I have chosen this topic to research in order to increase awareness of homelessness. It is also of special interest to me because I was homeless for two years myself. By choice I lived on the streets for a period of my life doing drugs, committing crimes and doing serious harm to myself, my family, and to the community as a whole. From my experience, I did not have the coping abilities to handle life situations as they came. Do some people make the conscious choice to be homeless and want to be where they are or can we say that more often than not people don’t have a say, and are forced into homelessness? In this essay, evidence with support that homelessness is not usually a conscious choice.
Homelessness can be defined as relative or absolute. Relative meaning those who live in spaces that do not meet basic health and safety standards and absolute homelessness meaning people living on the streets with no physical shelter. Homelessness affects individuals of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. An estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people in Canada are homeless at some point in a typical year and about one third of those are children and youth.
There is a broad range of reasons for the causes of homelessness, but the consistent factor is lack of affordable housing.. Other reasons may include job loss, marital breakdown, mental illness, and alcohol and drug addiction. But when it comes to youth in particular, the reasons tend to revolve around the family. Homelessness can also be caused by physical, emotional, or sexual trauma such as domestic violence. Some might say what all homeless individuals have in common is an internal on-going terror, as well as loneliness, despair, fear, and dread.
Affordable housing is a huge concern in our society. Youth live on the streets because their families were made homeless or they cannot find affordable housing or a steady source of income to get off the street. In 2000, a study conducted found that this was the case in one out of every five cases. Other economic factors, such as inadequate minimum wage, unemployment, and underemployment have also affected homelessness rates. Consequently, many people are more vulnerable to losing housing, living with friends and other family members, entering emergency shelter, or living in cars or on the streets.
Homeless life is dangerous and can have health consequences on all ages, but it can be even more difficult for youth. Youth are more vulnerable due to their age, developmental immaturity, and lack of responsible and caring guardians or caregivers. Some of the health issues they might be dealing with include tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), drug abuse, mental illness, nutritional deficiencies, early mortality, and cardio-respiratory diseases. Further, the harsh conditions of homelessness, such as exposure to weather and poor nutrition, can worsen existing conditions.
Mental illnesses are more common among the homeless. Homeless youth often present psychological and behavioral problems prior to becoming homeless and are then exacerbated due to them being homeless. They also display problems such as general mental health issues, depression, substance abuse, history in the juvenile justice system, child protective services or school problems, as well as poor coping skills. Alcohol and illicit substance use behaviors used to cope with the difficult life of homelessness may also worsen existing mental illnesses.
Research suggests family conflict as a high contributor to youth homelessness. Family abuse and conflict are at the core of the young person’s experience for being homeless. Most youth run away from homes characterized by violence and domestic abuse. Alcohol and drug abuse is also characterized in the majority of their households. Parental substance abuse is associated with higher rates of child abuse, as intoxicated parents may be more likely to abuse their children than parents who are not under the influence.
Parents engaging in behaviors of drinking and drug abuse make them also more likely to engage in high risk behaviors making them more vulnerable to homelessness and higher rates of drug use and theft. Depressed and/or anxious youth are also less likely to obtain educational diplomas and certificates which makes it more difficult for them to obtain jobs with decent wages, thus placing them at even greater risk of homelessness. Youth with depression and/or anxiety are twice as likely to leave high school without graduating then their peers who experience less or no depression and anxiety. These vulnerable youth are also less likely than their peers to obtain a degree from college.
About two thirds of youth have experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse at home, and that this is one of the key factors in contributing to their homelessness. Poor mothers in abusive relationships must sometimes choose between staying in an environment that is unsafe for them and their children, or leaving the relationship and becoming homeless. Unfortunately, both choices can be dangerous and may result in trauma or other adverse outcomes for the children.
In order to effectively take a stand against homelessness, the community as a whole needs to have a plan. Working together a strategy for housing options and prevention strategies would build success.
As with most things, the most economical and efficient way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Consider enacting programs and policies that will do just that. Many existing social programs connect vulnerable populations with emergency services, temporary cash assistance, and case management. Ending youth homelessness requires effective interventions that engage youth as early as possible and help to stabilize them in appropriate, supportive environments. Detecting young people at risk of homelessness and providing them with timely support and intervention services is absolutely critical and should be the major focus. It is imperative that intervention occurs quickly and at critical stages, so that further entrenchment into street life and associated harmful effects of street life are not endured by young people.
The solution is complex and it depends upon the person involved. These can include housing support services, job training, education, substance abuse treatment, physical and mental health care, counselling, and assistance in job search.
Regardless of why or how people got to being homeless, it is still safe to say reasons still tend to revolve around lack of affordable housing, family issues, medical and/or mental issues, and lack of coping abilities.
So the idea that people are homeless by choice or design is hard to decipher. On the one hand there are those who believe homeless people “make it their choice”, and on the other hand there is the homeless who is fifty-six years old, with a back injury, or a woman who has AIDS who states “I’m gonna die soon. So what do I care if I work. These two issues gives two different perspectives on the issue of homelessness, is it by choice or by design?
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