The Issue of Homelessness

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Updated: Apr 10, 2023
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James Harris always begins with “God bless you” before asking for money. He hates asking people for anything, so this three-word phrase serves as his own offering. Harris, a veteran, has had AIDS for thirty years. When the medication stopped working, the world began to crumble around him. He became depressed and was ultimately evicted from his place in Hollywood. “I’ve been beaten, robbed, and chased, he said. “People steal your tents and your tarps and your clothes. I’ve lost everything I owned.” Harris gets by on $900 a month from Social Security. His most recent attempt at making money was when he spent $105 dollars on a suit and makeup for a costume of a villain from Batman. He performed for tips on Hollywood Boulevard but didn’t make a cent. James Harris’ story is just one of many across the United States. Every story, in one way or another, begins with a downward spiral and ends with a situation devoid of hope. This homelessness as a social issue essay will explore how the United States has arrived at its current situation.

The US Department of Health and Human Services uses the following to define homelessness: “an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility (e.g., shelters) that provides temporary living accommodations, and an individual who is a resident in transitional housing. A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation.” Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C., 254b)

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This is a widely accepted definition in the United States. However, other countries have alternate definitions, which makes it nearly impossible to compare figures from one country to another. What we do know, however, is how the issue of homelessness affects the United States and its respective cities and how it may be seen as a problem in society. Today’s day and age have seen homelessness rise to new heights. The concern began during the Industrial Revolution, and homelessness rates have ballooned ever since. The state of California holds the highest homelessness rate, while individual cities such as Los Angeles and New York are especially affected.

In Santa Rosa, California, numerous homeless encampments are scattered across town. The National Coalition for the Homeless and The National Alliance to End Homelessness are two major organizations devoted to finding solutions to solve this concern. In California, homelessness is especially evident and is considered to be ground zero for the issue. Although there is no simple solution, groups across the world have proposed and even implemented actions to solve homelessness in their respective regions. As this homelessness as a social issue essay explores, California has caught the nation’s attention for both its challenges and its solutions.

Walking the streets of Santa Rosa gives clues to the scale of the unhoused population and how it may have begun – starting at home prices. Overall, the state of California is the second-most expensive state to live in, falling only behind Hawaii. The average cost of a home is over one million dollars, 1.24 times more expensive than Massachusetts, the third most expensive state Higher housing prices are the major indicator for high homelessness rates, and Santa Rosa is no exception. Following the 2017 Tubbs Fire, one of the most destructive in the state’s history, over 5,000 properties were destroyed. The result was a clamor to finding housing, driving up costs and leaving those without financial support to seek shelter elsewhere. This fire displaced enough people to increase Sonoma County’s homeless population by six percent.

As of the time of writing, Santa Rosa local government officials have yet to put together a concrete solution and instead have chosen to focus on the health and safety of city residents by removing large encampments. Some of the notes have been encampments found near the Sixth Street underpass and the Joe Rodota Trail. However, when these encampments are removed, it begins an impending cycle: e campers are forced to live in another camp, it increases in size, and inevitably is removed by the city.

One recent area of concern has emerged at the Northpoint Corporate Center, which is a 250-acre business park in Southwest Santa Rosa. After the Santa Rosa city government prioritized its August 2017 homeless policy (The Homeless Encampment Assistance Program), which displaced numerous people, the number of people parking and living out of their cars at Northpoint increased. Two short months later, following the Tubbs fire, the number of automobiles parked along the business center’s streets rose exponentially. While all people want a safe, quiet place to rest and sleep at night, employees at the business park and the unhoused population have experienced tense relations. Business owners call community authorities nearly every day with complaints and concerns about waste, littering, and vandalism. “It is clear the current situation is not working. We all expressed our sympathy for their circumstances and life, but now it’s affecting our area”, Keith Woods, President of the Northpoint Business Park, says. “We’re going to need help from our city.” The city of Santa Rosa is currently exploring long-term solutions to the homelessness crisis.

Nationally, California is the state with the greatest homeless population. The Federal Housing and Urban Development Department estimates that there are 130,000 people experiencing homelessness statewide on any given night. That number is 25 percent of the entire United States homeless population. Furthermore, California holds 70 percent of unsheltered homeless individuals in the country, the highest percentage in the country. The unsheltered homeless are people who don’t utilize temporary living arrangements like shelters and instead live in places not intended for human habitation. Christopher Martin, a legislative advocate at Housing California, states, “The lack of shelters is due to a lack of resources, and we don’t really have the plan to end homelessness. We don’t have strong programs to end homelessness on the state level. We know the shelters are a part of the solution, but at the end of the day, we know that we need exits for the shelters.”

Of course, some areas of California are more affected by homelessness than others. Los Angeles County has the highest state-wide population of homeless individuals at about 55,000. This was second only to the city of New York. However, there is a major difference between the two cities. While 95% of New York’s homeless population is considered sheltered, only 25% of those in Los Angeles are considered sheltered. That means there are far more street and park dwellers in Los Angeles. In 2018-2019, California put aside $5 billion for homelessness and housing affordability measures. Of that, $600 million was allotted to homelessness response programs, permanent housing measures, assisting homeless youth and victims of domestic violence, and mental health services. Although it is early, there is yet to be a statistical change in terms of the homeless population in California.

Homelessness in America, although to a lesser degree compared to the modern age, began in the 1640s. At that time, being homeless was seen as a character flaw. The fundamental Christian faith was rooted in their belief in fortune – a devout believers would have their needs met by God, including their housing. As such, the homeless were forced to prove their worth as they arrived in new towns. Today, many see homelessness as the complex social issue that it truly is, but these previous beliefs persist.

