Combating Homelessness and Poverty in America

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I’m going to be talking about why homelessness is so important to me. One thing that I always see when I head to church is a white homeless man with a veteran hat on. In Memphis, you often see a lot of veterans and people who abuse drugs, and sometimes, you can tell that they’ve had something traumatic happen in their lives. I couldn’t compare myself to a homeless person because I’ve never been homeless, but from what I’ve heard, we often can’t get the things we want because we lack sufficient money.

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Despite being one of the wealthiest nations on the planet, the United States struggles with a high level of poverty and homelessness, especially among the younger population. Those under the age of 18 are particularly affected. The highest rates of unsheltered homeless youth occur in the western U.S. states. California accounts for one-third of all unaccompanied homeless youth, with other states such as Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and Alaska also having large populations.

Homelessness is the circumstance when people are without a permanent dwelling, such as a house or apartment. People who are homeless are most often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure, and adequate housing due to a lack or an unsteady income. Homelessness is a complex social problem with a variety of underlying economic and social factors such as poverty, lack of affordable housing, uncertain physical health, addictions, and community and family breakdown. The inability to shower often and maintain good hygiene often adds to existing health issues. People who are homeless are often at risk of infectious diseases—like Hepatitis A, B, and C, Tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS—due to compromised immune systems, poor nutrition and hygiene, and frequent overcrowding at shelters. The effects of homelessness on homeless people are significant. They range from health issues to personal entrapment. It is believed that many homeless individuals failed to cope in their lives. New research found that the average homeless person has a life expectancy of 44-77%, a startling 30 years less than the rest of the population. The life expectancy for women was even lower, at just 43 years. They face many difficulties, often leading to alienation from the rest of the world. Most people would agree that the federal government has largely abandoned its responsibility to “ensure safe, decent and affordable” (Housing Act, 1937) housing for the poorest people in our country, a commitment it made in 1937 when what is now HUD was formed. After years of funding cuts, neglect, and demolitions, the 1998 Congress took away the federal government’s accountability for ensuring housing for even a majority of its citizens (Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, 1998). Despite ignoring their legislative mandate from 1937, they have, with great conviction, adhered to the 1998 responsibility (or lack thereof). Since 1983, local governments have been expected to manage this crisis with minimal funding from the Feds for emergency shelters, social workers, and a limited number of transitional housing units. In classic Washington D.C. fashion, local communities are faced with increasing reporting requirements, more information system programs to comply with, and evolving plans they are required to write, alongside the creation of oversight commissions that are, for the most part, ineffective.

The Feds deprive the state and local governments; the state deprives the county and city governments. In a sure sign of exasperation after years of abuse and neglect, all of them turn around and attack the poor people who are trying to live out their lives, despite having no roof. People experiencing homelessness are not separate from the rest of the population. In fact, the separation between being housed and unhoused is not that significant. In general, the distance into and out of homelessness is neither linear nor uniform. Individuals and families who deal with homelessness may not share much in common with each other, aside from the fact that they are extremely vulnerable, and lack adequate housing, income, and the necessary supports to ensure they stay housed. The causes of homelessness reflect an intricate interplay between structural factors, systems failures, and individual circumstances. Homelessness is usually the result of the cumulative impact of a number of factors, rather than a single cause. There are 87,310 homeless children in London alone, a 49% increase in five years. Beyond the capital, the housing crisis is also growing. The North West has also seen a 175% rise, and the number of homeless children in the South East has doubled in five years. There is a large gap between the demands for housing and the supply available. This is becoming increasingly evident as people move into urban areas: the move from rural poverty to urban poverty. One aspect of this is found in the changing family cohesion. There is a value shift as many leave families, seeking greater success away from their unit. The dislocated families leave older family members, thus losing the immediate physical and financial care expected from their children. These urban settings do not meet expectations as they find that employment does not pay enough, so sleeping on the street, choosing food over shelter, is not a real choice. In this risky environment, they are subjected to illness, abuse, and crime. They suffer poor health ranging from respiratory to gastric disorders. This homeless group, which is predominantly male, has expanded to include women and families with children. Often suffering from abuse and lack of economic equity, women and children take their chances by living on the street. There, they are subjected to criminalization charges for ad hoc ordinance violations such as panhandling, sleeping on a park bench, and being without a shelter; they are ushered off to prison.

