Understanding Homelessness: Causes and Effects
Published July 18, 2021
According to national reports, about 150 million people or 2% of the world’s population are homeless. While 1.6 billion more lack adequate housing. In the US alone, more than 500,000 people are experiencing homelessness on a single night.
These numbers may not seem worrying to you. But it should at least make you ask, what went wrong? Why do we have so many homeless people?
Technically, a person becomes homeless when he/she has nowhere to live. In most cases, the loss of living space does not happen overnight. It’s a result of various factors that have accumulated over time. And oftentimes, the homeless person has no choice about it nor do they want it.
Unfortunately, many people still view homelessness as a choice. But it doesn’t work like that at all. Many homeless people didn’t choose to be one. Most of them are merely victims of circumstances beyond their control.
But ending homelessness is not impossible. The key is in fully understanding homelessness, its causes, and its effects.
Causes of Homelessness
As mentioned, homelessness is caused by various factors. It can be structural, relational, systemic, or a combination of all three.
1. Structural Factors
In sociology, structural factors refer to the impact of norms, beliefs, and values that regulate social action. Among the structural factors that cause homelessness are:
Lack of Adequate Income
Contrary to popular belief, not all homeless people are jobless. Some of them have jobs. Unfortunately, they’re just not earning enough to afford rent.
No Access to Affordable Housing
As more and more people flock to the cities, the demand for housing is increasing. As a result, rents have skyrocketed. In major cities, people now have to spend more than half of their monthly income on rent alone. This leaves low-income earners with no choice but to live in their cars or in shelters.
Rental discrimination is so rampant in the US that a law was even created to prevent it. Despite this, it is still pretty common. It’s not unheard of for people to be turned out of rental homes just because of their color, race, or religion.
According to research, only about 37% of US homes are free and clear of mortgages. This means that more than 60% of homeowners in the country are bound in a mortgage. But with tighter mortgage laws in the past few years, many Americans are losing their homes to foreclosure. Oftentimes, victims of foreclosure have nowhere to turn to and are forced to live in their cars.
Lack of Education
Education helps someone get a better job. Unfortunately, not all of us have access to it. Those who don’t often end up in low-paying menial jobs – if they can find employment at all. With no jobs, they obviously cannot afford to rent much less own a home.
2. Individual and Relational Factors
A divorce or a bad break-up can cause someone to end up homeless. This is especially true for women and children. Most homeless mothers who end up in family shelters are victims of domestic abuse.
Mental Health Issues
It’s an undeniable fact that our country’s jails and pavements have become our de facto mental institution. You may not notice it but many homeless people are suffering from various forms of mental health issues. This usually prevents them from getting a job or holding on to a job and thus becoming homeless.
Death of a Loved One
Losing a loved one can have a profound effect on us. It can lead to depression and a tendency to “let go” of ourselves. For children, the loss of a parent or both parents can put them in a very vulnerable situation and increases their risk of homelessness. Most of those who don’t have anyone willing to take them in often find themselves jumping from one foster home to another. While those who are too old for the foster system end up in shelters, or worse, the streets.
We all have things we are addicted to. But some addictions can ruin lives. Unfortunately, our society’s pre-programmed reaction to addiction, particularly illegal drugs, is endless condemnation. They are often derided by the people who are supposed to help them. This is why a lot of them end up homeless.
A lot of the homeless kids who end up in shelters have run away from home, mostly due to family problems.
3. Systemic Factors
Lack of Mental Health Support
Despite the country’s glaring problem on mental health, it only has a little over 600 non-federal psychiatric hospitals. The country also has less than 5,000 outpatient facilities. While the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that there are about 46.6 million adults in the US who are living with a mental disorder.
Even if we don’t crunch the numbers, it’s fairly obvious that we need to ramp up our mental health support system. With no one to turn to, people struggling with mental health issues often have trouble finding a job and keeping their homes.
