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Homelessness: A Major Issue in the U.S. 

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    Homelessness is one of the biggest issues among citizens throughout the world, especially in the United States in recent years. How large is the homeless population in America? 552,830 people as of 2018, this is 0.2% of the population, which may not seem like a lot, but there should not have to be half a million homeless people in America. Various factors determine how one becomes homeless. Some of these factors include, drug and alcohol use, mental illness, poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing and many others. There are ways that this major issue can be fixed, or at least diminished. There have been solutions in the past that did not necessarily work, while they did provide benefits, they did not completely solve the situation. For example, subsidized housing provides benefits, but does not always ensure that families won’t become homeless again. For starters, minimum wage could be increased to a livable wage, housing could become more affordable, and more treatment programs could become more accessible to those with mental illnesses and addiction issues.

    First, there are various factors that lead one to becoming homeless. There are many who believe that when someone is homeless it’s either because they are addicted to drugs or because they have a serious mental illness. This however is just not the case, anybody can become homeless, it all depends on the circumstances that one is in. For instance, a major issue that can lead one to become homeless is poverty and unemployment. Many who work minimum wage jobs do not have a salary that can accommodate all of their needs as a human, even more so if the person is working to support a family who all have needs as well. For example, many are spending more of their income on their housing than they should be. According to Mary Cunningham in her article “Preventing and Ending Homelessness—Next Steps”, Americans should be spending no more than 30% of their annual income on their housing, however, roughly 16% of Americans are spending 50% or more of their income on housing (Cunningham 2). What does this mean? It means that people who do not make very much because they work minimum wage jobs cannot afford many of the things one needs to live not only comfortably, but healthfully. It is difficult for people who are on low income to be able to afford to feed their families and oftentimes seek healthcare because if someone in their family gets sick, who are they supposed to seek help from? Doctors office and hospital bills are far too expensive and could send one into outstanding debt. Cunningham also explains that “health problems leave people vulnerable to homelessness, the primary driver of homelessness is the availability of affordable housing’ (Cunningham 1). Unfortunately, it is factors like these that leave families without a roof over their heads, which in turn can result in more health issues which of course cannot be paid for if one cannot even afford a home. These devastating factors can cause a spiraling effect and are the beginning of the negative cycle of homelessness that so many families in the United States each year.

    Furthermore, another onset of homeless, while not the only one, is mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction. These two factors are not completely the same, but can influence one another and have the same effect. The overuse of drugs and alcohol is an illness, just like many of the mental illnesses out there such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and a multitude of other mood disorders that when left untreated can become out of hand and be harmful not only to the person with the condition but also to other members of society. For example, 2.3 million ( About 1% of the U.S. population) deals with bipolar disorder each year. While the numbers can differ depending on the type of mental disorder, the point is that they affect a significant amount of Americans each year, some of which are already homeless or are more vulnerable to become homeless in the future. All age races, ethnic groups, and genders experience this illness equally. According to American Addiction Centers, In 2017, roughly 20 million Americans dealt with issues like drug and alcohol addiction. Edward Martin writes in his article “Affordable Housing, Homelessness, and Mental Health: What Health Care Policy Needs to Address” that “People with untreated psychiatric illnesses comprise one third, or 250,000, of the estimated 744,000 homeless population in the United States” (Martin 67) This shows that clearly this issue needs to be addressed and that it is one of the leading causes of homelessness. Martin not only discusses these statistics, but also suggests that leaving these issues untreated creates a very poor state of life for those who suffer with these issues. Martin also explains how he believes that the lack of affordable housing is also what leaves many of these illnesses undiagnosed because people suffering from these illnesses cannot afford the doctors visits. Sometimes people will fall into addictions because of the financial hardships they are experiencing already as a way to cope with the stress. Also, something many don’t realize is that it’s not just adults who struggle with mental illnesses, kids do as well. The most common mental struggles that teens struggle with are Anxiety and Depression, but in this case, the mental illnesses are onset for homelessness later in life. According to “Running Away During Adolescence and Future Homelessness: The Amplifying Role of Mental Health” an article written by Amanda Williams and Zachary Giano, “teen runaway behavior, combined with high and unattenuated depressive symptoms across the life course, was significantly related to young adult reports of homeless experiences” (Williams and Giano 276). These unfortunate circumstances are the result of lack of healthcare opportunities. One may be experiencing difficulties at home or with themselves, but cannot do anything to better themselves because they cannot afford counseling. Therefore, they run away, which then can start the continuous cycle of having nowhere to stay, causing homelessness in adult years.

