The right to housing is a fundamental human right, and homelessness is an extreme form of social exclusion and deprivation. It is an issue that cuts across all regions, sectors and demographic groups, including women, children and indigenous peoples. Homelessness also has a direct impact on the enjoyment of virtually all other human rights, such as the right to health, work, education and personal dignity.
The roots of homelessness are complex and varied, and include the lack of affordable housing, the global economic crisis, speculation in real estate markets, privatization of public services, destruction or displacement caused by conflict or natural disasters, and urban “gentrification” that pushes low-income families into precarious situations. Individuals can slip into homelessness because of illness, injury or job loss, and many homeless people have mental or physical disabilities.
People experiencing homelessness are often subjected to multiple forms of discrimination, and this can negatively affect their ability to obtain employment or access social benefits. They are also at higher risk of being killed by the elements, as well as from violence and abuse at the hands of other members of society or by security forces. In addition, persons in situations of homelessness are at a greater risk of being targeted for exploitation and trafficking in sexual activities, such as prostitution, drug dealing and organ trafficking.
There are various ways to help those who are homeless, from donating clothing and food to volunteering to work in shelters and soup kitchens. People can also support the efforts of the organizations that provide these services, by contributing money or other resources to help them operate efficiently and effectively.
A variety of different types of housing are available for those who are homeless, but the majority of people living on the streets in metropolitan areas prefer to live in congregate shelters instead of living on their own or sharing a house with others. The reason for this preference is that the shelters offer a sense of community and safety, while individuals living on their own or in family groupings tend to be more isolated from other people.
In the United States, a great deal of information about the characteristics and circumstances of those who are homeless has been published. However, the majority of this research has been based on studies conducted in urban areas, with very few reports on rural or suburban populations.
Homelessness can be devastating to people’s physical and mental health, as well as their sense of self-worth. For these reasons, it is important to understand the causes of homelessness and take steps to prevent and address it.