There are different definitions of the concept “homelessness”. This write-up explores various contextual meanings of the concept and outlines the statistical magnitude of the problem, the causes, assistance programs and the impact of homelessness in the American society. A significant majority of the middle and lower class populations are victims of the menace. Unemployment, poverty, foreclosures, health care costs and domestic violence are some of the causes of homelessness. Housing and Urban Development has programs that cater for the needs of the homeless. However, these services are still inadequate. Much effort is needed if the adverse effects of homelessness such as increased crime rates, high cost of assistance programs and encroachment into the environmental areas by the homelessness are to be altered.
Different Contextual Definitions of Homelessness. Any discourse around the concept of homelessness as a construct must go beyond the housing-oriented perspective to adopt an integrative and all-inclusive perspective. Various definitions have thus come into focus in an academic attempt to decipher what homelessness entails. According to the statutory definition, families that are having dependent children but lack access to proper accommodation are considered homeless (Baumohl 23). The housing-oriented definition focuses on understanding homelessness as a situation where one lacks a place to spend the night.
Pursuant to the National Alliance to End Homelessness “People who are living in a place that is not meant for human habitation, in a shelter that is meant for emergencies, temporary housing moving from an institution where they were housed, are all homeless” (1). Homelessness can also result in a situation or instances where people lose their main nighttime residence such as motel, hotel or doubled situation in a period of 14 days following an emergency and, in so doing, lack social support networks to find an alternative residence (The National Alliance to End Homelessness 1).
Homelessness is a term that can also be used to refer to unaccompanied families or youth who are unstably accommodated with high chances of staying in the same condition longer. This category of homeless people applies to families having children or unaccompanied youth aged utmost 24 years (The National Alliance to End Homelessness 1). Homelessness is also a term used in reference to people who are running away from home due to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking or other situations that are imminent threats in the usual residence (Hombs 117).
Statistics on State of Homelessness. The number of homeless people is challenging to establish (Ravenhill 67). The United States records the highest number of homeless people among the industrialized nations. Homeless families comprise approximately 34% of the total world population without a place to call home. Pursuant to the National Centre on Family Homelessness, the homelessness will be experienced by approximately 1.35 million children in the course of one year (1). Further, an estimated 200,000 in a day lack a place where they can live. This renders the children to other risk factors such as diseases and behavior disorders. In any given year, between 2.3 and 3.5 million single adults are listed as homeless (Baumohl 23).
The demographic data on homelessness reveal the magnitude of the problem even more. 60% of homelessness women have children below 18 years. But out of this category, 65 % of women live with at least one of their children. The others are victims of homelessness left on their own. For the homeless men, 41% have children below 18 years. However, only 7% of these men reside with even at least one children of their own (Hombs 67). These populations are vulnerable or are already suffering from homelessness and are likely to fall into the category of the population classified as social misfits because of the antisocial behaviors they are likely to pick.
In a separate study on the demographic composition of the homeless populations, 39% of the homeless in America were non-Hispanic whites. This was compared with 76% of the total population that was homeless. Further, 42% were found to be African-Americans compared to approximately 11% of the total population while 13% were found to be Hispanic whites compared to 9% of the total population (Ravenhill 123). 4% of the homeless population were Native Americans compared to 1% of the total population while 2% were Asian. The differences in the findings can be attributed to different methods applied by the survey teams.
Causes of Homelessness in America. The problem of homelessness has become more complex in the recent past because of two serious trends. These include poverty and decline in the number of rental housing available for the huge number of people who are homeless (National Coalition for the Homeless 1). This has been the trend for the past 20-25 years. These two main causes of homelessness in America are responsible for various other related causalities in the American society. This part of the paper explores and discusses some of the causes of homelessness in America.
One of the causes of homeless in America is foreclosure. In the recent past, the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased due to foreclosure. According to Helvie (24)there is a close association between homelessness and foreclosure. Separately, National Coalition for the Homeless found that there was a 32% increase in the number of foreclosures in one year running between April 2008 and April 2009 (National Coalition for the Homeless 1). From the time of the recession in 2008 6 million people have lost their jobs due to foreclosures. The rate of unemployment in May 2009 was approximately 9.4%. There are also estimations that 40% of families that are vulnerable to eviction following foreclosures are people who have rented a place for accommodation (Helvie 152). Out of this 40%, 7 million are living on very lean incomes and are at risk of foreclosure.
Poverty has increased vulnerability of many families to homelessness. Poor families are likely to find it difficult and strenuous to pay for their housing and be able to cater for their food, health care, and education goals (Amnesty International Report 3). When the family income is not sufficient enough to meet all the needs of the family, certain demands are likely to be reviewed and given consideration on the basis of priority. In such circumstances, housing facilities that attract huge bills are shunned as people seek for alternative residential arrangements. The population is thus very vulnerable to adopting a culture of homeless street families. In the year 2007 12.5% of the total U.S. population lived in absolute poverty (National Coalition for the Homeless 1).
