The underlying reasons for homelessness arise from numerous social and economic sources 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. 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. It is difficult to think that people would choose this lifestyle purposely, making it necessary to investigate why and what kind of people might become homeless.
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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 and Urban Development respectively, 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 ideas of a family living in their car or a single mother and her children living in a shelter. More and more people are becoming homeless every day and it is primarily families or single mothers with young children who suffer the most.
It is a misconception that most homeless persons actually prefer that horrific lifestyle after having adjusted to it. Most people without a 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 in their past and therefore deserve their homeless condition. In addition to the large percentage of children that are homeless and couldn’t possibly be held accountable for their situation, 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 and have no idea just how to break the cycle. Still others fell victims to the addiction 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 being laid-off from a high paying position. Finally, those who have lost their jobs due to downsizing and cannot find new jobs because of a glut on the market have no choice but are instead pushed into homelessness despite their best efforts.
The reasons why some of these people might have become homeless are different depending on whether they are men or women. Men are usually brought to a homeless condition as the result of unemployment while women usually find themselves in this condition as a means of escaping abuse. Other than family violence and to a lesser extent unemployment, the differences between the stated causes for 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.
Health issues, both physical and psychological, often negatively affect a homeless person’s re-entry into society. Health care services for the homeless are fundamentally inadequate. Persons without homes seldom possess credit cards or even have bank accounts and do not have any other means of securing any earnings they might have acquired, enabling them to save up for some form of shelter. They carry cash in a harsh environment where violence is common. The effects 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.