USA — the land of opportunity to most people, even those born outside the borders. They say that when you ask what makes the USA so great, the most common answer is “opportunity.” Well, that’s not the case; just proceed to emergency or homeless shelters. These places consist of the chronically homeless — individuals, families, veterans, and mental illness patients. A quarter of them are children. This is nothing new to the country; this has been going on for many years and the number of homeless people continues to increase.
There are several factors that lead to these staggering figures. Poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, substance abuse, and so on. To better understand the true face of homelessness, it’s important to validate its roots. This is not about the new immigration laws; this is about people living in the streets. It’s unfortunate that the homelessness rate in the US is high. According to the 2016 State of Homelessness Report of the organization End Homelessness, there are 564,708 people who are homeless on a single night. These people either sleep on the streets, in their cars, or in parks.
The Origin of Homelessness
In the 1950’s, most homeless people were old men living in hotels or motels. The main reason for this back then was the lack of affordable housing and racial discrimination. People were segregated, with the whites dominating most of the housing market. People put up signs to warn people of other colors that they were not welcome. The problem extended to situations where landowners or property owners refused to sell residential properties to Black people.
Today, racial discrimination has declined and people are more welcoming of all people, no matter their race, religion, or beliefs. However, there is still one problem that people face when it comes to housing. Almost everything comes down to money. The housing problem in America has been relentless, with the real estate market values going up for most cities. More and more people are renting apartments and condomininiums not by choice, but because it is their only option.
The Housing Problem
There have been several policies and programs implemented in the US to help people gain access to better housing. Despite these initiatives, however, the problem appears to persist for now. Others blame the government for not coming up with more policies to help homeless people get back on their feet. In an article published by the Business Insider, Harvard researchers revealed that one third of Americans spend over 30% of their income on housing fees alone. It is also a lot harder for renters to keep up, with one in four renters spending more than half of their incomes on rent. This report entails that the alternative for housing, which is renting, is also no longer as viable. The United States National Housing Act of 1937 has been enacted for more than 80 years. This bill assures home owners and renters that housing would cost less than 30% of their income. However, people today are spending 30% of their income on housing at the very least. The lack of affordable housing is leading more and more people to the streets. They simply can’t make do of what they earn monthly to be able to afford food, health care, housing, and their other needs.
This article explores the various social determinants of homelessness.
According to an article by the National Homeless, poverty is linked to homelessness. It prevents people from paying for housing, therefore forcing them to live on the streets. In the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 report, the official poverty rate is 13.5%. This figure doesn’t even include homeless people, since the survey was sent out to US households in September 2015. The estimated number of poor people is pegged at 43 million (excluding the homeless).
There are sub-factors under poverty that cause its increase. Low employment opportunities, lack of available public assistance, and low wages are just some of the reasons why there are so many people within and below the poverty line. Most people are even working two full-time jobs just to make ends meet, yet that is not enough for a sustainable financial stature. There are students and young professionals who live in tents or other shelter options just to get by. This is considered normal for most people in the US today.
Another factor is housing loans. People apply for financial assistance from banks or loaning companies so that they can have a home. There isn’t much housing tenure in the US, with most housing price rates increasing over time. It’s hard to find a house with a fixed price rate. With people being unable to pay out their loans, their money automatically gets spent the minute they get paid.
It’s hard to even comprehend how education can be a factor in the increase of homeless people, but many reports validate it. Over 60,000 students have indicated being homeless in their applications. These students either live in tents or motel rooms. If you ask a student, which is more important: a place to live in or education? Most of them will answer education, knowing that a degree will help them achieve better opportunities in the future. However, think of the ordeal that they have to go through every day. Think about the amount of stress and burden they carry every day. Many students can’t afford to rent apartments because of their student loans and their daily necessities.
Among the homeless people in the US, 38% are alcoholics and 28% regularly take illegal drugs. These people are either dealing with a huge amount of stress or fear in their daily lives. There is also the strong possibility that substance abuse is their escape route when it comes to coping with their homelessness. Drug abuse is a leading cause not only of homelessness but of other fallouts as well — crime, depression, death, and more. Substance abuse of any kind — alcohol or drugs — only lead people towards a downward trajectory. People under this category are referred to as “chronically homeless.” These include people with mental illness, physical illness, developmental disability, and those who suffer from substance abuse.
