Why Is Homelessness a Problem?

Why Is Homelessness a Problem?

"Hobo," "tramp," "vagrant" and "transient" are pejorative names for people who find themselves having to cope with the very serious problem of being homeless. Not only does homelessness impact a lot more people than you might expect, it causes a host of other problems for the homeless individuals and for society at large.

1 Who Are the Homeless?

Homeless people do not have a permanent residence. People become homeless for a variety of reasons. Sudden catastrophes like earthquakes, hurricanes, or fires destroy homes and throw people into a temporary homeless condition. Relationships that break up can also cause someone to become homeless. There are also individuals who seem to exhibit a chronic homelessness.

2 How Many People are Homeless?

Homelessness is a large problem in the United States. According to recent statistics, there are between 2.3 and 3.5 homeless single adults in the United States, as well as 200,000 homeless children. As of 2016, there were more than 39,000 veterans who were homeless, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. About 91 percent of homeless Americans are men. The incidence of homeless elderly individuals has been increasing in this country as well.

3 Features

Being homeless is not the only problem facing families without permanent places to live. About one-third of the families who are homeless also report that they lack enough food at least once each month. Homeless children do worse academically than other children, and they have much higher school absentee rates. There is also the issue of drugs. Many homeless people, in addition to mental illness, suffer from addiction. And, with the lack of resources available, they can end up overdosing or in jail.

Homeless individuals also do not usually have adequate medical care, and they often become admitted into a hospital as victims of violent crime. The number of physically violent attacks, including rape and assault, among homeless people is much higher than the general population. About 70 percent of homeless people live in urban areas. People who are homeless in rural America are more hidden but exist nonetheless.

But, then there are also issues that directly correlate to not having shelter. Homeless people are in the face of danger when the weather is extreme, and it can be difficult to survive when temperatures are either freezing cold or uncomfortably hot. Though most shelters try to welcome in as many people as possible, many are already filled to capacity, and homeless people will then be at risk of hypothermia, frostbite, dehydration or heat stroke, depending on the season. There is also the issue of hygiene, as homeless people don't have access to bathing facilities. This can lead to lice and skin rashes, among other problems, especially with women who don't have access to sanitary products.

4 Other Considerations

Many nonprofit organizations and government agencies exist to serve homeless people. Frequently the mission of these organizations is to help the individuals and families transition out of homelessness. Homeless people need help with job training, education, employment counseling and learning about how to buy and keep a home. They need to be taught how to pay bills, and what to do if they need help financially, instead of letting their situation deteriorate to the point where they are homeless again.

5 Expert Insight

Since the U.S. government passed the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, the focus of many agencies and nonprofit organizations has emphasized preventing homelessness. It is more difficult to transition people out of homelessness when the condition has lasted for more than five years. This is the sad case for about 25 percent of the people who are homeless in America. The most difficult homeless people of all to help move into a permanent home are the individuals who are substance abusers or who are mentally ill. 50 percent of homeless people who are substance abusers are alcoholics. 25 percent of homeless people suffer from a mental health condition.

Lesley Barker, director of the Bolduc House Museum, authored the books "St. Louis Gateway Rail—The 1970s," published by Arcadia, and the "Eye Can Too! Read" series of vision-related e-books. Her articles have appeared in print and online since the 1980s. Barker holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Washington University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Webster University.