In fact, the official poverty rate in 2007 was consistent with the previous years. Amnesty International Report 2004 (15) cited that the children in this category constitute around 35.7% of the victims of homeless people living in poverty. However, poverty is connected to challenging socioeconomic aspects such as eroding employment for large segments of the work force and the wading value and availability of public support.
Homelessness remains a persistent problem due to stagnant income and insecure job opportunities with meager wages (Helvie 45). Workers earning limited wages continue to suffer as the gap between the rich and the poor widens. The real value of the minimum wage, for example in 2004, was 26 % lesser than the recorded estimations in 1979. The decline in minimum wages for the employed workers has made housing quite unaffordable for many workers. The picture of homelessness in America is more evident in the number of salaried workers living in the alternative shelters for the homeless workers. Studies indicate that 17.4% of the homeless adults are employed while another 13% of homeless single adults had employments.
The federal and state bodies that were mandated to offer assistance to victims of calamities like homelessness have not been very successful. The bodies that have continued to offer support for the homeless in the United States include the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and the National Coalition for the Homeless (Helvie 112). The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families has found it challenging to cope with the high rates of inflation. Declining government cash assistance has been caused by excessive pressures in the economy and high rates of inflation. As a result, many workers who were enrolled in the welfare programs have not been able to continue with contributions in the other welfare issues. Instead a new focus has been drifted towards health, food and housing.
Shortage of affordable housing coupled with reduced federal housing assistance is also to blame for the current state of homelessness in America. Workers with low wages cannot afford the high housing rates for renters. The support that the federal state offered to the homeless workers has also declined by almost 49% between 1980 and 2003 (Helvie 112). Further, approximately 200,000 rental housing units are demolished every year. Renting units are inadequate and unaffordable due to reduced federal state support. This plunges many families into homelessness (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat).
Other factors such as domestic violence contribute to homelessness. Battered women plunged into deep poverty often opt out of abusive marital relationships. In the process of running away from such abusive relationships, approximately 63% of battered women end up being homeless (Helvie, 112). Another 16% of single adults that are homeless are suffering from one or another form of severe mental illness. The homeless also constitute drug addicts and abusers who seek alternative shelters away from home due to spoilt or violent family relationships. These factors put together make homelessness a real puzzle in the American society (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements Habitat 2).
Assistance Programs for the Homeless. The Housing and Urban Development is the body responsible for ensuring existence of policy guidelines for housing and city development. The agency assists low and middle-income Americans to get loans for purchasing housing facilities. It approves and financially supports lenders of housing financing. It aims at creating affordable, strong and sustainable housing market with quality rental homes in the real estate market. The low and middle income families are therefore able to afford their housing needs through loans and other credit services.
There are several programs that target the homeless (The National Alliance to End Homelessness 1). Before one becomes homeless, he/she can try to identify an assistance program and make arrangements on how to connect to the agencies that offer housing assistance and what the requirements are. Although there are varying waiting lists for public and Section 8 across the United States, the one for public housing is relatively shorter. Therefore, one can apply for public housing assistance for federal support (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat). Besides, in some instances, transitional housing is an alternative assistance and support for the homeless.
At any given point that one senses danger of being vulnerable to homelessness, it is imperative to have the State ID processed. This would make identification and processing of application for assistance easier. Emergency pack is also critical. It helps in logistics involved in transportation and relocation from one residence to another. This basically entails identification and management of housing needs and support where possible. The support might include rental assistance, bridge housing, emergency shelter services and development of innovative supportive housing service.
Impact of Homelessness on American Society. The impact of homelessness is diverse. It affects the society at the economic, environmental, and political levels. Economically, the cost of maintaining the federal state support and assistance programs for the homeless is a daunting task with huge financial and economic implications. Environmentally, the challenge comes with the need to seek for alternative residence. This often leads to human encroachment into conserved environment (Ravenhill 76). Further, with increasing number of homeless families and youth, increase in crime rates is very likely.
Politically, homelessness leads to formulations of new policies since it is a human rights issue. The government must take steps to ensure that all its citizens can access affordable housing. The policies must factor in the need to develop budgetary provisions for the homeless. Homelessness also has implications on city by-laws to prohibit other antisocial acts such as begging and sleeping in public streets. The electorate also uses homelessness to sanction leaders to push for welfare programs that address the needs of the homeless.
Homelessness puts pressure on most American low and middle class to choose what to prioritize between housing, healthcare, food and other basic needs. In order to address this menace, strategic efforts must focus on creating better paying jobs, adequate and relevant support for those who cannot afford housing facilities. The current federal state welfare programs must be reviewed if they are to address the problem of homelessness in the American society. The most effective way of solving the problem is to provide the homeless with productive engagements that would make them self-reliant and self-sustaining.