Homelessness and poverty has become an invisible epidemic in America. Why do people
become homeless? “A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance
programs have contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness” (National Coalition
for the Homeless). You can be the next victim to experience homelessness in the next year.
Poverty plays a big roll on homeless people. Without an income there is no way to pay for your
housing, food, childcare, and more necessities. “In 2011, the official poverty rate was 15.0%.
There were 46.2 million people in poverty” (1). The major factors that contribute to
homelessness is mental illness, lack of affordable health care, domestic violence, addiction, and
being part of the LGBT community.
Homelessness has been around for centuries. Even if it was believed that people were
homeless for many different reasons, they were still sleeping on the streets. In the 1640s, it was
believed that if you were not a good Christian, God would not meet your needs:
In the 1640’s homelessness was seen as a moral deficiency, a character flaw. It was
generally believed a good Christian, under God’s grace, would naturally have their needs
met. People outside of that grace somehow were deserving of their plight as God
rendered justice accordingly and fairly. If one found themselves homeless in the 1600’s, a
person or family would come upon a town and would have to prove their ‘worth’ to the
community’s fathers. If not, they would be on the not so merry way to the next town or
hamlet (Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness).
Today's’ homelessness has nothing to do with people's worth or beliefs. Homelessness is a
complex social issue with many variables (1).
In search for jobs, people that lived on farms started to migrate to the cities such as New
York and Philadelphia in The Industrial Revolution that started in the 1820s- ‘30s “…had many
people walking the streets causing the country’s first panhandling ordinances. City jails became
de facto shelter systems” (Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness). Death and physical
disabilities were caused by poor safety regulation. The wives of the injured and some left widowed
had some children who depended on them and they had no means to provide for themselves and
nowhere to turn. Kids, especially teens, were left on the streets because their families could no longer
afford housing for them. “The 1850’s brought the first documented cases of homeless youth, many of
whom were kicked out of their homes because their providers could no longer afford to raise them” (1).
After the Civil War, morphine was discovered as a painkiller, and military veterans were
becoming addicted to it. “From the 1870s’ until the 1890s’ one could purchase morphine and
heroin with syringes from Sears and Roebucks catalogues” (Downtown Congregations to End
Homelessness). After living a non-civilized life and basically living in the middle of nowhere,
housewives started to become addicted to morphine as well. “As the epidemic became bigger,
criminalization of drug addiction soon followed up as a response and people started becoming
A lot of people become homeless because of natural disasters. “The Great Chicago Fire,
The San Francisco Earthquake, the massive flooding of the Mississippi in the 1920’s from Ohio
through New Orleans displaced over 1.3 million people” (Downtown Congregations to End
Homelessness). Natural disasters destroy what people have worked so hard for, and it gets taken
away in a blink of an eye. This can happen to anyone, including you, by having your house
destroyed and becoming homeless overnight.
Today, homelessness is a bigger problem than everyone thinks it is. You don’t have to be
living on the streets to be considered homeless. If you live in an emergency shelter or in
your car, even living paycheck to paycheck, you are experiencing homelessness or about to.
“Ending homelessness requires closing the gap between the need for housing and its availability.
It requires recognizing housing as a basic human right, and enacting policies to ensure it is
available” (USA Today).
An example of homelessness because of domestic violence is Rebecca. “Two things
happened when I turned 12, my Father who used to beat the hell out of us left home and the other
thing that happened is I started using drugs…” (Homeless People). When she was thirteen years
old, her mother found another partner who also used to beat them, but this one used to rape her for a
whole year until she had enough. “When I turned 13, my Mum found a new partner who lived at
home with us. He raped me regularly and abused my younger sisters as well. I was only 13. He also
used to beat Mum up and it was hell on earth” (1). Rebecca made her mom choose between her
boyfriend and her, so that's when Rebecca met the streets. She slept with boys from her neighborhood
so she could have a roof over her head but still ended up living on the streets.
