How bad is the problem and what is being done about it?
Homelessness is a big problem in Louisiana. Even before Katrina, there were an estimated 45,000 homeless people living in Louisiana. According to one survey, as much as 38 % of the homeless are children. How bad is the problem and what is being done about it? Watch "Homeless in Louisiana," the next edition of Louisiana Public Square, May 28th.
* Kip Holden, Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish
* Martha Kegel, Executive Director UNITY of Greater New Orleans
* William D. Lewis, author, teacher and former homeless person
* Valerie Keller, CEO of The Outreach Center
The problem of homelessness is, for the most part, a hidden problem. Many would be shocked to learn that in the six month period from January 2006 to June 2006, more than 1,150,000 people in the US used emergency shelter or transitional housing. In Louisiana, over 37,500 men, women and children had to use homeless shelters at some point during 2006. Shelters and transitional housing are where the bulk of the homeless reside, hidden from the view of the general public.
But the public face of homelessness – the lone, destitute male wandering the streets — has skewed the public’s ideas about who the homeless are and how this tragic problem can be addressed. Although single adults account for less than 40 percent of the homeless, it is the image of the individual derelict that comes to the mind of many when the topic of homeless comes up. It’s just one of many mistaken beliefs about homelessness in Louisiana.
Randy Nichols is the Executive Director of the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless. The Alliance is one of nine Continuums of Care agencies that coordinate services for the homeless in multi-parish districts across the state. Nichols says, “People generally think of the homeless as those who are pan handling in the streets; pushing shopping carts; carrying all their worldly possessions in a couple of bags or are in sleeping bags in doorways and alleyways in our cities.” That component is really only 10% of what we call the “chronically homeless”, according to Nichols.
Amazingly, this 10 percent consumes about half of the services provided to the homeless. Nichols says that if the chronically homeless could be housed, “We would free up 50% of the resources spent on homelessness to help others.”
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development [HUD] is providing $27,662,417 for 151 homeless programs in Louisiana. The money will support services such as street outreach, job training, child care, substance abuse treatment and mental health as well as emergency shelters and transitional and permanent housing. The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency estimates that as many as 80,000 rental units and another 80,000 homes are currently needed for low to moderate income households in Louisiana.
Martha Kegel is Executive Director of UNITY of Greater New Orleans, a collaborative of 60 agencies working to end homelessness. She recently pleaded the case for rental vouchers for Louisiana’s homeless:
“In New Orleans and other hurricane-devastated areas, there is an epidemic of Katrina-generated homelessness, with thousands of disabled people sleeping in street camps, in cars, in the woods, and in buildings without electricity and running water.
In one large New Orleans homeless camp, one-third of the residents were found to be at risk of dying soon due to their frail medical conditions, using national research indicators of homeless mortality. A recent survey found that 86 percent of the camp residents are Katrina victims - with many suffering from schizophrenia, cancer, AIDS, heart disease, major depression, end stage kidney disease, liver disease, developmental disabilities, or loss of limbs. In the New Orleans area, mental illness among the previously well is on the rise; many of those who were diagnosed with mental illness before the hurricanes have decompensated; and the extended family support system, upon which so many vulnerable people with mental and physical disabilities relied, has been largely destroyed as a result of so many people remaining displaced around the country. … Louisiana has set aside hurricane recovery money for construction of Permanent Supportive Housing apartments and for services to the residents of those apartments, but without rent subsidies, these apartments - and the services attached to them -- cannot be accessed by the extremely low income people for whom they were intended.”
The Louisiana Housing Finance Agency [LHFA] estimates that as many as 80,000 rental units and another 80,000 homes are currently needed for low to moderate income households in Louisiana. Much of the upward pressure on housing costs can be traced to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as can be seen in the LFHA graph below.
Many in the field cite lack of affordable housing and poverty as the primary causes of homelessness. What follows are surveys and reports detailing the scope and nature of homelessness in both Louisiana and the U.S.
The following is excerpted from a report on homelessness surveys conducted in 2006.The primary author/compiler was Erin Matheny.
Who is experiencing homelessness in Louisiana?
