The Causes of Chronic Homelessness in America

Homelessness isn’t prejudice; it can take ahold of anyone and keep a tight grip. There are plenty of problems and causes that push someone into poverty and on the verge of being homeless, but there aren’t many resources to help a person get out of poverty. As Josh Sanburn says, for years, states in the United States worked on the “issues first, housing later” approach which focused on a person’s mental state instead of helping them find the resources they needed to get into permanent housing (Sanburn). This approach was tried for years with little to no improvement of getting these people back on their feet. Homelessness is a problem in society that most turn a blind eye to; our country needs to adopt the housing first approach to effectively end homelessness.

There are several different causes of homelessness with domestic violence being the leading cause throughout the world, reported Margaret Johnson. About 84% of homeless families head a single mother and over half are due to domestic violence, stated Helena Holgersson- Shorter. The problem of sexism still lingers today, and because of this, male judges may side with the husband because he is the main property owner. In the case of Judge Lamdin, he said things such as, “Well where is he going to live?” (Johnson, 4). This is not fair; the mother and children shouldn’t be forced out of their home because the father is the main property owner. These victims of abuse are forced out to be able to protect themselves and their children.

The disadvantage is that not all of them have a place to go. There are homeless shelters and places for abused women, such as Sojourn, but most of the time these spots have been filled up by other temporary residents. With lack of family and lack of recourses, these women and children are forced to live on the streets. This can be just as dangerous as living with the abuser.

Studies have shown that single female headed households have a higher chance at being homeless. Single headed households are at a higher risk due to not having the support of a second wage earner. Thomas Bryne reported that they also may have to face the increased competition for low cost rental units. The lack of housing availability is a major cause in homelessness. Angelica Ramos also concluded that with the competing rental market today, it is hard to find affordable housing. Homelessness increases with the jump of increased rent levels and decreased vacancy rates (Bryne, Ramos). A single headed household has trouble affording rent when the price is $700 a month.

Another cause of homelessness is the fact that public assistance benefits have declined and prices for everything have been raised. This leads people into poverty and one step away from being homeless. If education wasn’t attained, they don’t have a chance at getting a career. When the head of the house is a single mother without a second wage earner they require help to pay the bills. If assisted benefits are not available this becomes a huge problem for the family. When rent isn’t paid they get evicted and seek the help of shelters. The issue is that shelters for families, youths, adults, and victims of domestic violence don’t have available beds (Ramos).

Because of the violence seen in homeless shelters a lot of the homeless would rather stick to living on the streets. They see this as a safer option than being sheltered with other strangers they don’t know. As said by Harry Bruinius, the majority of people staying in a shelter carry contraband with them such as guns, knives, and other dangerous objects. Women who stay in homeless shelters are at risk of being sexually assaulted by another male staying in that facility; while others fear of their belongings being stolen while they sleep. Therefore, they see the street as a better option than staying in a shelter (Bruinius).

It is agreeable that one of the leading homeless groups in America is the LGBTQ community, roughly 40 percent. Soli Salgado recorded reports and statistics upon the LGBTQ community and reported that the LGBTQ youth are simply kicked out of their homes for being gay. Their parents tell them that they either need to change or leave. Youth shelters fill up quickly, so this leaves them to seek shelter with adults which can be very dangerous. “Trans females who are sheltered among men, for example, are often assaulted, adding another layer of problems to an already harsh reality.” (Salgado).

Homeless teens go unnoticed as they slip through the cracks. Youth homelessness is described as minors living in shelters whether a parent accompanies them or not. They are couch surfing with friends or extended family, staying in motels, campgrounds, or trailer parks, or using vehicles for overnight shelter (Holgersson-Shorer). Other means of shelter include the streets, parks, and abandoned buildings (Ramos). Many may think these youths are homeless due to drug problems, laziness, or the lack of wanting to follow a guardian’s rules. While some of this may be true, others are just fleeing the home due to family conflict, abuse, neglect, or poverty.

The downfall to this results in exploitation, criminal backgrounds, physical and psychological trauma, and lack of brain development. At this age it is a critical time for youth to learn how to depend on themselves, get a job, graduate high school, learn how to cook, and other critical life experiences. The longer they are on the streets the higher the risks of sickness and mental disabilities they may face.

