Whenever you hear the media talking about homelessness, you’ve probably wondered what’s all the fuss about. Why is homelessness a problem? More specifically, why should it be YOUR problem? Isn’t it the government’s responsibility to take care of the homeless?
Well, you’re not wrong, but you’re not right either. Yes, it’s the government’s responsibility to help the homeless. But homelessness is not their concern alone. It’s as much your problem as it is theirs.
Yup, you read that right. Even if you’re reading this post while tucked up in your comfortable bed in your own home, homelessness should still concern you.
That’s because the problem of homelessness goes beyond people not having homes. It also has a significant impact on our economy, public health, and society in general. In short, it affects everyone regardless of their social and economic status. It’s essentially a human tragedy of devastating proportions.
So if you’re wondering why homelessness is a problem, you need to understand why it happens and how it affects you.
Why Do People Become Homeless?
To fully understand the problem of homelessness, we need to go back to its roots. There are lots of reasons why people become homeless. The most common ones are:
1. Lack of access to affordable housing
With ever-rising house prices and stagnating salaries, more and more people are getting thrown out of their homes. This is especially true in big cities where rents have skyrocketed in the past few years.
According to theNational Low Income Housing Coalition, 70% of low-income families in the country spend more than half of their income on rent. Their surveys also show that there’s no state or county where someone working full time at minimum wage can afford a two-bedroom apartment.
2. Mental health problems
As per a2015 survey, at least 25% of the country’s homeless population have a serious mental illness. That translates to about 140,000 people. While another 45% or 250,000 people are suffering from mental health issues.
These numbers illustrate how rampant mental illness is in the homeless populace. Basically, our streets have become the country’s de facto mental institutions.
3. Domestic abuse
Women and children feeling from an abusive situation at home often end up in homeless shelters. This makes domestic abuse one of the primary drivers of homelessness.
Studies have even shown that 22% to 57% of homeless women cite domestic abuse as the immediate cause of their homelessness. While anothersurvey reports that 80% of homeless mothers with children were victims of domestic violence.
4. Limited employment opportunities
Contrary to popular belief, not all homeless people are lazy bums who can’t be bothered to work. Many of them have jobs or are actively seeking one. It’s just that they have limited employment opportunities.
For one, social stigma around homeless people often prevents employers from hiring them. Most of them also suffer from some kind of mental illness, making it hard to keep a job.
Also, many homeless people come from low-income backgrounds. So they didn’t have access to proper education. As a result, their employment choices are mostly limited to menial, low-paying jobs.
5. Disability and illnesses
Because they often can’t work, disabled people and those suffering from severe illnesses are more likely to become homeless. Government reports show thatalmost a quarter of individuals experiencing homelessness have disabilities.
Meanwhile, the high cost of hospitalization often drives severely sick people into debt. This, in turn, robs them of the ability to pay for rent and other basic necessities.
Why is Homelessness a Problem?
Homelessness is a problem because, as I’ve said, it doesn’t just affect the homeless. It also has devastating consequences on our economy, public health, and society. As such, it affects all of us, whether we experience it or not.
Effects of Homelessness on Society
- It creates social barriers.
Poverty had always been a great divider of societies. But homelessness takes it a bit further.
The stigma and deeply rooted biases around homeless people creates an “us” versus “them” mentality. It prevents the homeless from reaching out and asking for help from the rest of the community. While those who have never experienced homelessness can never truly understand what it’s like. These social barriers, in turn, leads to distrust and hatred from both sides.
- It breaks communities apart.
With so much distrust and hatred from both sides, community life will eventually fall apart. And when people fail to see each other eye to eye, there will always be discord. The community won’t prosper as a whole and will always be plagued by deeply rooted social divisions. You don’t really want to live in this kind of community, do you?
- It affects the next generation.
Children who grew up in homeless shelters are more at risk of becoming homeless adults themselves. Only very few manage to break the cycle. So if we don’t put an end to the homelessness problem today, we’ll only be making it worse for the next generation.
- It can threaten public safety.
This isn’t to say that homeless people pose a threat to the community’s safety and security. But it isn’t a secret that various kinds of crimes are perpetrated on the streets. So the more people we have living on the streets, the more likely will the crime rate increase.
How Homelessness Affects the Economy
- It’s a waste of human resources
Statistics suggest that most homeless people are young adults, with many of them aged below 50. Some studies even put their median age between 37 to 46. These are prime working ages. Meaning, these people could have been productive workers who contribute to the economy.
But because of social stigma and many other factors directly caused by homelessness, they couldn’t find a job. That’s millions of potential human resources wasted.
- It contributes to a high poverty rate
The more homeless people we have, the higher will be the country’s poverty rate which can lead to a lower quality of life. The government won’t be able to collect as much taxes. So there will be less money to fund various projects in infrastructure, education, and health, among others. As a result, we’ll have bumpy roads, crowded schools, and ill-equipped hospitals.
- It costs the government more money
Living on the streets isn’t exactly beneficial for your physical or mental health. It also makes you more vulnerable to violence. Because of this, homeless people are more likely to avail themselves of public services.
A 2017 study even found that each homeless person is costing the government almost $40,000 a year. That’s about one person’s entire yearly salary and it comes from your taxes.
Had that money been used to provide a permanent solution to homelessness, we wouldn’t have to talk about this topic right now.
Homelessness’ Effects on Public Health
- Increased risk of disease outbreaks
Sanitation isn’t exactly a priority when you’re living on the streets. This is why the homeless are more vulnerable to communicable diseases than the sheltered population.
Like when an outbreak of Hepatitis A ravaged some parts of California in 2018. It affected the homeless population more severely than others. The same scenario was also witnessed during the 2020 pandemic where the virus hit the homeless communities hard.
- Increase incidence of substance and alcohol abuse
One of the most common misconceptions about the homeless is that they’re drunkards and addicts. Though not all of them drink or do drugs, it’s undeniable that alcohol and substance abuse is prevalent in the homeless population. Collectively, this can lead to a rise in liver diseases, mental disorders, and many other kinds of illnesses.
How You Can Help
Since homelessness affects us all, it also takes all of us to put an end to it. You may think that your efforts won’t matter. But remember that even a single drop of water can make ripples in the ocean. Even simple things like advocating and creating awareness about homelessness, sharing your meal with a homeless person, or donating to homeless charities can take us one step closer to ending homelessness for good.