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Homelessness: issues by the numbers and how you can help

10 October is World Homeless Day. This day is dedicated to increasing awareness of the global issues surrounding homelessness, as well as getting people involved in their community to help meet the needs of homeless people locally. The increased publicity and solidarity of the global platform helps to strengthen grassroots campaigns at the most local level. The problems regarding homelessness are multifaceted, but there has been evidence of some promising interventions, particularly in the realm of social work.
By the numbers:

  • A study conducted by the National Alliance to End Homelessness reported a point-in-time estimate of 744,313 people experiencing homelessness in January 2005.
  • Because homelessness counts are taken as a snapshot, they often miss people who experience relatively brief episodes of homelessness. The Philadelphia and New York City homeless management information systems revealed that 4–6 times the number of people homeless on a given day passed through the shelter systems of the two cities in the course of a year.
  • It has been estimated that between 2.3 million and 3.5 million people experienced homelessness in one year across the US.
  • Based on data from a random-digit dialing telephone sample of 1,507 adults living in 48 contiguous states, a lifetime homelessness prevalence rate of 7.4%, or 13.5 million people, has been found by researchers.
  • About one-quarter of single homeless adults are veterans, twice the rate of the general population.
  • The National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC) has found that two-thirds of their homeless clients suffered from at least one alcohol, drug, or mental health problem in the past month of their study’s research.
  • It is estimated that between 1.6 million and 1.7 million youth run away or experience homelessness each year. According to the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (JJDPA, P.L. 93–415), a “homeless youth” is an individual who is not more than 21 years of age for whom it is not possible to live in a safe environment with a relative, and who has no other safe alternative living arrangement.
  • The ability of women with children to leave homelessness at a faster rate was found to be related to their greater access to institutional resources, rather than lower incidence of personal problems and difficulties. A study shows 55% of women with children and 24% of single women, compared to only 13% of men, reported access to subsidized housing.
  • 68% of the homeless population is male.
Homeless Veteran social issues

Homeless Veteran in New York by JMSuarez. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Mainstream social service system programs such as mental health, substance treatment, and child welfare are currently inadequate to help fully reintegrate homeless people back into society. Research suggests there are particular socioeconomic and mental health factors to target in prevention efforts, and there are some promising interventions that have shown to be effective in addressing homelessness among members of special needs populations.

One promising intervention is the “housing first” model, which is a housing and service approach that places homeless tenants directly into affordable housing without requiring “housing readiness” prior to entry (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2005). Housing readiness admission criteria in permanent supportive housing typically include mandated sobriety for an extended period of time, compliance with mental health and substance abuse treatment, and demonstration of basic living skills (Caton et al., 2007). Without requiring housing readiness, the housing first approach has shown to be applicable for persons experiencing chronic homelessness, as these individuals often find it difficult to meet the admission criteria of conventional supportive housing programs (Padgett, Gulcur, & Tsemberis, 2006; Tsemberis & Eisenberg, 2000).

Ways to help address societal issues of homelessness today:

1. Educate yourself about the homeless and understand the issues – Stereotypes about homeless people are rampant. It’s important to learn about the many different reasons why people end up homeless, from lost jobs to mental illnesses, to escapes from domestic abuse. Recognize homeless people as individuals in need.

2. Be kind to the homeless people you encounter – Respect them and be courteous to them.

3. Give food to the homeless people you encounter – If you pass someone asking for spare change, offer him or her some food to eat.

4. Donate money – Giving money to nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless can produce a substantial collective impact.

5. Donate clothing – Clothing, particularly during colder months, is vitally important for people living on the streets.

6. Donate groceries to soup kitchens and shelters, not just for Thanksgiving – Nonperishable items are always in need at local shelters and soup kitchens.

7. Donate toys – Though many people give to Toys-for-Tots every year, it’s important to remember to donate all year round.

8. Volunteer at soup kitchens and shelters – Help provide the basic necessities to individuals in need, and learn through first-hand experience about the issues of homelessness.

9. Volunteer for follow-up programs – Follow-up programs help homeless people transition from homelessness to permanent housing by providing them with a variety of interventions to help them achieve stability and retain their housing. Programs offer advice, counseling, education, life skills development, and community resource information.

10. Volunteer at a battered women’s shelter – Many of the women who end up in these shelters were involved in abusive relationships. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010 found that 35.6% of women in their study had experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (Black et al., 2011). Additionally, they found that an estimated 42 million women experienced at least one of these forms of violence in the past 12 months. Women’s shelters provide a place for women when they have no other place to turn, oftentimes because they are afraid of being found by their abusers.

11. Spread the word about local shelter information – Publishing information about local shelters along with their lists of particular needs would help make it easier to get your community involved. Information on websites, newspapers, or church/synagogue bulletins can help to generate awareness and increase involvement.

Featured image credit: Homeless by Marc Brüneke. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

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