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The Homelessness Problem: 6 Causes and Possible Solutions

Kylyssa Shay was homeless for over a year in her youth; it lead her to become a homelessness activist. She thinks, feels, and has opinions.

How Can We Solve the Problem of Homelessness?

I've seen all sorts of homeless people and all different types of homelessness. Each instance is a tragedy that I feel no one should have to suffer through. I'd like you to think about the problem of homelessness and read the ideas I have presented here—and to think of some of your own. It would be another tragedy if a great solution were missed because it had never been thought of. It is my sincere hope that you think of a solution or two and that you will act upon it, or at the very least spread your ideas around.

The problem needs more than one solution because it is actually far more than a single problem. This page is intended to get you thinking about how we can address these issues. It's not intended to be the answer but to serve as a springboard for creating possible ones.

1. Lack of a Living Wage

If people can pay for housing, they won't be homeless. Many homeless people work for minimum wage and they just don't earn enough to afford shelter. Minimum wages need to be realistic. A minimum wage based on actual minimum living expenses would go a long way towards solving this problem.

2. Unemployment and Underemployment

Without a job, many people become homeless. Many people are kept part time because their employers don't want to provide the insurance benefits that they are required to provide for full-time employees.

My partial solution to this is healthcare reform, preferably a single-payer system. This would reduce employer costs greatly, and then they'd only need to worry about wages. Even worker's comp would be reduced, as they would no longer have to pay for workplace injuries.

As far as unemployment goes, I think that the economy would slowly but surely benefit from universal healthcare, which will lead to new employment opportunities.

A relatively recent problem associated with unemployment is the practice of doing credit checks for hiring purposes unrelated to cash handling or finance positions. These practices make it almost impossible for someone who has gotten behind on their bills to get hired—and they are behind on their bills because they are unemployed! So making these practices illegal other than when hiring for cash handling or finance positions would help unemployed people have fewer barriers to employment.

3. Developmental Disorders and Mental Illnesses

People with developmental disorders and mental illnesses often become homeless due to lack of support structure from family and friends, as well as lack of treatment for their problems. So how can we help them from becoming homeless?

It needs to be made just as socially unacceptable to abandon friends and family members due to their mental illness or developmental disorders as it currently is to abandon them due to physical ailments.

There is a stigma on mental illness in America that is simply ridiculous. It leads people to ignore or put down people suffering from mental illnesses and disorders, even their own children. We could help fight the problem of homelessness by raising awareness about mental illness and developmental disorders.

Once people no longer blame or shun people with those illnesses, they will be more able to be supportive towards friends and family members with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities. As an extension of that societal change, developmental disorders such as autism and ADD and mental illnesses such as depression, PTSD, phobias, and others would need to be automatically treated by professionals.

The attitude that mental and developmental disorders are imaginary (or signs of character flaws, sin, or bad parenting) needs to be dispensed so that people suffering from them can get well and take care of themselves whenever possible. So much suffering, including instances of homelessness, could be prevented by giving people the mental and emotional care they need to be well.

There are ways to end homelessness. We just have to commit to the goal of doing so.

There are ways to end homelessness. We just have to commit to the goal of doing so.

4. Physical Illness or Injury

How can we prevent illness and injury from causing people to become homeless?

Many people become homeless due to the fallout from a physical illness or injury. The exorbitant cost of healthcare, the predatory practices of health insurance companies, and medical debt are the number one causes of bankruptcy. This is a major reason why people become homeless.

This problem could probably be partially solved with healthcare reform, preferably a single-payer system. But that doesn't cover everything. People who are ill or injured often become unable to work and require help. This help might come from friends, family, or government-funded programs. It needs to be made absolutely unacceptable for sick people to lose their homes due to inability to work. Some sort of safety net needs to be created for people who do not have caring friends or family.

5. Ideological Conflict

Can the spread of tolerance help prevent homelessness? Many teens and young adults lose their homes when their parents' religious beliefs come into conflict with their own beliefs, actions, or sexuality.

This is a very sticky problem to address as very, very few people will even admit the role that religious beliefs play in causing teen homelessness. The only answer I can think of is outreach to fundamentalist groups. Perhaps if they were educated about what happens to teens after they are kicked out for changing religions or being homosexual they might temper their responses to those perceived threats to their religion.