The choice of living on the street is made to maintain some semblance of autonomy over their lives, even in light of dire circumstances. For women, it is not uncommon for them to turn to prostitution, drug dealing and other risky activities and relationships so that they may provide security for their children. Similar to Western cultures, lack of employment, mental illness, substance abuse, and people who live in broken homes and fractured relationships, lose their means of support. They slip into homelessness. It was intimated earlier, but homeless women and children are cited as a growing percentage among the homeless, often due to financial reliance on the male in the family. Their break from this relationship or marriage for safety forces a woman to direct her own life. Without a career of her own, the tendency of women becoming homeless to escape abuse in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Chile, is considerably higher than in the West. Western women, generally, fare better under similar circumstances than resorting to living on the street. Of course, there are some cultures that find women-headed households more acceptable. It is not merely strict cultural practices and transient living situations from rural to urban that cause some homelessness, but there are also overwhelming political and financial causes that precipitate people becoming homeless. The first of these was cited in the opening segment of this piece. There were 4.5 million Syrians who fled Syria’s authoritarian government and volatile conditions as the ISIS faction, vying for power in the region, made their lives fragile. Their long journeys to various countries that will accept them for asylum essentially make them homeless, expatriates. This migratory homelessness is uncertain of ever having a “home” again in a foreign land, but for millions of them, they did not have a choice. In regard to the financial cause, it is better known as globalization. This increase of financial transactions between countries illustrates this, moving from $15 million in 1973 to $1.8 trillion in 1998. Again, the focus of this growth in international trade has little to do with production of goods and services. However well-intentioned the financial forces may be to improve the impoverished countries, this improvement has been redirected from human interests. The result is greater economic inequality, pushing farther away from the grasp of those most in need, the humanitarian assistance that would provide opportunities for developing human capabilities, rendering conditions for more homelessness.

The Poverty Reduction Program creates frameworks by powerful organizations that render more harm than benefit to poor countries. These programs have resulted in reduced government subsidies for education, healthcare, and other key social services. There is no provision in these programs that enable the affected countries to navigate their own economy to satisfy their needs. Instead, they are exploited to benefit already well-off nations. They remain subjected to the will of the global financial elite. It is fundamental to the pursuit of a full human life that a person have basic needs met: food, water, clothing, and shelter. Poverty denies people the material goods that would grant them opportunities to engage their capabilities to the fullest. The inequalities between the wealthy and the poor exceed an income differential. The quality and range of choices make for opposing worldviews. For the poor and the homeless who are without economic goods, their liberties are narrowed, as are their lives. This harm that poverty inflicts, violates the general understanding of the rights owed to human beings for being human. The moral status of the poor continues to be either overlooked or rejected by institutions.

Aligning homeless and mainstream services can increase access to affordable housing. This supports the financing of affordable housing, thereby increasing economic stability and addressing income inequality. A woman named Sheley Thompson was found huddled up in a church entrance. The temperature was 27F below freezing, but still roughly 20 degrees warmer than the icy morning. H.O.P.E organizers, a grassroots group comprised exclusively of homeless people, have experienced the city’s shelter shortage firsthand. Despite the lack of city-run shelters and services for the homeless, alliance leaders say progress is being made toward reducing the homeless population. Executive Director D. Chere’ Bradshaw points to the unsheltered population’s steady decline since 2012 by 76 percent. “Unsheltered” is defined as homeless individuals who do not have temporary housing. The National Alliance that ends homelessness states that there are 564,708 people experiencing homelessness on an everyday basis in the US. Of these, 36,907 (6.38%) are children, 47,725 (8.33%) are veterans, and 269,991 (48.6%) are disabled and unable to work. On April 8th, 2016, the National Alliance to End Homelessness report provides an in-depth look at this issue.

Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness in America over the past 20-30 years. Various factors can contribute to a person becoming homeless. These factors include: poverty, lack of affordable housing, job loss, lack of health care, inadequate education, mental illness, substance abuse, and domestic violence. It distresses me to see homeless people on the streets because I feel bad that I can’t help them in a bigger way. I know they only ask for spare change, but I wish to give them more. I dream of providing them shelter, a place where they can rest their heads instead of on a box. Though I was never deprived or had a friend that was homeless, I would always support people who give back to the homeless. My family has had some hard times where we needed to borrow $20 for my son. When I go out and I see a homeless man or woman, I feel bad because you never know what might have triggered their homelessness – it’s not always due to drug abuse. For example, student loans or personal family issues can also lead to homelessness.

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Combating Homelessness and Poverty In America. (2021, Jul 06). Retrieved from