Homelessness in America: Issue Review


Homelessness in America is a persistent problem. Every single day bears the effects the condition has on society and the country. The homeless live in public. This means that they have to do what others do in private in the full view of the public.

Definition of homelessness

This is a social condition of people lacking housing for the reason that they cannot afford it. It could also be for the reason that they cannot maintain regular or safe housing. People who spend their nights in homeless shelters are also said to be homeless. Homeless shelters are temporary accommodations for people without homes.


Homelessness is a serious condition in the United States of America. The National Coalition for the Homeless (2001) reports that there are approximately 30,000 to 7,000,000 people who suffer homelessness in America. Though researchers like Yoshida Kyosuke argue that homelessness is a burden imposed on one through his own volition, there are many other reasons that could be attributed to this increasing problem.

The biggest cause of homelessness in America is poverty. In 1996, about 30-40% of the homeless in America said they had gone hungry for several days. A quarter lack proper medical care. Single men constitute about 60% of the homeless. However, about a third are families, and the number continues to grow.

Causes of homelessness

Several factors are responsible for homelessness in America. Some of these are outlined below:

  • Expensive housing
  • Unemployment
  • Poverty
  • Unaffordable healthcare
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Domestic violence
  • Prison release
  • Natural disaster
  • Forced eviction
  • Mortgage foreclosures

In most cases in America, people become homeless when the breadwinner is no longer capable of paying for housing which is common among the poor population in any country. There is, therefore, a correlation between increasing poverty and homelessness.

Unemployment plays one of the greatest roles in increasing the magnitude of this problem. It is the most serious cause of homelessness. The U.S. conference of mayors in 1993 reported that about 60% of those without homes work (see Ropers, R. H., 1988). About 20% are without jobs. 54% get the money that is not enough to afford to house.

Drug abuse is another notable issue in the promotion of the problem of homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless indicates that 50% of homeless people are dependent on drugs or alcohol. Alcoholism results in unemployment and compounds the crisis. Though most of the drug addicts in America do not necessarily become homeless, poor drug addicts tend to succumb to homelessness. Abuse of substances also drains people financially and results in loss of jobs and housing (ICH, 1991).

The National Resource Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness points out that about one-third of the homeless adults suffer from some mental disorder. Out of these, around 5-7% need institutionalization. This is therefore not a major cause of homelessness. The mentally ill are, however, not capable of making rational decisions, and some are in charge of their families. Deinstitutionalization and lack of services as a result of arrangements for managed care is a contributing factor to the number of the mentally ill homeless population in America (The Forgotten Americans, 1999).

Domestic problems are another contributor to homelessness. According to The Forgotten Americans Homelessness: Programs and People They Serve, domestic problems from childhood contribute to homelessness profoundly. 25% of these victims were physically or sexually abused in their childhood. Three-quarters of the perpetrators of domestic violence are reportedly parents (Almanac of Policy Issues: Child Abuse, 2001). Families are separated by such violence. Most of those who run away from abusive homes have to adapt to a new life, and finding a new place to live or a new job is often difficult. Most of these are women and children.

Is there any relationship between natural disasters and homelessness? The answer is yes. Many people have found themselves homeless because of occurring natural catastrophes. Such include floods, forest fires, earthquakes, and storms, among others. Hurricane Katrina and Rita in 2005 saw about one million Americans losing their homes. In 2006, whole towns were swept away by tornadoes in Tennessee (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2001).

Homelessness can have drastic effects on the victims. This ranges from physical, psychological, and emotional. A great physical effect is the issue of health. Due to poor housing, the homeless lack the necessary health facilities to assist them in maintaining personal hygiene leading to diseases associated with poor hygiene. In addition to this, the homeless can be associated with mental illnesses, diabetes, and also pronounced alcoholism. This also makes it more complex for the responsible organization to handle chronic diseases like AIDS and diabetes (give meaning 2009).

With such effects being associated with homelessness, it is therefore important for other members of society to ensure that they provide care for these victims. There are societies that users engage in fundraising so as to raise money for necessities like food and drugs purchases. These are important in maintaining the health of the homeless. In addition to food and drugs, the homeless also need love and understanding. It is, therefore, the role of other members of the society to offer love through hugging and loving and listening to their problems. These are among the greatest needs for the homeless (give meaning 2009).

Homeless shelters

One notable effort that has been used to help the homeless has been the use of homeless shelters. These are temporary shelters offered to anyone who has a problem with shelter. Although these shelters offer temporary shelter for the homeless, it is more important than the solution to the homeless is permanent. Therefore, putting up programs that will ensure that people get permanent housing should be the aim of the government. This is not to completely discard the issue of homeless shelters. They should be available so as to provide shelter for the homeless as the government ensures settling programs in permanent houses (Mangano, 2007).

Role of the government in solving homelessness

The government can do a lot to ensure that the homeless are settled. According to Mangano (2007), the foremost effort that the government can make to settle these people is the creation of a housing program. In this program, the government provides houses according to the population in question. This will ensure that people get access to housing in the quickest way possible and a permanent way.

In addition to this, the government can also encourage housing programs through the reclamation of abandoned areas like the waterfront warehouses and industrial or commercial properties and giving them to private developers. This will reduce the cost for the government and at the same time provide housing for the poor and at the same time provide employment for the children of the same poor people as they work in the development organizations (Mangano 2007).


The above causes of homelessness are not exclusive since most of the homeless people are able to get some money with or without employment (ICH, 1991). Some of the homeless people have no intention to work because the government provides some assistance in the form of payment. Drug abuse becomes a contributing factor when homeless addicts become vulnerable to the condition. It is, therefore, justifiable to echo Kyosake’s argument that homeless persons evade work and therefore contribute to their own condition.


Give meaning. (2009). Caring for the Homeless on the Streets of Victoria. Web.

Interagency Council on the Homeless (1991) What are the causes of homelessness? (CD-ROM) SIRS Government Reporter, Fact sheet, SuDoc Number; Y 3/H 75:17/7.

Mangano, F., (2007). Solving Homelessness: A Lesson from the American Approach. Kingston Electors. Web.

National Coalition for the Homeless. The Criminalization of Homelessness: Waste and Injustice. Web.

Policy Almanac. Child Abuse. Web.

“The Forgotten Americans.” The Forgotten Americans – Homelessness: Programs and People they Serve 1999. ICAN! America. Web.