In this paper we will first identify what exactly is termed as homelessness. We will also try to analyze various aspects of it such as who should be blamed for homelessness? The person himself should be blamed or the society, or the government. What are the different types of homelessness? We will also try to find the answer of the most fundamental question i.e. should help be provided to these homeless people? Who should provide this help government or nonprofit organization? Although there exists, alternative views about providing help to these homeless people I strongly support all help that is provided either by federal or nonprofit organizations.
Over the last twenty years a sharp rise in the no. of homeless people was observed. This can be attributed to many factors such as poverty, unemployment, family crises, sociopolitical conditions, family disintegration, violence, mental health and other catastrophes.
In order to fully understand homelessness we first need to establish what exactly is termed as homelessness. Given below is the definition of homelessness as defined by Homeless Assistance Act 1987.
A homeless person is can be described as “one who has no fixed, regular, and adequate place to spend the night time or an individual who lives in a refuge, welfare hotel, transitional program or place not ordinarily used as normal sleeping accommodations, such as streets, cars, movie theatres, abandoned buildings, etc” (Chesnay).This definition does not include temporary residence with friends and family.
Some people believe that this definition of homelessness is too narrow. They are of the opinion that to tackle homelessness properly we need to concentrate on its definition because that in turn will define the size of the homeless population and will determine our policy to the situation. O’Sullivan has outlined three categories of homelessness they are visible homelessness, hidden homelessness and at risk of homelessness. If we make use of all three categories it will help us tackle and prevent homelessness.
Effective prevention depends on the two variables they are
Identifying what we are trying to prevent
Demonstration of result i.e. actually stopping or reducing frequency of occurrence of the event.
According to the public health model developed by Klein and Goldston, there are three types of prevention which are
Primary prevention strategy is a proactive step which is designed to prevent the action from happening for the first time or happening at all. From the perspective of our issue at hand it prevents homelessness from happening for the first time. Various issues leads to homelessness such as less income, family violence, physical and mental health and release from institutions or transitions from the social welfare program. Our primary strategy here for homeless prevention is to target these factors which involve community decisions and hence design our prevention strategies accordingly. (Martha R Burt)
Through secondary prevention we focus on the early intervention so that before it becomes a severe problem risks can be identified. Secondary prevention in case of our issue at hand i.e. homelessness means diverting and focusing our attention to those people who have become homeless for the first time. The aim is to resolve their issues and help them getting out of this situation and taking measures which prevent it from happening again. The major goal of secondary prevention is to stop first time homeless to become chronic or episodic homeless.
It is not exactly considered prevention that is why we used the term intervention. It is applicable to those people who have suffered from homelessness quite a few times or for a long period of time. The efforts in this strategy are directed towards preventing homelessness from becoming chronic or endless.
Types of Homelessness
As we have already identified that homelessness has much depth to its meaning than just house-lessness. Homelessness has three sub-categories (RavenHill, The culture of homelessness)
Roofless as the literal meaning suggests are those people who don’t have a roof over their heads and they have to spend nights on streets, parks etc. These are the people who although not necessarily call themselves homeless but they are viewed as homeless by the vast majority of the housed society.
With the growing research on the topic of homelessness and the related financing and funding issues there is ever growing debate as to who should be termed a homeless and eligible for assistance. The pedantic view is that the people who are living in sheds, cars and tents should broadly speaking be termed as homeless or rather houseless.
This category includes people who are living in hostels or bed and breakfast hotels, friend’s floor and other temporary accommodations.
Types of homeless
After identifying the kinds of homelessness now we will try to categorize the types of homeless people. There are three major types namely (Barusch)
In the category of single adults predominantly falls homeless adults, who suffer from mental illness or are addicts. According to a study about 25-30 of these homeless are suffering from some severe and chronic mental illness while about 22 are suffering from addiction disorder.
This second category of homeless i.e. family with children is growing at an alarming rate. In America it constitutes about 40 of the nations homeless. According to a study children constitute one fourth of the urban homeless. The most common reason found among this group was that they were trying to flee some abusive situation.
Third category is of the runaway teenagers. It also includes children who aged out of foster homes. Only half of these kids make use of shelter homes and the rest become street kids. All these homeless children are at high risk of physical and sexual abuse and most of their basic needs remain unmet.
Rural and Urban Homelessness
Over the past twenty five years much work has been done in gaining insight into homelessness and eradication of it with the help of homeless, advocates, service providers and policy makers. Most of the understanding and models designed are based on urban homelessness, where there is larger concentration of homeless people. Homelessness in rural areas is not only different from urban but it is also less visible. Rural population is dispersed over a wide geographical region which makes it less visible hence it remains unseen, unacknowledged and unattended. (Paul Milbourne)
The two major reasons for homelessness i.e. lack of affordable housing and inability to pay for adequate housing is true for both rural and urban homelessness. The difference between urban and rural communities goes much beyond mere size, density and distance.
