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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321

In the United States, the circumstances that cause people to become homeless and the characteristics of the homeless population are constantly shifting. While the demographics of the chronically homeless remain fairly consistent, that population represents a small proportion; the increase in other groups—the transitionally and episodically homeless—has been a cause for alarm in recent years. Such groups include women, alone or with children, and youth. Homelessness is a solvable problem that requires combined efforts in creating more affordable housing, providing more assistance to the most vulnerable, and establishing a clearer crisis response system.

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The primary cause of homelessness is the unavailability of affordable housing and the related lack of housing assistance programs. The average worker would need to earn $5.00 per hour more to pay the average rent (a figure called the “housing wage”), and a person who is unemployed or receiving public assistance has very few housing options.

Poverty is another primary cause of homelessness. In the United States in 2016, almost 13 percent of the population lived in poverty. Lack of employment opportunities, especially for those with limited education and training, as well as limited public assistance, contribute to poverty. Related issues are medical problems and lack of low-cost medical treatment, mental illness, and domestic violence.

The entrenched or chronically homeless are likely to be poor, older, and chronically unemployed; some are mentally ill and have alcohol and other substance abuse problems. The transitionally homeless are younger and recently have become unemployed and have been precariously housed; they often enter shelters for a short time and are likely to find stable housing. The episodically unemployed, however, while also young, tend to be continuously unemployed and have other problems likely to turn them into the chronically homeless.

Numerous research and advocacy organizations provide useful resources. Among these are the Pew Research Center National Coalition for the Homeless (http://nationalhomeless.org/) and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (https://endhomelessness.org/ending-homelessness/).

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