Last Updated September 5, 2023.
This research paper discusses the problem of homelessness and possible solutions to the problem.
A 2012 congressional report shows that the homeless population is predominantly male and African-American. Meanwhile, one out of five homeless people live in large cities, such as New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas. Among women who are homeless, many are under 30 and have children younger than 5. People in rural areas who are homeless tend to be female, white, and married with children.
Experts maintain that an increase in affordable and permanent housing is an important means of solving the homelessness problem.
For their part, many of the homeless are stigmatized for being in some way responsible for their predicament. There has been a change, however, regarding American public policy in this area since the 1980s. This is due in large part to Dennis Culhane's premier research on homelessness.
Culhane found that a majority (80%) of his research subjects are homeless for only a short time. Meanwhile, 10% are episodically homeless: they return to shelters periodically. The last 10% are chronically homeless and use the majority of the resources in the homelessness service delivery system. Culhane's research provided vital information about who the homeless are, their needs, and the costs of helping them.
More research has also shed light on the problem of homelessness. For example, a 1961 study found that a "culture of poverty" prevails among many of the homeless. Meanwhile, a 1991 study found that the three main contributors to homelessness are poverty, housing, and health.
Poverty for the most part is the result of low wages in many service sector jobs, global restructuring, and a decline in high-paying manufacturing jobs. The lack of cash assistance to the working poor also exacerbates the problem of homelessness.
Meanwhile, the low availability of low-rent housing has also contributed to homelessness. Specifically, millions of home owners and renters pay more than 50% of their annual income for housing.
Last, but not least, the lack of shelter often contributes to a range of health problems. Since many of the homeless also lack health insurance and access to nutritious food, their health is further compromised. This may affect their ability to improve their financial health and, therefore, obtain better housing conditions.
Although public policy has changed, some challenges still remain. For example, while local officials, the public, and business owners see vagrancy laws as a step towards cleaning up the streets, many of the homeless see this as criminalizing poverty. Additionally, many in the homeless population feel that social welfare programs and the criminal justice system comprise formal mechanisms of social control that restrict their freedom in varied ways.
In terms of public policy, there have been notable changes. Today, many initiatives have been put forward to secure entitlements to housing, income, health, and civil rights for all Americans.