There are a variety of facts about homelessness that are surprising. Many of us have not thought in depth about homelessness unless it has happened to someone we know or to us. However, homeless people are often closer than many would think. Perhaps your friend, day care provider, or barista has been homeless or is currently.
There could be several families living in a motel near you praying for the day when they earn enough to find a place to live that they can afford on a meager salary or even several meager salaries. Perhaps fellow members of your church are homeless. Many people do not see past common stereotypes of homeless people. It's possible that someone you work with is homeless whether temporarily or long term. Even the happy faces you see when you are out and about could be masking a painful secret.
The most common stereotype is that homeless people are drug addicts, lazy losers who don't wish to work, criminals, or some type of outcast. While there certainly are homeless people who thoroughly fit these descriptions, there is an unfortunate and growing number of those who don't. There are people from all walks of life who are homeless however, a surprisingly large number of homeless people have at least one job if not more. This fact flies in the face of what is commonly assumed about homeless people.
Most often, the working homeless simply do not make enough money to keep a roof over their head. The very idea of working and not being able to keep a roof over your head is very difficult for many millions of Americans to understand. In some metro areas the percentage of working homeless can be as high as 30% of the homeless population who are working but unable to afford a place to live.
Homelessness does not discriminate and children make up a large percentage of the homeless population. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, nearly 25% of homeless people are children. While most are enrolled in school, it is not uncommon for some homeless children to miss school or drop out due to problems related to being homeless. Some homeless children find themselves as subjects of ridicule or bullying and eventually give up going. Others may find odd jobs that pay them small amounts of cash and this leads them to drop out and get locked into living check to check with no resources to get ahead, furthering the likelihood of homelessness in their adult lives.
Some homeless people are lucky enough to have a cell phone in order to be able to respond to any job offers. Others may have some form of transportation that gets them back and forth from jobs or job interviews. Some are forced make their vehicle their home just as William Shatner did after a divorce and the end of the Star Trek series. He was homeless for the same reasons that drive many others without a famous name into homelessness. Job loss and a divorce, how many people do you know that this has happened to? How likely would it be that you could maintain your standard of living if you suffered both of these situations? There are many celebrities who have been homeless including Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, Cary Grant, Ella Fitzgerald, David Letterman and Jewel.
Many working homeless say they didn't have any luxuries prior to becoming homeless and are simply locked into a pattern of low wages and living check to check. This pattern is often repeated from one working poor generation of the family to the next. Other working homeless may have had decent or well paying jobs until a crisis or several crises struck. When these unfortunate situations come to light, the idea that homeless individuals did something to deserve their homelessness is challenged.
This type of homeless persons' journey can serve as a cautionary tale to those of us privileged enough to hear their experiences and take heed. Many lived check to check until an accident, crime, illness, etc., put them out of work. There are some that had financial crises that ran into the four, five, and six figure ranges, typically due to illness or accidents. Many others became homeless due to unexpected events costing $1,000 or less when they simply didn't have the money. You can substitute just about any unplanned expense or lack of work, and soon after comes homelessness. With a huge number of Americans living check to check, perhaps loading up on emergency savings is something that even more Americans should be working on.
It is very logical to think a homeless or working homeless person needs to move to a city with lower priced housing. But where will they get the money to do so? Many shelters had to routinely turn away people before the recession began and the lack of beds has worsened since. Shelters do not allow people to stay indefinitely and this is why some can only hope to move into motels instead of rentals unless they go back to the streets, dangerous living situations, etc.
Transportation is another issue when we suggest that homeless people simply move to another city or state. However, many homeless people, working or not, have no mode of transportation and no money to pay for a bus, plane, or train ticket. Also, would it really be best that they leave the job(s) they have now for a new lower cost of living area where no job has actually been offered? Many homeless people have attempted to move and only transferred their homelessness to a new city if they have not actually made a bad situation worse.
Another factor in homelessness is domestic violence. Whether the entire family is evicted for the behavior of one or if one chooses to remove themselves and any children from the situation, often there is little or no safety net for them. Sometimes the aggressor is put into jail and without their income the family gets evicted. When there is opportunity to stay with friends or family, patience often wears thin and it is possible that from this or the initial situation they may be forced to find a shelter.
