This great nation of awesome power and abundant resources is losing the battle against homelessness. The casualties can be seen on the street corners of every city in American holding an "I will work for food" sign. Homeless shelters and rescue missions are at full capacity. There is no room at the inn for the nation's indigent. Anyone who has studied this issue understands that homelessness is a complex problem. Communities continue to struggle with this socio-economic problem while attempting to understand its causes and implement solutions. The public and private sectors of this country are making a difference in the lives of the homeless by addressing the issues of housing, poverty and education.
Many believe that a common thread among the homeless is a lack of permanent and stable housing. But beyond that, the factors leading to homelessness and the services that are needed are unique according to the individual. To put them into one general category the homeless- suggests that people are homeless for similar reasons and therefore a single solution is the answer. Every homeless person shares the basic needs of affordable housing, adequate incomes and attainable healthcare. But a wide range of other unmet needs cause some people to become or remain homeless which include drug treatment, employment training, transportation, childcare and mental health services (Center 8.)
Presently, one of the main causes of homelessness in American is the lack of affordable housing. New York researchers claim that affordable housing is the answer to homelessness. Researcher, Mary Beth Shinn, states, "homelessness is first and foremost a housing problem not a psychological one" (qtd. in Franklin 15.) Nearly all the families in their study became stably housed regardless of substance abuse, mental illness, physical illness or incarceration. This study indicates that homelessness is not a permanent condition. People do get themselves out of the problem when an intervention occurs to provide them with access to the housing market (NYU 2.) Without permanent housing, people are unable to keep jobs and are more likely to become ill. Permanent housing provides stability that enables them to find and retain employment with health benefits.
Housing assistance can make the difference between stable housing, unstable housing or no housing at all. However, the demand for assisted housing exceeds the supply. Between 1993 and 1995, the number of rental units available to very-low-income families dropped by nine percent which translates into a loss of 900,000 units nationally (Hess 3.) Most poor families and individuals seeking housing assistance are placed on a waiting list for three years or more. Today, much of the nation's affordable housing stock is being converted into condo complexes or commercial property. Even when disabling conditions such as addiction or mental illness are treated, the homeless must compete with other poor people for a dwindling supply of low-income housing. Homelessness is like a perverse game of musical chairs in which the loss of chairs (housing) forces some to be left standing (homeless).
Equally important, poverty is largely responsible for the rise in homelessness during the past decade. A popular misconception is that the homeless are lazy and do not want to work. Twenty percent of the homeless population work full-time but do not earn enough money to meet their basic needs. Robert Hess, president and CEO of the Center for Poverty Solutions states, "policies must be put into place to guarantee a living wage--the minimum income needed for an individual or family to meet basic needs: housing, food, health care, transportation and clothing (18.) Employment opportunities for the poorly educated continue to be in the service industry, which pays significantly less and provides little stability. Furthermore, few...