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Homelessness in America

Homelessness in America


Homelessness has existed in various forms for centuries, as have general tensions between homeless people and the rest of society. In the late 1800s formerly transient workers from the railroad and lumber industries settled into U.S. cities as those labor sectors shrank. This trend caused reaction from local residents and city governments in the form of “ugly laws” meant to manage the problem of vagrancy. Still, the number of homeless people, particularly those living on the street, remained relatively low through the 1960s. In the mid-1970s homelessness began to increase as inflation raised, real-dollar wages began to decline, and manufacturing jobs disappeared at an alarming rate (Gulcur, Tsemberis, Stefancic, Greenwood, 2007).

In the 1980s federal funding cuts for low-income housing caused a decline in single-room occupancies and exacerbated the growing problem of homelessness. While in earlier periods homelessness was often connected to migratory employment, economic shifts, particularly in the 1970s, signaled the rise of homelessness connected to static unemployment.

Thesis Statement

The issue of homelessness in America

Discussion and Analysis

Over 1.5 million Americans are homeless each year. Homelessness is associated with a higher risk of many poor health conditions and outcomes, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis C, dermatological diseases, mental illness, substance abuse, and overall mortality. Chronically or long-term homeless individuals are typically defined as unaccompanied homeless persons who have experienced continuous homelessness for more than 1 year or have had at least 4 episodes of homelessness in the previous 3 years. High rates of substance abuse and mental illness, poor employment histories, and a lack of social support are among the more commonly proposed factors contributing to these difficulties.

Supportive housing programs focus on providing housing along with social services and case management for homeless individuals. These programs have been shown to increase residential stability and decrease other societal costs associated with homelessness such as emergency department visits and hospital stays, corrections department utilization, and emergency shelter use (Caton, 1990).

Housing First programs, 1 type of supportive housing, provides homeless persons with permanent housing without requiring participants to remain drug free or sober. Because of the high percentage of substance abuse in chronically homeless populations, Housing First programs may be an important intervention for this group. In this pilot study, we examined the relationship between enrollment in a new Housing First program and subsequent housing stability, use of social and healthcare services, and criminal citations in a chronically homeless population (Matejkowski, Draine, 2009).

Popular conceptions of street homeless people cast them as the most dysfunctional subset of a generally dysfunctional group. Certainly the most visible of those on the street may have the pathologies popularly attached to homelessness itself. In particular, homeless people with severe mental illnesses are commonly the most visible. But those who have studied homelessness know that the average homeless person, even when living on the street, does not match that profile. Rather, those on the street build quite sophisticated communities, both in terms of material infrastructure and social relationships.

In the negative spaces of the city landscape, street homeless individuals build ...
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