HOMELESS IN AMERICA

Causes

Some of the major causes of homelessness include foreclosures, lack of employment opportunities, decline of public assistance, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable healthcare, domestic violence, mental illnesses, and drug addictions. Due to the recent economic recession, there was a 32% increase in the number of foreclosures and 6 million jobs were lost between 2008 and 2009. Many people who have jobs but earn very little are at risk of becoming homeless every day. If they were to get sick, they would have to sacrifice their housing in order to pay for medical bills. Currently, about 12 million Americans spend more than half of their salaries on housing, which means that sacrifices need to be made in other essential areas such as healthcare. Low wage jobs are not enough to provide for a home, so the amount of full time employed homeless people is on the rise. Federal support for low income housing has also declined by nearly 50% from 1980 to 2003. There is no accurate information on the amount of homeless people in the U.S., but it is estimated that about 3.5 million U.S. residents have been homeless for a significant period of time.

Types of Shelters/Support

Types of support include day shelters, emergency/homeless shelters, transitional housing, permanent affordable housing, and drug and alcohol rehab. Day shelters provide the homeless with shelter only on an overnight basis or for one day. Sometimes laundry and shower facilities, meals, and basic hygiene may be offered. Most of these shelters are free of charge. Emergency/homeless shelters provide short term shelter for typically a maximum stay of 3 months or less. Meals and other services are typically offered. About 3/5 of these facilities are free of charge. Transitional housing helps transition from homelessness to permanent housing, and length of stay is typically between 6 months and 2 years. Residents usually must pay at least 30% of their income to stay, and might receive some of the money back when they leave. Permanent affordable housing provides long term housing for low income individuals. Residents only need to pay 30% of their income to rent. Usually, residents are allowed to stay as long as they are in the low income bracket, but some are restricted to only 3 to 5 years.

Homelessness and Pregnancy

Homelessness can lead to increased risk of pregnancy, and pregnancy can lead to increased risk of homelessness. Homeless women are more likely to get pregnant because many of them resort to prostitution in order to provide for themselves, and because they are unprotected out in the streets, they are more likely to be sexually assaulted. Many also get involved in drugs and sex in order to temporarily ease the stress and discomfort of being homeless. The future for the children is bleak. They cannot receive proper medical care, support, education, or stable and secure family life, which will likely result in them growing up to be homeless as well. Most pregnant women have grown up in unstable environments themselves, where they grew up poor, homeless, or in abusive homes. Some of these women are happy to get pregnant just because it makes them feel important and gives them the opportunity to start a loving relationship they have never had before. Unfortunately, getting pregnant young is increasingly becoming the popular thing to do in poor communities.

Homelessness and Mental Illness

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, about 20-25% of the homeless population suffers from some type of severe mental illness, and mental illness has been the third largest cause for homelessness in single adults. Severe mental problems disrupt a personís ability to adequately care for themselves, participate in normal daily activities, and manage a household. It also prevents them from building stable relationships, viewing situations realistically, and making rational decisions. This pushes away employers as well as family and friends who are willing to be caregivers. Surprisingly, many homeless people with mental illnesses are willing to receive treatment. Treatment is the essential first step. Receiving housing, education, and employment opportunities alone is not enough for a mentally ill person to reach the point of adequate sustenance and independence. The most common mental illnesses include schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Homelessness and Drug Abuse

Not all homeless people are drug abusers and alcoholics. However, in most cities, drug abuse is listed as the number one cause of homelessness for single adults. Addictions can ruin relationships with family and friends as well as cause people to lose their jobs, and the costs of addiction alone can be enough for people to lose their homes, even if they are employed. However, drug abuse is also a result of homelessness because people use it as a way to cope with their difficult situations. This results in a greater decrease in obtaining employment security and getting off the street. Unfortunately, some people feel the need to use drug and alcohol as a way feel accepted by their homeless community. The motivation for homeless people to get off drugs is extremely low because survival takes higher priority over personal growth and development. They are too concerned with finding food and shelter than participating in drug counseling. Also, many drug abusers have separated themselves from family and friends and no longer have the support necessary to get through drug therapy.

All information was retreived from the following sites:

Title/Organization Link
National Coalition for the Homeless[1] www.nationalhomeless.org
National Housing Database for the Homeless & Low Income[2] www.shelterlistings.org
Washington Profile[2] www.washprofile.org
Up To Date[2] www.uptodate.com
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development[2] portal.hud.gov

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