Homelessness in America: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

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Updated: Apr 20, 2023
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With over half a million Americans experiencing homelessness, it’s a significant problem in the United States of America that can be either temporary or long-term. A person is considered homeless if he or she lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.

Homelessness does not discriminate. Anyone of any race, age, or background can become homeless. People become homeless or are currently homeless in various situations, but it’s mainly caused by the lack of jobs, the affordable housing crisis, and mental health.

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The housing crisis contributes to the increase in homelessness in the United States. House prices have skyrocketed in many cities. Median sale prices have increased over 50% in a 10-year timeframe, and rent prices have increased 150% since 2010 (Munoz 1). For those who can afford their rent is considered cost burned. Meaning they spend over 30% of their income on rent and struggle to afford other living expenses.

Relief programs for rent provided by the government during the coronavirus pandemic were a temporary solution to a decade-long crisis (Munoz 1). Many government policies were put into place throughout history to give homeownership to American citizens and decrease the threat of homelessness. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help build affordable housing for low-income families and approve the living conditions of inner cities.

Unfortunately, many public housing projects and building residences for the poor were neglected and underfunded. Those who couldn’t obtain housing through this act ended up homeless. Going into the 21st century, the housing market sales and prices increased as mortgage loans became easy to get, even for those with poor credit. A financial crisis that began in 2007 started to cripple the housing market, forcing many homeowners to fall behind on their mortgages.

Some individuals who lost their homes to banks became homeless. Federal and local governments tried to find solutions for the ‘chronically’ homeless—people who have been homeless multiple times for years and who struggle with disabling mental or physical conditions. Homeless shelters in towns and cities are a standard solution, but it’s temporary and often dangerous. In some downtown areas sleeping in public places and panhandling are banned as an attempt to curb homelessness, but it adds to the difficulty of already being homeless.

Gentrification is a part of the housing crisis and contributes to the increase in homelessness in the United States. Gentrification is a transformation process typically occurring in urban neighborhoods when higher-income people move in and displace existing lower-income residents. The arrival of wealthier people leads to new economic development and an increase in property values and rents, which often makes housing unaffordable for longtime residents(Gale Opposing Viewpoints).

For example, urban renewal projects rebirthed numerous cities in the 1980s and 1990s but pushed many lower-income tenants out of previously low-rent areas, adding to the already increasing rate of homelessness (Facts on File). The majority of residents in gentrified communities are part of low-income or minority families. Many are already cost-burned, so many can’t afford to move or stay and sustain the unrealistic rent increases. These circumstances often force them into homelessness until a solution is found.

A 2015 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development assessment stated that 564,708 people were homeless on a given night in the United States, and 45 percent had any mental illness (States News Service). The most common types of mental illness among people experiencing homelessness are depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse disorders. Those who are mentally ill find themselves homeless because of a lack of low-income housing and the inability to keep a stable income due to cognitive and behavioral problems.

For example, a major effect of schizophrenia is psychotic mood swings which affect your day-to-day life. Housed families with mental illnesses can also become homeless. Mothers who experience postpartum depression during the first year after giving birth are at a higher risk for homelessness or factors leading to homelessness, such as evictions or frequent moves in the two to three years after the postpartum year (States News Service). Increased levels of alcohol and drug abuse are common due to the unhealthy combination of mental illness and homelessness.

Unemployment will always be a cause of homelessness because, without a stable income, the likelihood of a person ending up homeless is inevitably increased. A drastic cut in hours or wages, getting laid off from a job, or getting injured can lead to significant hardships for families and individuals. People who are working in lower-wage jobs are already cost-burned and are more likely to become homeless after losing a job. The decline of public assistance and a lack of stable income jobs contribute to the rise of poverty.

An economic recession can cause unemployment and contributes to the cause of homelessness. A recession is a temporary falling off of business activity (Teen Health and Wellness). Companies are faced with financial hardships and are forced to close or cut back. Many workers are affected by this decision and are often laid off. It may take months or even years to find similar work with similar pay, which makes it difficult to go back into the workforce to earn income.

Some companies can relocate laid-off workers to new jobs or help them learn new skills for a different type of work. It’s rare for companies to further assist employees after a business recession, so many laid-off workers have to independently find a solution. Many of these solutions are temporary, such as collecting unemployment benefits from the government or using money from their savings to support their family until a new job is found (Teen Health and Wellness).

For example, the financial disaster of 2008 weakened the U.S. economy, and many Americans lost their jobs. Since then, the economy has lagged, and many people still struggle to secure employment (Gale in Context). As stated before, it’s difficult finding well-paying jobs, and many end up taking lower-paying positions, sometimes with no benefit, as a last resort. Wages have not kept up with the cost of living, meaning many Americans have to decide what necessities, such as food and shelter, can be covered by their income.

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Homelessness in America: Causes, Effects, and Solutions. (2023, Apr 19). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/homelessness-in-america-causes-effects-and-solutions/