2020 Scholarship Recipient

Homelessness in America

It would be safe to say that right here in the United States there are a plethora of problems that need to be solved. Every issue facing our country is of great importance but the most important in my opinion is homelessness. Homelessness is an issue that affects every city in the United States yet at the same time, it is an issue that does not get the spotlight it deserves. Homelessness needs to be brought into the spotlight in order for us to be a cleaner, healthier, happier, and more prosperous country.

Right now there are 568 thousand Americans experiencing homelessness in the United States it is vital to keep in mind that there are many more homeless people who are not counted. Homelessness is an issue that does not discriminate between age, race, or gender. The most common victims of homelessness are single adults. When an individual experiences homelessness it brings about many other issues like mental health problems, decreased self-esteem, and most importantly the inability to find work. Not only does homelessness affect the individual it has drastic effects on the city’s in which these people live. Cities with high homeless populations often suffer from unsanitary streets, higher crime rates, and higher taxes.

When analyzing homelessness experts often break it down into three main categories chronic, episodic, and transitional. Chronic homelessness is used to describe people who have experienced homelessness for at least a year. People experiencing chronic homelessness make up about 24% of the homeless population. They typically have complex and long-term health conditions, such as mental illness, substance use disorders, and physical disabilities. Episodic homelessness is when you shuttle in and out of homelessness. This group is made up of mainly young people who also have mental health and substance abuse problems. The final main group of homelessness is transitional. These individuals are homeless for only a short period of time. People in this group were most likely to be forced out onto the street due to a catastrophic life event such as job loss or an abusive household. Transitionally homeless individuals account for the highest percentage of the homeless population. One thing that each of these groups has in common is that a serious life event caused them to end up on the streets.

When finding a solution to end homelessness there is not a one size fits all approach because every case of homelessness is different. The most common solution set about by the government is to provide housing grants and vouchers to help homeless people afford their housing. However, this solution is ineffective for most homeless individuals. After applying for the aid you are then put on a list but oftentimes you are left on the list for years and never get picked. A caveat with these vouchers is every 5 years a new list is made and you are required to reapply which means if you were next up you would have to reapply and go to the back of the line. These housing vouchers by the federal government are often short term solutions to a long term problem.

Due to the ineffectiveness of many of the federal government’s problems, local governments are often left with the burden of helping the homeless population with limited aid and resources. One way many local governments go about masking the homeless problem is by setting up shelters in order to take the homeless off the street and give them a place to sleep that is protected from the weather. These shelters give many homeless people a place to shower and sleep which they so badly need. It is also important to keep in mind that these shelters are not the safest places and oftentimes homeless people choose the streets over the shelter for this reason. Another key solution local governments use is providing social workers to help homeless individuals manage their finances and life in a more productive manner.

In my opinion, a major solution to end homelessness lies in helping these individuals before the problem even arises. It is estimated that 25 percent of the homeless population is mentally ill compared to the 5 percent of the non-homeless population. As a society, we need to encourage these people to get the mental help they need before it is too late. To make this help available for all we should encourage mental help professionals to volunteer and counsel those in need. The most important way that we could solve this issue is by teaching financial literacy in school. Financial literacy should be taught starting in elementary school so our youth knows how to manage their money so that in the event of a significant financial emergency they know how to get through it in a way that won’t cost them their home. The only way that we can truly stop the spread of homelessness is through education and boosting the self-esteem of those who need it.

Although homelessness will never be completely eradicated in the United States there are significant steps we can take as a society to minimize the number of people who find themselves with nowhere to call home. I recently watched a video about the homeless problem in Los Angeles County and how the streets of LA used to be where you went with your dreams but now the streets of LA are filled with despair, sadness, and disease. A homeless man who lives on the streets of LA stated “when I first got here I felt like a man but now I don’t feel like a man anymore.” These words echo through homeless encampments throughout the United States. This problem is so serious that if we don’t do something now we will be hit with major consequences in the future.

Phillip Mathangani Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
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