Causes And Remedies Of Homelessness

Politicians, journalists, social scientists, and the public attribute homelessness to the myth of personal abilities. They believe that homelessness is generally caused by alcoholism or chronic physical or mental disorders. By doing so they overlook homelessness to be a salient social and health problem that has damaging consequences. In fact, recent epidemiological studies and annual surveys of homeless individuals have reported that homelessness continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States (Tsai 65; U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). The problem of homelessness needs considerable focus and a change in attitudes.

Both immediate and underlying causes are at the root of homelessness. Several factors are at play in the situation of homelessness. People may have lost their private rented accommodation caused by a reduction in household income or due to unemployment. They may also become homeless because of relationship breakdown with a partner, family, or friends. Failure of social policies like the National Health Service and Community Care Act of 1990 in England resulted in homelessness for many people (Helvie et al. 129). Overcrowding, lack of accommodation and sharing accommodation contribute to homelessness.

The recent spurt in homelessness is viewed as a consequence of the deinstitutionalization of mental patients that began in 1950s. Kozol reported that the average daily census of psychiatric institutions plummeted from 677,000 in 1955 to 151,000 in 1984 (18). Although as a result of deinstitutionalization, the number of psychiatric patients has increased yet this does not adequately explain homelessness because most of the homeless people are not mentally ill and can potentially contribute to society (Timmer et al.). James Wright (1988), based on the national Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) program data, concluded that one-third of the homeless are chronically mental patients “the estimate is right at 30 percent” (p. 189). However, Piliavin et al have suggested that Wright’s sample was biased and indicated that the actual figures would be somewhat 10 to 15 percent. The origin of homelessness is not behavioral or mental illness, as hyped by media, rather a class-biased consequence of structural problems. Hence, mental illness does not cause homelessness but the vice versa.

The relationship between substance abuse and homelessness triggers the proverbial question of the chicken or egg. Johnson and Chamberlain, by using a sample of individuals having substance abuse problems, investigated whether problematic substance use generally precedes or follows homelessness. They reported that one-third of the sample had substance abuse problems before they became homeless and two-thirds developed these problems after they became homeless. They also found that young people were at an increased risk of developing substance abuse problems after becoming homeless than older people.

Chen et al. used the risk amplification model to explain the negative events perpetuating homelessness. Based on interviews with 361 female homeless and runaway adolescents, they showed how early sexual abuse had encouraged them to run away, influenced drug use on the street and use other deviant subsistence strategies such as affiliation with deviant peers, trading sex, and use of nonsexual deviant subsistence strategies (1). Gwadz et al. proposed the social control theory to understand the link between social control and involvement in street economy among homeless youth and identified the barriers that homeless youth experience to entering the formal economy including homelessness, educational deficits, and past incarceration, the physical and social/emotional benefits they accrue from the street economy, the pressure of severe and immediate economic need, like for food and shelter, and their active recruitment into the street economy by ‘‘predatory’’ adults and homeless peers (373). McNamara pointed out that both social control theory and the risk amplification model illustrate the variables such as marginalization, physical or sexual abuse, parental substance abuse, connection with deviant peers that lead to homelessness and substance abuse.

The theory of social envisages that certain rights such as the right to housing, food and an adequate standard of living must be enforced and must be subject to effective remedies. This changed perspective allows a paradigm shift for the design and implementation of housing and anti-poverty strategies. Provincial/territorial housing and anti-poverty programs should be restructured to implement fundamental human rights to an adequate standard of living, adequate food, and adequate housing (Porter 2). The anti-poverty programs and housing policies should be framed in accordance with human rights and constitutional values from a social rights-based approach. Porter suggested several strategies to implement the rights-based framework for articulating anti-poverty and housing strategies including Affirming International Human Rights Obligations, Affirming the Interpretative Presumption, provincial and territorial obligations to ensure adequate housing, and legislative sanctions to authorize an autonomous Social Rights Commission to enforce adequate housing.

Professor Ralph Johnson referred to Housing First as a feasible strategy for tackling homelessness among the chronically homeless that is based on the concept of assuring house to deliberate on heath, neuroses, substance abuse, diet and role in society. He suggested the modes of scattered-site housing and project-based housing to realize this strategy (675). Housing First strategy would create a community of people who feel protected, respected and connected so that a feeling of trust prevails among the residents and within the larger community.

Supportive housing, an alternative to refurbish the gap in homeless services, is provided for homeless individuals who are experiencing barriers to housing stability, like severe mental illness, substance use problems, and chronic health conditions (Livingstone 2). It includes permanent housing with on-site or off-site staff support to promote the independence, recovery, and rehabilitation of residents (Rog et al. 287). Lee found that individuals who resided for more than or equivalent to three uninterrupted years in supportive housing demonstrated reduced risk for new HIV diagnosis. He stated that danger of new HIV symptoms minimized with respect to extended length residency in supportive housing and expected that supportive housing would help in HIV management.

Appropriate homelessness policy can only be established after investigating the scope of homelessness. Kondratas explained that federal programs, utilizing substantial information, can design housing policies ranging from emergency remedies to permanent solutions. She sought increased cooperation at federal, state, and local levels to effectively address the multifaceted problem and anticipated a large-scale attack on poverty in order to eliminate the root problems driving people into homelessness (1226).

Homelessness is a 'revolving-door' crisis that perpetuates over the years. Structural and personal determinants have fueled the problem. Innovative solutions and approaches are needed to end the long-standing public health and social problem of homelessness. A paradigm shift is necessary to address the problem besides legislative actions and administrative transparency. Policy changes with explicit goals should be made by recognizing the rights to housing and decent living to end the problem.

29 April 2022
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