Homelessness: an American issue

Produce is delivered and served at a soup kitchen // Photo courtesy of flickr.com.

The U.S. has been battling homelessness for decades and it remains a prevalent issue. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, nearly 570,000 Americans experienced homelessness for at least one night in 2019. 

“I think homelessness is a factor of many things. It could be because the person doesn’t have any family, or the government hasn’t helped them the way they should have,” Paige Nudelman (’20) said.

According to San Francisco’s 2019 Homeless Count and Survey, job loss is the leading cause of homelessnes, followed by alcohol or drug use, eviction, argument with a loved one, mental health issues, and relationship issues. On the other hand, The White House’s 2019 State of Homelessness in America identifies lack of affordable housing as the leading cause of homelessness, but these factors often go hand in hand.

“I think homelessness is still a problem because many people are unemployed. They have nowhere to live because they can not afford it and there are not enough jobs out there for them. We should do more to help the homeless. They are humans too just like the rest of us,” Victoria Zilins (’20) said.

Without a home or job, citizens are forced to find shelter anywhere they can. The White House’s report states that 65 percent of the affected population live in homeless shelters, while the remaining 35 percent live on streets, parks, or other places unsuitable for human habitation. California contains the greatest number of homeless people, with nearly half of the national unsheltered homeless population residing in the state, and it is not improving. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2019 report even announced a 16 percent increase in homelessness in California alone from the previous year. 

Multiple groups are disproportionately affected by homelessness. African Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population but 40 percent of the homeless population, as stated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Veterans are also widely affected, making up 20 percent of the male homeless population, according to The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

The majority of those who find themselves homeless are single individuals, with the remaining 30 percent being people in families. 

The number of homeless public school students has recently been on the rise, with more than 1.5 million people saying they were homeless at some point during the 2017-2018 school year: a 15 percent increase from the 2015-16 report. According to The New York Times, that is the highest it has been in decades. Barbara Diffield, executive director of nonprofit organization SchoolHouse Connection, identifies natural disasters as a major contributing cause of the rise of homeless students. This seems to be the case in hurricane-prone states like Texas and Florida, which had a 32 percent rise in homelessness from the previous year after each experienced destructive storms.

“I think homelessness is a very complex issue that unfortunately does not have one simple answer. I think organizations to help them, however, can make a difference and are beneficial to have, even though it would not solve all of the issues,” Skye McLeod (’20) said.

Fortunately, IBISWorld states that there are currently over 10,000 homeless shelters in the U.S. that provide housing and food to homeless individuals. They are almost always nonprofits, often relying on personal donations and grants for funding. Many shelters offer support services in addition to basic needs ranging from vocational training and job placement to counseling and health care. Solutions For Change, based in Vista, CA, focuses on transitioning lives as it offers parenting classes, leadership training, and work experience. There are numerous organizations that also contribute to homeless care like Coalition for the Homeless, which hosts school supply and toy drives annually and distributes meals daily to New York citizens. 

With the coronavirus rapidly spreading throughout the nation, the homeless population is in a vulnerable state. Unsheltered camps are often unsanitary, as citizens lack access to clean water and medical care and sleep in overcrowded areas. Homeless individuals also often have chronic health conditions and weak immune systems, making them extremely susceptible to disease. On the west coast, where the coronavirus hit the U.S. first, there is a history of diseases like typhus and tuberculosis sweeping through the homeless population. As nationwide panic continues to ensue, concerns over the containment of the virus increase. In an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, some homeless shelters have introduced stricter cleanliness standards and started to quarantine individuals suspected of having the virus. Others are encouraging donations and distributing care packages containing hand sanitizers to residents. 

In times like these, we must band together to help the less fortunate.