    Accordingly, these causes of homelessness bring many negative effects upon those experiencing homelessness. First of all, because of lack of affordable housing, many families are pushed to the streets or into shelters because they cannot afford to have a roof over their heads. This can be extremely harmful especially when it is a family that consists of children. This means that families with children are not receiving food, water, proper hygiene or any of the other necessities that one might need on a regular basis. Specifically, as explained by Ellen Bassuk in her article “Ending Child Homelessness in America”, homeless children experience various issues including, “poor school performance, repeating grades, dropping out, and lower rates of high school graduation” (Bassuk 498). Homelessness can take an extremely detrimental toll on young children and can often cause issues with development. This is an issue because if children cannot develop properly mentally, they will not do as well in the real world when they get older and most likely will repeat the cycle of homelessness for the rest of their lives. Not only this, but Bassuk also explains in her article that these traumatic life stressors experienced by children who are homeless can be immensely devastating both mentally and physically later in life (499). These issues must be resolved one way or another, or the population of both homeless children families will only continue to grow and the percentage will continue to rise.

    Additionally, as many people may already know, homeless people have less access to healthcare and have little way of preventing sickness, therefore, they are more prone to becoming sick, and when they do, they are unable to seek medical attention. Often, this creates a bigger issue, not only because they cannot recover from the illness as quickly, but generally homeless live in large groups, especially if they are staying at shelters with other people who are in the same boat. This creates more concerns because not only can they pass sickness to other members of the homeless community, but they can also pass it to people of the general public. Due to their living conditions where the homeless can experience very extreme and sometimes violent weather conditions and are often unable to stay warm in the winter months, they experience illness and disease at a higher rate than someone of the general public who can afford a home and access to healthcare. As reported by James G. Hodge, Jr., Barbara DiPietro, and Amy E. Horton-Newell in their article “Homelessness and the Public’s Health: Legal Responses” many homeless not only have a higher rate of emergency room visits, but often the same patients will revisit the same emergency rooms because of recurrent medical issues (28). Of course, this only worsens the issue because emergency room visits are not cheap and the homeless already struggle with not being able to afford medical care or housing. This issue worsens the issue of homelessness and because the homeless cannot afford these necessities, these horrible situations can result in worsening medical symptoms and worst of all, death at a young age. Another issue discussed by the authors of this article is that, “Some communities target homeless persons by making it a crime to perform life-sustaining activities (e.g., eating, sitting, sleeping, camping, and begging) in public spaces” (Hodge, DiPietro, & Horton-Newell 29). Homeless are criminalized for doing what they need to survive, so while they still struggle with the issues of not being able to afford food, housing, and medical coverage, they are also shunned by the public eye. This will have to change in order to ever help get the homeless population down significantly from what it is at now.

    Moreover, many different studies have been done to examine the causes and effects of homelessness and just exactly how to get this major dilemma. Some of the various studies at hand have presented great ideas that would initiate change in a positive direction and bring the numbers of the homeless population down while some will not. Even some of the studies conducted who have brought great theories to the table have been tried and proven not to make as big of an impact as people once believed they would. For example, a specific study within an article titled “Predictors of homelessness among families in New York City: From shelter request to Housing stability” written by Marybeth Shinn, Beth C. Weitzman, Daniela Stojanovic, and James R. Knickman presents a study conducted in the 80s and 90s which determined how helpful subsidized housing, low income housing, and homeless shelters were aiding in getting homeless off of the streets and into a safe sheltered place where they could get their lives back on track. This was conducted over 20 years ago, but it does present relevant information because this issue is still so prevalent in the United States. While this solution did work partially, it was not a complete fix. For instance, the authors state “In 6 cities, 88% of families who received Section 8 housing and case management services remained in permanent housing during an 18-month follow-up period’ (Shinn, Weitzman, Stojanovic, Knickman 1656). Clearly, this did help plenty of people, however, it did not provide a solution that would work indefinitely. In fact, while it did work for 88% of those who were provided with shelter, that means for 12% of those who were provided shelter, the solution did not work for them. Among the people in this study, many of them lived with other people, often in crowded conditions and homelessness was recurrent. While this solution did not work indefinitely, that does not mean there is lost hope, it just means there are other approaches that need to be tested.