If talking about this subject, which is almost taboo, raises awareness about this cause of teen homelessness, then society at-large can pressure parents to provide for and not abuse their minor children regardless of their beliefs or sexual orientation. This pressure could take the form of simple peer pressure or even creating and enforcing legislation that would create stiffer laws against child abandonment and abuse.

6. Sexual, Physical, and Emotional Abuse

Running away from abuse often results in homelessness. Many people become homeless due to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse.

I think that homelessness due to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse could be reduced by providing mental health care to at-risk parents and children without any stigma attached.

I think runaways due to abuse could be greatly reduced if all children were aware of child abuse rescue programs and taught how to easily contact those agencies for help. Many teens run away from abusive homes instead of seeking help simply because they don't know how to seek help—sometimes they don't even know what help is available.

Adults should be made aware of programs designed to help them cope with abusive partners as well. Awareness is important if people are to seek help.

Questions & Answers

Question: It seems to me the first step toward solving the problem of homelessness would be to start sorting people out, triaging the streets, starting with no more than a few people. We don't have to wait for tons of money to come in to start the ball rolling. Has anyone made an effort in this direction?

Answer: I have found no evidence for such an idea put into practice, except by a few individual philanthropists.

The problem with that approach is that it just treats the symptoms of very sick societal practices. It would cost far more per person helped than fixing the broken society. For instance, single-payer healthcare would actually save the average taxpayer thousands per year and prevent a great deal of homelessness.

© 2009 Kylyssa Shay

How Would You Solve the Homelessness Problem?

Ara Vahanian from LOS ANGELES on June 22, 2020:

There is no easy answer for the solution to the homeless problem but I have constantly thought and advocated for higher wages. There is no way that someone can live comfortably on an $11 or $12 an hour wage working full time in the expensive cities such as Los Angeles or New York. We need to push for higher wages and yes, find a way to lower health care costs. These two steps are just a start. Good article here.

Teddy Maines on February 21, 2020:

I think that most homeless people do not want homeless shelter rules or may not be able to follow them. What if we designated 40 acres on the outskirts of cities that had small rudimentary cabins (sheds) that could provide minimal shelter that could be homesteaded without rules or regulations with the exception of hoarding. The area could be provided garbage service and public restrooms. The rest would be self governed by the residents. Much like a campground outside the city. Busing could be provided to the nearest cities for these residents. This would give them better shelter than a cardboard box and better sanitation and get them out of the streets, it would also provide a small measure of security. Discreet cameras and a public phone could be provided in a central area for emergencies. Gardens could be planted by them. Of course criminals or problem residents could be ousted. They want freedom. They need shelter. Could this be a possible solution? Everything free would be less costly than spending millions cleaning excrement off city streets. Electricity could be limited to street lights. These people already know how to survive with less.

Vector Powe on February 20, 2020:

The only solution is to commit to building housing of some sort for them en masse. Once you do this there will be more homeless so there will be a period of time where the population balloons because once a certain class of people see that all they have to do is refuse to take responsibility for themselves, they will come wanting shelter because, bottom line, once you establish this responsibility for someone else to take care of them, you will get more of them. So the only solution is to FIRST provide them a residence of some kind. Then any other issues can be addressed such as mental health, drug addiction, etc. You cannot address the "other issues" until you house them. So, taxpayers need to buy a nice chunk of land somewhere and start building apartments ("projects") and start handing out free abodes. That is the one and only solution that will ever work. OR, you can start buying up properties and putting them in them (more expensive and these fancy neighborhoods will have to take some). And "societal pressures" for anything isn't going to do one thing. Because if you are dealing with disabled/handicapped/whatever, the last thing you need is someone who hates you taking care of you.

Don on October 27, 2017:

Politicians are taxing people out of their dignity it is not just the homeless problem but the opioid problem the hunger problem mental health and so on . We should fire the government , state and federal . It's tyranny and they don't want you see the truth .

Marylee Nuilaalik on October 22, 2017:

Living in a small town of rankin inlet Nunavut we need a homeless shelter.

silly boy on September 12, 2017:

Thanks, I knew a lot of things about unemployments, underemployments and illness

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on March 20, 2015:

Thank you for your insightful comment and very useful link.

