Homelessness is living without a home, be it on the streets or in shelters. There are many causes for people becoming homeless, and the combination of factors that lead to homelessness are different for every individual. Some of the factors that contribute to homelessness for youth, single adults, and families are poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse and mental illness, limited assistance services, and personal choice. The effects are also varied and can pertain to communities, businesses, other people and the homeless themselves.
Some of the effects of homelessness are health, personal, families, abuse, and the society. Although there are many reasons why people become homeless, this paper will only include the top five causes. Poverty is the number one leading cause of people becoming homeless, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Poverty is best known as that state of being poor. When people lack income to meet all of their needs, they are forced to choose between housing, utilities, transportation, childcare, healthcare, and food.
Nationally, homeless who have been surveyed by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, high proportions of homeless individuals were found to be employed. However, wages are often not sufficient to ensure housing stability and many people do not have jobs that provide living wages, health insurance, or high job security. Roughly half of homeless adults have incomes of less than $300 per month, (National Coalition for the Homeless). A lack of educational opportunities limits access to living-wage jobs and contributes to poverty. Another issue related to poverty is high cost and shortage of housing.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for low-income individuals and families to find affordable housing. It’s no wonder with the limited scale of housing assistance programs, and other services of aid. With growing poverty levels and more people becoming homeless, public assistance services are unable to keep up with the demand. Public assistance can be described as government aid (publicly funded) or privately funded agencies (churches, and/or other charities) to needy, aged, or disabled persons and to dependent children.
Assistance programs do exist, but many have regulations and requirements that many people don’t qualify for. There are also the issues of waiting lists that might be as long as six months or a year. Shelters are available, but may have limited space and are only temporary (usually measured by weeks, some only lasting two weeks). Even with the programs out there, most don’t have adequate funding for prevention of homeless. Whether people are abused, mentally ill, or have disabilities, assistance is becoming more scarce and strict including health care necessities. While homeless people consist of mentally ill people and addicts, this only makes up a small portion of the entire homeless population. Mentally illness is foreseen as various psychiatric conditions, usually characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by physiological or psychosocial factors.
Addicts consist of alcohol and drug users/abusers, which are considered of having habits of consuming either or both. According the U.S. Conference of Mayors (2005), about 16% of single adults are mentally ill homeless, and addicts make up less than this (addicts are more complex). It is difficult for either (mentally ill or addicts) to keep a job and often have trouble finding housing and treatment. Both, mentally ill and addicts, have a hard time finding services when living on the streets, thereby creating a cycle of homelessness and addiction from which it’s almost impossible to escape. Other homeless who need escape are the people of domestic violence. Domestic violence will consist of women and/or children whom are or have been physically, mentally, and/or emotionally abused (battered). Nationally, studies indicate that up to half of homeless women with children have experienced domestic violence, including children who are homeless. With specific shelters available for battered women, more women are fleeing their abusers, thus creating more homeless.
Children, too, run away because of being battered and end up homeless. Children often encounter more abuse while on the streets to acquire food, shelter or clothing. Both, battered women and children are often forced with choosing between being abused or becoming homeless From interviews that I have conducted over the years, there are still homeless people that just choose to become/stay homeless. I interviewed a homeless veteran back in 2009 whose name is Jim, and again in 2011. Jim informed me that he became homeless shortly after the Vietnam War because he chose to. He didn’t have family waiting for him, and had no desire of getting a job after serving his country. After being homeless for more than 15 years, he states that “it is easier”. He doesn’t have the hardships of paying bills such as rent, utilities, insurance, car fuel, and other bills. He also doesn’t have the responsibilities of caring for dependents, but living only for himself.
Because of this advantage, he is able to survive on very little money. Jim says that “I focus on only the basics of food and hygiene”. With charities providing free food, soup kitchens, camping equipment, clothing and restroom facilities (including showers), Jim is able to survive without much begging. He claims that “being homeless gives me freedom” because he lives for the today and only planning for tomorrow. Though hard at times, simplicity can be blissful. Homelessness has a huge effect on an individual’s physical and emotional health. Homeless men and women suffer from colds that they cannot get rid of because they have no access to medicine. They suffer from vitamin deficiencies and often don’t get adequate sleep. Exposure to the elements and unsanitary living conditions can lead to frostbite, leg ulcers and upper respiratory infections. Serious illnesses like HIV/AIDS, diabetes and tuberculosis are more common in homeless people than among the general population.
They also are more at risk for dependency on drugs and alcohol. Homeless individuals have no housing to protect them from physical violence and even rape. At the time when a homeless person realizes that he/she won’t have a roof to live under, it is hard for them to believe. It is this fact of not dealing with reality that makes homeless people less able to take actions, but they suffer psychologically as a result. Being without a home takes a terrible toll on children as well. Homeless children have higher rates of ear infections, stomach problems and asthma than other children their age. These children are also more likely to be depressed, anxious, or withdrawn, and have more difficulty in school than their peers. Homelessness tears families apart because some shelters won’t take boys and others won’t accept children. A mother may have to watch helplessly as her children are taken from her and placed with relatives or in foster care, which highly affects the children.
