Imagine sleeping on a park bench next to the bus stop night after night with only a worn down puffy coat for a blanket or each day sitting under the awning of a gas station with a flipped-over hat begging for money. On street corners across America, over a half a million people can be found holding a cardboard sign with the words: need food, anything helps, or God bless CITATION Nat18 \l 1033 (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty). Homelessness is a serious epidemic in the United States and often affects those with mental issues, severe family problems, or sudden financial deficits.
This pattern of mental issues and homelessness began shortly after the Civil War around the 1870’s CITATION NCB18 \l 1033 (NCBI Bookshelf). After returning from the war, soldiers were in a rush to snap up good jobs; those who weren’t as lucky became what society referred to as “tramps” or those without shelter and in search of jobs. Early shelters included lodging rooms for vagrants in police stations and Hoovervilles (small shantytowns made during the Great Depression), but soon the problem of homelessness vagrants overwhelmed the nation. Fortunately, World War II provided a multitude of jobs for people across the USA and relieved the issue for a time. As the troops stumbled home, many were happy to reunite with loved ones; others faced great devastation caused by disabilities, medicinal substance abuse problems, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder CITATION Nat09 \l 1033 (National Coalition for the Homeless).
A startling twenty-three percent of the homeless consists of the very people who once defended this country CITATION Nat09 \l 1033 (National Coalition for the Homeless). Too often the wounded or mentally impaired end up on the streets for failing “to be like everyone else.” In reality, many of these people lack the money to cope with rental increases. Some may have lost a stable job from a factory shutting down. Others were refused housing, hotel, or apartments because the owners did not care for “strange” people or for those who had been hospitalized CITATION Car92 \l 1033 (Cohen). How is it fair to treat human beings in this manner? They can’t get a job, they lose their home, they are on the streets, they have no food – it’s an endless cycle that is difficult to escape.
Not all homeless people deal with a gradual cause and effect problem, however. Many get caught up in a sudden event that changes their financial situation. For example, marriages do not always last “till death do us part” in this day and age. One may go on a date, fall in love, get married to her prince charming or his Cinderella, but what if one day the glass slipper falls and shatters? Suddenly the couple is entangled in a whirlwind of divorce papers, custody arrangements, and property settlements, all leading to a substantial amount of money drained from bank accounts CITATION Hom07 \l 1033 (HomeAid America). What if someone were in a critical car accident on a Sunday drive home from the ice cream shop? All it takes is a split second for a paralyzing or devastating accident to turn one’s world upside down. With a sudden build up of paying divorce lawyers, hospital bills, and funeral costs, it would be grueling to remain in a decent house while still providing bare necessities, such as food and water CITATION Hom07 \l 1033 (HomeAid America). It doesn’t take much to throw off the average person’s finances. So, when these unexpected life changes occur it can cause colossal financial damage in a person’s life and quickly change his or her situation.
Though drastic life changes can come out of the blue, even more common and devastating threats occur in different areas of the world each day. Approximately fourteen million people are rendered homeless each year due to tragic natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, and other horrific events within nature CITATION Reu17 \l 1033 (Reuters). As populations grow and the climate continues to change, everyone is at risk of far more damaging tragedies CITATION Reu17 \l 1033 (Reuters). Not only do more issues such as mental or family changes arise, but vast majorities of housing communities or shelters can be affected as a result of these disasters. It is much easier to place randomized people who are scattered across a country. Yet, what happens when a third of a country is rendered homeless, jobless, and without family? In a perfect world, surrounding countries would reach out and offer their homes, shelters, and supplies, along with the tools to help rebuild what had been destroyed. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, so this ideal scenario would probably never happen. The question is: what can be done to help remove people from cold streets and place them back in warm houses with stable jobs, after their lives take such a sudden turn?
One way to help prevent these people from sleeping under a bridge every night is getting the federal government involved. There are already a few permanent supportive housing programs in place, mainly for those who suffer from mental impairments, such as housing vouchers, the “New York, New York Agreement,” and the “Housing First” movement. Sadly many of theses programs turn applicants away after a certain time period due to lack of space. The government should invest in as many programs and buildings as possible, not just the few they already invest in, to prevent having too many people and not enough beds. What about those who have sudden tragedies occur such as deaths or divorces CITATION Pro18 \l 1033 (Proven Solutions – Coalition For The Homeless)?
