Income and the Homeless
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless there are several reasons so many Americans struggle with homelessness. A severe lack of affordable housing and a limited number of housing programs certainly contribute to the situation. The housing wage, the amount a renter must make in order to afford a modest home as calculated by the National Low Income Coalition, was $18.79 in 2013, which exceeded the $14.32 earned by the average renter. Mind you most Americans don’t make that much money. With minimum wage federally $7.25 an hour, and Washington state topping out at $9.32 hourly, Georgia and Wyoming at the bottom with $5.15 hourly and some states not requiring any minimum wage it is easy to see no state requires the amount of income decent housing requires. Twenty-one states have minimum wages requirements above the federally mandated, four states require less, and five states have no requirement at all.
These statistics indicate clearly that poverty and homelessness are connected. With the cost of housing so high little is left for utilities, food, childcare, clothing, and the basic necessities. The poor are always one paycheck away from homelessness. When the decision boils down to feeding your family and keeping a roof over their heads too often the outcome is living in a shelter, in a car, or on the streets. In 2011 the poverty rate was 15% , 46.2 million people living in poverty. That is more than the entire population of the state of California.
Unemployment continues to be a national problem. Jobs are hard to find, jobs that pay well are even harder to find. The result is even those who are employed live below the poverty line and often can’t make ends meet. The consequences of changes in the welfare system leave families struggling to pay for food, healthcare, and assisted housing. Torn between homelessness and employment bread winners must choose being unemployed or losing their residence.
Domestic Violence and the Homeless
Even more critical are victims of domestic violence who often have to flee their abusers and their homes with nothing more than the clothes on their back. Shelter space is harder to find due to the increase in the homeless population. Space for families is at a premium and often these shelters have time limits on stays. As part of the agreements providing temporary housing, chores and obligations such as church attendance may be required. Unemployed and homeless with only weeks to find a home the struggle to look for both a job and a permanent place to live is almost insurmountable. Long waiting lists make it necessary for these institutions to adhere to strict rules. Some shelters require residents to evacuate during daylight hours and line up in the evening to once again have a bed to sleep in. With no place to leave their children during daylight hours it is impossible to look for employment. In very cold and very hot weather this causes dangerous health conditions for the homeless.
Health and the Homeless
The lack of affordable health care can cause even families with homes to become homeless. A serious illness or disability and costly healthcare can cause loss of a job, depleted savings, and eventually eviction or foreclosure. Addiction to drugs or alcohol can lead to homelessness. Those who are already low income or no income and become addicted to substances are even more likely to become homeless.
Violence and the Homeless
More frightening are the statistics on the homeless population and mental illness. According to the 2005 US Conference of Mayors approximately 16% of the single homeless suffers from some type of mental illness, often serious and continual. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless a 2012 report shows 88 attacks on the homeless resulting in 18 deaths. The majority of those attacked were homeless males over 40. “Some of the most horrific cases include a serial killer targeting the homeless population of southern California because he viewed it as a public service, teens killing a homeless man over one dollar, and a homeless woman set on fire who suffered second and third-degree burns over 20% of her body.”(National Coalition for the Homeless)
Winter and the Homeless
As noted earlier, extreme weather causes additional danger for the homeless. This winter has been particularly hazardous with extremely low temperatures, snow, and ice across the country. Shelters may have extreme weather plans but not all communities are prepared for the overwhelming influx of homeless. With so many homeless living out of boxes or suitcases they may not even have proper attire to defend against freezing cold temperatures. Not likely to have had healthcare they are more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite.
In 2010 the Coalition listed three critical elements to combat homeless deaths due to freezing cold weather.
“ • Knowledge – Accurate and timely information can be life saving for people
experiencing homelessness, while a lack of information can be damaging or deadly. In
many communities, elected officials and decision-makers hold and keep critical
information across a broad range of public and private resources and services. Effective
prevention strategies include a pre-approved plan for the gathering and dissemination of
lifesaving information to all critical stakeholders, including those at risk on the streets.
- • Networking – In cold weather, local elected officials and decision-makers are a
critical first step to preventing hypothermia. Those in need must receive clear, consistent
and repeated messages about the signs, symptoms and consequences of hypothermia, as
well as emergency services that are being made available for them. Furthermore, the
general public wants and needs to know how to help those in danger of hypothermia and
what responses are most appropriate. The public also needs to know who the decisionmakers are and what decisions are being made.
- • Temporary Seasonal Shelter and Outreach – Appropriate approaches to the level,
design and schedule of prevention resources, shelter and outreach, are critical to an
effective response. The level of response must be timely and measured against the
imminent and emerging concern of injury and hypothermia. The design must place the
human cost of injury and death front and center. And, the schedule of emergency shelters
and outreach services must be developed and available based solely on sound established
Most of us are one paycheck away from homelessness. These forgotten people are entitled to the same rights and services as every other citizen in America. No one chooses to be homeless.
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