Homelessness is not a new issue, yet it is not receiving enough attention for the general public and lawmakers. As of January 2019, approximately 568,000 people were experiencing homelessness in the United States. This was an increase of 15,000 people from 2018. In 2020, this number rose to 580,000. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, two trends are primarily responsible for this national rise: a growing shortage of affordable rental properties and a simultaneous increase in poverty. These two factors, in combination with persistent inflation, contribute to the massive homelessness crisis seen today. Other factors that can lead to homelessness are substance abuse, escaping domestic violence, disabilities, and mental health.
POVERTY AND HOUSING COSTS
It’s quite clear that homelessness and poverty are linked. Poverty-stricken individuals are often unable to pay for basic necessities including food, healthcare, education, and housing. Housing costs especially account for a large proportion of one’s income, so when poverty is on the rise, it is not surprising to see that the number of those experiencing homelessness increases as well.
Housing costs are also increasing at alarming rates. According to LifeBridge NorthShore, in order to cover the costs of a two-bedroom apartment at fair market value (FMV), an individual making the federal minimum wage would be required to work 112 hours per week. This increase in housing costs directly correlates the rise in poverty and ultimately, homelessness being seen.
Many people are unaware of this, but one of the most common causes of situational homelessness is due to escaping an abuser. Unfortunately, for many, there is nowhere to go, so homelessness is their only option. According to the Council on Criminal Justice, an analysis showed that there was an 8% increase in domestic violence in the United States following the pandemic. Since homelessness and domestic violence are linked, this could have contributed at least in part to the increase in individuals experiencing homelessness.
DISABILITIES AND MENTAL HEALTH
Many mental illnesses make it hard for people to do some tasks. Tasks like filing for benefits can be too overwhelming for these individuals. It is quite common for veterans to fall under this category. Estimates show that 20-25 percent of the U.S. homeless population suffers from severe mental illness. While there is no direct causal relationship between homelessness and mental illness, mental illnesses and disabilities can make it more difficult for homeless individuals to find job opportunities.
All in all, it is quite unfortunate that one of the wealthiest countries in the world simultaneously displays some of the highest rates of homelessness. It is important not to blame individuals experiencing homelessness for their situation, and we must show compassion for those who are not as fortunate. The US needs to instill this philosophy into its system in order to put an end to this crisis soon.