Homelessness in American in the 21st Century
The definition of homelessness can be described as the condition of not having a permanent place to live, widely perceived as a societal problem only beginning in the 1980?s (?Homelessness?). Estimates of the number of homeless people in the United States are imprecise, but in the late 1990?s it ranged from 700,000 per night to 2 million per year. A survey made in 2008 found that over 12 million Americans had experienced homelessness at some point in their lives. Moreover, the vast majority of those who are homeless are single men and families with children. Homelessness exists in all major cities as well as smaller communities over the entire United States. This escalating problem has become quite a public controversial issue, and is a hot topic behind government doors. The differences of opinions and points of view between our government officials and the American people range from one end of the spectrum to the other. The debate over why and how people become homeless, along with what action should be done (if any) range from one end of the spectrum to the other. Regardless in differences of opinions, homelessness has become society?s problem as a whole.
In May 2009, the official unemployment rate was 9.4% (1). The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 40 percent of families that have, or will face eviction due to foreclosure are renters. 7 million homeowners with households living on very low incomes (31 - 50 percent of Area Median Income) are at risk of foreclosure (2). Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Many living on an income considered poverty level are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets. In 2009, 12.5% of the U.S. population, or 37 million people, lived in poverty. Children represent 35.7% of people in poverty while only being 24.8% of the total population. (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009).
Domestic violence plays a big role in the amount of homeless women, often with children. Many battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In addition, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008). Approximately 63% of homeless women have experienced domestic violence in their adult lives (Network to End Domestic Violence). Many of these women are mothers to minor aged children. Indisputably, rather than leaving their children in the hands of the abuser, they flee with their kids in tow. Consequently, the children are now homeless as well. This would partially account for the estimated 17% of children that are homeless (3). Another huge factor responsible for the cause of homelessness is mental illness. Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2008). Despite the disproportionate number of severely mentally ill people among the homeless population, increases in homelessness are not attributable to the release of severely mentally ill people from institutions. Most patients were released from mental hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, yet vast increases in homelessness did not occur until the 1980s, when incomes and housing options for those living on the margins began to diminish rapidly. Robert Holistor, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states, ?Most homeless persons with mental illness do not need to be institutionalized, they can live in the community with the appropriate supportive housing options.? Despite this , many mentally ill homeless people are unable to obtain access to supportive housing and/or other treatment services. The mental health support services most needed include case management, housing, and treatment.
The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial. While rates of alcohol and drug abuse are disproportionately high among the homeless population, the increase in homelessness over the past two decades cannot be explained by addiction alone. Many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and who are addicted are clearly at increased risk of homelessness. Addiction does increase the risk of displacement for the precariously housed; in the absence of appropriate treatment, it may doom one\'s chances of getting