Homelessness is a state when people are deprived of a permanent house due to valid reasons, thus they use homeless assistance programs. In the United States, approximately 564,708 of people became homeless every night in 2015 (Sermons & Witte, 2011). Although about 391,440 lived had a certain form of shelter or transitional housing during that time, approximately 31% stayed in a marginal housing, a place not intended for human habitation, for example, streets, deserted buildings, warehouses, and the like (The State of Homelessness in America, 2016). General homelessness in the United States was reduced by 2% from 2014 to 2015. The majority of poor people are vulnerable to this phenomenon because they are unable to afford the rent. Homelessness is generally reducing mainly because of considerable improvements in homeless aid and high investments by the federal government. However, this is not enough to address the inability of low-income people to pay for their dwelling. Lack of cheap housing stock and insufficient earnings make it impossible for thousands of people to maintain a permanent home. Additionally, housing and job markets have transformed intensely since the 1970s. Besides, the government limited some of the funding in the 1990s which impacted the type and the amount of support offered to people in need and the number of the agencies that help them. The issue of cheaper housing options and permanent full-time employment opportunities should be addressed. Few poor people receive support and such factors influence the rate and the extent of homelessness (Eberle, Kraus, Hulchanski & Serge, 2001).
Homeless people 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 as a whole. The society faces the challenge of the additional financial costs of managing the needs and problems related to the homeless (Eberle et al., 2001). The latter 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). Homelessness results in premature death because of exposure to different kinds of illnesses. For example, numerous studies in the United States reveal that between 37% and 48% of homeless people admitted their health to be poor in comparison with 18-21% of individuals in the general population. Additionally, homeless people undergo health challenges similar to those experienced by the general population but at increased rates.
The following issues put the health of homeless individuals at risk. Firstly, homelessness raises an individual’s exposure to transmittable illnesses, such as tuberculosis. Secondly, it 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 in 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. Homeless youth are more likely to abuse cocaine and other street drugs while the elderly have an 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 risen cases of pregnancy amongst homeless females are linked to various risk factors, for instance, insufficient nutrition, high stress levels, inadequate housing and sanitation, and several health illnesses, such as genito-urinary tract infections and hypertension. Moreover, pregnant women frequently engage in drug and alcohol abuse, leading to low birth weights and increased infant mortality rates (Eberle et al., 2001).Research shows that HIV/AIDS infection among the homeless is higher compared to the general population. The problem 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. They also face social challenges that may be complicated 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 the use (Eberle et al., 2001).
Existing Laws on Homelessness
The number of homeless people has reduced due to the efficiency of targeted federal funding that deals with the issue. Such state programs as well as the public and private homeless aid determinations in the US and local communities have focussed on lasting housing solutions, for example, permanent supportive dwellings and quick re-housing. From 2007, permanent supportive housing capacity has risen by 61% nationwide, and since the HUD McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs started funding it in 2013, quick re-housing capacity has risen throughout the country.
The Department of Health has devoted funds through DCLG to enhance hostel accommodation for homeless people. Additionally, DWP’s intends to limit the amount of housing that assists 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 develop ways of attaining such important goals. The plan was previously modified to offer more advice to communities on engaging in systems planning, assessing performance, and developing housing support and Medic aid, 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 dealing with homelessness, such as financing work programs, shelters, and transitional housing. One of the policy’s special features is its educational directive that needs schools to ensure all children and the youth suffering homelessness have equal educational opportunities. The policy enhances stability in the education of all categories of children as a way of supporting such mandates (Wilkins, Mullins, Mahan,& Canfield, 2015).
The federal government contributed to housing greatly by founding the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1946. The corporation has engaged in supporting 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 neighbourhood regeneration attempts. New plans intended to help 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 Centre, No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, shows increased number of laws that criminalize homelessness in America. Many U.S. cities are unlawfully rebuking homeless individuals for involving in essential, life-sustaining endeavours in public places, considering that they have no other alternatives. Criminalization of homelessness is expensive and makes it difficult for people to avoid homelessness. In the previous two years, the federal government was determined to end criminalization of homelessness (Eberle, 2001).
The Law Centre recently issued the report on 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.
The phenomenon of homelessness is imminent and the major cause is inadequate prices of 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 gets 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 people presently suffering from homelessness. Based on recent research, states that extended Medicaid enabled many homeless people to benefit from health insurance (Wilkins et al., 2015).
The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has 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 people with serious housing needs. Nevertheless, the federal government has 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 address the problem of homelessness efficiently through housing. Several studies have proved that housing is effectual for 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 include placing a greater task on local authorities to help prevent 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 local connections.
Considering all the facts, it is evident that there exists a relationship between homelessness and other factors as health care, social services and criminal justice systems. People lacking secure, affordable housing experience many health complications compared to the general population. Therefore, the government and other organizations that fight for human rights need to work together in order to come up with a solution. Most of the social challenges they go through are caused by their lack of shelter. This is the reason why there are more criminal activities among the homeless people. Thus, the government spends considerable money managing the problems that such individuals face. 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.
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.
“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
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.