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Why is homelessness a problem?

Homelessness is a problem because it leaves people in a compromising and often dangerous position. Without a place to live, homeless people have limited access to basic sanitation, food, warmth, and healthcare. It is especially a problem for children, as homeless children tend not to perform as well in school and are unable to fulfill their most basic needs.

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Because I've spent over two decades teaching, I'd love to explain how homelessness particularly affects students.

Imagine leaving school each day and not having anywhere to go after that. Homework is challenging enough when you have a safe place to return to each day, but for homeless students, school is...

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Because I've spent over two decades teaching, I'd love to explain how homelessness particularly affects students.

Imagine leaving school each day and not having anywhere to go after that. Homework is challenging enough when you have a safe place to return to each day, but for homeless students, school is their safe place. This means that not only is there no guarantee of a warm bed at night, but all of the expectations that teachers often have for their students (bring your calculator, have extra pencils, complete assignments using your laptop and WiFi at home, etc.) are simply impossible.

Our local school district has realized that beyond the free meals homeless students receive at school, they often do not receive any other food allowances. Thus, our district initiated a program to send kids "home" with additional food on the weekends that they can eat until they return to school again on Monday.

Some of my older homeless students have shared with me that they live out of a car most of the time. They are therefore quite cramped for space, and they must find a space to safely park a car overnight where they will not receive a ticket or be asked to leave. They have no access to basic sanitation, such as baths and laundry. Not surprisingly, they are often behind in their schoolwork and often perform poorly on assessments, particularly if their homelessness has caused them to miss numerous days of school.

Homelessness affects children because it disrupts their most basic needs. Maslow's hierarchy of needs states that if people do not have their most basic physiological needs (such as food, shelter, clothing, and sleep) fulfilled, they will never attain higher levels of the hierarchy, such as meaningful friendships, self-respect, and personal strength. Children who live in a state of homelessness are even more impacted because their childhood development is interrupted, which affects their intellectual and mental growth and development for many years to follow.

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Homelessness is a problem for both the homeless and for the societies in which they live.

The homeless have many problems with living in modern societies. One must have an address in order to access many of the benefits of modern society from banking to social services. A homeless person has no safe place to keep personal possessions or money, and the homeless are more likely than others to be victims of crime. The homeless suffer health problems due to exposure to extreme heat and cold and lack of sanitary facilities. Without a place to safely store food and medicine at appropriate temperatures, the homeless suffer many otherwise preventable infections and related health issues.

For communities, homeless people can act as reservoirs of diseases not present in the general population, such as tuberculosis. Homelessness in communities can reduce property values and drive off tourists in areas highly reliant on tourism as a source of income.

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First, let's examine the effect of homelessness on the homeless. These people are more likely to experience violent crimes or turn to drug use. They may also engage in theft in order to secure food. The homeless can be victims of crime, or they may be the perpetrators of crime. Many people feel as though it is society's responsibility to take care of the homeless—to turn them away is a violation of the social contract.

Secondly, homelessness is a societal problem. In many urban areas it is illegal to panhandle, because it is considered a detriment to tourism. Children of homeless people tend to do worse in school. These children cannot concentrate due to anxiety over housing or hunger. These children are more likely to grow up without the advantages of someone with a stable housing situation. The homeless are the most in need of social safety nets which all taxpayers fund.

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Homelessness is a problem because it impacts on the individual which, in turn, has an effect on the wider society. First of all, according to the charity Homeless Link, being homeless causes an individual to feel isolated and depressed. Homeless people are also more likely to use drugs and/or alcohol. As a result of these health problems, homelessness places a higher burden on public services (often funded by the taxpayer), like hospitals. For instance, four out of ten homeless people have used an accident and emergency service in the last six months, at a significant cost to the taxpayer. (See the first reference link provided).

In addition, according to Crisis, homeless people are also at an increased risk of physical assault. Specifically, they are almost 17 times more likely to have experienced violence than a non-homeless person. This not only contributes to a rise in the prevalence of anti-social behavior (which impacts social cohesion and the well-being of our communities) but also requires resources from the police and court systems. (See the second reference link provided).

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There are two main types of reasons why homelessness is a problem.  One set of reasons has to do with the impacts on the homeless themselves.  The other has to do with their impact on society.

Of course, the main reason why homelessness is a problem is because it is harmful to the people who are homeless.  Homeless people are likely to encounter many problems.  They are likely to become the victims of crimes.  They are likely to have health problems.  It is difficult for homeless people to get jobs.  Homeless families are not likely to be able to provide a stable environment in which their children can grow up.  All of these are serious problems for the homeless themselves.

Homelessness also hurts society as a whole.  The homeless, while often victims of crimes, can also commit crimes themselves.  Homeless encampments can be unsanitary and can cause health problems.  Homeless people in downtown areas can drive away potential customers or tourists from those areas. 

Homelessness, then, is a problem for both the homeless and for society as a whole.

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