The homeless population has been steadily growing for the past few decades, causing the homeless to become more visible in both large cities and small towns. While most people know the obvious statistics about homelessness, few are aware of other interesting facts about these people who roam the streets.

Underlying Causes

While it is a common belief that people who end up being homeless do so because of their lack of interest in keeping a steady job, the truth is that many homeless people were actually working at the time they lost their homes. This can happen because their work hours were reduced, they became ill or had some major financial hurdle that made it impossible for them to cover their rent, despite them being employed. Working under the table, downgrading to part-time jobs because of childcare issues and even the conditions of the local housing market can all affect a working person to the point of causing homelessness. Lack of job skills is another problem, as many people do not have enough qualifications or schooling to keep up with the demands of the market.

Lack of Affordable Housing

A lack of affordable housing has been a primary reason for homelessness for the last two decades. This is especially true in large cities, where the cost of rent has increased to the point where people making minimum wage are no longer able to afford rent, especially if living on their own. Public housing should take care of this situation, but the demand is usually larger than the number of units available, resulting in a long waiting period for housing. Many people end up being homeless while waiting for housing.

Expert Insight

According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, there are an estimated 5 million homeless in the United States, of which about 56 percent have some sort of shelter, such as a car or the ability to pay for a motel room, at least part of the time. Of the total number of homeless, 66 percent are single white males. Women, families and teenagers follow close behind. There is an equal number of whites and African American homeless but only a small percentage of Hispanics (11 percent) and Native Americans (8 percent) without a roof over their heads.

Mental Illness

A high percentage (up to 25 percent) of people living on the streets suffer from some type of mental illness, with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia being the most common. Public-funded health benefits designed to help those with mental illness are in short supply, and many people who are not deemed a danger to others are left on the streets because there is no enough space for them in state clinics. The same is true of those who have serious addictions. People with serious mental illness are often unable to keep a job or are refused housing even if they have the money to pay for it, so they end up being homeless as an indirect consequence of the incapacity of the states to care for them.

Misconceptions

One common myth regarding homeless people is that they have been living in the streets forever. The truth is that a large percentage of homeless people are without a roof only temporarily. Forty percent will actually find a home again in six months or less. Another common myth is that homeless people are dangerous, while in fact statistics show that most are victims of crime rather than perpetrators.