Prior to the hurricanes of 2005, at least 45,165 persons in Louisiana lived in a homeless shelter at some point during the course of the year, with 3,500 to 4,000 persons residing in a homeless shelter on any given night, according to a survey conducted by the state Office of Community Services in early 2005. The most recent data collection, which took place in January 2007, estimated that 37, 514 men and women, and children were serviced by shelters throughout the state over the previous twelve months, with 3,924 residing at a shelter on an average 24 hour period.
During each of the past three years, agencies providing emergency shelter and transitional housing for the homeless have reported an increase in the number of homeless persons served. In all three years, approximately sixty-four percent of the providers indicated an increase in the number of homeless persons served over the previous year. While almost seventy percent of participating shelters reported an increase in requests for assistance, the overall enumeration reflects a decrease in total persons served throughout the state. This significant shift may be attributed to the loss of shelter facilities and emergency and transitional housing beds in the hurricanes’ wakes, thusly limiting points of contact for those seeking services.
In addition to the Office of Community Services sponsored shelter survey, a statewide survey of persons who are homeless or at great risk for becoming homeless was also conducted in late January 2007. The needs assessment was implemented and managed at the local level by the homeless Continuums of Care across the state, wherein individual adults, unaccompanied youth, and adults in families provided information relating to his/her/their housing and service needs. A total of 5,815 surveys were completed within a 24-hour period between January 30th and 31st. Of this data collection, 5,561 unduplicated surveys were used for analysis, which was prepared by the Florida Parishes Social Science Research Center at Southeastern Louisiana University. The study identified 6,426 “literally” homeless persons , 2,320 additional “precariously housed” persons who were at risk of becoming homeless , and 1,107 formerly homeless persons now residing in Permanent Supportive Housing. It should be noted that a Point-in-Time Survey is limited in its population coverage; for instance, unsheltered persons are difficult to identify and count in largely rural regions, not all identified persons are willing to release information, and/or persons are undocumented because they do not seek services from a participating provider during the survey period. Therefore, by a conservative estimate, on any given day, more than 12,000 children and adults may be homeless in Louisiana.
Overview of the 2007 Point-in-Time homeless survey findings
A total of 6,426 persons were identified as being literally homeless on the night of January 30, 2007. Of this total, 2,695 (42%) were single individual adults without children and unaccompanied youth, 1,309 (20%) were adults living in families, and 2,422 (38%) were dependent children living with adults.
1. Residence: 70 percent were living in emergency shelters or transitional shelters/housing and 30 percent were unsheltered.
2. Gender: 64 percent were male and 36 percent were female.
3. Age: 24 percent of adults were between the ages of 18 and 30, 50 percent of adults were between 30 and 49 years of age, and 26 percent of adults were 50 years or older.
4. Race and Ethnicity: 61 percent were African-American/Black, 36 percent were Caucasian/White, 1.5 percent were Native American/Alaskan Native, less than1 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, and less than 1 percent were of another racial identity; 3 percent were Hispanic/Latino and 97 percent were non-Hispanic/Latino.
5. Disability: 67 percent reported having a disability (31 percent reported having a mental illness, 41 percent reported having an addiction, 20 percent reported having a physical or developmental disability, 3 percent reported having HIV/AIDS, and 9 percent reported having another long term illness).
6. Military service: 12 percent were military veterans.
7. Domestic violence: 15 percent had experienced episodes of domestic violence.
8. Income per household: 85 percent earned less than $1,000, 49 percent earned less than $500 per month, and 29 percent had no income.
9. Employment: 35 percent were employed.
Thirty-five percent of all respondents were experiencing long-term homelessness, reporting that they had been homeless more than a year or at least four times in the past three years. Eleven percent fit HUD’s working definition of “chronically homeless” in that they were unaccompanied individuals who reported that they had disabilities and had been homeless for more than a year or at least four times in the past three years. Research has shown that chronically homeless individuals comprise only about 10 percent of the homeless population yet utilize more than half of homeless program resources. The chronically homeless tend to be vulnerable individuals who are struggling with multiple disorders, such as mental illness combined with substance addiction and chronic physical illness. Because of the complexity of their disabilities, they are more challenging to serve and therefore often fall between the cracks of the existing system of care.