Lack of Access to Medical Care
The rising costs of healthcare in the country often puts disadvantaged people in perpetual debt. The money that was supposed to be for rent also goes to their medical expenses. So it’s not surprising that a lot of them get turned out of their homes.
Effects of Homelessness
You may not realize it but homelessness affects not just the individual experiencing homelessness, it leaves an impact on society too. Some of the most significant impacts of homelessness are:
On an Individual
- Health Issues
Sleeping rough and exposed to the elements can take a toll on someone’s health. Plus, not eating regularly can weaken one’s immune system. This is why homeless people are very much prone to diseases, especially in winter and during the flu season. This includes tuberculosis, cardio-respiratory diseases, HIV/AIDS, and skin illnesses.
- Personal and Psychological Issues
When someone loses their home, it can also mean losing everything they have and all they’ve ever worked for. This, in turn, can do a number on their self-confidence. It affects their self-worth and how they see themselves, often leading to depression and other mental illnesses.
- Increased Propensity to Substance Abuse
While many people lose their homes due to substance abuse, it’s also one of the biggest consequences of homelessness. According to studies, over a third of the homeless population have drug and alcohol problems. Another study reported that up to two-thirds of people experiencing homelessness have a lifetime history of alcoholism and drug abuse.
- Worsened Violent Tendencies
Part of surviving on the streets is learning to be aggressive. That’s why for many chronically homeless people, aggression has become a norm. So if a person already has anger management issues before becoming homeless, living rough will only worsen their violent tendencies. Needless to say, this can pose a security risk not just to the homeless person but also to the community.
- Increased Risk of Incarceration
According to the American Psychological Association, homeless people bouncing from shelter to shelter are more likely to commit a crime. It can range from “nuisance offenses” such as panhandling or turnstile jumping in the subway to serious felonies like robbery or assault.
- Sexual Assault
Homeless women with mental illness are 97% at risk of violent victimization. This is why sexual assault and harassment are such common experiences among them. While 27% of homeless men and 38% of transgendered people have reported incidents of rape. That’s how prevalent sexual abuse is for people experiencing homelessness.
- Increased Cost of Public Services
Studies reveal that the government spends more on public services for the homeless than if they were to give them homes. And that money came from your taxes. So before you shrug and say that the country’s homelessness problem doesn’t really concern you, better think again.
- Social Barriers
Homelessness widens the existing social barriers. It underscores the wealth gap in the country which, in turn, fuels hate and division among the people.
- Public Health Threat
Not only are homeless people more prone to illnesses, but they are also more likely to transmit infectious diseases. This could pose a threat to public health, especially during epidemics.
What We Can Do to End Homelessness
Now that you have an idea about the causes and effects of homelessness, let’s talk about what you can do to end it. Yes, you, me, and everyone else, in our own little ways, can all help in addressing homelessness. Here are some of the things we can do:
The first step to eliminating homelessness is to change the world’s perception of it. Start by educating your family, neighbors, and acquaintances about homelessness.
Since not everyone has experienced homelessness, the true extent of the problem is only known to those who have been through it or those who are working against it. What we can do is to create awareness so as to drum up public support and effect policy changes.
Many local charities like soup kitchens and shelters are actively helping the homeless and they are usually in need of volunteers.
Rather than criticizing the homeless, try to put yourself in their shoes. Understand where they’re coming from and why they ended up in such dire circumstances.
Eradicating homelessness is not something that can be done overnight or by the government alone. It’s an unfortunate cycle that has affected and will continue to affect many generations. And according to the US Department of Health, it will take more than just providing adequate housing to keep people out of the streets. It takes the collective effort of everyone from government officials to private individuals. Together, we can make this world a better place to live in.
About The Author
Judy Ponio is a full time blogger and is devoted to topics about charity, kindness, and Christianity. She is part of Correct Digital, Inc which is paid by private donors to provide website digital marketing services to this non-profit organization.