What Is Homelessness?
Homelessness is defined (by Stewart B. McKinney Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11301):
A person is considered homeless who "lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence; and... has a primary night time residency that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations... (B) An institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.
Who Is Homeless?
Age: Children account for 39% of the homeless population, 25% ages 25-34, and 6% ages 55 to 64.
Gender: Single homeless adults are more likely to be male.
Ethnicity: 42% of homeless are African American, 38% white, 20% Hispanic, 4% Native American and 2% Asian.
Families: Families with children are some of the fastest growing numbers in the homeless population, at 23%.
Victims of Domestic Violence: 15% of the homeless are victims of domestic violence.
Mentally Ill: The mentally ill compose 26% of the homeless population.
Employed: 13-25% of the homeless population is employed.
Addicts: 30% of the homeless have addiction problems.
Veterans - 40% of homeless men have served in our armed forces.
Why Are People Homeless?
Some attribute rising instances of homelessness with a growing shortage of affordable rental housing, coupled with an increase in poverty levels.
Foreclosure - The growing amount of foreclosures have increased the nation's homeless. Since the start of the recession, six million jobs have been lost. 40% of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters and 7 million households are living on low incomes and are at risk for foreclosure.
Poverty - Homelessness and poverty are very clearly related. Those who are poor cannot pay for housing, childcare, health care or education, which leads to many difficult decisions when limited resources can only pay for certain necessities. Often housing, which generally covers the highest part of income, must be let go.
Dwindling Work Opportunities - Homelessness persists because incomes are dropping and there are less secure jobs with fewer benefits. Many homeless shelters house full-time employees. Employment rates remain high, which means jobs are harder to secure. However, employment does not automatically provide an escape from poverty.
Dwindling Public Assistance - The declining value and availability of public assistance is another source of increasing homelessness and poverty.
Until its repeal in August 1996, the largest cash assistance program for poor families with children was the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (the federal welfare reform law) repealed the AFDC program and replaced it with a block grant program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). In 2005, TANF helped a third of the children that AFDC helped reach above the 50% poverty line. Unfortunately, TANF has not been able to kept up with inflation. In 2006-2008, TANF case load has continued to decline while food stamp caseloads have increased.
Moreover, extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female-headed and working families. This increase can be traced directly to the declining number of children lifted above one-half of the poverty line by government cash assistance for the poor (Children's Defense Fund and the National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998).
Many states have not replaced the welfare system with an different one that allows people to obtain above-poverty employment and support themselves when work is not available or possible.
Housing - A decided lack of affordable housing and the smaller scale of housing assistance programs have contributed to the housing crisis and homelessness. Housing assistance may make the difference between stable housing, uncertain housing or no housing whatsoever. The need, however, severely exceeds the supply. Approximately a third of low income renter households receive a housing subsidy from the government.
The average wait time for families seeking housing assistance is 35 months. Extended wait times mean that people must remain homeless or subsist in inadequate housing arrangements longer.
Lack of Affordable Health Care - A serious disability or illness may cause a spiral into homelessness for those already living on the brink. 1 in 3 Americans are uninsured and 4 out of 5 uninsured Americans are in working families.
Mental Illness - 16% of the single homeless population suffer severe and persistent mental illness. Most homeless people can live in the community - rather than institutions - with proper housing options and community support. However, many mentally ill people cannot access proper supportive housing or other treatments.
Addiction - Rates of alcohol and drug addiction are disproportionally high among the homeless. Many addicts do not become homeless, but those in precarious living situations are more likely to become homeless without proper treatment. Homeless addicts face insurmountable barriers to obtaining healthcare, including treatment of mental illnesses and substance abuse rehabilitation services.
Domestic Violence - Battered women in abusive relationships who live in poverty often must choose between an abusive relationship and homelessness. Over 60% of homeless women have experienced domestic violence as adults.
How You Can Help The Homeless:
- Donate clean clothing.
- Donate materials like kitchen utensils, furniture, books, children's toys, diapers, and food to homeless shelters.
- Donate old computers to a homeless shelter.
- Make homeless "survival" kits with shampoo, blankets, cups, pots, toothpaste, brushes, and cosmetics.
- Donate phone cards or old cell phones to the homeless.
- Encourage job opportunities within your business, school, or church for the homeless.
- Support a homeless family or person by raising money for a security deposit or childcare.
- Raise funds for a shelter or soup kitchen.
- Give directly to the homeless, whether it's cash, a gift card, or non-perishable food.
- Smile. Treat the homeless as they are people because they are.
If You Are Homeless:
- Try to locate an assistance program nearby.
- Apply for public housing.
- Apply for transitional housing.
- Ensure your ID is current and available.
- Make an emergency pack for yourself and each child.
- Check out the links below for more specific assistance.
Resources for Homelessness:
Homeless Shelter Directory: For immediate assistance, there are shelters that provide relief.
US Department of Health and Human Services - Information regarding runaways, homeless youth, and healthcare.
HUD - Information on housing counseling, food stamps, food banks, healthcare, and homeless veterans.
Volunteers of America - A wonderful site and service that helps homeless children succeed in school, helps provide affordable housing to those who need it, and advocates for those who are suffering.
The Salvation Army - The Salvation Army provides help in many areas including homelessness, natural disaster relief, elderly services, and Christmas charity.
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans - Offers jobs assistance, help replacing important documents, and resources for where to go.
Thriving Neighborhoods - Facts, statistics, and resources for preventing homelessness.
National Coalition for the Homeless - A national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness; activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission. Valuable links and resources can be found on the site.
Homeless.org - A national directory of services available for homeless men, women, and children.
The Homeless Hub - A site with stories, facts, resources, and educational materials.