Homelessness is a worldwide concern that affects people from all types of backgrounds and transcends race, age or nationality. This challenge is one of the hardest to cope with and many parents try to ensure that they offer shelter to their children by working hard. As a basic need, shelter should be among the necessities provided by a government to prevent citizens from becoming homeless. It is important for people to live in healthy and safe homes because this often has an impact on their well-being and productivity as it affects their physical, emotional and economical health. The United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has emphasized on the importance of having access to decent shelter (Cushing, 1996).

The United States McKinney Act of 1994 defines homeless persons as individuals that lack definite and adequate night dwelling (Vissing, 1996). However, this definition is subject to different interpretations and can also change depending on the organization or institution involved. For instance, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development expands the definition of homeless persons as stipulated in the McKinney Act by categorizing as homeless both the people that live in the streets and those at risk of eviction and lacking resources to find alternative shelter. Vissing (1996) places the homeless into three categories.

The “primary homeless” is the first category and it refers to the homeless persons who live in parking lots, on the streets and in derelict buildings. The second category is called “secondary homeless” and includes those persons that depend on temporary shelters and refugee camps for night dwellings. The third and final category is the tertiary homeless”. This category describes the homeless people who reside with their friends and relatives in congested and unhealthy areas.

These categories help to show that the situations of homeless persons varies with each society and can be used in different contexts. People who lack shelter in urban areas will definitely take to the streets to look for night dwelling. However, in the rural areas, such people are bound to get help from relatives and well wishers hence may end up living in crowded homesteads. This paper will explore the state of homelessness and reasons why people end up homeless. It will also explain the latest trends of this situation, in addition to giving probable solutions that governments can undertake to reduce homelessness despite the rising population and high unemployment rates.

The People Affected by Homelessness

Different people become hopeless as a result of different situations. One of the main causes for homelessness is political instability and war. Many victims of political instability and war seek refuge and asylum from other places or countries where they feel safer. Such emigrants rarely carry anything save for the clothes on their backs and once they reach tehir destination, they often have to start from scratch. Many become refugees in camps.

The problem of political instability is gaining prominence in the developing world and many inhabitants flee from their homelands to seek safety from other countries, hence ending up homeless. The 2007/2008 post-election violence that happened in Kenya is a lucid example of how political instability can contribute to homelessness especially considering the fact that victims ended up as internally displaced people living in camps within their country (Makau, 2008). There are yet others who fled rural areas and settled in slum dwellings within the major cities.

Many young adults may end up homeless especially if they leave home without having sufficient resources and stable sources of income to take care of their needs (Vissing, 1996). Such youth end up living with different friends and relatives whilst trying to secure stable jobs to sustain their lives. For female young adults, there is a tendency to cohabit with their boyfriends who have stable income and are able to pay the bills. When these relationships end, most of these girls are usually kicked out and may end up moving from one place to another without having a stable home.

Prisoners are also considered as homeless people. This is because they usually lack the basic comforts of what they can get at home and survive at the expense of their governments (National Coalition for Homeless 2009). Most mental patients are also categorized as homeless persons because they rarely have a permanent residence and tend to move from one place to the other, often sleeping in the streets. Some governments have taken the initiative to work with agencies in order to help mental patients into correctional facilities where they can access help.

Children of different ages also find themselves homeless for one reason or the other. Many children who abuse drugs have ended up homeless after finding it difficult to cope with their families. Such children end up on the streets without shelter and money to sustain their drug habits.There are also children who rebel against their parents and run away from home in search for freedom. These may move from place to place without really finding a permanent residence. Orphans who do not have good relatives and well-wishers to come to their rescue may also end up homeless as they cannot support themselves at such a young and vulnerable age.

Many of these victims of homelessness find themselves living in deplorable conditions where they survive on very little. They are also unable to change their lives for the better and need help from outside to get better shelter. In addition to these people, slum dwellers and people belonging to the lower income brackets need assistance as their poor conditions are likely to drive them to homelessness and worsen the situation.

Reasons for Homelessness

As alluded to earlier, different people end up homeless because of varied reasons. People that live in safe and healthy habitats may end up homeless if they lack enough resources to pay up for their rents or mortgages. Evictions are thus a major cause for homelessness. Since many home owners who put up their houses for rent want to earn income, they evict tenants who fail to pay up and the same applies to banks which give out mortgages.

