Varying definitions of homelessness complicates the methods for estimating the number of people who are homeless. The Census Bureau has used an approach to attempt to determine the homeless population by the surveying of those who are benefiting from homeless services. This method, which involved the use of Emergency and Transitional Shelter (E&TS), can be considered inadequate because homeless people may as well elsewhere, for example in group homes, with families and friends, or worker dorms among other places. The importance of determining the exact number of homeless persons is for proper national interests such as budgeting for public services among other needs (Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2007).
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The underlying reasons for homelessness emanates from numerous social and economic problems such as poverty caused by unemployment or poor paying jobs, a deficit of affordable housing and the lack of services for those who suffer from domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse among other things. It is these and other factors that contribute to homelessness, a condition that is seldom a choice for people who must live outside the comfort and security of a home environment.
A moral, decent society such as this one would surely take care of its most vulnerable if the facts and realities of homelessness were more widely known. Failing that, a self-absorbed society would save money and reduce crime by seriously addressing the homeless issue.
Thanks to recent public awareness campaigns by private and government agencies such as the National Coalition for the Homeless and the U.S. Department of Housing long-standing societal stereotypes of the homeless are gradually evaporating. Images of creatively clothed white-bearded old men leaning against an alley wall clutching a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag have morphed into a family living in their car or a single mother and her children living in a shelter.
The estimated half a million children that, at any one time, is homeless in America and their mothers represent the “fastest growing segment of the homeless population” (“Face” 2007). According to current research conducted of homeless shelters, single males comprise forty-five percent and single females fifteen percent of the estimated two million homeless in America. Forty percent of the homeless population is families and a third of them are single parents with children. (“Face” 2007).
It is a misconception that most homeless persons actually prefer that horrific lifestyle after having adjusted to it. Studies show that ninety-four percent of those without home certainly would not choose to live this way another day if they had an alternative. Another common fallacy regarding the homeless is that they made poor decisions thus are culpable for their own fate. In addition to the large percentage of children that are homeless, many others are victims of their circumstances as well.
Some veterans suffer from mental and physical disabilities resulting from combat and cannot maintain a ‘normal’ existence. Others were abused as children or raised in homelessness. Still others fell victims to the addition of drugs and alcohol which decimated their working and family life. Some have become ‘unemployable’ for various reasons or can find only menial jobs after a lay-off from a high paying position. All homeless are victims in the sense that they do not have a place to call home. (“Facts and Myths” 2007)
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Twenty Five percent of homeless women are in this demeaning and dangerous situation because they are escaping violence in the home. Predictably, this is not the case for men as only an insignificant percentage cite family violence as the main reason for their homeless condition. Unemployment is men’s most often answered response and the second most for women. “Although there is a 13.4 percent difference between males and females, unemployment is also an important reason of homelessness for women. More than one tenth of homeless women leave home because of employment” (“Women and Men” 2001).
Other than family violence and to a lesser extent unemployment, the differences between the stated causes for their homelessness are statistically equal for men and women. A similar segment of both genders cited drug and alcohol abuse, prolonged illnesses or disabilities and reaching the limits of federal assistance for their homelessness to the same degree. Recent studies and public exposure have helped displace popular gender misconceptions regarding the main cause for homelessness. One of the most prevalent was that a higher percentage of men were homeless as a result of alcohol and-or drug abuse. The two genders become homeless for essentially the same reasons and to a similar extent outside of the extra cross women must bear, domestic violence. (“Women and Men” 2001)
Health issues, both physical and psychological, often negatively affect a homeless person’s re-entry into society. Health care services for the homeless are intrinsically inadequate. Persons without homes seldom possess credit cards or even have bank accounts. They carry cash in a harsh environment where violence is common. The affects of this financial segregation are not only socially disgraceful for the homeless person, but the powerlessness that people feel when they cannot open a bank account acts as not only a psychological, but physical barrier as well to securing employment or any other type of normalcy in their lives.
Those that are homeless have numerous, multifaceted needs, particularly if they have been forced to sleep outside during their ordeal. Readjustment back into ‘normal’ society following time spent in the armed services or prison is more difficult for some than others. A seemingly overlooked segment is recently released prisoners that become homeless because of fewer employment opportunities than the mainstream population enjoys therefore many have difficulty assimilating back into societal norms. (Wallace, 2005).
The young people who end up in the streets for various reasons do not only lead hopeless lives, but also loose a chance to contribute in the development of the nation in future. Homelessness has been linked to other secondary societal problems such as rape, drug abuse, sex trade, crime and physical health issues. Some of these can be explained on the basis of need for the homeless to survive in the new environment; they engage in sex trade, drug trafficking and crime like theft to afford food.
Therefore, the connection between the vulnerability to not only the illnesses caused by improper diet and poor physical conditions, but also the STDs and the HIV can be seen. The homeless, especially the youth, are denied chance for education, proper health care, parental care and the healthy social engagements. Homeless are more prone to violence, drug abuse and participation in crime.
A survey carried out on 432 homeless youths in the Hollywood area to determine their experience and witnessing of violence, and perpetrated violence found that 85% of them had witnessed some sort of violence. According to Anderson et al, 44% expressed for fear of being sexually assaulted, raped or molested (2004). Rape, sexual assault and criminal violence experienced by the homeless children in the streets affects their latter development through psychological and physical impacts.
The solution to homelessness lies in the solving of the causes of homelessness which expose more people. Although homelessness has been linked with poverty, the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders posits that a collective understanding of homelessness in the United States is limited in ways that understanding of poverty is not (2007). This is because whereas most people have been poor or come from poor families, a few have experienced homelessness (Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, 2007).
Moral evaluations of individual behavior confounded the concern for homelessness in the 1980s unlike shared values during the 1960s war for poverty according to the aforementioned author. It is therefore important that there be collective efforts to eliminating poverty, by the larger populations, private and public and non-governmental organization and the government. Much attention need be focused on the elimination of the causes of homelessness such as poverty (can be eliminated through increasing the rates of employment), social problems such as family violence (can be dealt with through training people on the side effects of violence), and health problems such as mental challenges.
The resolve of the public and therefore politicians to abolish homelessness will determine how many men, women and children, most blameless victims of circumstance, will continue to suffer the wretched and humiliating condition of homelessness. Of course, enacting legislation alone will not lessen the number of homeless. Adequate resources must be allocated to produce additional affordable housing units by creating, restructuring or improving collaborative efforts between homelessness agency services in the public and private sectors.
The number and extent of the problems homeless persons endure only compound over time. It is financially advantageous for the public and politicians to solve the problem. Helping to take someone off the streets and place them back into mainstream society allows them to contribute to the economy rather than continuing to rely on public assistance.
Anderson J., Suzanne Brown-McBride, Renee Sparks & Ana Mari. Homeless, runaway & throwaway youth: Sexual victimization and the consequences of life on the streets.” 2004. Web.
“Do Women And Men Have Different Reasons To Become Homeless?” Texas Homeless Network. (2001). Web.
Encyclopedia for Mental Disorders. “Homelessness.” 2007. Web.
“Facts and Myths about the Homeless” A Place to Call Home (2007). Web.
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“Face of Homelessness” City Rescue Mission of Saginaw (2007). Web.
Wallace A. & Quilgars, D. Homelessness and Financial Exclusion: A Literature Review. London: Friends Provident/London Housing Foundation. (2005). Web.