Rebecca tried to kill herself at one point until a stranger called an ambulance. “In the end it's a
matter of well if I get through the day then great, if I don't doesn't matter, no big deal. It's not like
anyone's going to miss whether I'm here or not” (1).
What do homeless people feel? Imagine being abused by the people who are supposed to
take care of you. The people who are supposed to love you unconditionally beat you until you are
almost knocked out. All you want to do is get away or make it all end. “A quarter or more of
homeless children have witnessed violence, and more than half have problems with anxiety and
depression” (Child Trends). Normally, it is girls who become homeless due to violence.
Parents don’t want to turn their kids in to the government when they become homeless
because they don’t want their kids to be broken up into separate foster homes and break the
family up. Angelica Cervantes, for example, became homeless due to the fact that she could no
longer afford housing but didn’t want to give up her kids. “Benita Guzman, 40, and her niece
Cervantes, 36, are homeless but stick together in an effort to keep their children together as a
family, and not taken away and separated in foster homes” (Child Homelessness in U.S. Reaches
Historic High, Report Says).
One in every thirty children experience homelessness in their life. They don’t have to be
living in the streets to be considered homeless. “That makes nearly 2.5 million children who, in
2013, lived in shelters, on the streets, in cars, on campgrounds or doubled up with other families
in tight quarters” (Child Homelessness in U.S. Reaches Historic High, Report Says). Living in a
country full of opportunities and wealth, the fact that there was an increase of eight percent to the
number of children being homeless was absurd. “children and families have not received the
same attention—and their numbers are growing” (1). If the government does not try to stop
homelessness, the numbers will get higher and the goal is going to become impossible.
In 2000, many cities had a plan to end homelessness in ten years. Even the president of
the United States, President Barack Obama, unveiled the plan to end homelessness by 2015.
“And yet, 12 years after the first pledge of the 21st century was made, homelessness in the
United States has not ended. By all counts, it has moved steadily upward in the past decade to
about 750,000 this year…” (Are Cities' Pledges to End Homelessness Working?).
The Ten Year Plan outlines key strategies in addressing homelessness locally, which
cumulatively can address the issue nationally. One of the key elements to end homelessness is
“Plan for Outcomes”. What that plan does is collects data separating people into groups like
elderly, youth, families, individuals, and others. By collecting that data, they can think of the
most effective strategy to help each group of the homeless population.
The second key of the plan is “Close the Front Door”. This part of the plan tells you that
you can end homelessness before it even starts. “By making mainstream poverty programs more
accountable for the outcomes of their clients, communities can intervene before vulnerable
individuals and families fall into homelessness” (National Alliance to End Homelessness). The
third part of the plan is “Open the Back Door”. Most people become homeless because they can’t
afford the house they are living in. “By developing - and subsidizing when needed - an adequate
supply of affordable housing, communities can move people off of the streets and reduce
homelessness effectively and permanently” (1).
The last part of the plan to end homelessness is “Build the Infrastructure”. The first step
to end homelessness is to address the systemic problems that leads to crisis poverty. Some of
those problems are minimum pay that does not pay for basic needs, shortage of affordable
housing, and a lack of appropriate services for those that need them. “Addressing all of these
issues community by community is a necessary step to ending homelessness and poverty”
(National Alliance to End Homelessness).
The fact that this plan is not working, does not mean that it didn’t increase homelessness,
but there is a difference between the progress and the promise:
It would be easy to blame the Great Recession for the failure. Millions lost their jobs and
thousands saw their homes foreclosed on, thereby putting many of them out on the
streets. But the whole subject of ending homelessness is much more complicated than
that. It is bound up in a web of forces that reach into the deepest causes of poverty and
issues about human behavior. Homelessness is an issue that encompasses medical health,
mental health and substance abuse. It’s also an education and job training concern, as
well as a criminal justice matter and a housing problem. It touches on family planning
and family stability, and on big city, suburban and rural questions. There are moral and
political issues as well as budget and policy concerns, all with a huge economic overlay.
