The Truth About Being Homeless

Homeless means not having a permanent place to live. It is a very serious problem for millions of people across America, and it’s also one that is often misunderstood by those who don’t understand the experience of homelessness or who think that people choose to be homeless or can simply pull themselves up “by their bootstraps.” In fact, the truth is that many of the factors that lead to homelessness are complex and deep-rooted, and include hard-to-treat psychiatric problems and substance abuse.

According to a 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who are homeless experience poor health, as well as exposure to extreme weather conditions and the lack of basic healthcare. In addition, they are at higher risk for getting hit earlier and harder than the general population by various diseases and illnesses like influenza, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. This is why it’s crucial that our nation take the steps to tackle the issue of homelessness and prevent as much of it as possible.

Those who are homeless can find shelter at a variety of locations including community centers, churches, and private organizations. Homeless service agencies also operate homeless shelters to help provide individuals and families with a safe place to sleep and avoid the harshness of outdoor conditions. Aside from shelters, homeless services agencies may also provide food, clothing, and hygiene items. There is a growing recognition of the importance of this issue, as reflected by an increase in scholarly work and research on the subject.

Scholars, healthcare workers, and those who work with the homeless recognize that two major contributing factors are poverty and a lack of affordable housing, both of which are stubbornly intractable societal issues. They also point out that other difficult-to-treat underlying issues—like hard-to-treat psychiatric disorders and substance-use disorders—are often at play as well, which is why they refer to their work as “the long game” or the “long walk” and not just addressing housing instability.

Homelessness affects people of all ages and backgrounds. In the United States, people are most likely to become homeless as a result of job loss, unexpected expenses (like unanticipated health care or repair bills), family rejection due to sexual orientation or gender identity, and substance use or mental health disorders. Individuals experiencing “episodic homelessness” have experienced at least three periods of homelessness within a year, while those with “chronic homelessness” are usually without a home for longer than 12 months. People who are homeless also face specific challenges when seeking employment and accessing public benefits. They are at a greater risk for violence, exploitation, and recidivism. These issues are more prevalent in some communities than others, which can make it more challenging to tackle the problem. However, there are a variety of programs and strategies that can be used to reduce the number of homeless people and prevent their future occurrence. These include reducing barriers to entry into the workforce and increasing the availability of supportive services for those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.