The following data points to the extent of the problem of homelessness since the 2005 hurricanes:
1. Number served by the homeless children’s program administered by the LA Department of Education through the school systems in each parish has increased 600 percent.
2. Feeding programs that serve the homeless and the indigent report a 25% increase in food service demand in Baton Rouge
3. The drop in center that serves homeless mentally ill and funded with PATH funds operated by VOA in Baton Rouge has had a 25% spike in request for services
4. The 211 call for services/information line demonstrates a 200% average increase in calls for housing assistance requests in two regions of the state reporting.
5. HMIS inclusion of question: are you a Katrina/Rita evacuee – demonstrates a 36% increase in persons seeking services in Northwest Louisiana.
Long Term Homelessness
Long-Term Homelessness includes all people who have been homeless for long periods of time, as evidenced by repeated (three or more times) or extended (a year or more) stays in the streets, emergency shelters, or other temporary settings, sometimes cycling between homelessness and hospitals, jails, or prisons. This definition, used by the Corporation for Supportive Housing and other national experts on homelessness, intentionally includes a larger group of people than the definition used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD defines the “chronically homeless" as “an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.” This definition excludes homeless families and partnered homeless people as well as those who do not have a disability.
In Louisiana, certainly since the 2005 hurricanes, we are witnessing an increase in long-term homelessness among families, with thirty-five percent of all Point-in-Time survey respondents reporting “long-term homelessness”. Many of these families are less visible because sleeping on the streets with children is unacceptable in our culture. Most sleep in emergency shelters or transitional housing or seek other alternatives. Long-term family homelessness is less visible but it is a problem in our communities nonetheless.
Louisiana was a poor state before August 29, 2005. Before Hurricane Katrina, the state saw almost one-third of the population in Orleans and Jefferson parishes below the poverty line (Brookings Institution, Key Indicators of Entrenched Poverty from 2004 census) and New Orleans had experienced the largest unemployment increase of any metropolitan area in the U.S., from 4.5% to 5.8%. Many evacuees struggled to meet rent and mortgage payments. After losing their homes and all material goods, they continue to struggle to survive in a state whose infrastructure has been severely damaged in affected areas. While communities outside of the hurricane impacted areas have performed heroically to provide for the needs of evacuees, unmet housing and service needs are evident across the state.
Reasons for Homelessness in Louisiana
According to annual surveys among emergency shelter and transitional housing provider agencies compiled by the state office of community services, a severe lack of affordable housing was the primary reason for the increase in the number of homeless persons served. Housing providers consistently cited increases in addictive disorders and substance abuse, as well as increasing rates of poverty, as contributing factors to the rise in need for homeless service providers. Data is unavailable for 2005 and 2006, but it should be noted that in the 2007 survey collection almost seventy percent of respondents reported “other” reasons, specifying the residuals of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The lack of affordable housing also leads the list of causes of homelessness identified by the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual study, “A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in American Cities.” Other causes cited include mental illness and the lack of needed services, substance abuse and the lack of needed services, low-paying jobs, unemployment, domestic violence, poverty, and prisoner re-entry.
The following reports are presented with permission of the National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P. St. NW • Washington, DC 20037 / Phone: (202) 462-4822 • Fax: (202) 462-4823
Why Are People Homeless?
NCH Fact Sheet #1Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, June 2007
Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 20-25 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty. Below is an overview of current poverty and housing statistics, as well as additional factors contributing to homelessness. A list of resources for further study is also provided.
Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities. Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. Being poor means being an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.
In 2005, 13.3% of the U.S. population, or 38,231,521 million people, lived in poverty. Both the poverty rate and the number of poor people have increased in recent years, up from 12.5% or 1.1 million in 2003 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2005). 36% of persons living in poverty are children; in fact, the 2004 poverty rate of 17.6% for children under 18 years old is significantly higher than the poverty rate for any other age group.
Two factors help account for increasing poverty: eroding employment opportunities for large segments of the workforce, and the declining value and availability of public assistance.
Eroding Work Opportunities
Media reports of a growing economy and low unemployment mask a number of important reasons why homelessness persists, and, in some areas of the country, is worsening. These reasons include stagnant or falling incomes and less secure jobs which offer fewer benefits.
