THE U.S. has 600,000 homeless people on any given night, and about 200,000 of them are unsheltered --sleeping on sidewalks and under bridges, or in cars, small tents, or vacant buildings. In addition, there are several million Americans each year who suffer temporary homelessness or cycle in and out of homelessness.
Among the homeless are students; veterans; the mentally ill; youth, including LGBTQ who are not welcome in their parents' homes; the disabled; the impoverished; drug addicts; the elderly; women fleeing domestic violence; tenants evicted from their apartments; and those who have lost a job or had their homes foreclosed by a bank due to fmancial struggles.
The homeless exist day-to-day in utter misery, facing uncertainty, danger, untreated medical conditions, lack of access to sanitation, freezing temperatures, extreme heat, hunger, loneliness, discrimination, and a sinking sense of self-worth.
Deborah Padgett, professor of social work at New York University, notes that, when it comes to homelessness, "I really can't imagine a developed country in worse shape than us."
"People clearly have personal tragedies," such as serious medical issues or death of a loved one, that can trigger homelessness, explains Hilary Silver, professor emerita of urban studies and sociology at Brown University. Medical bills are the No. 1 reason for personal bankruptcy in the U.S.
Another major cause is lack of affordable housing. Financial advisors recommend that households not spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Yet, one-third go beyond this threshold, in many cases resulting in unsustainable financial stress.
Studies show that housing costs in the U.S. have far outpaced wage increases. In some places, notes Maurya Glaude, assistant professor at Tulane University's School of Social Work, "Housing prices have increased astronomically and working people are now becoming part of our homeless population."
According to a Harvard University Joint Center for Housing study, almost 40,000,000 U.S. households cannot afford their housing, and the Federal government has not budgeted the needed funding for public housing programs.
Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, maintains that, prior to the 1970s, the U.S. spent three times as much on the problem as it does today. "It wasn't always like this.... The main difference between then and now [is] Federal funding."
The association between high housing costs and...