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The Homeless in Our Community Essay

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Updated: Oct 28th, 2021

The underlying reasons for homelessness emanate 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. This discussion will examine the homelessness issue including why and what type of people become homeless. It will also review agencies and programs offering assistance to individuals and families living on the street.

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 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 on 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 comprised of families and a third of them are single parents with children (“Face” 2007).

It is a misconception that most homeless persons prefer that horrific lifestyle after having adjusted to it. Studies show that ninety-four percent of those 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 thus are culpable for their 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 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. All homeless are victims in the sense that they do not have a place to call home (“Facts and Myths”, 2007).

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. (“Women and Men”, 2001). Other than family violence and to 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 of 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. Those that are homeless have numerous, multifaceted needs, particularly if they have been forced to sleep outside during their ordeal. 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 (Wallace & Quilgars, 2005). Though there are examples of agencies that offer innovative services and have greatly improved the lives of the homeless, the problem surpasses what resources the private sector and government combined are presently directing towards it and this imbalance is growing along with the homeless population.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers four programs to help the homeless. Emergency Shelter Grants provides support services and shelter for homeless persons. It also provides monetary assistance intended to prevent a family from losing their home in the first place including short-term utility bills, rent, and mortgage payment assistance for those in imminent danger of losing their house. The Continuum of Care program helps communities to reduce their homeless population by offering a wide range of options including permanent, transitory, or emergency housing to those in need. “HUD believes the best approach for alleviating homelessness is through a community-based process that provides a comprehensive response to the different needs of homeless persons” (“Resource Guide”, 2007). HUD also operates the Single Room Occupancy and The Shelter Plus Care programs which provide additional services.

The Family & Youth Services Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families operates the Basic Center Program which helps communities fund shelters and free meal centers while establishing programs that serve the needs of homeless, exploited, and missing children. The Transitional Living and Street Outreach programs targets youths age 16 to 21, the ‘at-risk group for homelessness. Other federal benefit programs include “Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, Veteran’s Affairs Compensation, Veterans Affairs Health Care, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Food Stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, One-Stop Career Center System and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)” (“Resource Guide”, 2007). A bill that would have expanded the SCHIP program was vetoed by President Bush this week but is likely to be re-introduced with some possible compromises. The federal government mandates that homeless children be allowed entry and will be appropriately accommodated by public schools, no matter the circumstance.

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. If these agencies can effectively prevent the instances of homelessness before the actual event as well as to adapt to various challenges facing those currently without a permanent residence, such as the Continuum of Care program, the goal of abolishing homelessness will be closer to becoming a reality.

Works Cited

“Do women and men have different reasons to become homeless?” Texas Homeless Network. (2001). Web.

“Face of Homelessness.” City Rescue Mission of Saginaw. (2007). Web.

“Facts and Myths about the Homeless.” A Place to Call Home. (2007). Web.

“Federal Homelessness Resource Guide.” Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (2007). Web.

Wallace A. & Quilgars, D. Homelessness and Financial Exclusion: A Literature Review. London: Friends Provident/London Housing Foundation, (2005). Web.

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