While the last few years have seen growth in real wages at all levels, these increases have not been enough to counteract a long pattern of stagnant and declining wages. Low-wage workers have been particularly hard hit by wage trends and have been left behind as the disparity between rich and poor has mushroomed. To compound the problem, the real value of the minimum wage in 2004 was 26% less than in 1979 (The Economic Policy Institute, 2005). Although incomes appear to be rising, this growth is largely due to more hours worked – which in turn can be attributed to welfare reform and the tight labor markets. Factors contributing to wage declines include a steep drop in the number and bargaining power of unionized workers; erosion in the value of the minimum wage; a decline in manufacturing jobs and the corresponding expansion of lower-paying service-sector employment; globalization; and increased nonstandard work, such as temporary and part-time employment (Mishel, Bernstein, and Schmitt, 1999).
Declining wages, in turn, have put housing out of reach for many workers: in every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent.1 A recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report stated that in every state more than the minimum-wage is required to afford a one or two-bedroom apartment at 30% of his or her income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing. In 2001, five million rental households had “worst case housing needs,” which means that they paid more than half their incomes for rent, living in severely substandard housing, or both (Children’s Defense Fund, 2005). The primary source of income for 80% of these households was earnings from jobs (U.S. Housing and Urban Development, 2001).
The connection between impoverished workers and homelessness can be seen in homeless shelters, many of which house significant numbers of full-time wage earners. A survey of 24 U.S. cities found that 13% of persons in homeless situations are employed (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Surveys in past years have yielded the percentage of homeless working to be as high as 26% (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2000). In a number of cities not surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors - as well as in many states - the percentage is even higher (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1997).
The future of job growth does not appear promising for many workers: a 1998 study estimated that 46% of the jobs with the most growth between 1994 and 2005 pay less than $16,000 a year; these jobs will not lift families out of poverty (National Priorities Project, 1998).2 Moreover, 74% of these jobs pay below a livable wage ($32,185 for a family of four).
Thus, for many Americans, work provides no escape from poverty. The benefits of economic growth have not been equally distributed; instead, they have been concentrated at the top of income and wealth distributions. A rising tide does not lift all boats, and in the United States today, many boats are struggling to stay afloat.
Decline in Public Assistance
The declining value and availability of public assistance is another source of increasing poverty and homelessness. Until its repeal in August 1996, the largest cash assistance program for poor families with children was the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (the federal welfare reform law) repealed the AFDC program and replaced it with a block grant program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Current TANF benefits and Food Stamps combined are below the poverty level in every state; in fact, the current maximum TANF benefit for a single mother of two children is 29% of the federal poverty level (Nickelson, 2004). Thus, contrary to popular opinion, welfare does not provide relief from poverty.
1 FMRs are the monthly amounts "needed to rent privately owned, decent, safe, and sanitary rental housing of a modest (non-luxury) nature with suitable amenities." Federal Register. HUD determines FMRs for localities in all 50 states.
2 The poverty line for a family of three is $12,750; for a family of four, the poverty line is $16,813. See
http://www.census.gov/hhes/ww w/poverty.html for details.
Welfare caseloads have dropped sharply since the passage and implementation of welfare reform legislation. However, declining welfare rolls simply mean that fewer people are receiving benefits -- not that they are employed or doing better financially. Early findings suggest that although more families are moving from welfare to work, many of them are faring poorly due to low wages and inadequate work supports. Only a small fraction of welfare recipients' new jobs pay above-poverty wages; most of the new jobs pay far below the poverty line (Children's Defense Fund and the National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998). These statistics from the Institute for Children and Poverty are particularly revealing:
In the 2001 Institute for Children and Poverty study, 37% of homeless families had their welfare benefits reduced or cut in the last year. More strikingly, in Bucks County and Philadelphia, PA, and Seattle, WA, more than 50% had their benefits reduced or cut…Among those who lost their benefits, 20% said they became homeless as a direct result. Additionally, a second study of six states found that between 1997 and 1998, 25% of families who had stopped receiving welfare in the last six months doubled-up on housing to save money, and 23% moved because they could not pay rent (Institute for Children and Poverty, 2001).
Moreover, extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female headed and working families. This increase can be traced directly to the declining number of children lifted above one-half of the poverty line by government cash assistance for the poor (Children's Defense Fund and the National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998).
