Homelessness in America

Everyone has seen her. Unreserved, she claws though your trash when you arrive home after a night out. Standing on the side of the road, she holds a sign requesting the scraps someone is uninterested in, maybe she will be able to feed all four of her children today. She cleaned up the best she could when she snuck into the local gas station’s restroom. Now when she asks for change, some might not be too uncomfortable to hand any over. Her name is Rochelle, she left her abusive husband, along with her last home, over two years ago. Her children give her hope. (Clarke) Homelessness has crept into every part of American society. The homeless can be found in suburbs and rural communities as easily as big cities. (Clarke)

The social dilemma of homelessness is caused by a variety of factors that are complex, multiple, and not completely understood. The majority homelessness is caused by alcohol/drug addictions, mental illnesses, and economic problems; the government must conduct more extensive research, and vigorously pursue educated reform to efficiently address the stated causes. These factors are interlinked in a way that they can profoundly affect one another. The predicament of homelessness is a rout in life that is very difficult to emerge from, many never do. Finding a solution to this dilemma is perhaps more difficult and complex than the factors that cause it.

The numbers of people that are homeless in the United States are very difficult to estimate. Many sources have shown conflicting figures due to the difficulty involved in gathering this data. Most solid data that exists comes solely from shelters, yet many homeless individuals live on the streets. Further, the definition of homelessness is not clear and consistent.( Lewit and Schuurmann) The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has estimated that the total number of homeless people in the United States is approximately 350,000 (Torrey). This number is likely to continue to grow if immediate and necessary precautions are ignored, or misapplied.

One of the leading causes in homelessness in America is the number of people that are addicted to alcohol and drugs. According to Torrey approximately one third of the population of homeless adults are alcoholics and drug addicts. This deadly disease can cause people to think irrationally, resulting in the exhaust of their life savings in hopeless effort to support their addiction. This will result in the loss of all their possessions, not excluding their home. Since many addicts tire family and friend resources along their desperate path, the individual finds there is no where to left but the harsh city streets. As the desperation grows, these people likely become apart of the mentally ill statistics multiplying the original problem exponentially.

In addition to the number of people who become homeless through their own drug addiction, scores of men, women and children are displaced form their homes due to a drug-addicted parent or family provider.(Substance)” Since shelter is a basic human need, this effect on children and families appear to be very harsh and multifaceted (Lewit and Schuurmann). Twenty-two states today currently deny all benefits. O’Brien reveals the refusal to properly support prior substance abusers currently afflicts 135,000 children and 92,000 women. Consequently, studies have shown that homeless children have twice as many health problems, are more likely to go hungry, and have higher rates of developmental delay (Lewit and Schuurmann). Appropriate measures must be taken to protect the largely effected bystanders, the children.

If an individual is fortunate enough to overcome their habit, they may be charged with even more penalties, allowing the shadow of homelessness to loom beyond their purged addiction. “For example, in an increasingly competitive housing market, the drug and alcohol abusers are last to qualify for housing benefits (Substance).” In addition to that, public housing is not available to people who have felony drug convictions (Talvi). Finding a job is also difficult for this populace. Employers are not as likely to hire people who have been in jail or prison. This includes even offenses that are considered nonviolent (Talvi). Overall, individuals with substance abuse face the most severe consequences of homelessness (Substance).

The second largest cause in homelessness in the society is mental illness. It is estimated that in some areas of the contry 30-40 percent of the longterm population are former mental patients (Kosof 22). Since public services for the seriously mentally ill in the United Sates are in a state of chaos, it should be no surprise that mentally ill homeless are accumulating in shelters and on the streets (Torrey). The majority of patients in the system are not receiving the treatment they require due to the disorganization of services, divided funding, unrealistic laws, and lack of competent professions (Torrey).

