Homelessness is a social problem, which affects many people in the world. The majority of homeless individuals live in streets and deserted structures where the environment is not conducive to human survival. The problems faced by homeless persons include medical illness, drug addiction, premature death, depression, and involvement in criminal activities among others. Several laws have been put in place to address the issue of homelessness, such as the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act (MVA), which provide schools with services that assist in the alleviation of several hindrances experienced by homeless students. To end the problem of homelessness, the government should create employment opportunities with earnings that can sustain people’s lives, provide enough support for individuals who are not in a position to work, and develop affordable housing
Homeless people are described as those who sleep outside and in homeless assistance programs. In the United States, approximately 564, 708 individuals were facing homelessness each single night in 2015 (Sermons & Witte, 2011). Although about 391, 440 individuals lived in a certain form of shelter or transitional housing during that time, approximately 31% individuals stayed in a place not intended for human habitation, for example, the street or a deserted building (The State of Homelessness in America, 2016). General homelessness in the United States reduced by 2% from 2014 to 2015. The majority of poor people are at risk of homelessness because it is difficult for them to pay for housing. Homelessness is reducing possibly because of advancements in homeless aid and high investment by the federal government in proven solutions. However, this process is not enough to address the incapability of low-income households affording housing. It is hard for many Americans to afford and maintain housing because of lack of cheaper housing stock and insufficient and stagnant earnings. Additionally, housing as well as job markets have transformed intensely since the 1970s, and government limits in the 1990s have impacted the type and amount of support offered to needy individuals and agencies that help them. Cheaper housing options and permanent full-time employment opportunities are very few. A few people in need also receive support and such factors influence the rate and extent of homelessness (Eberle, Kraus, Hulchanski & Serge, 2001).
Homeless individuals require specialized support services, temporary or lasting help with addiction, physical or mental health challenges. Failure to meet such fundamental human needs results in dangerous and at times dreadful outcomes for the affected individuals and the society. The society faces the challenge of the additional financial cost of managing the needs and problems related to homeless individuals (Eberle et al., 2001). Homeless individuals are also at a higher risk for communicable illnesses, early death, acute illnesses, and chronic health challenges than the general population. Such people are also likely to commit suicide, develop mental health complications and engage in substance abuse (Eberle et al., 2001). Being homeless reduces life expectancy by 20 years, as many homeless individuals are in a poor health condition. For example, numerous studies in the United States have revealed that between 37 and 48% of homeless individuals regarded their health as poor in comparison with 18-21% of individuals in the general population. Additionally, homeless individuals undergo health challenges similar to those experienced by the general population but at increased rates.
Numerous factors negatively impact the health of homeless persons. Firstly, homelessness raises an individual’s exposure to transmittable illnesses, such as tuberculosis. Secondly, homelessness is a very stressful condition and acute stress can activate genetic dispositions to illnesses like hypertension. Thirdly, prolonged malnutrition can lead to chronic conditions, such as anemia. Moreover, homeless people are also likely to experience violence or trauma on the streets, and poor living conditions contribute to poor sanitation, insufficient diets, the lack of sleep and physical injuries. Homelessness is also strongly associated with mental health, and about one- third of homeless individuals suffer from mental illnesses (Eberle et al., 2001). Leading psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia tend to be highly serious among homeless women. In addition, mental illness inclines individuals to homelessness in certain incidences, whereas in others, homelessness causes or activates mental illness. The prevalent mental disorders among homeless persons are schizophrenia, affective disorders like depression, bipolar depression, and post-traumatic stress condition, drug abuse, and personality disorders. Homeless youth are more likely to abuse cocaine and other street drugs while the elderly have in increased rate of alcohol abuse (Somerville, 2013). Another negative impact of homelessness is premature death caused by accidental injuries, HIV, overdoses, homicide, and suicide.