As a result of loss of benefits, low wages, and unstable employment, many families leaving welfare struggle to get medical care, food, and housing. Many lose health insurance, despite continued Medicaid eligibility: a study found that 675,000 people lost health insurance in 1997 as a result of the federal welfare reform legislation, including 400,000 children (Families USA, 1999). Moreover, over 725,000 workers, laid off from their jobs due to the recession in 2000, lost their health insurance (Families USA, 2001). According to the Children’s Defense Fund, over nine million children in America have no health insurance, and over 90 percent of them are in working families.
In addition, housing is rarely affordable for families leaving welfare for low wages, yet subsidized housing is so limited that fewer than one in four TANF families nationwide lives in public housing or receives a housing voucher to help them rent a private unit. For most families leaving the rolls, housing subsidies are not an option. In some communities, former welfare families appear to be experiencing homelessness in increasing numbers (Children's Defense Fund and the National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998).
In addition to the reduction in the value and availability of welfare benefits for families, recent policy changes have reduced or eliminated public assistance for poor single individuals. Several states have cut or eliminated General Assistance (GA) benefits for single impoverished people, despite evidence that the availability of GA reduces the prevalence of homelessness (Greenberg and Baumohl, 1996).
People with disabilities, too, must struggle to obtain and maintain stable housing. In 1998, on a national average, a person receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits had to spend 69% of his or her SSI monthly income to rent a one-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent; in more than 125 housing market areas, the cost of a one-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent was more than a person's total monthly SSI income (Technical Assistance Collaborative & the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force, 1999). Today, only nine percent of non-institutionalized people receiving SSI receive housing assistance (Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, 2005).
Presently, most states have not replaced the old welfare system with an alternative that enables families and individuals to obtain above-poverty employment and to sustain themselves when work is not available or possible.
A lack of affordable housing and the limited scale of housing assistance programs have
contributed to the current housing crisis and to homelessness.
The gap between the number of affordable housing units and the number of people needing them has created a housing crisis for poor people. Between 1973 and 1993, 2.2 million low-rent units disappeared from the market. These units were either abandoned, converted into condominiums or expensive apartments, or became unaffordable because of cost increases. Between 1991 and 1995, median rental costs paid by low-income renters rose 21%; at the same time, the number of low-income renters increased. Over these years, despite an improving economy, the affordable housing gap grew by one million (Daskal, 1998). Between 1970 and 1995, the gap between the number of low-income renters and the amount of affordable housing units skyrocketed from a nonexistent gap to a shortage of 4.4 million affordable housing units – the largest shortfall on record (Institute for Children and Poverty, 2001). According to HUD, in recent years the shortages of affordable housing are most severe for units affordable to renters with extremely low incomes. Federal support for low-income housing has fallen 49% from 1980 to 2003 (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005).
More recently, the strong economy has caused rents to soar, putting housing out of reach for the poorest Americans. After the 1980s, income growth has never kept pace with rents, and since 2000, the incomes of low-income households has declined as rents continue to rise (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). The number of housing units that rent for less than $300, adjusted for inflation, declined from 6.8 million in 1996 to 5.5 million in 1998, a 19 percent drop of 1.3 million units (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1999). The loss of affordable housing puts even greater numbers of people at risk of homelessness.
The lack of affordable housing has lead to high rent burdens (rents which absorb a high proportion of income), overcrowding, and substandard housing. These phenomena, in turn, have not only forced many people to become homeless; they have put a large and growing number of people at risk of becoming homeless. A 2001 Housing and Urban Development (HUD) study found that 4.9 million unassisted, very low-income households – this is 10.9 million people, 3.6 million of whom are children -- had "worst case needs" for housing assistance in 1999 (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2001).3 Finally by Although this figure seems to be a decrease from 1997, it is misleading since, in the same two-year span, “the number of units affordable to extremely low-income renters dropped between 1997 and 1999 at an accelerated rate, and shortages of housing both affordable and available to these renters actually worsened (HUD Report on Worst Case Housing Needs, 1999).
