WHAT IT IS
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness through several criteria.
- According to HUD, homelessness is defined as people who:
- Have left home because of physical, emotional, or financial abuse or threats of abuse and have no safe, alternative housing
- Stay with friends or family, but cannot stay there for longer than 14 days
- Are being trafficked
In the U.S., there are over half a million (550,000) homeless people, with over 150,000 in California. [Forbes]
In 2019, New York City and Los Angeles have the largest population of homeless citizens. [US News and World Report]
Non-Hispanic whites make up 41% of the homeless population (compared to 76% of the general population).
African Americans make up 40.4% of the homeless population (compared to 12.5% of the general population). [The Guardian]
WHY IT MATTERS
CIVICS: The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for defining, tracking, and problem-solving homelessness at the national level.
At the state level, governors and local officials (mayors) are tasked with solving homelessness in their community.
SOCIAL: Combating homelessness benefits every American citizen, as homelessness affects the entire community.
"The forces which affect homelessness are complex and often interactive in nature." [National Institutes of Health]
Lack of affordable housing
About 11 million families pay half of their income in rent, making it difficult to pay other bills and necessities. [NPR]
Unemployment or low wages
As the economy booms, the minimum wage stays the same, which means people aren’t making more money but are spending more on rising living costs.
One study conducted in Seattle found that 24.7% of people were forced into homelessness due to the loss of a job. [The Seattle Times]
With low wages and high living costs, it only takes a small event, such as a broken bone or decrease in business, to put someone below the poverty line. This could result in foreclosures, job loss, and a lack of savings. [The Associated Press]
Those with a mental illness, medical bills, or a problem with substance are more likely to slip into homelessness and may lack access to services that provide help. [American Psychological Association]
Some point to disparities in who is more likely to receive help, leaving minorities to face more challenges. [Forbes]
On the Homeless
People in long-term homelessness report developing more mental and physical health issues.
These issues make it more difficult to end their homelessness, consequently continuing their cycle of homelessness. [National Institutes of Health]
On the Taxpayer
America spends more on programs combating homelessness and policing the homeless than they would if they provided each homeless person with a home. [Vox]
Homelessness comes with a harsh stereotype that suggests the homeless are violent or dangerous, causing people to often endorse programs that are "out of sight, out of mind." [The New York Times]
On the Environment?
Some people also blame environmental issues on the homeless. This is a false, negative stigma that places unfair blame on a vulnerable population and ignores the real causes of the shared environmental crisis. [The Guardian]
POTENTIAL WAYS TO COMBAT
Provide more temporary housing and homeless shelters help on a day-to-day basis. [The Atlantic]
Turn 5 million+ vacant homes in America into affordable housing. [Business Insider]
Make mental and physical health services free and widely available.
Provide job support and educational training free and widely available. [The Huffington Post]
Start and sustain prevention programs in communities. [The Guardian]
Promote social inclusion in the community. [The Guardian]
THINGS TO THINK ABOUT
- Explore homelessness in each state, from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.
What do the racial disparities in homeless populations say about our society? [USA Today]
Dive into one way Los Angeles is battling homelessness: temporary housing program.
Apr. 8, 2020: California is now placing homeless individuals in hotels to help stop the spread of COVID-19. [Associated Press]