The rates of pregnancy among homeless women are higher than other groups of women. Pregnancy is linked to various risk factors, for instance, insufficient nutrition, too much stress, inadequate housing and sanitation, and several health illnesses, such as genito-urinary tract infections and hypertension. Moreover, pregnant women highly engage in drug and alcohol abuse, leading to low birth weights and increased infant mortality rates (Eberle et al., 2001). Research shows that infection of HIV/AIDS among homeless individuals is higher compared to the general population. Homelessness also increases government expenditure on health services. A lot of money is spent on treating homeless people who have numerous health complications.
Individuals who lack safe, protected, reasonable shelter experience many health complications compared to the general population. They also face social challenges that may be worsened by their lack of shelter, and are at a higher risk of engaging in illegal activities. Such factors lead to excessive utilization of certain services by the homeless, especially medical emergency services, shelters, as well as correctional institutes, based on frequency and duration of use (Eberle et al., 2001).
Existing Laws on Homelessness
The reduced numbers of homeless people are because of the efficiency of targeted federal funding that deals with homelessness. Such funds are directed by various federal agencies, which include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S Department of Education. Such federal programs as well as the public and private homeless aid determinations in states and local communities have highly focussed on lasting housing solutions, for example, permanent supportive housing and quick re-housing. From the year 2007, permanent supportive housing capacity has risen by 61% nation-wide, and since the HUD McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs started funding it in 2013, quick re-housing capacity has risen nationwide
The Department of Health has devoted funds through DCLG to enhance hostel accommodation for homeless individuals. Additionally, DWP’s intends to limit the amount of housing that assist individuals living in homeless hostels, leaving several accommodation providers incapable of offering a workable service. Another law that helps the homeless is the Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016–17, which is funded by Mr Blackman. The bill urges the government to support the legislation for homelessness by initiating legislative supervision of local authority housing departments to ensure that they comply with the revised Code of Guidance, which summarizes service levels to ensure that each homeless individual gets the required support
In 2010, the administration introduced the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness and modified it in 2015. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development together with other federal agencies have partnered with state and local associates to come up with ways of attaining such important goals. The plan was previously modified to offer more advice to communities on ways of engaging in systems planning, assessing performance, and developing housing support and Medicaid, as well as supporting the main elements of community and state-level plans to avert and end homelessness (Henry, Watt, Rosenthal, & Shivji, 2016).
The federal government passed the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act (MVA) to provide schools with services of assisting in the alleviation of several hindrances experienced by homeless students as they pursue education. Additionally, Educational agencies employ federally instructed links to support the provisions of the MVA. Through various enactments, the MVA has operated as the major federal policy tackling homelessness in the United States. This legislation comprises many programs that deal with homelessness, such as financing work programs, shelters, and transitional housing. One significance of the policy is its educational directive that needs schools to ensure that all children and youths undergoing homelessness get equal educational opportunities. The policy enhances stability in the education of children and youths undergoing homelessness as a way of supporting such mandates (Wilkins, Mullins, Mahan & Canfield, 2015).
The federal government has greatly contributed to housing by founding the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1946. The corporation has engaged in backing a sustainable private housing market, enhancing access to home ownership, such as mortgage insurance, financing rehabilitation programs to reserve the old housing stock, and supporting urban renewal and neighborhood regeneration attempts. New plans meant for helping with the establishment of affordable housing comprise the Affordability and Choice Today (ACT) program and Home-grown Solutions. Additionally, The Canadian Centre for Public-Private Partnerships in Housing also fosters community-based associations to develop affordable housing using advanced funding arrangements (Eberle, 2001).
The Effects of Existing Laws
A new report from the Law Center, No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, describes increased number of laws that criminalize homelessness in America. Many U.S. cities are unlawfully rebuking homeless individuals for involving in essential, life-sustaining endeavors in public places, considering that they have no other alternatives. Criminalization of homelessness is expensive and makes it hard for individuals to exit homelessness. In the previous two years, the federal government was determined to end criminalization of homelessness (Eberle, 2001).