Housing assistance can make the difference between stable housing, precarious housing, or no housing at all. However, the demand for assisted housing clearly exceeds the supply: only about one-third of poor renter households receive a housing subsidy from the federal, state, or a local government (Daskal, 1998). The limited level of housing assistance means that most poor families and individuals seeking housing assistance are placed on long waiting lists. From 1996- 1998, the time households spent on waiting lists for HUD housing assistance grew dramatically. For the largest public housing authorities, a family's average time on a waiting list rose from 22 to 33 months from 1996 to 1998 - a 50% increase (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1999). The average waiting period for a Section 8 rental assistance voucher rose from 26 months to 28 months between 1996 and 1998.4 Today the average wait for Section 8 Vouchers is 35 months (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2004).
Excessive waiting lists for public housing mean that people must remain in shelters or inadequate housing arrangements longer. For instance, in the mid-1990s in New York, families stayed in a shelter an average of five months before moving on to permanent housing. In a survey of 24 cities, people remain homeless an average of seven months, and 87% of cities reported that the length of time people are homeless has increased in recent years (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Longer stays in homeless shelters a result in less shelter space available for other homeless people, who must find shelter elsewhere or live on the streets.
A housing trend with a particularly severe impact on homelessness is the loss of single room occupancy (SRO) housing. In the past, SRO housing served to house many poor individuals, including poor persons suffering from mental illness or substance abuse. From 1970 to the mid- 1980s, an estimated one million SRO units were demolished (Dolbeare, 1996). The demolition of SRO housing was most notable in large cities: between 1970-1982, New York City lost 87% of its $200 per month or less SRO stock; Chicago experienced the total elimination of cubicle hotels; and by 1985, Los Angeles had lost more than half of its downtown SRO housing (Koegel, et al, 1996). From 1975 to 1988, San Francisco lost 43% of its stock of low-cost residential hotels; from 1970 to 1986, Portland, Oregon lost 59% of its residential hotels; and from 1971 to 1981 Denver lost 64% of its SRO hotels (Wright and Rubin, 1997). Thus the destruction of SRO housing is a major factor in the growth of homelessness in many cities.
3 "Worst case needs" refers to those renters with incomes below 50% of the area median income who are
involuntarily displaced, pay more than half of their income for rent and utilities, or live in substandard housing.
Finally, it should be noted that the largest federal housing assistance program is the entitlement to deduct mortgage interest from income for tax purposes. In fact, for every one dollar spent on low income housing programs, the federal treasury loses four dollars to housing-related tax expenditures, 75% of which benefit households in the top fifth of income distribution (Dolbeare, 1996). In 2003, the federal government spent almost twice as much in housing-related tax expenditures and direct housing assistance for households in the top income quintile than on housing subsidies for the lowest-income households (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). Thus, federal housing policy has not responded to the needs of low-income households, while disproportionately benefiting the wealthiest Americans.
Particularly within the context of poverty and the lack of affordable housing, certain additional factors may push people into homelessness. Other major factors, which can contribute to homelessness, include the following:
Lack of Affordable Health Care: For families and individuals struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness, beginning with a lost job, depletion of savings to pay for care, and eventual eviction. In 2004, approximately 45.8 million Americans had no health care insurance. That equates to 15.7% of the population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2005). Nearly a third of persons living in poverty had no health insurance of any kind. The coverage held by many others would not carry them through a catastrophic illness.
Domestic Violence: Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In a study of 777 homeless parents (the majority of whom were mothers) in ten U.S. cities, 22% said they had left their last place of residence because of domestic violence (Homes for the Homeless, 1998). In addition, 50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Studying the entire country, though, reveals that the problem is even more serious. Nationally, approximately half of all women and children experiencing homelessness are fleeing domestic violence (Zorza, 1991; National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 2001).
Mental Illness: Approximately 16% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2005). Despite the disproportionate number of severely mentally ill people among the homeless population, increases in homelessness are not attributable to the release of severely mentally ill people from institutions. Most patients were released from mental hospitals in the 1950s and 1960s, yet vast increases in homelessness did not occur until the 1980s, when incomes and housing options for those living on the margins began to diminish rapidly. According to the 2003 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Report, most homeless persons with mental illness do not need to be institutionalized, but can live in the community with the appropriate supportive housing options (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). However, many mentally ill homeless people are unable to obtain access to supportive housing and/or other treatment services. The mental health support services most needed include case management, housing, and treatment.
