Unites States Adult Homeless Population Essay

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Adult Homeless Population

Adult Homelessness Population:

A Description and Solution for This Social Injustice

In the movie, the Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith portrays Chris Gardner, a down-on-his luck, hard worker who would do anything to rise above his circumstances and provide for his young son. Smart and determined, Gardner is on his way to better circumstances, competing in an exclusive internship for a lucrative position as a stockbroker. The only problem is that the internship isn't paid and Chris and his son are homeless throughout much of the movie. He can't pay his rent or his taxes, and he sometimes goes hungry while watching his son eat. In one famous scene, the two spend the night riding the subway and finally locked in a subway bathroom.

While the end of the movie resulted in better circumstances for Gardner, he is far from alone. Gardner's homelessness came about because of a lack of income -- he was a salesman paid only in commission -- as well as divorce, taxes, and the need to care for his son. While he was not homeless for a long period of time, what is called chronic homelessness, his plight was a difficult one that is shared by thousands of Americans each day, as they fight to get into shelters, wait in long lines for meals, and sometimes have to sleep out on the street. A discussion of homelessness in the United States will show that this problem is truly a socioeconomic injustice, that it has root causes, and that it can be solved.

I. Extent of the Problem

According to the Almanac of Policy Issues (n.d.), between 700,000 and 2 million people are without a home each night. By far, the adult homeless population is responsible for most of that number. Single men constitute 44% of the homeless population and single women 13%, while the rest of the population consists of families and children living, homeless, on their own. Donohoe (2004) argues that the issue of homeless has been "largely ignored by the mainstream press and the general public" despite its growth. According to Donohoe, (2004), seven percent of Americans have experienced homelessness, while 2.5 to 3.5 have been homeless at some point during each year. Ten percent of the homeless population can be classified as chronically homeless. These are the people who tend to "cycle between homelessness, hospitals, jails, and other institutional care" (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2007a). These people generally have a serious mental or physical disease such as an addiction or psychiatric problem. There are between 150,000 to 200, 000 of these people in the United States (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2007a). Contrary to the often-espoused ideas that the adult homeless population live on the streets because they do not have jobs, or have problems with drugs and alcohol, Donohoe (2005) argues that 20% of the homeless population have full or part-time jobs, although the 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers found that 66% did have a problem with drugs, alcohol, or mental illness (National Almanac of Policy Issues, n.d.).

The large amount of homeless people in the United States means that each night people are not only going without the shelter that they need, but also that they are also being deprived of proper health care and nutritional needs. According to the Almanac of Policy Issues (n.d.), 28% of those homeless surveyed said that they "sometimes or often do not get enough to eat." The health conditions of the homeless are worrisome not just in terms of nutrition, but also in terms of access to healthcare and other serious health issues. Donohoe (2004) states that homeless people generally do not have health insurance; most are ineligible for Medicaid and Medicare; and even those with VA benefits often do not get them because of long limes. This means that homeless people often do not have access to the preventative care that could keep them from acquiring serious diseases. Donohoe (2004) listed the following "barriers to care" for homeless people: "denial of health problems; the pressure to fulfill competing nonfinancial needs, such as those for food and temporary shelter; and misconceptions, prejudices, and frustrations on the part of health professionals." Homeless persons also are often the victims of violent crimes such as physical assault, sexual assault, and theft (Almanac of Policy Issues, n.d.). As a result of these conditions, "homeless adults have an age-adjusted mortality rate of nearly 4 times that of the general population; their average life span is shorter than 45 years" (Donohoe, 2004). Thus, homelessness is a serious problem with serious consequences for its victims. The far-reaching nature of the problem suggests that it affects those across state and ethnic lines. Those affected by homeless are made to suffer in a variety of ways, including through hunger, disease, and violent assault.

II. Homelessness as a Socio-Economic Injustice

The United States has pledged to keep its population from homelessness in a number of ways, recognizing the condition as a social problem. Having singed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the country has acknowledged the fact that people have a right to housing. The Housing Act of 1959 suggests that the United States recognized this right long before singing the declaration, which stated that finding homes for Americans was a priority. Finally, the 1968 Fair Housing Act made "discrimination on the basis of race in the housing market illegal' (Donohoe, 2004). Still, Donohoe argues that "neither the Universal Declaration or these landmark laws have solved the problem of homelessness, nor of substandard housing and racial profiling by sellers and realtors." Because housing is a right that has been recognized in this society, as well as universally, the fact that it is denied to hundreds of thousands of Americans makes it an injustice.

Homelessness also has many social causes. Donohoe (2004) suggests that one cause of homelessness is the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, a factor that created a homelessness surge in the 1970s, as these people were suddenly left on their own, unable to care for themselves. Mental illness is still a contributing factor to homelessness, as 20-25% of homeless people have some sort of mental illness (Homelessness Resource Network, n.d.). Because society does not provide the social institutions through which to care for this population, they are often given to the streets or into the hands of compassionate Americans, through no fault of their own. Society's inability to provide available housing is another way in which society has failed to provide for its inhabitants' needs. The National Alliance to End Homelessness (2007b) reports that 15.8 million people in the United States have "housing cost burdens," meaning that over 50% of their income goes to housing costs. The fact that unaffordable housing has become so prevalent has forced 5.2% of Americans live in "worst case housing," where they spend a large amount on rent, earn very small amounts of money, or live "in severely substandard housing" (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2007b). The housing shortage can be explained by the fact incomes and housing costs share an inverse relationship -- as the price of housing has continued to rise, incomes have either remained the same or fallen (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2007b). This situation is made even more complicated by the fact that divorce, domestic violence, large medical bills, disabilities and natural disasters or fires often leave people financially crippled (Homelessness Resource Network, n.d.). In many of these instances, the government did not dispatch resources to care for these social problems.

III. Solutions for Change

Homelessness is a social injustice that has many underlying causes and roots. Preventing homelessness, then, is as easy as solving these root problems. The National Alliance to End Homelessness implemented a plan to end homelessness in 2000, which surveyed other community plans that had been implemented in order to affect change. Although different types of plans to reduce homelessness have been created in different parts of the country, most of the plans involved community organizing (National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2007c). Thus, community organizing is central in the attempt to end homelessness. Community organizing must be the form, or major form, taken in solutions to the problem of homelessness because homelessness is a community problem. It is the community that can band together to create the social resources needed to solve the root causes of homelessness, such as domestic violence shelters, free health clinics, assistance for those paying large medical bills, and services for the mentally ill. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (2007c), community plans generally included five aspects -- data systems, homelessness prevention, outreach, shortening homelessness, and links to service. By creating a plan to solve homelessness that integrates these five areas, or steps, a solution can be recognized.

A. Data Systems

Although this might seem more in-tune for measuring homelessness rather than fighting it, the first step to solving the problem of homelessness is to make it measurable. Statisticians and researchers must conclude how homelessness will be… [END OF PREVIEW]

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