Moving in with family is not always an option as many of today's families are broken, live far apart, or simply do not wish to burden their family with the addition of more people into their household. The extended family may also be struggling through their own problems financial or otherwise. The sad irony is that homeless people of all ages and mental abilities are more likely to be victimized by various types of crime whether by strangers, acquaintances, and sometimes even family.
Across the country there is a large number of homeless veterans. Living in a military area, Hampton Roads, VA, I find this to be disturbing. Honestly, I have never thought the financial compensation (including non-financial compensation) to be good enough for these people who sacrifice so much to become and remain a member of the military. In fact, there are a number of veterans who are clinging onto a thread waiting for their GI Bill monthly stipend that is overdue. Some have already been evicted from their homes or have the threat of it looming since these payments are over 90 days late. There is a history of late payments occurring regularly, on an almost annual basis yet the so called staffing problems have not been corrected. This is intolerable in any other situation, why is it tolerable for our veterans?
However, those with no military friends or family often have no clue what veterans who have earned this privilege are going through when the stipends are overdue or when veterans have no choice but to hit the streets to live. While their college tuitions may be paid for with the GI Bill or the school will wait for the funds, the landlord/mortgage, food, and utilities will not wait and will not be paid unless their monthly stipend comes through.
They should have saved more money you say? Many military members live modestly at best and this brings us back the the reality that it takes time to save an emergency fund and even longer when you're not earning much to begin with, even in cases where you are truly living below your means and sacrificing. This is one of the most common problems for people who become homeless, veterans included. Credit may or may not be an option that is available but utilizing this option is simply deferring the problem and actually making it worse for most.
Currently, there are over 46,500,000 Americans currently receiving food benefits or SNAP. This is about 15% of our population and this number surpasses the entire citizenry of some countries. This high number also shows us that a large number of Americans are living on the edge despite all the rosy economic indicators that the evening news outlets prefer to mention.
Just one unexpected bill could send many of these people free falling into homelessness. There are more single women who live in poverty but there are more single men who are homeless. People living in poverty are just one financial crisis away from homelessness and a large number of people who live in poverty have jobs. However, having a job does not necessarily mean that you have the security of a home or food to eat. Millions have to choose frequently which they will pay for on a daily or monthly basis.
Some homeless people are college educated. With many people graduating college this spring and summer to find only low wage jobs or none at all, what happens to those who don't have a home to go back to or friends to live with? Most homeless people find that getting a job is very difficult because they have no home address, phone, or other contact information. These are things many of us take for granted, but a lack of them can become difficult obstacles that many homeless people cannot overcome without help.
Many homeless people get the cold shoulder if they are honest about their living situation or are found to be homeless when going through the process of applying for a job. Those who have a car, motorcycle, or bike will likely need repairs or replacement at some point which could very well be more money than they can pay. Often this happens at the worst possible time for them, putting jobs and the hopes of finding a place to live in jeopardy.
Homelessness does not have to be a situation from which someone cannot escape. In the case of a person seeking a job from you or at your place of work, if they are qualified and if their references/prior jobs check out give them the opportunity. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, offer them assistance if you can. Something as minor listening to them, offering suggestions, helping them locate a safe place to live within their budget, or providing contact information for organizations that can help would likely be appreciated. The mentally ill who are homeless may need medical care if they are a danger to themselves or others. Even worse, the mentally ill who are homeless are easily victimized in a variety of situations and the criminals often get away without reprimand.
The National Coalition for the Homeless can provide your group or organization with speakers that will be able to educate those in your community about issues that affect homeless people and what may be done to help. There are a variety of organizations such as the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans that may be able to help veterans. Most can be found online or in a phone book. The same is the case for places that help those with substance abuse problems. There are private and public organizations, state and local governments whose mission is to help those who are homeless. While there are no quick and easy answers for this problem, it's my hope that I have shared something here that you did not previously know and spur you to help yourself and possibly others, avoid homelessness.
© 2012 Express10
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