4 The Section 8 Program is a federal housing assistance program that provides housing subsidies for families and individuals to live in existing rental housing or in designated housing projects.
Addiction Disorders: The relationship between addiction and homelessness is complex and controversial. While rates of alcohol and drug abuse are disproportionately high among the homeless population, the increase in homelessness over the past two decades cannot be explained by addiction alone. Many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and addicted are clearly at increased risk of homelessness. During the 1980s, competition for increasingly scarce low-income housing grew so intense that those with disabilities such as addiction and mental illness were more likely to lose out and find themselves on the streets. The loss of SRO housing, a source of stability for many poor people suffering from addiction and/or mental illness, was a major factor in increased homelessness in many communities. Addiction does increase the risk of displacement for the precariously housed; in the absence of appropriate treatment, it may doom one's chances of getting housing once on the streets. Homeless people often face insurmountable barriers to obtaining health care, including addictive disorder treatment services and recovery supports. The following are among the obstacles to treatment for homeless persons: lack of health insurance; lack of documentation; waiting lists; scheduling difficulties; daily contact requirements; lack of transportation; ineffective treatment methods; lack of supportive services; and cultural insensitivity. An in-depth study of 13 communities across the nation revealed service gaps in every community in at least one stage of the treatment and recovery continuum for homeless people (National Coalition for the Homeless, 1998).
Homelessness results from a complex set of circumstances that require people to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs. Only a concerted effort to ensure jobs that pay a living wage, adequate support for those who cannot work, affordable housing, and access to health care will bring an end to homelessness.
* Children's Defense Fund and National Coalition for the Homeless. Welfare to What: Early Findings on Family Hardship and Well-being, 1998. National Coalition for the Homeless, 2201 P St NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; 202/462-4822.
* Children’s Defense Fund. “Bush Administration Policies Exacerbate Growing Housing Crisis For Families With Children”, 2005. Available at http://www.childrensdefense.org.
* Dolbeare, Cushing. "Housing Policy: A General Consideration," in Homelessness in America, 1996, Oryx Press. National Coalition for the Homeless, 2201 P St NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; 202/462-4822.
* The Economic Policy Institute. Minimum Wage: Frequently Asked Questions, 2005. Available from http://www.epinet.org.
* Families USA. Losing Health Insurance: The Unintended Consequences of Welfare Reform, 1999. Available from Families USA, 1334 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005; 202/628- 3030.
* Federal Task Force on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness. Outcasts on Main Street: A Report of the Federal Task Force on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, 1992.
* Greenberg, Mark, and Jim Baumohl. "Income Maintenance: Little Help Now, Less on the Way," in Homelessness in America, 1996, Oryx Press. National Coalition for the Homeless, 2201 P St NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; 202/462-4822.
* Homes for the Homeless. Ten Cities 1997-1998: A Snapshot of Family Homelessness Across America. Available from Homes for the Homeless & the Institute for Children and Poverty, 36 Cooper Square, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10003; 212/529-5252.
* Institute for Children and Poverty. A Shelter is Not a Home: Or is it? April 2001. Available online at http://www.homesforthehomeless.com/ or from the Institute for Children and Poverty, 36 Cooper Square, 6th Floor, New York, NY 10003.
* Koegel, Paul, et al. "The Causes of Homelessness," in Homelessness in America, 1996, Oryx Press. National Coalition for the Homeless, 2201 P St NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; 202/462-4822.
* Mishel, L., Bernstein, J., and Schmitt, J. The State of Working America: 1998-99, 1999.
* Available for $24.95 (paper) from the Economic Policy Institute, 1660 L Street, NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20036; 202/331-5510.
* National Coalition for the Homeless. Homelessness in America: Unabated and Increasing, 1997.
* National Coalition for the Homeless, 2201 P St NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; 202/462-4822.
* National Coalition for the Homeless. No Open Door: Breaking the Lock on Addiction Recovery for Homeless People, 1998. National Coalition for the Homeless, 2201 P St NW, Washington, D.C., 20036; 202/462-4822.