This nation needs to work towards helping those with co-occurring disorders (COD) after being discharged from facilities such as a hospital, prison, residential programs for substance abuse, foster care, and other such facilities stated Ari-Pyng Son. Right now they aren’t being helped to transition back into the community after being discharged. While they are being released without any help, they are likely to be sent back to the facility they just left. When they are discharged they need to be connected with someone who will help them apply for government assistance. Those who are able to work need assistance in getting a job. It needs to be ensured that they are put in supportive housing as well as having the housing first options, instead of just treatment first and housing later. There needs to be frequent pop ins to ensure they aren’t abusing this opportunity. Their housing needs need to be met, they need offered therapy and support groups.

People with COD and substance abuse issues need help. When they are put back out on the street they will stay homeless, because people with COD do not have the motivation to seek the help and assistance they need (Son, Ari-Pyng). A discharge plan needs to be established once released from a facility. They cannot be successful without these recourses, and in the long run the people of America’s tax dollars pay for it.

The longer a person lives on the streets doesn’t just affect them. People living on the streets affect everyone. The duration of a person being homeless not only causes health issues, but it also causes them to be at a higher risk of a criminal background. Being homeless can cause a person to lose their mind and end up with mental disabilities. It can cause them to steal or rob people or get in trouble for being publically intoxicated. They get sent into costly prisons or hospitals and it costs the city and the American’s tax dollars. “If money isn’t spent now on job training and education America is going to spend the rest of its years funding their lives instead of having them contribute to the tax economy.” Said Baim (Salgado).

Some cities are trying their best to accommodate homeless people by letting them build “tent cities” reported Chris Herring. This is something every community should do since there is a lack of space and shelters for the homeless to stay. This may be seen as a quick fix, but if it works for the time being, then this is a strategy to think about (Herring). These places give someone a sense of self. They’re may be hundreds of people living in these tent cities. They are all so closely compacted together that they have become neighbors and even family with other homeless people. Going through a tough situation isn’t easy by yourself. Having friends, even if they are homeless as well, can help a person mentally.

Some cities are against this and force these people out of their “homes” and ban them from creating tent cities or even “temporary housing.” These cities do not let the homeless occupy the streets, and they have their authority officials make their homeless residents leave, as if they have anywhere to go (Herring). These “temporary houses” are their homes, shelters, and a place to keep their belongings. Their “homes” keep them warmer than staying outside with no shelter in the cold winter days. Without such shelter it can be extremely dangerous.

A controversial executive order was issued that required New York to force homeless people into shelters whenever temperatures dropped to below freezing. Over the past decade, the homeless sleeping in shelters nearly doubled. Some are skeptical of this approach. This will have more people interacting with police which isn’t the best of all ideas. People don’t like to deal with cops, especially the ones with mental disabilities and the ones dealing with substance abuse. A cop coming up to them and telling them to go to a shelter won’t be of any good. Maybe these people don’t want to go into shelters because of the fears they have to deal with while being there (Bruinius). Some of the top ten reasons why homeless choose not to reside in shelters is because the fear of shoe theft, contracting lice or bed bugs, and physical abuse from mentally ill or drug addicted people said Lisa Suhay.

In addition to New York, Boston, Massachusetts, also issued an order in relation to cold weather. Boston issued an “amnesty order” that allowed those who have previously been banned from shelters, due to acts of violence, to enter homeless shelters during the storm.

The city is also coordinating emergency shelters, fire trucks, EMS, police, and transit departments to be on watch for people who need shelter, food, warm clothing, medical assistance, or to just warm up for a bit. They are making sure their guests are being cared for during the storm and will also keep their shelters open during the day. They are typically closed from dawn until dusk so that the people living on the street can go seek social services, jobs, and other forms of assistance. Because of the storm, they will be encouraging their guests to stay indoors for the duration of the storm because about 700 people die every year in the U.S. alone due to cold weather (Suhay).

A single person cannot save the entire homeless population, but there are some simple things one can do to help. In the article Effort Aimed at Helping Homeless, Needy Stay Warm, they wrote about a family in Charleston, West Virginia who knotted colorful, woolen and fleece scarves they had knitted and crocheted around flagpoles and trees. The scarves also included gloves and hand-warming packets. Each scarf had a note tied to it that said “I am not lost! If you are cold, please take me to bundle up!” The mother of the group saw this on Facebook and decided to get her family involved. She plans to keep doing it every year (Effort Aimed at helping Homeless, Needy Stay Warm). For those who are less fortunate this is a wonderful idea to help keep the homeless warm on those cold winter days.