    On the other hand, there are various possibilities for how this issue can be fixed. One of the obvious ways would be for the government to make health care accessible for all that need it. This means counseling, care for illnesses like the cold and flu, and various other sicknesses and diseases common with those who are homeless. Edward Martin discusses in his article “Affordable Housing, Homelessness, and Mental Health: What Health Care Police Needs to Address” some of the ways the healthcare system needs to improve in order to accommodate the homeless population to make sure they can receive adequate care. He states “If tax policy in the United States allows billions of dollars a year in tax breaks to its wealthiest individuals and corporations, then it could also design public policy to adequately address a more affective form of health insurance for the severely mentally ill” (Martin 81). This would give a chance for homeless individuals to seek proper care without having to worry about the financial hardship. This solution is adequate and has proven to work because Martin also explains how this solution has been successful in various states. The pros are that the mentally ill can seek help and it can possibly help them pull themselves out of homelessness as they would not have to be worrying about outstanding medical bills. The cons are that the wealthy who commonly receive these tax breaks may be upset that the tax breaks are going to the homeless instead of themselves or a different cause that could enhance the community. However, this solution may not completely solve the situation, but it could make it much easier to afford housing because the homeless would not be spending all of their income to pay for medical bill debt.

    Furthermore, a solution similar to the one mentioned previously including subsidized housing would be to make housing more affordable. Unlike the subsidized housing, this would be a more permanent solution to homelessness. The main problem that is preventing this is that the cost of housing does not align with the amount of money minimum wage workers are making. Many people are spending over 50% of their income on their housing when ultimately one should only be spending an average of 30% of their annual income on their housing. According to Mary Cunningham, the key to ending homelessness is for the government to invest in rental housing for homeless families that is affordable. Cunningham claims “Congress must rebuild rental housing policies, invest in publicly assisted housing, and develop affordable housing in the private market” (Cunningham 9). I think this is one of the best situations because it is a more permanent situation than staying in a shelter or subsidized housing. The pros of this situation is that housing, specifically renting, would become more affordable and homeless individuals could get their lives back on track. They would be able to afford various other things such as medical coverage, adequate access to food and many other necessities. The cons are that often congress have given a multitude of benefits to those who are homeowners rather than renters, therefore they may not be as willing to give benefits to the homeless and renters. Homeowners could potentially be upset if they are not receiving as many benefits as they once had been. Ultimately, this situation is one of the best solutions, and has the research to prove that it would work, all that needs to be done is for congress to implement these new policies.

    Homelessness is a major issue in the United States and has been increasing over time for the past 30 years. The only way change will come is if people, including both the general public as well as the government, act on this issue. It continues to be a major controversy because some see it as the fault of the homeless person, however, this is not the case and this problem must be addressed. By implementing new healthcare policies as well as affordable housing policies, people will be able to exit homelessness more successfully than they previously had. This plan will be stronger than the subsidized housing plan had been in the 80s and 90s because it is a more permanent solution. In subsidized housing and shelters, you cannot stay indefinitely. If congress makes rentals more affordable, it can give homeless people a sense of home for a reasonable price. If congress puts more benefits towards the rental policies rather than towards homeowners, this can be possible. Also, if they take more from tax breaks to spend on medical coverage for the homeless, this solution can become a reality. It all depends on what the government and the general public will do to address the situation. This can be achieved if members of society stand up for the less fortunate who cannot do so themselves, people need to contact their local and federal congress and let them know this needs to be addressed.

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