* National Low Income Housing Coalition. Out of Reach: Rental Housing at What Cost?, 1998. Available from the National Low Income Housing Coalition at 1012 14th Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC 20005; 202/662-1530.
* National Low Income Housing Coalition. The Crisis in America’s Housing, 2005. Available from http://www.nlihc.org.
* National Priorities Project and Jobs with Justice. Working Hard, Earning Less: The Future of Job Growth in America, 1998. Available from the National Priorities Project, 17 New South Street, Suite 301, Northampton, MA 01060; 414/584-9556.
* Nickelson, Idara. “The District Should Use Its Upcoming TANF Bonus To Increase Cash Assistance and Remove Barriers to Work”, 2004. D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Available at http://www.dcfpi.org.
* Santos, Fernanda and Robet Ingrassia. “Family surge at shelters.” New York Daily News, August 18th, 2002. Available at http://www.nationalhomeless.org/housing/familiesarticle.html. Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc. and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force. Priced Out in 1998: The Housing Crisis for People with Disabilities, 1999. Available from the Technical Assistance Collaborative, One Center Plaza, Suite 310, Boston, MA 02108; 617/742-5657.
* U.S. Bureau of the Census(a). Poverty in the United States: 1997. Current Population Reports, Series P60-201, 1998. Available, free, from U.S. Bureau of the Census, Income Statistics Branch, Washington, DC, 20233-0001; 301/763-8576, or at http://www.census.gov/hhes/ww w/poverty.html.
* U.S. Bureau of the Census(b). Health Insurance Coverage: 1997. Current Population Reports, Series P60-202, 1997. Available, free, from U.S. Bureau of the Census, Income Statistics Branch, Washington,DC, 20233-0001; 301/763-8576, or at http://www.census.gov/hhes/ww w/hlthins.html.
* U.S. Bureau of the Census. Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States: 2003, 2004,2005. Available at http://www.census.gov.
* U.S. Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities: 2001. Available for $15.00 from the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 1620 Eye St., NW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC, 20006-4005, 202/293-7330.
* U.S. Conference of Mayors. A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities: 2005. Available from http://www.usmayors.org/uscm/home.asp.
* U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Blueprint for Change, 2003. Available through National Resource and Training Center on Homelessness and Mental Illness, http://www.nrchmi.samhsa.gov.
* U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. Rental Housing Assistance -- The Crisis Continues: 1997 Report to Congress on Worst Case Housing Needs, 1998. Available for $5.00 from HUD User, P.O. Box 6091, Rockville, MD, 20850, 800/245-2691.
* U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. Waiting In Vain: An Update On America's Housing Crisis, 1999. Available for $5.00 from HUD User, P.O. Box 6091, Rockville, MD 20849-6091, 800/245-2691, or free from the HUD User web site at http://www.huduser.org
* U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research, A Report on Worst Case Housing Needs in 1999: New Opportunities Amid Continuing Challenges, 1999. Available from HUD User, P.O. Box 6091, Rockville, MD 20849-6091, 800/245-2691, or free from the HUD User web site at http://www.huduser.org
* Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Administration’s Section 8 Voucher Proposal Closes National Low Income Housing Coalition.
* HUD Homeless Information: Louisiana
* National Coalition for Homeless Veterans
Literally Homeless: persons who live in emergency shelters or transitional housing for some period of time, or who sleep in places not meant for human habitation (streets, parks, abandoned buildings) and who may also use shelters on an intermittent basis.
Precariously Housed: persons on the edge of becoming literally homeless who may be doubled up with friends and relatives or paying extremely high proportions of their resources for rent, includes persons residing in FEMA-sponsored housing who had not identified alternative affordable housing
Kuhn, Randall and Dennis Culhane, “Applying cluster analysis to test a typology of homelessness by pattern of shelter utilization,” American Journal of Community Psychology, 26(2): 207-232.
Notice of Funding Availability for the Collaborative Initiative to Help End Chronic Homelessness/Federal Register, Vol.68, No.17/ Monday, January 27, 2003, 4019.
Appleseed, Continuing Storm: The Ongoing Struggles of Hurricane Katrina Evacuees. August 2006, available at http://www.appleseeds.net.
We want to know your opinion! Leave your comments in the box below.Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.