Homeless people live on the margins of society, without secure housing and often without access to jobs and health services. They are subject to a variety of risks that may lead them into homelessness, including an inability to pay rent or mortgages, loss of employment, or sudden expenses such as unexpected repairs or health care costs.
Despite the efforts of many organizations to reduce and prevent homelessness, millions of people remain at risk. This is a complex problem, and it has become increasingly difficult to meet the needs of homeless people as the need has increased in recent years. It is important to understand the causes of homelessness in order to create effective strategies for prevention and intervention.
The definition of homelessness varies, but most agree that it includes individuals or families who lack a permanent, adequate place to sleep at night. The term usually applies to those who reside in emergency shelters, motels, trailer parks or other places not designed for human habitation and do not have access to other housing. However, some advocates believe that this definition is too broad and does not include the majority of homeless people.
One of the most significant causes of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. The cost of renting or buying a home often exceeds the income of those who are working full-time, and many families are “rent burdened,” meaning that more than 30 percent of their monthly income goes to paying rent and utilities. Any change in the financial situation of a family–furlough, reduction in hours at work, loss of a job or an unexpected medical bill–may push them into homelessness.
Other causes of homelessness are the result of broken families, divorces and domestic violence. Single mothers who can no longer afford the rent or mortgage after a divorce and who do not have relatives to turn to for help can end up on the streets with their children. In addition, those with post-traumatic stress disorder who are unable to cope with their life at home and often cannot work in traditional settings may become homeless.
In the past, it was easy to ignore homelessness because it mostly affected urban areas. But the problem is now spreading to suburban and rural communities. A number of organizations have emerged to respond to this growing crisis, such as Funders Together for Homeless Children and Youth and SchoolHouse Connection, which believes that the right to a quality education is the best path out of homelessness. These groups are working to create solutions that will help the millions of children and young adults who are at risk of losing their homes to find a better future. They are supported by a large body of research on the causes of homelessness and the effects of various interventions. The research has been conducted at sites ranging from shelters to the streets and single room occupancy hotels. This research has been published in a variety of publications, and specialized studies have been performed on specific subpopulations of the homeless population.