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Homelessness is the condition of not having a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence. In most cases, homelessness is a temporary circumstance rather than a permanent condition. It is remarkably widespread; the National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that between 2.5 and 3.5 million people experienced homelessness in the United States last year – a population greater than the size of San Francisco and Washington, DC combined.
Who is homeless?
Although a widespread misconception of the homeless population is that it consists primarily of single men, families with children made up approximately 50% of those who were homeless last year and are the fastest growing population of homeless. Veterans comprise around 25-40% of the homeless population. Many of these veterans experienced homelessness following their return from the Vietnam War, although an increasing number are veterans from the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The chronically homeless – those with repeated episodes or who are continuously homeless and most visible to the public on main commercial streets – comprise 10% of the homeless population.
How do people become homeless?
The most proximate cause of homelessness is poverty. This, combined with a lack of affordable housing borne by declining government support, has created a housing crisis for poor people. Given the price of housing, it is not uncommon for even working individuals to become homeless. Last year, one in three homeless people were employed. Other conditions may provide the final push into homelessness, such as an untreated mental illness, disability, substance abuse disorder, domestic abuse, or sickness. In other circumstances, natural disasters, prison release, and forced evictions may cause people to become homelessness.
What issues affect homeless people?
Those experiencing homelessness experience mental anguish, a loss of dignity, depression, and feelings of personal insecurity. Homeless people are sick more than the average American and only half of homeless people have health care. In addition, they are likely to be the targets of discrimination, hate crimes, and city ordinances designed to criminalize their condition. Children experiencing homeless suffer physically, developmentally, emotionally, and academically.
What is being done to help homeless people?
Service providers face the difficult task of addressing the root causes of homelessness while simultaneously meeting their basic, urgent human needs. In recent years, most local governments and nonprofit organizations have shifted their focus from managing the problem of homelessness with shelters and soup kitchens to moving people into permanent, supportive housing. Best practices such as Shelter-Plus-Care, Housing First, and Assertive Outreach focus on moving the chronically homeless off the streets and into their own subsidized apartments, even before addressing the root causes of their homelessness. While puzzling to some, this approach has proven to be more effective and less expensive. Communities across the country are also implementing ten year plans to reduce or end homelessness at the local level.
How can we end homelessness?
Since homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked, homelessness advocates emphasize the need to alleviate the most crippling aspects of poverty by creating more affordable housing, promoting a livable wage, and ensuring access to comprehensive health care.