The purpose of this essay is to not only persuade the readers to get involved in ending homelessness on local and national efforts, but to embrace new and creative ways of helping to end this rapidly growing problem, by taking action to end this catastrophic situation.
Who is most vulnerable to homelessness in this context defined by housing scarcity? Efforts to identify the individual-level factors that place people at risk for homelessness have focused primarily on discrete and readily identifiable disorders, particularly severe mental illness and substance abuse. Such disorders are disproportionately present among the homeless, although perhaps not to the extent that a number of early, methodologically flawed studies first suggested. More rigorous studies have indicated that as many as one-fifth to one-quarter of the homeless have experienced severe and extremely disabling mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and the major affective disorders (clinical depression or bipolar disorder) at some point in their lives and that one-half have experienced either alcohol- or drug-use disorders. Current prevalence rates (symptoms present within a recent time frame) are substantially lower but are still disproportionately high relative to domiciled comparison groups.
1 out of 7 people in U.S suffer from hunger and are forced to sleep in parks, under bridges, in shelters or cars (Hunger and Homelessness 1).Every year, the homeless population grows in United States.
Homelessness is worse in some areas of the United States compared to other areas because of incomes that are drastically falling, jobs that are no longer very secure which offer fewer benefits to the worker and their family members.
Since 2010 the homeless population has experienced a projected increase of 5%, to put it in other terms it is 74,000 more homeless people in 2013 than there were in 2010....
The problem of homelessness and extreme poverty is not a new occurrence; but in past years more extreme measures have been taken to combat the issue as more people become homeless.
In the absence of good comparative data on people who are “vulnerable” but for the time being housed, it is impossible to say with certainty whether and how these situational precipitants—or indeed the other background factors that may make them more likely to occur—combine to put people over the edge. Identifying the real basis for vulnerability is not always straightforward. Homeless families, to take one example, have certain characteristics that would intuitively appear to confer risk—such families are almost uniformly female-headed, single parent households, for instance—but the fact that their housed poor counterparts are equally likely to be headed by single mothers suggests otherwise.
More complex statistical analyses of who ends up in family shelters in New York City, in fact, show that factors such as race, pregnancy or recent birth of a child, childhood poverty and childhood disruptions, domestic violence, and particularly housing conditions (that is, whether one is in one’s own apartment, whether it is subsidized, and how crowded it is) are primary, not factors related to education, work history, or disorder. Similarly, multivariate analyses (i.e., analyses that examine the impact of variables while controlling for the impact of other variables) of data on homeless and vulnerable meal program users in Chicago suggest that social institutional factors such as whether people are receiving income maintenance grants when domiciled, whether they are living with others, and how high their rent is explain who is homeless—not factors related to disability. Careful comparative studies such as these add to our knowledge of the factors that actually confer vulnerability. More work along these lines is needed. Also needed are empirical studies that pinpoint the precise mechanisms through which earlier antecedents translate into later vulnerability.
The backgrounds of homeless adults also suggest serious disruptions in family stability. Surprising numbers experienced out-of-home placement as children (in foster care, juvenile hall, orphanages, and treatment facilities); estimates cluster around 20 percent but reach as high as 40 percent in some reports. These extraordinarily high rates may be tied to other indicators that suggest early family disruption in the lives of homeless adults as well—high rates of mental health, substance abuse, and physical health problems among their parents and/or other adult members of their households; physical or sexual abuse in the household; and jail time among adult household members. This is not to say, of course, that every homeless individual comes from a background in which each set of problems—residential instability, out-of-home placement, and family trouble—was apparent. However, the vast majority of the Course of Homelessness baseline sample had experienced at least one of these problems as children, and many had experienced more. Such problems, not surprisingly, are often bundled together. These childhood experiences, in turn, may be related to the longstanding observation that many homeless individuals either do not have the family and friendship ties that people rely on to buffer them from the consequences of hard times or have ties to people who are similarly stretched and are thus in no position to provide substantial support. More immediate situational factors appear to increase an individual’s vulnerability to homelessness as well. The impact of such factors was apparent in the Course of Homelessness study, which included detailed questions on events that occurred in the year before the members first became homeless. Some of these events had clear structural or policy connections. In the year before becoming homeless, for instance, half of the individuals in this sample experienced a drop in income, either because they lost a job or lost the benefits on which they had been relying. Moreover, approximately one-third experienced a major increase in expenses during that period, such as rent or health care. Other events spoke more pointedly to changing interpersonal relationships. More than two-fifths reported that they had become separated or divorced or that they had experienced a break in a relationship with someone with whom they had been close. Somewhat more than one-third had faced a situation in which someone on whom they had depended for housing, food, or money was no longer willing or able to help them. (Although not asked about in this study, an association between being pregnant or giving birth within the last year and homelessness was found in a study of homeless versus housed families on public assistance in New York City.) Still other events spoke more directly to individual disorders and their impacts. Almost half of these adults admitted that they were frequently using alcohol and drugs during the year prior to first becoming homeless. One-quarter had spent time in a hospital, jail or prison, group care, or treatment facility during that year. One-fifth acknowledged that they had experienced serious physical or mental health problems during that period. Nearly 90 percent of the sample reported at least one of these various experiences, but multiple experiences were the rule. On average, sample members reported three such experiences.
One such set of factors pertains to the childhood experiences of homeless adults. The picture that emerges when one delves more deeply into the backgrounds of homeless adults—particularly single homeless adults—is that homeless people are no strangers to poverty, housing instability, or the host of personal problems that disproportionately besets them as adults. As children, they disproportionately experienced significant disruptions in their residential stability, for example. In Los Angeles, fully two-fifths of a probability sample of homeless adults—the Course of Homelessness baseline sample (Sullivan, Burnam, Koegel, and Hollenberg 2000)—experienced housing problems while living with their families between the ages of six and eighteen (this at a time when the low-income housing market was far more forgiving). They doubled up with other households because of difficulty paying their rent, experienced evictions, and (in much smaller numbers) experienced literal homelessness with their families before such a phenomenon became common.