Since statistics show that permanent long-term housing assistance has dramatically reduced homelessness, these options should be made available even to those who may not suffer from a mental challenge or a physical impairment CITATION Pro18 \l 1033 (Proven Solutions – Coalition For The Homeless). For those who don’t have a stable income and undergo one of these scenarios such as a sudden family change, there is a temporary housing and financial support system put in place until they can catch their financial balance once again. However, many of these programs are backed up by endless waiting lists. There is a tremendous need for a more efficient system to help these people within months, not years. Although natural disasters may not permanently put someone out of a home, there is still a need for a multitude of temporary shelters in this type of situation, rather than everyone finding a place to stay on their own until their insurance kicks in for them to purchase a new home. Having “a few” shelters only does very little when a catastrophic event is at hand. Buildings should be able to house thousands for a substantial amount of time, not hundreds. On the other hand, there is a great need to reduce the price of renting a house. Housing affordability is a still widening gap leading straight to homelessness due to tenants not being able to keep up with the high price demands of owners CITATION Pro18 \l 1033 (Proven Solutions – Coalition For The Homeless).
Although there is some housing assistance available, it is not as supportive as it should be and it has prevented any future building of more affordable houses CITATION Pro18 \l 1033 (Proven Solutions – Coalition For The Homeless).The waiting lists never end and workers drag their feet to begin construction on new homes. To fix these problems, governments in every city must invest in inexpensive housing for homeless families and individuals, and strengthen regulation laws that protect those living in the homes CITATION Pro18 \l 1033 (Proven Solutions – Coalition For The Homeless).
The second way we can solve these issues is to strengthen our government-funded programs. First, we can make mental institutions more available to those in need of assistance. Many institutions send people away after a certain amount of time and over two million mentally ill Americans go untreated CITATION Men15 \l 1033 (Mentally Illness Policy Org.). The next problem has been addressed for many years now, which is medical emergency insurance and assistance. Hospitals run in sync with 911 units all over our country operating day and night to keep our citizens safe. Insurance is available to those unable to afford it and it covers much of people’s expenses as well. Finally, although the biggest quick response situations are covered, few are aware about the after effects. It may not seem like a big deal to one person looking out at thousands of people’s problems, but what they don’t see is the feeling of unspeakable pain.
Tragedy assistance for emotional suffering is something our nation lacks. If a loved one suddenly passes away and you are left with nothing, who is there to comfort and help you through the next steps of your journey? Not only is the person heartbroken, but she may be devastated on many levels. She may have lost her home or only source of income. Counselors and therapy sessions should be offered as a type of insurance in the form of relief to help the victim cope with their loss. Instating this assistance could reduce risks of suicide from depression and ultimately reduce the creation of further problems. Tragedy assistance for these emotional issues should be just as available as physical emergency assistance in order to help as many people as possible sort through their mental pain and find a decent home until they can get a good job again.
One might make the argument that all these grand ideas would only take more money from people who are not struggling at all. While this is partly true, look at the bigger picture. Many government programs are set up to help and protect homeless citizens. The only way these programs can run is by taxing the people who are not homeless. It ultimately comes down to having a change of heart. Many people are homeless because they do not qualify for a job and cannot afford anywhere else to go. Although some people may choose to be homeless, does that mean those who don’t have a choice should be ignored? If one is making a steady paycheck, is it really hurting that person to give a couple hundred or thousand dollars to taxes to help keep these organizations afloat? A second point of view is that adding more assistance programs to our mental, medical, and helping assistance programs will be too chaotic and create more problems than benefits. However, adding more programs such as tragedy emotional assistance provide real value and possibly job opportunities for the homeless in some cases. By adding these programs, people are taken off the streets and jobs are provided – it’s a healthier cycle. The real change that society needs is a head and heart change to realize that these are Americans just like everyone else and help should be given to those serious about changing their lives.
In closing, it is clear that homelessness is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed. If Americans of all kinds can work together to help each other and help better the environment we live in, we can make the process much easier. Through helping the mentally challenged reach a safe haven of healing, supporting those riding a sudden life rollercoaster, or strengthening our government funding to provide support for the financially unstable, we can bring the train we call homelessness to a screeching halt.
Cohen, Kenneth S. Thompson. Homeless Mentally Ill or Mentally Ill Homeless? June 1992.
HomeAid America. Top Causes of Homelessness in America. 2007.
Mentally Illness Policy Org. Mentally Ill Homeless. 2015.
National Coalition for the Homeless. Homeless Veterans. September 2009.
National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. 2018.
NCBI Bookshelf. The History of Homelessness in the United States. 11 July 2018.
Proven Solutions – Coalition For The Homeless. Coalition For the Homeless. 2018.
http://www.coalitionforthehomeless.org/ending-homelessness/proven-solutions/Reuters. 12 October 2017.