Homelessness in America has always been an issue but it has become an even bigger issue over the past years. With a world filled with global conflict, disappearing jobs, higher education cost, and increasing poverty in America, the homeless need our help more than ever. Just last year, the national poverty rate rose to include 13.2 % of the population. Also, 3.5 million people were forced to sleep in parks, shelters, under bridges or in cars. Hunger and homelessness are increasing epidemics plaguing the United States. Because of the high cost of living, high unemployment rates, and low-wage jobs, countless Americans are forced to choose between food, housing, and other expenses. According to recent studies, money is being devoted to rent and utilities rather than food. 35% of the homeless population is families with children, 23% are U.S. military veterans, 25% are children under the age of 18, 20-25% suffers from mental illness and 30% have experienced domestic violence. 19.3 % of homeless people live in New York City and Los Angeles. New York City has been shown to have the highest number of homeless people in the country. The next biggest is Los Angeles and then Seattle/King County Washington. As a result of doing nothing for the homeless, more people will become homeless. That means, more people sleeping on the streets, dying from hunger, and possibly an even higher crime rate. Economic factors play a huge role in the issue of homelessness. The number one cause of homelessness is the shortage of affordable housing. With such low incomes and low minimum wage workers, food and shelter can’t be afforded. Over the last twenty-five years, the cost of living has gradually increased but workers’ wages and income haven’t been able to keep up the pace. Since the late 1960s, the minimum wage has continually decreased in value and is worth less than 27% than it was in 1968. Because of that, low income workers aren’t able to afford food, medical care or even housing. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, families across the country would need to earn a “housing wage” of $15.37 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. That’s nearly three times the current minimum wage in America.
A few other things that contribute to homelessness would be long-term issues like drug addiction, mental illness, and alcoholism. People who suffer from addictive disorders ruin their relationships with family, friends, and often lose their jobs. 6% of the American population suffers from mental illness. When it comes to the homeless population, that number jumps to 20-25%. People with serious mental issues don’t have the ability to handle essential aspects of daily life, such as household management and self-care. Without assistance, women and men have little to no chance of gaining stability. Domestic violence also plays a role in homelessness. 50% of homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence. When a woman is dealing with domestic assault, she fears for her safety and the safety of her children. She either takes the chance to stay at home and continue to be beaten, or leave the abuse and face having little means of support. Post-traumatic stress is one of the top causes of homeless Veterans. As many as 200,000 military veterans sleep on the street on any given night. Adapting to a “normal life” back in the U.S. is extremely difficult for those who have served. Because they are unable to cope, some have made the decision to leave loved ones, homes, and jobs behind for homelessness and/or addiction. I could go on and on about the causes and factors leading up to homelessness but, I would rather discuss how we can help those who are homeless and hopefully prevent homelessness in the future.
We as Americans have many options to help support the homeless and stop the issue from growing in the future. One way is to donate to the programs and organizations that help those who are homeless. There are hundreds of programs and originations out there in every city that take donations of all; from food, to money, blankets, water, and clothing. All it takes is a simple Google search to find those organizations or programs in your area. One organization I would like to discuss in particular is Virginia Supportive Housing. I first learned about this place in my Psychology class and I thought it was one of the most amazing organizations I’ve heard about. Virginia Supportive Housing is a not-for-profit that transforms lives, transforms communities and provides permanent solutions to homelessness. Their mission is to end homelessness by providing permanent housing and supportive services to the homeless. VHS was founded in 1988 with the name SRO Housing of Richmond. It was the first not-for-profit in the Commonwealth with the mission of providing permanent supportive housing to homeless single adults. It took 4 years, but in 1992 the first apartments opened in Virginia called New Clay House and homed 47 formerly homeless single adults. In 1999, the name was changed Virginia Supportive Housing to accurately reflect its mission. VHS has developed more than 400 units of affordable housing for homeless individuals, families, and persons with disabilities in Richmond, Hampton Roads, and Charlottesville. What I really like about this program other than providing housing is that they require the tenants to pay 30% of their income in rent, which means they are forced to find jobs. They also offer counseling and financial literacy programs that help tenants make changes needed to maintain jobs. Their approach saves the public up to $9,000 per individual served and they only spend approximately $4,500 per person, per year to provide housing.
Another solution would be for the U.S. to tackle its root causes, low wages, lack of affordable housing, and improving support services like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), housing vouchers, and health care. Also, getting more cities involved for homeless family services can also help. For example, in August of 2014 the city of Newport News budgeted $421.737 for services for homeless people during the fiscal year 2015. About $195,000 of that will go towards family shelter expenses, mainly funding for short-term housing solutions, and about $220,000 goes towards staffing. These funds are included in the city’s Social Services department. In 2014, about $300,000 was spent on homeless family services. In 2009, the Mayors and Chairs Commission on Homelessness was founded with a 10-year plan to ensure homeless people will have the access to safe, decent and affordable housing. The city has budgeted an additional $41,657 for that commission. Not only is Newport News apart of the commission but Hampton, Poquoson, Williamsburg, James City, and York counties are included.
Comprehensive health care would also be another solution for homelessness. It’s been reported that mental illness is the number three reason for becoming or staying homeless. Mental illnesses are linked with substance abuse and should be treated together. Without the help of reliable and stable housing as well as a universal health-care plan, treatments for mental illness and substance abuse remain ineffective. The Bring America Home Act is extremely beneficial to homeless people who suffer mental illness and substance abuse. Not only does it address health care, it also addresses the housing, income, and extreme poverty. The Bring America Home Act is a legislative proposal of the National Coalition for the Homeless that includes housing security, health security, economic security, and civil rights provisions. Its provisions are grounded in research, data, and the experience of front line providers and advocates.
Unfortunately, the cost of homelessness can be very expensive for taxpayers. Medical treatments, police intervention, hospitalization, incarceration, and emergency shelter expenses add up quickly. When it comes to hospitalization, homeless people spend an average of four days longer per visit and can cost approximately $2,414 extra. People who are homeless spend more time in jail and prison and it’s tremendously costly to the state. The University of Texas did a two-year survey of homeless individuals being incarcerated. Each individual cost the taxpayers $14,480 per year, primarily for overnight jail and $20,000 per year for the cost of a prison bed in a state or federal prison. When housing individuals in an emergency shelter, it’s costing us taxpayers more than housing the homeless in permanent housing. Emergency shelters are supposed to be used for short-term cases but too often turn into a long-term housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spends approximately $8,067 more than the annual cost of federal housing including Section 8 housing. In order to save taxpayers money, it has been shown that providing homeless people with permanent supporti ve housing can save you and the city $80,000 per year. With that being said, like I stated earlier in this essay; providing programs and organizations with donations, volunteering, and/or money can help tremendously.
In conclusion, ending homelessness is a solvable national problem and a dream for our nation. If the need for resources are being met and with a good plan, we can achieve just that. Yes, we are far from ending homelessness and it will probably never be fully solved; but we can gradually decrease the number of homeless individuals and families. With the help of our government, programs, organizations, and taxpayers, we can reduce homelessness greatly. I believe the solutions I have discussed in this essay are the steps we need to take. Homelessness is a problem we see and hear about daily, we as Americans all deserve to live the life we want. Just a little bit of help goes a long way.