Many poor families struggle to pay their rent and this is because they have a multitude of other needs which need priority. Food, healthcare and education are just but a few of such needs which most families prioritize over housing needs. A 2007 survey carried out in the United States by the Bureau of Statistics revealed that 12.5% Americans lived in abject poverty at the time (Conference of mayors 2007). This situation was as a result of high unemployment rates that contributed to the increased poverty rates. Despite concentrating on building better infrastructure, the government has overlooked the importance of public housing to meet the needs of its citizenry.

Domestic violence and abusive relationships are also leading causes of homelessness. In this case, many women are the vulnerable victims who have to choose between being homeless or persevering in abusive relationships. Many street families are made up of single women who are struggling to raise their children after escaping from abusive relationships. In many poor families, domestic abuse is on the rise due to quarrels and arguments over which parent should provide and cater for the bills. Frustrated parents who are unable to meet their families’ needs resort to violence in order to cover up for their inadequacies.

Cohabitation and relationships of convenience are also on the rise and since they lack the security of legal unions, these relationships end up in failure and as a result those who relied on their spouses to provide their needs become homeless. The death of a bread winner in most cases has devastating impacts on the families involved. Such an occurrence may destabilize the family and render them unable to pay their bills and rent hence making them susceptible to eviction and homelessness. What is more, cohabiting or marriages of convenience also contribute to homelessness. This situation can be made worse if the breadwinner was indisposed and left a huge medical bill that drains the family coffers.

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, typhoons and fires may also be attributed to homelessness. These disasters always have a devastating impact because they destroy homes and leave people without shelter. As a result, these people have to live in temporary makeshift structures while waiting on help from the government, humanitarian organizations and other well-wishers. Some of the recent examples of natural disasters that have left many people homeless include the Thailand typhoon and New Orleans floods (Saucier, 1994). Congested living areas such as slums tend to be more prone to fire outbreaks and hence there are high cases of slum-dwellers being rendered homeless.

Dry conditions, famine and nomadic lifestyles are also reasons for homelessness among certain communities in Africa. These communities often move from one place to another in such of greener pastures and water for their livestock as well as food for the families. As a result of their migration, they construct makeshift shelters that can easily be assembled or demolished as the need arises. Most of these families encounter altercations with other communities because of scarce resources which they have to fight for. In extreme cases, the males of such communities have to live outside their houses and guard the livestock and families from warring enemies.

The lack of affordable accommodation especially in urban cities of most countries has also contributed to the state of homelessness. In developing countries such as Kenya, many citizens have migrated to the urban cities such as Nairobi in search for opportunities. This has led to high congestion in the city and increase in demand for rental houses. As a result, the cost of rental housing units has shot up leaving many urban dwellers unable to afford decent shelters. This has led to a rise in slum settlement and street families. In addition to the demand of housing, the cost of building these units has gone up and building materials are also quite expensive hence affecting rental costs (Vissing, 1996). This is worsened by the lack of regulation of rental housing in most countries which results in high costs of rental units for consumers.

Reasons for Increasing Homelessness

The past decade has witnessed a rise in the number of homeless people and families. Experts have linked this with the increase in demographics and population size of most countries. Unfortunately, most governments have not been able to provide affordable public housing facilities for their rising populations. In fact, this population increase has been accompanied with a decline in the number of affordable rental houses hence leading to the rise in homelessness. According to the US Mayors Conference, this gap has increased the period of stay in shelters from six months to twelve months (2007).

Additionally, homelessness has been viewed as a cyclic condition whereby most street families cannot afford education and as their children grow, they are unable to access education and income generation opportunities. In the long run, these children also end up in the streets. A survey of 25 cities in the USA also reveals a rise in the number of single mothers who raise children in the streets (The U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2005).

Many low income earners live in rental houses and yet they have had their income declining over the past few years. This is mainly due to economic hardships that have affected many countries. On the other hand, rents have continued to rise and this has increased pressure and economic burden on many of the people who earn a poor wage (National Low Income Housing Coalition, 2005). For most poor families, 40% of income earned is spent on housing and this leaves very little amount of money for other expenses and these people are compelled to live in cheaper congested dwellings (Mayors conferences 2007).