Homelessness In America | Educational Wiki from Washington, DC on March 19, 2015:

Read the whole post and you explain a lot. This here especially:

"I think runaways due to abuse could be greatly reduced if all children were made aware of programs designed to rescue abused children and provided with the ability to easily contact those agencies for help. Many teens run away from abusive homes instead of seeking help simply because they don't know how to seek help or sometimes they don't even know what help is available."

I agree with the same thing. I think it's also because they're scared because if they seek help they believe the parent or guardian might retaliate and abuse them further if they did. But yes, if schools would start distributing information to children today about what to do, they definitely could get the help they need. I have a few other topics if you want to check them out: http://www.homelessnessinamerica.us

Kylyssa Shay (author) from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA on July 23, 2014:

@jbanya: I am not part of any program. I am only a formerly homeless person who spent some years volunteering and taking homeless people into my home. I write about it to educate others and to help people who have never been homeless know what it is like.

jbanya on July 07, 2014:

@thursdayzhero: Hi my name is Ann and I am moving to the US this year end; I plan to get involved in missions outreach especially women/homeless/orphanage activities. I would love to know your ideas and see how can I be volunteer to assist your program :)I will have about 3-5 months vacation time to focus on mission upon arrival :)

follewagen on June 02, 2014:

@thursdayzhero: Hi, my name I Frederick and I am from Pretoria south Africa. I am fortunate to not have been in a homeless situation, for which I am very grateful. I want to start a program that will involve recycling with the aim of using the materials to start food gardens. I would appreciate it if you would be willing to share some of your ideas with me.

thursdayzhero on February 27, 2014:

I am a formerly homeless Army veteran, it has become my calling to help other homeless vets get back in the game. I want to develop a program. A program that helps more than just the homeless. A program that teaches the homeless the basic skills long forgotten. I fell in love with sustainability and organic gardening. And I believe it's a natural love that for the most part, we all share. Anyway, my proposal. I would like to get my hands on a nice size piece of land, outside city limits. I would then use homeless veteran volunteers to build a fully sustainable community, centered around learning and working. Everyday, the volunteers go out and comb the streets for junk to build stuff with. Sounds kind of crazy, but you would be amazed at what you could use as building material. This would be the foundation of my project. The sky is the limit. I believe that a majority of the homeless haven't lost complete hope for a future, and most would like to feel like part of society again. I see several benefits to society as a result. Our society needs to look at long term help for the homeless, not just immediate relief. I have several other aspects that I would like to incorporate to my project, but the foundation has to be set first.

Chafegurl on January 16, 2014:

Another way to solve the homelessness problem would be to end the Reagan Era Neo Classical iniatives because that is originally how we got into this mess in the first place. Reagan started started this, but over the last couple of decades since his time in office ended, noyone has really ever challenged them. We must try to bring back those old social programs that were cut by him back around 30 years ago, programs such as public service job training, CETA, and raise tax again on the wealthy and corporations. Giving states back their power to create generous welfare public assistance programs, in addition to the federal social security disability benefits. SSI needs another addition to be paid out to its recipients. Presently, the little $721 a month in which it pays is just not enough in 2014's recession economy. Another supplementary income should become added to it in order to defray the cost of living. Making it approximately $1400 a month respectively to all SSI recipients.

Chafegurl on January 16, 2014:

Too many families are reluctant to help their own kids find work that is how i would advocate for more public awareness to be made to simply create more jobs.

oncethere on December 23, 2013:

I am an former homeless individual became homeless after my return from the military suffered ptsd and other so called disorders. Take into consideration I have two degrees left the navy as a 04 lcdr (Lt commander) I find that most programs are great with dealing with the initial problems whether mental stabilization, temporary shelter, welfare, food stamps etc... there is no complete long range plan, in other words some one is placed in a hospital for mental illness ,that's ok stabilize with therapy and medication the individual as insurance runs out or patient stabilizes there is very kLittle resources to keep this person in a stable environment to help them with medication management, a safe and stable environment where they if capable can obtain and keep employment, recover with drug addiction and alcoholism , they are dismissed with nowhere to go or get after care. In my homeless experience I was lucky I was able to gain employment due to my placement in a great location. I wish two things that each homeless case were treated as an individual and that there where more resources to help mainstream these persons, befoe're I experienced this I was like most, looking as if the homeless were sub human a scourge on society etc. I am amazed our state and federal government do not consult with those who where once homeless and have returned to a normal lifestyle we know and contribute. We could help stop the wasteful spending and revolving doors at institutions and shelter

ixodoi on May 13, 2013:

