The United States of Homelessness

Mohamed Eltayeb

The United States of America has a homeless problem, and the US government is doing a great job at pretending it doesn’t exist. 

In January 2019, it was reported that more than half a million Americans were homeless. Today, we have no sense of how many people are experiencing homelessness in America. Still, we know the figure has risen rapidly, and if nothing is done through legislation, America’s homeless crisis will only worsen.

Unwelcomed stigma

To end homelessness, we first need to end the surrounding stigma around the state of being homeless. The assumptions linked to homelessness is the reason why it has developed to such extreme proportions. Claims that the homeless are “mentally ill,” “dangerous,” “criminals,” or “substance abusers” are not just inaccurate but have been debunked through statistics.

Fueled by pop culture and mainstream media, homelessness on the surface appears to be a situation produced by the individual and their “bad decisions,” but that concept is far from the truth. The stigmatization of the homeless has allowed the elites of America to avoid solving the problem and further sustain a long-enduring status quo that homelessness is a choice when it’s everything but a choice. In the United States, where the rich can take trips to space, several contributing factors exist that force Americans to live in poverty.

For many working-class Americans, the state of homelessness is not too far off. In 2019, The Charles Schwab Corporation, a financial services company, revealed that 59% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Moreover, the survey reported that nearly half of Americans bear credit card debt as they struggle to keep up with bills.

A game of musical chairs

With that in mind, the driving force for poverty for Americans is the lack of affordable housing in the US. Just as of this year, the National Low-Income Housing Coalition annual “Out Of Reach” report unveiled that anyone working a minimum wage job full-time cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment in any state in the country. In fact, workers under minimum wage need to earn $24.90 per hour for a two-bedroom home and $20.40 per hour for a one-bedroom rental. The minimum wage has increased in several states, but by mere cents to a dollar. Washington DC is the state with the highest minimum wage set to $15.20. At the same time, Georgia and Wyoming are the states with the lowest minimum wages at $5.15 but are subject to pay employers the $7.25 Federal minimum wage. In addition, just this week, the Biden administration issued a new eviction moratorium protecting only those in areas of the country with high levels of community COVID transmission. Nevertheless, as the news is good for housing advocates, it’s a temporary answer to a multifaceted problem.

As I mentioned earlier, there is no accurate figure on how many people are experiencing homelessness since it’s challenging to calculate. The Department Of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report is criticized and considered severely underestimated since it was gathered in just one night in January of 2019. Yet, the report fails to consider individuals living in vehicles, homes of friends and family, or supportive housing. Besides, the tally took place in the cold month of January, which could significantly hinder the actual calculation. Therefore the government’s failure to thoroughly measure the number of homeless individuals in the country adds to the multifaceted issue.

Downtown Los Angeles . (Source: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The combination of low wages and lack of affordable housing are just some of the factors that allow homelessness to continue to exist. Affordable health care is another factor, as nearly one-fifth of all Americans cannot afford essential healthcare services. Furthermore, marginalized groups experience homelessness at higher rates as housing discrimination and racial inequalities continue to occur.

(Source:National Alliance to End Homelessness)

Domestic violence, disabilities, disasters are also contributing factors that lead to the rising crisis of homelessness.

Abolishing homelessness

Ending homelessness in America is no simple feat; it will require several legislative steps and costly decisions; however, it is entirely possible. In Finland, housing was the primary solution to eradicating homelessness. The country supports every individual with a residency without any preconditions. As a result, progress has been made as the country hosts the lowest number of homeless and plans to end the crisis by 2027. The United States has the means to tackle the issue similarly if it intends to. A country that spent $725 billion on its military this year alone can definitely abolish homelessness as a whole. It will always be more expensive to keep people homeless, and fortunately, bipartisan legislation has gained movement over the last few years.

However, public attitude is a fundamental key to the solution. The criminalization of homelessness needs to be eliminated. Several states around the country enforce homeless camp sweeps, which evicts the homeless forcefully and deepens the divide between the public and the homeless. Policies are put in place by private businesses and city governments that punish the homeless to sleep outside. Pretending the problem doesn’t exist only fuels the problem; must we be reminded of how any of us can end up without a home?

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