The Law Center also recently issued its report concerning the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. The Act permits empty federal houses to be utilized, for free, by qualified groups that offer housing or services to individuals who are homeless. Shielding and enlarging the capability of homeless service providers to obtain unused federal property is a significant part of the determination to stop and avert homelessness.
Homelessness is not avoidable and the major cause is the inadequate affordable housing. Huge reductions in federal housing funding are yet to be restored, leading to the current calamity of homelessness. Presently, just one out of four income-eligible renters get help. In addition, President Trump’s plan of cutting non-defence spending by 1% each year could be overwhelming to affordable housing programs. The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama care, has enhanced health access for individuals presently experiencing homelessness. Based on recent research, states that extended Medicaid enabled many homeless people to benefit from health insurance (Wilkins et al., 2015).
In 2015, the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, issued a circular fostering law enforcement to enhance options to the criminalization of homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) also urged the federal government to stop criminalization of the homeless through encouraging communities to work towards ending criminalization in its $1.9 billion funding program for federal homelessness financing.
Many low-income support programs have experienced federal spending cuts and restraints. The efforts of the homeless assistance system have made it possible for it to help assist individuals with serious housing needs. Nevertheless, the federal government needs to focus on investing in affordable housing and should be determined to enhance economic conditions for poor people (Sermons & Witte, 2011).
The legal system can efficiently address the problem of homelessness through housing. Several studies have proved that housing is effectual at ending homelessness, and also cheaper than criminalizing it. Establishment of permanent supportive housing programs, increased access to housing grants, and elimination of hindrances to affordable rental housing, can highly reduce the rate of homelessness, which cannot be attained by handling the housing catastrophe as a criminal justice problem.
The legal changes I would recommend is placing a greater task on local authorities to help in preventing homelessness for all qualified applicants irrespective of precedence need status, local links or intentionality. Secondly, a new relief duty needs to be placed on local authorities, demanding them to make effective decisions that will assist in securing accommodation for all qualified homeless households with a local connection.
From the study, it is evident that a relationship between homelessness and the health care, social services and criminal justice systems exists. Individuals that lack secure, affordable housing experience many health complications compared to the general population. Most of the social challenges they go through are activated by their lack of shelter. This the reason there are more criminal activities among the homeless people compared to the general public. Thus, the government spends a lot of money managing the problems that face such individuals. Homelessness emanates from difficult conditions that necessitate individuals to choose between food, shelter, and other basic needs. The state can end the problem of homelessness by creating employment opportunities with wages that can sustain their lives, providing enough support for individuals who are not in a position to work, and developing affordable housing and health care services.
“The State of Homelessness in America.” (2016). An Examination of Trends in Homelessness, Homeless Assistance, and At-Risk Populations at the National and State Levels. Retrieved from: http://www.endhomelessness.org/page/-/files/2016%20State%20Of%20Homelessness.pdf
Eberle, M. P. (2001). Homelessness, Causes & Effects, Vol. 2: A Profile, Policy Review and Analysis of Homelessness in British Columbia. Ministry of Social Development & Economic Security.
Eberle, M., Kraus, D., Hulchanski, D., & Serge, L. (2001). The Relationship Between Homelessness and the Health, Social Services and Criminal Justice Systems: A Review of the Literature. Vancouver: British Columbia Ministry of Social Development and Economic Security.
Henry, M., Watt, R., Rosenthal, L., & Shivji, A. (2016). The 2016 annual homeless assessment report (AHAR) to congress. Part 1: Point-in-time estimates of homelessness.
Sermons, M. W., & Witte, P. H. (2011). State of homelessness in America: A research report on homelessness. National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Somerville, P. (2013). Understanding Homelessness. Housing, Theory and Society 30 (4), 384-415.
Wilkins, B. T., Mullins, M. H., Mahan, A., & Canfield, J. P. (2015). Homeless Liaisons’ Awareness about the Implementation of the McKinney–Vento Act. Children & Schools, cdv041.