Criminalization of the Homeless Community

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CRIMINALIZATION OF THE HOMELESS COMMUNITY

Many individuals experience homelessness do not have certain needs, including affordable housing, adequate income and health care. Some homeless persons may need additional services such as mental health or drug treatment in order to be securely housed. This research paper will discuss what homeless means, various ways in which individuals become homeless, trends, laws that effect the homeless , and do decriminalization of the homeless community help or hinder the situation. To be homeless means a person is considered homeless who "lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence; and... has a primary night time residency that is: (A) a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations... (B) An institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized, or (C) a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings." The term “homeless individual” does not include any individual imprisoned or otherwise detained (National Coalition for the Homelessness, 2009). Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. Persons living in poverty are most at risk of becoming homeless, and demographic groups who are more likely to experience poverty are also more likely to experience homelessness (National Coalition for the Homelessness, 2009). The lack of affordable housing is the primary cause of homelessness in the United States. Due to the combination of stagnant incomes and rising housing costs, affordable housing has become unobtainable for an increasing portion of the population, and as the disparity between wages and housing costs increases, more individuals are at risk of homelessness. In the current national market, even a one- bedroom apartment at fair market rent is affordable for a person working full-time at minimum wage. Many individuals and families, coping with high rent burdens due to the shortage in affordable housing, are required to spend a large percentage of their income on housing. For far too many others, the financial burden is untenable and they are forced into homelessness (National Coalition for the Homelessness, 2009).

Declining wages have put housing out of reach for many workers: in every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent (National Coalition for the Homelessness, 2009). A person working 40 hours a week should be paid a wage that allows him or her to afford adequate housing. Unfortunately, for those households dependent on minimum wage jobs, the prospect of affordable housing is not promising. The federal minimum wage increase in 2009 helped decrease the gap between minimum wage and the full-time hourly wage one would need to earn in order to pay for “fair market rent,” as defined by HUD, without spending more than 30 percent of their income. Despite this improvement, to afford a two bedroom apartment at fair market rent a person would have to secure a full-time job paying $18.44 an hour, more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The lack of access to quality, affordable health care is a contributing factor to homelessness in that it forces uninsured or underinsured people to choose between medical care and housing. Homeless people suffer from multiple health problems at a rate far higher than the general U.S. population (Summary of 2010 Public Policy Recommendations, 2010). Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness (National Coalition for the Homelessness, 2009). Families with children are among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. As the number of families experiencing homelessness rises and the...
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