According to (Torrey), the calculations of homeless that are mentally ill range vastly from 116,000 to 200,000. These people may have a mental illness from birth, injury, or even due to the previously mentioned drugs or alcohol. The cause of homelessness may have even originated due to trap of drugs, but as and effect produced a mental illness that binds the addict to the streets. Many of these individuals are charge with petty crimes such as trespassing (Torrey). This temporary and unintelligent attempt to push the homeless off the streets yields poor results. Mentally ill being confined in jails and prisons brings them no closer to the treatments they required. (Torrey).

Schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychosis are two of the most common illnesses that affect the homeless. Little is known about these two diseases, in fact years ago many people thought that these diseases were caused by bad mothering or stresses from the society (Torrey). Despite many advances in psychology, these diseases are still nearly as inexplicable. This is partially due to the failure of the federal government to properly support extensive research of these mental illnesses. For every patient with schizophrenia, $20 each year was spent on research, compared with multiple sclerosis ($161 per patient), cancer ($300 per patient), or muscular dystrophy (over $1,000 per patient) (Torrey). Similar to the problem of homelessness itself, with little known about schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychosis the difficulty in finding a clear solution to this problem impregnable.

Torrey E. Fuller pins the cause of the mentally ill homeless to six major factors in his article, thirty Years of Shame. In addition to discussing the lack of research done on specific diseases, she discusses how there is a lack of manpower in this field. Although the government has tried a number of different programs to try to entice professionals to include themselves in the field. There are very few that are willing to work in the mental illness psych (Torrey). Due to the lack of desire and pay, the government has resorted to finding others from beyond the borders of the country. More than 50% of the people in this profession are from foreign countries (Torrey).

Yet another problem addressed by Torrey is the presence legal loopholes within the mist government funding. Homelessness is primarily an issue of the state; the nation government has become a growing presence in the growing national illness of homelessness. This presence had not been altogether beneficial; the civil rights movement resulted in furthering the difficulty in committing patients to mental hospitals. The act is an effort to protect citizens from being treated against their will (Torrey). Many of homeless populous in this state do not even realize that they need help, they deny the presents of their illnesses. Often they are unable to make rational decisions for themselves (Torrey). These homeless wonder the streets tormented by mental illness, yet they are unaware that they require treatment (Torrey).

Low wages, layoffs, unaffordable housing, among other factors contribute to the more than thirty percent of homeless in the United States (Torrey). A survey of twenty-seven U.S. cities found that over one in four people in homeless situations are employed (Variety). These sects of homeless are full-time hard workers who can not overcome the growing financial needs of the today’s society.

In light of the large, growing number of homelessness, it is important to address the many that fight daily to keep themselves and their families from the streets. Numerous variables effect the stability of the average family, Torrey names just a few of the factors that have drastically affected the ability to produce income. Among these are erosion in the value of the minimum wage, a decline in manufacturing jobs and the corresponding expansion of lower-paying service-sector employment, globalization, an increase in part-time only employment.

A place to call home is a huge financial burden for middle class to lower class earners. In every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent (Variety) . In her studies, Torrey found that the average minimum wage employee would have to work eighty-seven hours weekly to afford a two-bedroom apartment at 30% of his or her income. Thirty percent is the federal definition of low income housing. A single mother is expected to raise her children on an average of seven hours a day. “The reality is that there’s a persistent and extensive gap between earnings at the low end of the wage scale and basic housing costs,” says Sheila Crowley, executive director of NLIHC (Talvi). Unfortunately this gap is not closing, but is clearly growing (Talvi). Further reveals that the number of housing units affordable to low-income households has dropped, year by year. These numbers don’t take into consideration the locations of this so called, low income housing.

More extensive research is required to address this issue. Lewit and Schuurmann Acknowledge that solving the issues of homelessness will require multiple strategies and changes in broad economic trends; no easy task. Even thought it is not a simple task, it is necessary one. To solve any problem information must be gathered about the causes of that problem. The lack of funding for research in the area of homelessness lead to the misdiagnosed causes, this subscribes ineffective remedies. Most initial government responses to the emergence of literal homelessness did not address the root causes of homelessness (Lewit and Schuurmann).

