10 Causes of Homelessness
Probably the most common stereotype of chronically homeless people is that they are drug and alcohol addicts — with good reason. 68% of U.S. cities report that addiction is a their single largest cause of homelessness.* “Housing First” initiatives are well intentioned, but can be short-sighted. A formerly homeless addict is likely to return to homelessness unless they deal with the addiction. Treatment programs are needed that treat the root causes of addiction and help men and women find a way back home. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Substance Abuse.)
2. Domestic Violence
Nationally, 50% of homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence.* When a woman is abused, she faces a crisis of safety. If she stays in the home, she’ll be beaten again. If she leaves, she’ll have little means of support. Either choice is a tremendous risk. Choosing homelessness over abuse is both a brave and frightening decision. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Domestic Violence.)
3. Mental Illness
6% of the American population suffers from mental illness. In the homeless population, that number jumps to 20-25%.* Serious mental illnesses disrupt people’s ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life, such as self care and household management. Without assistance, these men and women have little chance of gaining stability. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Mental Illness.)
4. Job Loss and Underemployment
The current downtown in the economy has many Americans barely getting by financially. Many are underemployed at wages that can’t sustain them. Layoffs and job cuts leave individuals and families in desperate circumstances. Unemployment benefits and savings run out, leaving people homeless who never thought it could happen to them. (See: National Coalition for the Homeless – Employment.)
Even people who have jobs are finding themselves upside down with their mortgages. From 2008 to 2009, foreclosures jumped by 32%. A 2009 survey estimates that as many as 10% of people seeking help from homeless organizations do so due to foreclosure.* (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Foreclosure.)
6. Post-Traumatic Stress
One any given night, as many as 200,000 military veterans sleep on the street.* The percentage of veterans with post-traumatic stress is growing among those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Adapting to “normal life” back in the U.S. is proving to be extremely difficult for the men and women who have served us. Unable to cope, some choose to leave homes, loved ones and jobs behind for homelessness and/or addiction. (*Source: National Coalition for the Homeless – Veterans.)
7. Throw Away Teens
Homeless teens often become so due to family conflicts. They’re kicked out or choose to run away over issues of drug/alcohol addiction, physical abuse, sexual orientation or teen pregnancy. Mental illness can play a significant role in teen homelessness just as it does in adults. Teens in foster care often end up on the street after they “age-out” of the system at age 18, a sad situation in which many feel alone or abandoned.
8. Relational Brokenness
A homeless person is most often a deeply hurting person. By the time they come to a homelessness organization for help, they’ve burned through every supportive relationship possible. Friends and family are no longer able or willing to help, leaving the homeless man or woman very much alone. What relationships they have are usually predatory. In a sense, their situation is less about homelessness and more about unwantedness. A significant barrier to recovery often lies in the ability to restore trust and maintain healthy relationships.
It’s not uncommon to discover that the men and women in many shelters are burdened by grief. Unable to deal with the death of a loved one or other significant trauma, they numb their pain in addiction. Addiction and apathy lead to the loss of job and home. They simply stop caring if they live or die. Grief becomes a roadblock to living.
“Once you get down this low, it’s hard to get back up,” we often hear homeless men and women say. The longer they are homeless, the more difficult it becomes to combat the lies they hear in their heads. They believe there’s no way out. They don’t deserve another chance. They’ll never break free from addiction. They’ll always be a failure. More than anything, these men and women need hope.