(Are Cities' Pledges to End Homelessness Working?). To end homelessness will take a lot to curve poverty. That means creating jobs, and training the people to be able to do those jobs.
Maybe the solution to end homelessness is not a nationwide solution, but something more
personal. Little community shelters can keep someone off the streets and reduce homelessness
around their cities. To make big changes you have to start small. A great example of that is Nikki
Johnston-Huston, she went from being homeless to being a great lawyer.
Nikki grew up in great poverty. “Having moved from Detroit to Southern California, she
found herself homeless by the time she was nine years old along with her mother and brother”
(The Huffington Post). They lived on different homeless shelters, motels, the streets, and being
fed in soup kitchens for a whole year. “When you are homeless, you can stay in a shelter
overnight but you can’t leave your things there. So it is impossible to even look for a job” (1).
Nikki had to call several shelters when she knew the landlord of the apartments they were living
in was going to kick them out in several hours. Having to go through that made Nikki realize that
she wanted something better for herself. “I think some of them thought it was a prank. I finally
talked to someone at a shelter that agreed to take us in. I knew then that I wanted to live a
different life” (1). After knowing that that was no way of living, Nikki was sent to live with her
disabled grandmother who was able to afford her at least a decent childhood and an education.
When Nikki got a scholarship St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, she was planning
on making A’s and B’s and was excited to start her journey to becoming a lawyer. She failed on
her first year of college. “Then, I remember sitting there on the first day when they told us the
folks on our right and left wouldn’t be there in four years. The first thing I thought was that they
were looking straight at me” (The Huffington Post). She felt like she did not fit in because she
came from poverty. “I didn’t always have money to pay for lunch. I used to pretend to be from a
middle class family so I could be like everyone else. There were days that I thought there was
money on my food card to find out that I couldn’t pay” (1). After failing her first year in college,
she got a job as a live-in nanny. She worked all day and went back to school at nights. Nikky
graduated college four years later. She shares her story to inspire people. “I want to be part of the
solution in society which means finding the right platforms. I have an obligation to the young
people coming behind me to help them” (1). To end homelessness, we have to start person by
person if we have to.
Albert Camus believes that not accepting life is absurd. It is absurd to try to commit
suicide and make physical harm to yourself because you are just trying to forget the problem.
Camus describes the absurd as “Man’s futile search for meaning in a meaningless universe”
(Camus: The Absurd Hero). Camus beliefs relate to the absurdity of homelessness because the
homeless believe that is it absurd to keep leaving the way they are living. They think that there is
no meaning in life and that there is no point to keep going with the lives they have, until
someone shows up and shows them that there is more to life than what they think.
If we don’t try to end homelessness the percentage of people living in poverty will
increase even more over the years. If big plans fail, then the solution would be to start small. Try
to end homelessness in small areas where you see a lot of homelessness happening. Austin,
Texas for example, is one of the cities with the most homeless people that some businesses
actually shut down. Some of the major reasons people are homeless is because the lack of
affordable housing, mental illness, domestic violence and many more. Homelessness is an
epidemic in America and if people do not want to see it happening they should open the doors to
people in need. If you help one person at a time to get their stuff together, you are changing the
percentage of homeless people one by one.
Are Cities' Pledges to End Homelessness Working? http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/housing/gov-homelessness-rising-decade-after-pledges-to-end-it.html
Child Trends. http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=homeless-children-and-youth
Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness. http://www.dceh.org/the-history-of-homelessness-in-america-1640s-to-present/
Homeless People. http://www.homeless.org.au/people/rebecca.htm
National Alliance to End Homelessness: http://www.endhomelessness.org/pages/ten-year-plan National Coalition for the Homeless. http://nationalhomeless.org/about-homelessness/
The Huffington Post. Gina Rubel - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gina-furia-rubel/from-homeless-to-lawyer-o_b_560343.html
USA Today. Maria Foscarinis -http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/01/16/homeless-problem-obama-america-
recession-column/4539917/YouTube. TheRuggedPyrrhus - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAb7nwtHvTU