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.
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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