Sufficient funding must be put into the research to properly solve the complex reality of homelessness. Torrey revealed inaccuracy of information with the variety of estimates solely in the approximation of mentally ill homeless. Also, Torrey’s stark, disappointing attribution of research funds to mentally ill homeless in contrast to other social strife plainly demonstrates the desperate need of monetary reallocation.

The state, as well as national, governments must pursue educated reform to efficiently address the stated causes. Homelessness is not only a personal tragedy for these individuals but also it is, as Torrey states, a national scandal.

Drug and Alcohol need to be address promptly and appropriately. America stands virtually alone among industrial nations in not guaranteeing immediate drug treatment on demand (O’Brien). In the stead of literally leaving a recovering addict to rot in the allies, a degenerate to the indifferent industrious world, we need to offer incentive to rehabilitate. Subsidies would make many employees eager to hire higher-risk job candidates. Reward employers who are willing to give addicts a chance. This will enable the individual to develop work experience and job skills. If the former addict is working he is no longer a hindrance to society, but a benefactor.

Mentally Ill homeless can also become benefactors of society. Smaller, permanent wage subsidies are appropriate for individuals with permanent disabilities who are capable of productive economic activity (O’Brien). Though the ill would continually need benefits, the costs would surely outweigh that of institutionalized patients.

Money is not always the deciding factor in better results. Studies have shown that states spending more money on mental health services do not necessarily have better services (Torrey). Better organization of funds is the key to proper support and services to mentally ill. For instance, higher quality physiologists are available if some programs improve there expectations of recipients. Training programs should have mandated obligations in which the person being trained agrees to a year-for-year payback in a public-sector (Torrey).

A more precise Well fair system needs to be in place. A system should be in place that rewards individuals who work hard to find jobs and discontinue the need of assistance. For the unemployed it may better to provide on the job training, in place of in class training. Private-sector employers can update people’s job skills for changing market needs much more efficiently (O’Brien). It is important that the those who are in need of assistance are prompted weaned off the system.

House programs need a more prompted, and realistic guidelines to facilitate more families in desperate times. At $100 per month, a $600 apartment is equal to handing an individual $6,000 in cash year after year (O’Brien). The money needs to be better distributed to allow the maximum level of homeless prevention, and a minimum level of attachment to the system.

Rochelle wonders from shelter to shelter tonight, while most do their best ignore her. She was strong enough to leave an abusive situation, strong enough to care for her children on the streets, why isn’t she strong enough to be employed and supply a home for her four children? The current system doesn’t always reward strength. The housing is too expensive, her employment opportunities too scarce. If she was working, she would rather spend the money on food for her children, than the ghetto apartment that she would barely afford. Ignoring Rochelle and her children won’t solve or stem the growing problem that is homelessness, action is. Whether she is seen tonight or not she will do her best to provide for her hope, her four innocent children. Perhaps everyone should.

© Joshua Keyes 2005

Works Cited

Clarke, Kevin. “Are We Winning the Fight Against Homelessness?” Salt of the Earth Jan/Feb (1995): 11-16

Kosof, Anna. “Homelessness in America.” New York: London: Toronto: Sydney Franklin, 1988

Lewit, Eugen M. and Linda Schuumann. “Homelessness Is a Problem Among Women and Children. The Homeless Vol 6 no 2 (Fall 1996)

O’Brien Thomas. “Rethinking America’s Safety Net.” The World and I Washington Times Coperation (2003)

“Substance Abuse and the Welfare Reform.” 19 April 2005 <http://agrm.org/welfare/drugs.htm&gt;

Talvi, Silja J.A. Homelessness Is a Serious Problem.” Poverty and the Homeless. Mary E. Williams, Ed. Current Controversies Series. Greenhaven Press (2004)

Torrey, Fuller. “Thirty Years of Shame: The Scandalous Neglect of the Mentally Ill Homeless.” National Forum (1993): 1-4

“Variety of Social Factors Causes Homelessness.” National Coalition for the Homeless. Poverty and the Homeless. Mary E. William, Ed. Current Controversies Series. Greenhaven Press (2004)

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