Monday, October 1, 2018

5 Misconceptions About Homelessness

Phi Theta Kappa
The article I am sharing is something I've written with the current Wisconsin Region Regional Officer Team for Phi Theta Kappa. I'm the Vice-President for the region (Wisconsin) and have been working with two Regional Officers to help raise awareness of homelessness in Wisconsin, the U.S., and around the world. When I was in China this summer, I saw many Chinese citizens sleeping on the streets. I even made a friend with an older Chinese lady who is homeless.

Research has proven that there are many causes of homelessness, but the causes are rarely spoken about. Many articles (newspapers, blogs, research, journals) give ideas on how to solve homelessness. This didn't help me though, as I wanted to know the root cause of homelessness. My researching eventually led me to the Wisconsin State Journal and Project Home, a homeless initiative in Philadelphia. The list of causes of homelessness was long, but numerous causes stuck out. The causes I focused on was the lack of affordable health care and politics, natural disasters, and the lack of affordable housing.

The lack of affordable health care has been a highly debated topic for politicians. Until the Affordable Healthcare Act or Obama Care was created, low-income families and individuals were unable to afford health insurance or see a doctor. There were many improvements when the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed, but with each improvement there seemed to be another issue. It was determined that politics has everything to do with homelessness. Study Breaks explained that the government controls when and where funding assistance is placed. This means that politicians determine if low-income families and individuals can afford health care and insurance.

Natural disasters are a common cause that leads to temporary and long-term homelessness. Natural disasters can be flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, severe drought, and severe winter weather to name a few. Each part of the U.S. is vulnerable to different types of natural disasters. This includes every part of the world. In my home state of Wisconsin, I've dealt with tornadoes, severe winter weather, drought, and flooding. People lose their homes and livelihoods when severe weather impacts the area.

A few examples that have happened recently are Hurricane Florence and the monster typhoon that hit southern China. Hurricane Florence just flooded most of the state of North Carolina, displacing around 750,000 to 1 million people because of flooding. The monster typhoon that made landfall in China nearly made the city of Hong Kong inaccessible and later continued its path of destruction to Guangdong. The typhoon displaced a half a million people in Guangdong alone.

The third cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing which has continued to get worse since the 1980s. The National Alliance to End Homelessness stated that over 11 million people in the U.S. spend over half of their income for housing. This leaves little room for other necessities like food and clothing. In 2013 and 2014, according to End, rent increased by double the rate of inflation.

Homelessness isn't just a concern in the U.S. or in my state of Wisconsin. While in Beijing, I walked past many homeless individuals who were begging on the street for change. These people were begging without using their voices as many had their heads down and held onto a paper cup or cardboard sheet to collect donations. It hurt my heart to see these people as they were nothing but skin and bones. I bought a meal for a homeless lady and bought her some dried meat and clean water. I made a friend that day as I was given gifts from this lady even when she didn't have anything to give.

After witnessing what I did in China and touring a homeless shelter in my community I wanted to share 5 misconceptions about homelessness.
  1. Homelessness is a Choice.
  2. Homeless individuals are Lazy.
  3. Homelessness is always related to Mental Health.
  4. Homeless individuals live on the Streets. 
  5. Fighting homelessness is Expensive
Based on research in and outside of Wisconsin and the U.S., homelessness isn't usually a choice. There are certain individuals who choose to be homeless, but the majority of homeless individuals are not homeless by choice. Some of the causes, which have been mentioned above lead to this problem. One cause that I didn't speak about was the lack of competitive wages. For an individual to pay for a 2-bedroom apartment in Wisconsin making minimum wage would require the individual to work at least 69 hours a week. To find out more about this statistic visit 11 myths about homelessness in America

Homeless individuals are not lazy. A HUD study confirmed that 17% of homeless adults have paying jobs and 55% had a paying job within the last year. About 44% of homeless individuals had some kind of paying job within the last month.

Mental health is a contributing factor to homelessness. In Wisconsin, a majority of homeless adults have had a traumatic brain injury. Homeless Connection in Appleton, Wisconsin, has a large percentage of homeless adults who have had a traumatic brain injury. Only around 1 and 4 homeless individuals suffer from severe mental illness in 2010. It has been determined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that the top three causes of homelessness are lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and poverty in 2014.

The HUD survey confirmed that 69% of homeless Americans lived in a shelter in 2014 and 30% live in vehicles. This means that less than half of homeless individuals live on the streets.

The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness stated, and I quote, "Studies show that simply housing people can reduce the number of homeless at a lower cost to society than leaving them without homes." The source concludes, "it will cost around $10,000 to house each person compared to $31,000 if the person is left homeless." The $31,000 cost comes from paying for law enforcement, hospitals, jails, and other community resources.

What do you think can be done to help the homeless community? 

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