Feeding the homeless is another great idea to help those less fortunate. Jennifer Benitz wrote about another family decided they wanted to stand and make a difference in their community. They started a foundation called “Helping Homeless in Killeen” where they fed the homeless. This family and their friends feed about thirty to forty people a day. Anointed Christian Church became their place to call home for “Helping Homeless in Killeen.” Not only did they feed the homeless they also had clothing swaps (Benitz). Being able to swap out your old dirty clothes for clean new ones is fantastic, but the ideas for helping doesn’t end here.

The homeless need regular grooming. Being clean shaven and having your hair cut can do tremendous work on someone’s self-esteem. This not only makes them look good on the outside; it makes them feel good on the inside too. A barber named Robert Cradle gives haircuts for free to the homeless. He would give whatever money that was dropped into the box to his barbers so that they could drive to local area homeless shelters and cut their hair for free. On slow days he would invite the residents to his shop. He was grooming about 150 homeless people a year for free. Because it wasn’t easily accessible to cut hair in homeless shelters Mr. Cradle decided to sell his shop and open up salons inside four homeless shelter facilities (Gienow, Michelle, pg. 1). These ideas are the kind of things someone can do to help their community.

Homelessness can literally be eliminated by one simple solution. Give them houses. This may sound crazy right? Not at all. This may sound absolutely Ludacris and impossible. This may sound like it would cost a butt load of money, but it doesn’t. In fact, it costs more to not put them in houses. Every time they get hospital treatment, stay in shelters, and or spend a night in jail, it costs the city money; more than $40,000. This money can provide them health care, employment services, and permanent housing. “A considerable amount of public dollars is spent essentially maintaining people in the state of homelessness.” Dennis Culhane had said (Utah Nearly Eliminates Homelessness With Solution That Sounds Too Simple To Work, pg. 1-2). “But by the 1990s, homelessness had risen to levels not seen since the great depression.

The ‘issues first’ approach was apparently not working.” (Sanburn, Josh). With the “issues first, housing later” approach, the success rate is actually lower when the homeless have to prove that they have gotten the help they need before they get housing. Utah adopted the “housing first, issues later” approach and has had such a high success rate that they can actually track the remaining homeless by name, not number. That is incredible! People were skeptical and thought the homeless would waste this opportunity, but Utah took on the challenge and have actually cut the number of chronic homelessness by 91%. This plan cost the city a lot less than what it had originally cost to shelter them, hold them in jail cells, or give them hospital services. The estimated savings were in the millions, and it not only just saved money, it saved lives.

Utah had housed seventeen people in the first year of its program, and one year later they had a success rate of 82%; 14 people were still in the homes and doing very well. The once homeless that are in this program don’t have to get help to live there, but help is available if they ever needed it, and most do. They are subjected to frequent checkups and pop ins but they are not required to clean and sober up before receiving housing. The only rule is that they cannot sell drugs. The program is of course called “Housing First” and the program is successful because housing does come first. The once homeless can get counseling, therapy, and or other services that will help them succeed in life.

Treatments have a better success rate at sticking if they don’t have to stress about where they are going to sleep at night (Utah nearly eliminates homelessness with solution that sounds too simple to work, pg. 1-2). Within 8 years of the program, the total number of homeless people in the United States has been cut by 30%. By 2015 the number decreased to 83,000 from the original number of 120,000 in 2007. That’s 37,000 people who are no longer homeless. That’s one third of Springfield, Illinois’ population. This is all due to housing first programs. Utah has actually approached a functional zero (Sanburn, Josh).

While there are endless causes, problems, and ways to help one’s homeless community, there is one simple solution. That solution being, so clearly, give them houses. The success rate was completely imaginable and worked better than most had ever thought it would. I personally wish this would’ve been possible while my dad was alive. My father was homeless and if he  would’ve been able to receive housing he may not have died so sudden and so soon.

The cold weather had caused him to get pneumonia and it was impossible to get rid of. He was living in horrible conditions in a terrible homeless shelter. This housing first opportunity saved so many lives and nearly ended homelessness that I strongly believe my dad would’ve had a little bit longer to spend on this earth with me if he would’ve been granted the opportunity of a house. So America, adopt the housing first approach; it will not only save money, but it can and will save lives.

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