In the recent past, many waiting lists for people seeking public housing. This has forced many of the homeless people to remain in shelters for more than twelve months. Despite efforts by the government to reduce homelessness by providing public housing, the high demand for such housing has become too much and hence the government has been unable to keep up. The growing urban population does not help this matter. Many people are flooding the urban areas in search for employment and education opportunities hence creating an increasing demand for housing in these areas.

Since many institutions do not provide housing units for their employers, the pressure to provide adequate accommodation is placed on the government and the demand for public housing has grown because of this. Many civil servants are not even able to secure the public housing hence have to rely on housing allowances, which in most cases is very little compared to rental rates in the market. This has forced most families to live in indecent conditions.

In addition to the above problems, drug abuse and mental illnesses have also contributed to the rise in homelessness and number of street persons and families. Surveys conducted show that 16% of young people living in the streets suffer from different types of mental illnesses and disorders (Zorza, 1991). Drug addiction has also led many to spend their money badly hence rendering addicts homeless.   Family needs such as healthcare and medical needs may also deplete a family’s resources leading to homelessness.

Possible Solutions to Homelessness

According to the United Nations Declaration, shelter, being a basic need for every citizen, is supposed to be provided by the government (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009). Declaration, governments are required to provide adequate shelter for its citizens (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009).

The government can do this by collaborating with other able stakeholders in erecting decent houses and structures that are affordable especially for low-income earners. Additionally, housing laws, policies and regulations should be revised and aligned with the needs of the more vulnerable in society. For example, New York City set a permanent residence for mentally ill people and the governments of other cities have begun replicating this trend as well (Cushing, 1996). This trend should be promoted across the world because providing permanent housing solutions to the homeless is a long lasting and cheaper solution. In fact, where possible the government should initiate programs through which the poorer are able to own homes as this will save them financially and prevent them from becoming homeless.

In addition to providing housing, the government should also provide other basic needs like healthcare and education which cost a lot for poor families. Education in particular should be made easily accessible for poorer children as this can help them gain important knowledge and skills hence seek gainful employment. In the long run, education is one of the most important instruments that can be used to break the vicious poverty cycle.

Women and children in abusive relationships should be given high priority when it comes to provision of these basic needs. In addition to affordable shelter, these women should also be provided for guidance and counseling services (Zorza, 1991). The government must also join hands with other stakeholders in sensitizing the entire community on domestic violence and encourage families to live in peace despite the hardships they may face.

Employment institutions should be compelled to provide housing for their workers in order to ease the burden and pressure on the government to provide public housing especially with the rising number of homeless people. Ultimately, if institutions are able to cater for their employees’ housing needs, the demand for public housing units will go down thus reducing the rental market prices. There should be more stringent regulations in place to prevent private investors from exploiting the poorer communities by raising rental consts arbitrarily.

Social cohesion or bonding is an important aspect of uniting society and this can help to enhance good relations right from the family to the larger community. This move can help to reduce contention and conflicts among family members and neighbors living in one community. With less break-ups and more cohesion, governments can expect the number of homeless persons to reduce.

Additionally, neighbors will be more conscious to the problems of those within their communities hence preventing them from becoming homeless when they are faced with rental or mortgage problems. Since drug related problems are among the leading causes of homelessness, governments need to create more awareness on prevention and dealing with drug addiction. (Vissing, 1996.). Drug addicts should also be rehabilitated and embraced back into the society so as to prevent them from becoming homeless.

The rise of unemployment has also increased poverty rates in many countries and this has contributed to homelessness. It is important for measures and policies to be implemented in order to increase employment opportunities and help citizens obtain steady incomes. This will reduce the rates of poverty and subsequently the number of homeless people. The Department of Housing and Urban Development must also take the responsibility of identifying the citizens that are more susceptible to homelessness and plan for housing facilities for such people.

Civil conflicts and border wars should also be dealt with by encouraging cohesion and beefing up security in developing countries where this has commonly resulted in displacement and homelessness. Governments should also support homeless victims of such conflicts and wars by providing them with shelter and capital to start off their lives once again.

In conclusion, homelessness is not an issue that can be dealt with in a short period and the proposed solutions are bound to take a long period of times and high expenses. However, implementing taking these approaches, countries can significantly reduce the number of homeless people. This will be a continuous process and the governments should definitely expect some form of challenges. Yet in the long run it will help reduce homelessness.




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