I don't think there is just one right answer. There are many possibilities and we probably need to activate more than just one "solution". I just wish people (actually I think I should say governments) will start moving before more homeless people will get hurt!

Kay on May 11, 2013:

Mental health services, absolutely! I have a cousin who is mentally ill and been homeless off and on. I also have a friend who has the same situation with her brother. In both these cases, family is there for them but they just won't accept the help. In neither case have they gotten the mental services help they need. It is almost to the point, though, where it would have to be forced upon them. Such a tricky thing.

Bartukas on May 01, 2013:

I is hard to solve homelessness problems I think :P

happymonkeyz on February 13, 2013:

it takes 2 hands to clap. the rich need to help the poor and the poor needs to help themselves.

mrdata on December 07, 2012:

health care, family support and listening to them... Thanks for discussing this topic! Really appreciated! Good luck for you!

Rose Jones on August 10, 2012:

Another excellent and insightful lens from you. You are my homelessness expert, I am so glad that you are no longer facing this. Blessed.

Hanziejane on May 28, 2012:

Better health care is a must

SteveKaye on April 16, 2012:

The answer comes from greater compassion by our citizens. Then we'll have better mental health services, more job training, higher wages, and so on.

anonymous on April 12, 2012:

There isn't a single answer that can solve all the homelessness problems - it needs to be a combination of all of the poll options, plus better education of the authorities and the general public, and a change in attitudes.

Kathryn Wallace from Greenbank, WA, USA on March 15, 2012:

While my husband and I were living in Calgary, we opened a sort of boarding house, subletting rooms to homeless people that agreed to work with him (in construction.) I also prepared some meals for everyone in the house. Sadly, then the economy collapsed and we were homeless ourselves very briefly. But it was an excellent plan....

myshelle01 on August 10, 2011:

I too vote all of the above.I am in Australia but the problem exists well and truly here too

stevie10772 on May 13, 2011:

I vote "All of the above"... I have lived in a women's shelter and know the fear of being too close to life on the street. It is a hard vote for the options you have listed. Each one is vital for the sake of overcoming homelessness and breaking the cycle that Americans place on it due to their faulty thinking, their stigma.

javr from British Columbia, Canada on October 05, 2010:

Thank-you for making me think!

JELewis on December 14, 2009:

The more of your writing I read, the more I admire both you and your work!

VarietyWriter2 on December 06, 2009:

Great job bring lots of attention to the homeless problem through your lenses. 5 stars!

pkmcr from Cheshire UK on December 05, 2009:

Another excellent lens about an important topic. Blessed by a Squid Angel :-)

GuyB LM on November 17, 2009:

Thank you for this lens. I've seen first hand what high medical costs can do to a family. I think health care reform would be a great start to solving this huge problem. Thanks

sheriangell on October 22, 2009:

I admire your transparency on the issue of homelessness, particularly that you share your personal experiences with this. While it's idealistic I think that if everyone who is able would give back, even just a little, this effort would go a long way at solving homelessness. Great job again!

GrowWear on October 22, 2009:

Excellent content. Angel blessed. Love.

norma-holt on September 29, 2009:

Multi millionaires who own multiple properties and charge heaps to rent them are contributing to homelessness. Not everyone can take advantage of education and not all can follow the rules laid down by society which creates problems with their own views. This is not mental illness but something else that we all have inside, our inner spirit. We have a choice of how we view the world but the things you suggest are so important to understand. This choice can put us into the 'ridicule' or non help basket and lead to depression and other disorders.In the past I spent much of my time with homeless people in Canberra or those who hang around the streets because they are unemployed and will one day be kicked out of their homes. I know what you are talking about and sympathize with all you are doing. Keep up the good work. Well done 5* and fav

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