they had to look for places to live in. Other factors that trigger homelessness include the lack of affordable health care which sees people with an added cost to meet. Domestic violence also leads to homelessness especially when battered unemployed women run away from their battering and bread winner husbands. Mental illness also plays a role in influencing homelessness in the US.
Statistics have it that over 15% of the total homeless population suffers from some form of mental illness. Some suffer from chronic or persistent mental illnesses or disorders. (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2008). Natural calamities are also to blame for homelessness in America. A good illustration is the hurricane Katrina and Rita which saw the destruction of over 300000 homes. (Mathison S and Ross E, 2008). Since the problem of homelessness is caused by many factors, no single solution would suffice to whip it out.
It is important to adopt both proactive as well as reactive approaches. Proactive measures would be geared to preventing homelessness while the reactive measures would be resolving the problem after its occurrence. It would be vital to ensure that the minimum wage is uplifted so that even the low income earners have a higher amount of money at their disposal. The government ought to renew its commitment in providing low cost housing units. Educational programs among the homeless would place them at a better position in seeking for employment opportunities in the very competitive job market.
This way the vicious circle of homelessness would be reduced. The government can also adopt measures that would ensure increased job opportunities as unemployment triggers homelessness. The adoption of community based programs for instance transitional housing as well as emergency shelter only offers temporary solutions and permanent solutions are vital. Since the homeless face many problems ranging from insecurity, inadequate health food supplies and medical care facilities their provision would be effective. (Wiecha L, Dwyer T and Dunn-Strohecker, M, 1991).
The government at the various levels must see to it that the homeless gain accessibility to quality health as well as enough and nutritional food. The young children especially those below five years of age must be treated with the specialty they deserve. (Backner I and Bassouk E, 1997). Appropriate strategies must also be enforced to allow those suffering from mental illnesses that can be effectively treated from home gain access to housing as they form a sizable number of the homeless population. Programs to reduce alcohol and drug abuse would also be appropriate in the eradication of homelessness in the US. (Whitt C. 1994).