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What is Homelessness?
Homelessness is a condition that occurs when a person can no longer afford to pay for a place to live due to various reasons. Homelessness can be broken down into three subcategories, chronic, transitional, and episodic.
Chronic Homelessness best describes those who use the shelter system as a form of long-term housing rather than emergency housing. These individuals are more likely to rely on the shelter system as they generally suffer from disabilities, substance abuse problems and long-term unemployment. This category of homelessness is smaller than those who are considered transitionally homeless.
Transitionally homelessness describes individuals who rely on the shelter system for a short period or for single-night stays. This group consists of younger people who have transitioned out of stable housing and have recently become homeless due to unfortunate circumstances. These individuals depend on the shelter system as a stepping stone to finding permanent housing situations of their own. Overall, the transitional homeless category makes up a large percentage of people experiencing homelessness.
Episodic homelessness identifies people who are frequently transitioning in and out of homelessness due to chronic unemployment, or experiencing medical, mental or substance abuse problems. This category is comprised of younger aged individuals experiencing the problems listed above.
Who Experiences Homelessness?
People who are currently living in poverty or are a part of a demographic group that is more likely to experience poverty, are more likely to experience homelessness.
However, due to methodological and financial constraints, most studies are limited to counting individuals who are in shelters or living on the street. Current procedures continue to undercount this group by failing to visit locations with homeless populations. On top of that, different estimates and counts are given by different governmental agencies, making actual homelessness figures unclear.
Point In Time Statistics
- HUD found 578,424 individuals to be homeless on a single night in January 2014. Most homeless persons (63%) are individuals while 37% of homeless persons are in family households.
- 33% of all homeless people were youths under the age of 24.
- 49,933 veterans, overwhelmingly 90% male, were homeless on a single night in January 2014.
- Families experiencing homelessness made up 50% of those who were sheltered.
- Five states, California (20%), New York (14%), Florida (7%), Texas (5%), and Massachusetts (4%), accounted for more than half of the homeless population in the United States in 2014.
Why are People Homeless?
The reasons why people become homeless are very complex and unique to each situation. Factors such as housing prices, domestic violence, mental illness, and addiction are some of the most common reasons for homelessness.
Increased housing prices along with a limited amount of housing assistance programs play a pivotal role in the current rate of homelessness. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the 2014 Housing Wage is $18.92 per hour and is more than two-and-a-half times the federal minimum wage. These figures demonstrate that a full-time minimum wage worker cannot afford a one or two-bedroom rental unit at Fair Market Rent.
Homelessness and poverty are clearly linked together. People experiencing poverty are unable to afford sufficient housing, food, childcare, healthcare and education. When only a portion of these necessities can be afforded due to limited funds, it is often housing that is given up. In 2013, the official poverty rate was 14.5% or 45 million people living in poverty. In Baltimore City, population 600,000; roughly 27%, or 143,000 individuals, live at or under the poverty line.
Lack of Affordable Healthcare
A serious illness or disability that requires extensive and/or long term medical attention can be an overwhelming obstacle for families and individuals who struggle to pay rent. This can lead to things such as job loss, eviction and depletion of savings.
50% of cities that were surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness. Domestic violence contributes to homelessness as victims of domestic violence often have to choose between an abusive relationship or a place to live.
Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005).
The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial as many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never becoming homeless. However, it is clear that people who are stricken by poverty and struggling with addiction are at an increased risk of homelessness.