These can lead to emotional breakdowns that lead them to become institutionalized or they can begin to develop behavioral problems that land them in front of a judge. There is also the economic impact that homelessness has on society. Operating and maintaining homeless support services programs are costly ventures. The funding for these programs comes in the form of taxpayer dollars and private donations. Yet, most of these programs are generally unfunded, which means that only the most basic of services can be offered. This in turn means that many homeless are forced to seek alternate methods of getting their basic needs met. Subsequently, those homeless who cannot find employment will turn to recycling or panhandling as a means of putting money in their pockets. As the numbers of homeless who dig through garbage cans and dumpsters in search of recyclable items and as the number of homeless who panhandle increases there are the inevitable complaints to the community’s government to do something about the homeless.
This usually causes the city to adopt stricter laws concerning – and in some instances, prohibiting – these activities. Then, because of the need to enforce these ordinances, local law enforcement must be on the look-out for violators. For those homeless who are caught, the officer must then take the time to stop, check the person’s ID, and write the person a ticket. Which costs more money, because then it has to go through the local court system. Paperwork has to be filled out, court appearances must be set, and for those homeless who either don’t pay the fine or show up in court, additional paper work is created. If a warrant is issued, then the next time the person is caught, there is a possibility that they will be given a trip to the local jail – at taxpayer’s expense, of course – which means more paperwork.
There is also an environmental impact that homelessness has on a society. Since most communities do not have anywhere near the amount of supportive resources needed for the numbers of homeless in their areas, the homeless will be forced to find alternate places to live and sleep. In more urbanized areas, this could be in the doorways of businesses after closing hours, behind buildings, public benches, bus shelters, building hallways and the like. In other, less urbanized communities, the homeless may seek shelter in “green belt” areas. Since every person has a need to heed the call of nature, and because many businesses deny the homeless the use of bathroom facilities, the homeless are forced to use whatever convenient location they may find to tend to those needs. The cost of clean-up, once again comes out of taxpayer dollars.
Since the 1940’s, the issue of homelessness has remained a growing concern within the U.S. Factors contributing to the problems are varied and deep-set within the make-up of our economy, and affect the economy as a whole. Not all homeless people chose to live in the streets or shelters. If a person believes this, then their perceptions are ignorant and unaware. Whatever the causes of an individual’s homeless, the consequences can be brutal. There is no one cause of homelessness and as a result there is no one solution. The solutions needed to eliminate homelessness are the same ones needed to prevent its occurrence. An understanding of the population and the causes of homelessness provides the background necessary to begin developing a strategy to end homelessness.
About the Homeless: Snapshot of homelessness. National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2011. Web. 2011 October 3. www.endhomelessness.org/section/about_homelessness/snapshot_of_homelessness
On this web page, I accessed several inner links to gain additional information for more specifications. The National Alliance to End Homelessness gives lots of details pertaining to homelessness. There are statistics, characteristics and reasons of homelessness. This site focuses on educating people about homeless and offers homeless people resources. It gives common geographical areas of homeless, the types of people who are homeless, how often people become homeless and the reoccurrences. The National Alliance to End Homelessness is a non-profit organization committed to preventing and ending homelessness with updated and current information. This source helps emphasize the causes of my paper’s main topic, and reinforces the effects of homelessness based on facts.
Jim. Personal interview. May 2009.
Jim was a homeless veteran at the time of interview and has been homeless for more than 15 years. He was actually part of a “camp” community, consisting of seven other homeless people. I talked with several of them, but he is the one with the most to say. This interview is about some people choosing to be homeless for no particular reason, other than it being easier. Jim talked about when he became homeless shortly after the Vietnam War. He hadn’t had family before the war, and didn’t have anyone/anywhere to turn to afterward. Society didn’t offer much support and government didn’t offer any help. So he became homeless. Now, it’s his way of life and he has no desire to change it. He has adapted to being homeless and finds that it’s easier (the others agreeing that it’s an easier way of life).
Jim is still homeless as of August 2011, when I ran into him this summer. He mentioned that as a veteran and Obama’s help with veteran services, he now receives some assistance (food, cash, and METRO bus tickets for transportation). Even with new veteran’s laws passed to help homeless veterans, he remains homeless and claims to be too old to go back to work. This information supports my theory on some people choosing to be and stay homeless. USHUD 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress: SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS and STATISTICS. National Coalition for the Homeless, 2011 June 20. Web. 2011 October 1. www.nationalhomeless.org
Why Are People Homeless? National Coalition for the Homeless, July 2009. Web. 2011 October 1. www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/why.html The National Coalition for the Homeless gives statistics and information about homeless people. Both web sites talk about what types of people become homeless and reasons why they become homeless. The main reasons described in detail pertain to poverty and housing statistics, but also give some examples of other factors. Information also includes characteristics of homeless persons. The information provided is factual and is as accurate as can be expected (homelessness cannot be known precisely). The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network that is working toward ending homelessness with current and updated information. The organization consists of many services that all fight for the rights’ of homeless people and report to congress. These sources give factual information about the causes and effects of homeless people, and support the topic of my paper.