Why Do People Become Homeless?

Homelessness is simply defined as the absence of a home. Here we’ll discuss why people end up living without a home. There are many things that result in a person’s inability to attain a home. Homelessness rates in America particularly are still high, and that doesn’t even include those forced to live with relatives or friends.

Despite the American economy recovering from the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, with increased GDP, decreased unemployment rates and increased selling of housing, there is still a troubling homelessness issue in the United States as well as all over the world.

This post will approach some issues of homelessness, in particular, the following four reasons: increased cost of living, economic recession, domestic law, and federal funding. 

Increased Cost of Living

A person’s capability to attain housing directly correlates to their income, taking into account both consumption and savings. Particular countries will always have higher living costs, whether it be the housing market or the availability of resources. In America’s case, specifically San Francisco, California, the cost of living was rising so fast that individuals were well on their way to rent control.

Housing prices skyrocketed while household incomes reduced in value. To afford an average rate apartment in the US, a person needed to earn more than double the Federal minimum wage. Such attainment of incomes of more than $15USD (as of 2015) an hour might seem insignificant, but a lack of education and qualifications worsens the housing crisis, a major reason for more people becoming homeless. Individuals needed to earn at least this amount without even accounting for other basic necessities. Individuals could simply not cope and are forced to resort to homelessness with their belongings repossessed.

Economic Recessions

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 greatly affected the global economy: shares and assets were lost, with individuals, investors and shareholders losing millions, even billions. Banks repossessed people’s houses and other belongings in many economies. Countries reliant on America fell into economic ruin, with America itself destroying the credit system with its unstable sub-prime mortgage loans. Essentially, more borrowing was done rather than selling which collapsed the housing market, increasing homelessness throughout the global economy.

The issue of income inequality was further worsened as the gap widened. Ever since 1980, the world’s richest 1% takes larger and larger shares of the world’s income, and subsequently, the bottom half takes smaller and smaller portions of the world’s income. If the gap continues to worsen, many will be in abject poverty, further worsening homelessness everywhere.

Domestic Law

A country’s own domestic law also determines housing affordability and the attainment of housing itself. If a nation or state considers shelter or housing to be a privilege rather than a requirement or a human right, homelessness will result. An example of this involves the illegal lodging law in America, which had a homeless man arrested for sleeping in a tent in the San Diego city streets.

Richard Stevenson was found guilty for two counts of encroachment and illegal lodging and sentenced to two years of probation as well as ordered to stay away from downtown San Diego. California’s lodging laws finds people lodging in public or private places without the permission of the owner guilty of a misdemeanor, or disorderly conduct. Laws like these foster homelessness: in 2016, there were over 118,000 people on the streets of California. These people have absolutely nowhere to go.

Federal Funding

A country’s homelessness rate also relates to the amount of federal funding spent on the actual issue itself. Sometimes, a particular government may not prioritise homelessness and shelter (which is the case in many economies). For example, in Los Angeles in 2015, 100 million dollars was dedicated to tackle homelessness.

However, 87 million of that 100 million actually went to law enforcement to crack down on homeless people instead of actually providing incentives, programs or even safe and affordable housing itself. Governments will therefore unintentionally increase homelessness rates because their usage of the Budget determines whether or not the homelessness issue is solved in their own respective countries.

Reducing Homelessness

Not every country has high rates of homelessness, such as Finland and Denmark, where despite a rise in homelessness across Europe, new ideas and initiatives have decreased homelessness rates in these particular countries. As global wealth rises, so do new solutions and ideas in response to the complexity of homelessness. Statistics however show that 150 million people in the world are homeless whilst another billion do not have access to adequate housing.

However, innovative solutions such as Housing First aim to tackle homelessness from all sides, that is, by targeting substance abuse, health, housing and social isolation. ‘Housing First’ for example, puts a roof over people’s heads while simultaneously tackling issues such as addiction, mental illness with extensive and beneficial support services. ‘Beyond Shelter’ in America also demonstrates plans to get people off the street and into safe and affordable housing, demonstrating progress in this day and age, most certainly much better than where American homelessness rates were 50 years ago.

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