A statistical report by End Homelessness states that there are 39,481 homeless veterans in the US. The numbers have actually decreased from those in 2010. However, it is still a big problem and needs to be resolved by the US Government. Most homeless veterans are male, and 54% have mental or physical disabilities. Most of them served the country during the Vietnam War. These days, the numbers are growing, with more female veterans sleeping on the streets. These unsung heroes are more likely to be homeless than civilians because of either substance abuse or mental health disorder. To provide them with assistance, the government has launched federal programs to help them get back on their feet. There is also a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs department that is dedicated to addressing this issue.
Another reason for people being forced out of their homes is domestic violence. Most of the victims under this category are children and women. Over 32,000 women and children are seeking refuge in domestic violence shelters due to fear of physical harm and abuse at home. Domestic violence can also lead to substance abuse, which then results to people getting involved in more problems, making it more difficult for them to pick themselves up again.
Looking at it, homelessness is an endpoint or turning point in a chain of problems. Most of the time, it is not the mistakes, shortcomings, or misconduct of people that make them homeless; the sad fact is that homelessness is often the “default” setup for them, given their individual or family situation.
There are a lot of things that influence the life of an individual or a family, be they social or psychological factors, economic stature, unemployment, educational attainment, and others. It is unfortunate how thousands of people find themselves stuck in this state and are not able to do anything about it. That is the reality; only a few of these people can find a way out of their situation and then find a way to a home of their own.
A way in
There have been many initiatives to spark the decline of homelessness in the US. Several organizations have also been established to push laws to help homeless people. People are looking into better and more affordable housing opportunities for everyone, no matter their income level. In an article published by The Atlantic, it is revealed that homeless people are actually avoiding homeless shelters as much as possible because of the threats of violence. In this regard, the government has been called upon to provide better funding for livable shelters for homeless people and their families. The implemented laws and programs form the solution if they pass legislation. The next step is to ensure the efficiency of these laws to make sure the vision of the people who want to solve the problem is achieving the intended purpose.
One fact to support this is the Base Realignment and Closure Program (BRAC). In this program, which is under the leadership of Housing and Urban Development, the economic status of a particular area or community is monitored to assess the problems; these issues are then resolved thru extensive consultation by community leaders and the public. The BRAC allows homeless assistance providers to make use of former military bases to become housing sites for homeless people. Anyone can apply to become eligible for this housing program; it is not just veterans.
However, a long-term solution lies within housing. If the real-estate market fully recognizes the problem, the prices will go down, and housing tenure will be implemented in more cities in the country. There are also thousands of properties in the country that can be turned into housing sites. Renovation is cheaper compared to building new residential properties, which are then sold at expensive price rates.
The present administration has voiced out their campaign to focus on addressing the needs of Americans first. No matter the race, religion or beliefs, all of the homeless people in America are among these Americans. The solution of renovating old properties rather than building new ones will not only solve the housing problem; it will also create thousands of job opportunities for job seekers with minimal education attainment. Years of reconstruction will help less-privileged people make a small living. This would be a lot better for them than staying at home and waiting for the landlord to throw them out. In this regard, it would be advisable for the government to avoid seeking construction and engineering services from overseas. Outsourced services may be cheaper, but local employment will surely stop inflation.
Right now, there isn’t much progress in resolving the homelessness crisis in the US. This is not acceptable because of the threats that these people face like violence, crime, sickness, and depression. The country needs to gradually provide people with homes. If nothing is done in the near future, the number of homeless people will only increase, leading to bigger issues. This problem needs both short-term and long-term solutions. The government is not the only one involved in it; all 323 million people in the US are.
As an eye opener for everyone, homelessness increases the risk of illness, injury, and death. Reports say homeless people are three times more likely to die compared to those living in shelters or the general population. With no access to healthcare, homeless people can’t avail of the necessary treatment they need, no matter the gravity of their disease.
Almost a quarter of the homeless people are children. Influenza is a common sickness that the homeless are diagnosed with. However, whether they’re afflicted with life-threatening diseases or not, these people need all the medical support and housing assistance they can receive. No one — no matter their age — is safe outside.
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