Homelessness May Be Closer Than You Think

Featured Image: Original art by Gonzo, a homeless artist. If you’re able to donate to him, his CashApp is $PeaceLoveSprayPaint and his Paypal is PayPal.me/plspraypaint.

 
 

4 for Now

News about homelessness often comes from LA and other big cities. Between encampment sweeps, anti-homeless architecture and legislation, and personal stories about homelessness, it’s clearly a major issue. It’s easy to look on from a small city, rural town, or a different state and think, “That’s not here.”

But it is.

Find stats for your state from the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, keeping in mind research suggests homelessness has been under-counted by 20%.

Homelessness Demographics

  • Most people experiencing homelessness are men.
  • Chronically homeless individuals make up about 20% of the homeless population.
  • Unaccompanied homeless youth are more likely to be non-white, Hispanic, and female or nonbinary than adult homeless folks.
  • 39% of all people who are homeless are Black and/or African American, despite being 12% of the total US population.
  • Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians are represented five times more within the homeless population than in the general US population.
  • Hispanic people make up 23% of the homeless population while only 16% of the total US population.

Busting Myths About Homelessness

Homelessness is a serious and complicated issue, but the general view is that it’s an individual problem. To assume all a homeless person needs is a job or to stay in a shelter is to grossly oversimplify the situation.

First, it assumes the lack of a job is the only (or leading) cause of homelessness. While it can be one, there are many causes, and any of them can push a person with stable housing into a crisis and onto the street.

Second, it assumes shelters are both easy to get into and safe. But most shelters limit their clientele and how many nights they can stay. Plus, not every state has right-to-shelter laws to ensure minimum quality standards.

Third, it ignores extenuating circumstances, like disability, criminal records, service animals or pets, and other reasons why a homeless person can’t just get a job and stay in a shelter.

There are more myths, but y’know, word count limits.

Covid and Homelessness

The Covid pandemic has brought massive job loss, heavy healthcare burdens, mental health ramifications, rising housing prices, and eviction surges. Covid-19 rates are also higher among the homeless population than the rest of the population. United Way of the National Capital Area has more on the effect of Covid-19 on homelessness.

Solving Homelessness

What’s frustrating about homelessness is that while homeless numbers continue to rise, the solutions are within our reach:

  • Provide affordable housing.
  • Integrate healthcare with housing assistance.
  • Increase access to job training and employment.
  • Decriminalize homelessness.
  • Eliminate the systemic racism that increases the risks for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color.
 

4 for Later

  1. If you or someone you know is homeless or at risk of homelessness in the US, you can go to 211.org, call 211 (or 1-866-698-6155), or text your zip code to 898-211 (not available in all areas) to find places near you that can assist you with everything from rent assistance and health supports to shelters and housing assistance.
  2. Contact your representatives. The National Coalition for the Homeless has some tips for lobbying, and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness has some resources for addressing encampments that can provide further information.
  3. Donate to the National Coalition for the Homeless or sign your organization on to be a part of their Bring America Home Now campaign. See their Taking Action page for more ways to get involved.
  4. If you see a homeless person, remember they’re a person! In a world that criminalizes and punishes their very existence, treating them like a human being is literally the least any of us can do. Say hi. If you can afford to, give them some money. They may have a CashApp or Venmo account if you don’t have cash. They may have a business you can support. You don’t know if you ignore them. And a sale or a donation can mean surviving one more day. Everyday Feminism has more on responding to panhandling.
 

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