The first major wave of our nation contending with supporting homeless people began during the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and early 19th century. People flocked to newly bustling cities, walking the streets in search of jobs. However, poor safety regulations for these jobs caused widespread injury and even death. The disabled or widowed had no means to provide for themselves or their families, leading many into homelessnessAnother historical cause of homelessness was due to the adversity that soldiers returning from World War I faced. Many were struggling with opiate addiction and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD caused a decline in the quality of life for many veterans, leading them toward the path of homelessness. Finally, large-scale natural disasters (such as the Tubbs fire previously mentioned) typically bring with them an increase in homelessness due to the sheer damage inflicted. Surges in homelessness increased following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the drought and Dust Bowl of the 1930s in Oklahoma and Texas, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In California, a major rise in homelessness began during the 1980s, largely as a result of an economic restructuring plan colloquially referred to as “The U-Turn.” s. The California economy shifted away from service industries and toward manufacturing, where wages were far lower. Of the new jobs created during the 1980s, three-quarters were at minimum-wage levels. The number of Americans living under the poverty line went up to 15%. Throughout the 1980s, around 4.5 million units were removed from the nation’s housing stock. Half of these units had been occupied by low-income households, creating a strain on both accessibility and affordability.

Homelessness is not an issue exclusive to the United States Europe also suffers from high homelessness rates. However, it seems Finland may have found a solution to homelessness that can serve as an international model for success. At the time of writing, homelessness rates are rising across Europe but not in Finland.

Most homeless policies work on the assumption that the homeless should solve their problems, whether it be lack of income or health issues before they get permanent housing. Finland is taking a different approach – giving them home first. Introduced in 2007, Housing First is a program that believes having a real, permanent home can actually help solve the aforementioned social issues while providing a safe space for its citizens. Each household receiving support from Housing First is partnered with individual support services. Each household works with a housing advisor, who can give them advice on many things, like paying rent or applying for government benefits. In addition, there are people who can assist them in managing financing and debt. The most amazing part of this is that there are no longer any homeless shelters in Finland. They have all been turned into the described supportive housing.

Juha Kaakinen, Director of the Y-Foundation, a social enterprise that provides housing to Housing First, understands the high costs of the strategy. She mentions that there is ample evidence from many countries that shows it is consistently more cost-effective to aim to end homelessness instead of simply trying to manage it. Investment in ending homelessness always pays back, to say nothing of human and ethical reasons. It is safe to say Finland has found a solution to their homelessness problem, achieved through an intentional framework, mindset, and investment, leading as an example for other interested nations to study.

Although no Finland-level success has been made in the US, many cities’ actions have gone in the right direction in terms of reducing homelessness. For people living near the poverty level in California, eviction is often the tipping point toward staying stable or becoming homeless. Over 140,000 people receive eviction notices every year in California. In San Francisco, the people have voted to pass Proposition F, which funds nonprofits to provide legal help for tenants facing eviction. Many times, when people receive eviction notices, there appear to be no options and no hope. Through Proposition F, free legal counsel is available and can help ease the fears of tenants. Although non-profit lawyers can not always stop eviction, they can help foster agreements between tenants and landlords or organize payment plans. The lawyers are not always the solution to all of the tenants’ problems, but they do provide something very valuable – time. The legal council gives petrified tenants with eviction notices more time to figure out their next move and locate alternative living arrangements. This can be the difference between a tenant living on the street and living in a home.

Project Solid Ground in Los Angeles is taking a more innovative approach. In addition to offering free legal advice, Project Solid Ground is providing financial stipends to family members who provide shelter for their unhoused relatives. When a person is evicted, it is not uncommon for them to stay with a family member until they find more permanent housing. While more ideal than immediate homelessness, this arrangement can quickly become uncomfortable for the host. A host family member is usually reluctant to collect rent or finances from their relative tenantTo avoid this, Solid Ground plans to make small payments to the host for a period of time. This makes the relationship between the tenant and the host far less strained. It also offers a great amount of stability, financially, socially, and emotionally, for all parties involved. Although this is an experimental program, new and groundbreaking ideas are always welcome, particularly in the state of California.

Although the United States has yet to find a permanent solution to the homelessness problem, many groups have proposed actions and found varying levels of success throughout the state of California. While there is no one sure-fire solution to solving the homelessness crisis, there are numerous ideas for shifting financial priorities and providing support that California can turn to for suggestions on how to continue to head in the right direction and provide help for residents like James Harris.

Frequently Asked Questions
Why is homelessness a social problem?

Homelessness is a complex social issue that stems from multiple causes. Firstly, homeless individuals frequently face barriers in obtaining critical services, such as healthcare and education. Secondly, homelessness increases the likelihood of experiencing violence and mistreatment. Thirdly, homelessness is problematic as it can perpetuate poverty and marginalization.

What are the social factors of homelessness?

Homelessness is influenced by diverse and multifaceted social factors. These factors can encompass poverty, mental health issues, substance dependency, familial disintegration, and joblessness. Additionally, discrimination and social ostracism can be contributors to homelessness.

How do you write a homeless essay?

The issue of homelessness is multifaceted, and there are various approaches one can take when writing about it. For instance, one could depict the physical challenges of being homeless or delve into the emotional repercussions. Alternatively, one could focus on the social and political factors that underlie homelessness or examine the coping mechanisms employed by the affected individuals.

The Issue of Homelessness essay

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The Issue of Homelessness. (2020, Mar 11). Retrieved from