The basic problem with studying homelessness in rural areas is that there is no proper definition of rural for statistical and other purposes. Rural areas are usually vaguely defined as small and remote places away from large cities and low in population density. There actually exists no dividing line besides geographic between rural and urban areas.
Rural community has different set of economic social and cultural implications. These differences are reflected in how people experience and address poverty and homelessness in rural areas. The major factor in homelessness that is rising cost of property although it’s low in rural areas as compared to urban areas but so does the income. So the rent burden remains high or even higher in rural areas. The cost of property has risen much more quickly in rural areas than income. So affordability is the major problem faced by low income rural household.
Low level of education in rural areas results in less competition in rural areas, lower wages and fewer opportunities to raise income level. Lower population density further discourages development of infrastructure and hence opportunities.
Support Policy for the Homeless
To effectively cater to the needs of the homeless this responsibility is jointly shared by the government at the local, state and federal level and also by the private non-profit organizations. We can increase the effective of any program by adding a local flavor in it. Any program that is designed by the locals keeping in view the specific needs of that local area and also administered by local stands a better chance of being efficient and effective by matching the particular character of the problem in that area. The role of the government at the higher level is inevitable because of the uneven distribution of homeless people geographically, varying degree of capacity of the local government and also willingness to solve the problem on the part of the homeless themselves. The government can not only give financial support but with the amount of resources at their disposal they can also develop an innovative support policy as well. At local and federal level there could be fiscal and financial constraints but state can support any innovative support policy. Hence collaboration at local, federal and state level is very necessary for efficient and effective support policy. Non-profit organizations such as Red Cross and Salvation Army must also work in collaboration with government at all levels.
Programs Available to Meet Basic Needs
There is a wide variety of public funded services, programs and entitlements for low income group that constitute the mainstream benefits and services. These programs cater to basic needs such as income, employment, housing, food and nutrition, physical and mental health, and child welfare. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) of the Department of Health and Administration provides the following services (Burt)
Income Support Program which includes
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF)
Supplemental Security Income(SSI)
Supplemental food programs
Health Insurance Programs
Medicaid and Medicare
Community Health Centers
Federally Qualified Health Centers
County hospitals and clinics
Public mental health and substance abuse service
Support for employment
Housing subsidy programs
The criterion for the eligibility for the mainstream benefits and services is not just homelessness but it also includes factors like income, age, disability status. Few of these programs require information about housing to get enrolled by the program either at intake or an ongoing basis.
Opponents of support policy programs
A thing of great concern is that nation generally has accepted homelessness as another negative aspect of modernism just as violence. The support for public programs aimed at homeless people is weak at best. There is a segment of society who believes in citizenship and equal opportunities for all. They believe that government should only aim at providing equal opportunities for all citizens. It is the responsibility of the citizen that they should grab this opportunity and try to make a living out of it. In this way everybody will get or earn according to his / her own ability. They are against any support policies by the government. They are against privileging a lazy caste over the hardworking one. This theory is close to Darwinian Theory of socialism.
Proponents of Support for Homeless
There is still a great many people who are in favor of support of the homeless people although their number is fast diminishing. Proponents of this theory believe that it is not only our moral obligation but our religious obligation as well, no matter what religion you belong to, because every religion preaches to help humanity. They believe that instead of looking at it as a menace we should try to solve the problem by giving support of all sorts to the needy. People who have left behind in the race of society should be helped so that they can come back into the mainstream. They are the people who are the proponents of citizenship and humanity. Underprivileged people such as old and weak, mentally or physically disabled people, young children are all part of the society and we have duty and responsibility towards them.
After conducting a detailed research about kinds of homelessness, different types of homeless and studying various reasons of homelessness I come to the conclusion that homelessness is one thing which cannot be eradicated completely from any society. We can only strive towards reducing it. We have to accept their existence and be compassionate about them as well. As good citizens we need to take care of our neighbors. We need to be considerate about less privileged people and be willing to support them in the bad patch of their life. Help them tackle their problems and assist them in settling for a respectable and worthy life. We should also be willing to give life time support if needed. They are part of our society and we need to own them as our own.
Barusch, Amanda Smith. Foundation of social policy: Social Justice in Human Perspective. USA: Cengage Learning, 2009.
Burt, Martha. Strategies for Improving homeless People’s Acess to Mainstream Benefits and Services . USA: Diane Publishing, 2010.
Chesnay, Mary De. Caring for the Vulnerable : Perspectives in Nursing Theory, Practice and Rese. USA: Jones and Bartlette Publishers, 2008.
Martha R Burt, Carol L Pearson, Ann Elizabeth Montgomery. Homelessness: Prevention Strategies and Effectiveness. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2007.
Paul Milbourne, Paul J Cloke. International Perspective on Homelessness. New York: Routledge, 2006.
RavenHill, Megan, The culture of homelessness. England: Ashgate publishing, 2008.