Homelessness is an issue that everyone is susceptible to. Unlike other societal problems that have taken root, homelessness does not pick and choose a demographic for who gets affected. However, in the midst of all the identities suffering from homelessness, it becomes easy to overlook how each group is being affected specifically, for example, individuals with disabilities. This lack of awareness concerning the relation between homelessness and living with a disability allows for the issue to continue to invisibly thrive.
Individuals with disabilities, like other marginalized groups, are at increased risk of homelessness for multiple unique reasons associated with the stigma surrounding the community. This stigma stems from a shared public lack of understanding other people’s experiences and situations, and thus plays a hard part in the decreased compassion and patience a non-disabled person might have for people with disabilities.
Individuals with disabilities are twice as likely to live below the poverty line and receive unstable employment due to discrimination which puts them at a higher risk to face the odds of homelessness.
According to a survey done by BMO Financial Group, it was revealed that few businesses hire people with disabilities and 69% had never hired someone living with a disability.
Unfortunately, in order to avoid such barriers to employment, the study revealed that people with disabilities hid their disabilities to advance in the workforce.
But when it comes to those individuals with disabilities that are able to keep their heads up in the workplace, they are paid subminimum wage.
This becomes an issue if the employee in question encounters a financial crisis causing them to apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Although the United States government put these measures in place to support people going through homelessness, they do the opposite when it comes to people with disabilities.
At most, only 40% of the entire homeless population qualify for attaining SSI or SSDI. Despite qualification, not every person gets approved. Among these people who are often denied SSI or SSDI did not have enough medical records, did not have a relationship with a doctor, or were physically unable to complete the paperwork needed to go through with the process, leaving only 14% of the applicants to be approved.
Similarly, support systems put in place to help people with disabilities with income and employment issues end up backfiring on the community they were initially established for, such as the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) in Canada.
Many participants find it difficult to clearly express themselves and complete applications because of their disabilities. Some are too afraid to ask for an application or to attend a medical appointment due to the public stigma surrounding individuals with disabilities. Others could not clearly explain how they were disabled, which prevented them from getting the support they needed.
The stigma that surrounds support systems is not an uncommon occurrence. Homeless shelters are known for being less accommodating than they appear to be, even more so when it comes to helping those with disabilities that are seeking temporary housing.
Shelter staff may be insufficiently trained to work with individuals with disabilities. This issue affects those whose disabilities can be considered “invisible,” for example, people with autism. With the certain procedures that take place in shelters such as mandatory pat-downs, a person’s sensory needs may be overlooked resulting in them to feel uncomfortable and unsafe, where they should be feeling the opposite.
The concept of institutionalization contributes heavily to this stigma. After being released from an institution or when an institution closes down, a person with a disability is often not offered accessible and affordable temporary or long-term housing options solely due to acquired knowledge of their previous institutionalization.
So, how can we better support people with disabilities experiencing discrimination that prevents them from acquiring accessible and affordable housing?
Although the United States government created the Fair Housing Act which recognizes the right to fair housing without discrimination, it is often not practiced on the local level. In order to increase public awareness for the situations of individuals with disabilities in regards to housing, such policies must be explicitly recognized and enforced in the domestic context. In addition, laws and groups established to support people with disabilities must relieve the financial and accessibility burden.
To guarantee increased awareness and action towards changing the negative experiences with disabilities, individuals with physical, hearing, visual, and psychosocial disabilities should be more involved. This could take place when it comes to housing planning, development, and the general conversation of combatting homelessness to ensure the measures that are put into place are not only practical but equally as accessible to their community.