The Stewart McKinney Act of 1987 defines a homeless person as Aone who lacks a fixed permanent nighttime residence, or whose nighttime residence is a temporary shelter, welfare hotel or any public or private place not designated as sleeping accommodations for human [email protected] (583). Included in the homeless population are people who stay with friends or family for a short period of time and then decide to find shelter on the streets because of conflict with the people whom they are staying with, or because of personal pride. In the early 1980=s homelessness was determined to be a major problem in the United States. These years saw a steep rise in the number of homeless, due to poor economy and diminishing financial help for housing and income.
The homeless consist of all types, races, and ages of people. A large portion of the homeless population consists of men but the number of women and children living on the streets is on the rise. Current statistics show that women and children now make up around forty percent of the homeless population. According to John J. Macionis one-third of homeless people abuse drugs and one-fourth are mentally ill. The current homeless population is mostly non-white and has an average age of the middle thirties. Veterans make up about one-third of the total number of homeless men.
The homeless all suffer from absolute poverty. As stated in 1995 by the United States government, 36 million people or 13.8% of the population was poor. The government defines a family of four as being poor if they generate a yearly income of $15,569 or less, although the average improvised family=s income was only around $10,000 in 1995. The Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics states, the average annual income of the homeless in Chicago was $1198 in 1996 (584). APerhaps we should not be surprised that one percent of our population, for one reason or another is unable to cope with our complex and highly competitive [email protected] (Macionis 183)
According to the Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics homelessness in America has several causes. One such cause is the competitiveness of the business market. Companies are no longer as loyal to their employees as they used to be. Many corporations now use overseas laborers. Also, a diminishing amount of low-skill jobs, due to industrialization has increased the chances of low-skilled workers finding employment. The Chicago coalition for the homeless states that a person must be employed full time and earn more than $8.29 per hour in order to exceed the federal poverty level for a family of four. According to the 1997 census report 2.3 million people worked full time but were still below the poverty line (5).
Another reason for the increased number of homeless is the lack of affordable housing, especially in urban areas. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reports that, nationally, 10.5 million low income renters compete for 6.1 million rental units that are within their price range, leaving 4.4 million without affordable housing (3). Many low-income areas are being bought out by wealthy entrepreneurs who remodel and restore them and restore them and sell them for a large profit.
The mainstreaming of institutionalized mental patients is another reason for homelessness. According to Microsoft Encarta nationally 20-25% of the homeless population suffers from some sort of major mental illness (2). These people are less likely to be able to obtain support such as treatment, case management and the help that is necessary to find and maintain permanent housing.
The most recent cause of homelessness in the United States is the Afeminization of [email protected] Because of the high expense of child care and the increasing numbers of single mothers, the number of homeless women and children is on the rise. According to Stacey Chambers the rise in the number of homeless women is partially due to domestic violence. In an interview of homeless mothers ninety-two percent had been assaulted at one time in their lives. More than half had suffered from bouts of major depression inther lives whereas only twenty percent of the United States female population had suffered from similar depression (2).
Despite these facts and statistics, little else is known about these people. Most sociological surveys are conducted by phone or mail and obviously cannot reach the