Homelessness and extreme poverty are distant realities for many of us. However our brief encounters with the homeless reinforce biases and perceptions that influence our existence as everyday citizens, as we label them "dirty" inadequacies who have made a life for themselves that is less than acceptable. Homelessness is considered a socio-economic status that has typically been dominated by men, striking people living below the poverty threshold. Although over the years men have traditionally dominated this social group/class, over the past 15 years women have altered the stereotype and changed this face of homelessness as a whole. Today, 36.5% of the homeless population is constituted by families who are lead by single mothers. However, since a number of factors are associated with homelessness, consistencies in any racial group will vary depending on their socioeconomic, demographic, and other sociological characteristics. More specifically, as described by Kathryn Edin and Laura Lein in Making Ends Meet (1979), black women constitute between nine and ten percent of the entire homeless population.
In effort to establish an accurate opinion of this group, it is essential to understand both the circumstances that lead to homelessness, and the consequences of living in the shelters or on the street. Throughout this analysis, readers will receive a multi-dimensional exploration of the plight of a single, African-American, homeless mothers in America.
Today, families make up the most rapidly growing segment of the homeless population. The majority of these families are led by single mothers who are also plagued with mental health and/or substance use problems coupled with domestic violence, which significantly impair their ability to break the homelessness cycle and to function as parents for their children. These structural factors have nothing to do with personal characteristics or disabilities of homeless people (Goodman, 1991). Many female-headed families are at imminent risk of homelessness because of structural factors that are beyond their control, including institutional barriers to economic opportunity for those in lower classes, such as: lack of jobs which pay wages that cover the household and childcare costs for single-earner families; and the lack of affordable housing. Poor families already living on the edge because of the structural barriers they face can be catapulted into homelessness by what otherwise might be considered a minor event such as a child's illness, loss of transportation to work, or a rent increase. As African-American, single, homeless mothers are subjected to a life on the street, they are also subjected to mental disorders which have a higher aptitude of being attained due to the stressful conditions lived under. Mental illness is a major risk factor for homelessness, as the consequences of homelessness tend to be more severe when coupled with. Dual diagnoses (i.e., mental illness and substance abuse) and the presence of two or more lifetime conditions have also received increased attention. Among homeless women, not limited to African-Americans, approximately half have a dual diagnosis. In 2002, a study was conducted by the Center for Disease Control called the "National Comorbidity Survey" which analyzed various groups of homeless women in the United States, and the role mental illness played on their conditions; black women included. For participants in this survey, 52% had no mental disorders over their life spans, while 21% had one lifetime disorder and the remaining 27% had two or more lifetime disorders. Single childless homeless women have higher rates of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders than homeless mothers do. Angela Cheung (2006) found that 72% of homeless mothers had a probable lifetime substance use disorder, mental disorder, or both. In addition to widely presumed mental disorders such a schizophrenia and bipolar...
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