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Who Are the Homeless People of America?

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Ms. Clark hopes to help bring better understanding and an end to hurtful, downright wrong stereotypes about poverty and homelessness.

Sadly, older people are disposable in our society.

Sadly, older people are disposable in our society.

Table of Contents

  1. Who Are the Homeless People in the U.S.?
  2. The Cost of Public Assistance Programs to the Average Taxpayer
  3. Families With Children
  4. Homeless Veterans
  5. Employment
  6. People Who Cannot Seem to Function in Society
  7. The Dangers of Being Homeless
  8. Homeless People Die Long Before Their Time
  9. It's Against the Law to Be Poor in the U.S.
  10. "Give a Person a Fish and You Feed Them for a Day; Teach a Person to Fish and You Feed Them for Life"

1. Who Are the Homeless People in the U.S.?

At any given time there are 3.5 million homeless people in the United States -- a statistic obtained from The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

People who are parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, or people who used to be considered family members and/or friends before being disowned by embarrassed friends and relatives, make up our homeless population. Some homeless people have university degrees or are accomplished in a variety of other ways.

Homeless people are ordinary people like the people we see everyday everywhere we go. Contrary to what many people prefer to believe, homeless people are not usually identifiable by appearance. I personally know many homeless people. They pass for ordinary people who live in ordinary homes and apartments every day. No one has any idea by just looking at them that they are homeless, living in their car or in a tent. The only difference between homeless people and others is that homeless people have fallen on hard times and are having a difficult time getting back on their feet.

There are several organizations that make no secret of the fact that many people are just one paycheck away from homelessness or living in the streets. That being true, the face of homelessness may very well look just like one or more of your friends, neighbors, or family members. Maybe even that person who looks back at you in the mirror, or from your selfie.

From the Free Online Law Dictionary

There is no fair stereotype of homeless persons: they include the young and old, individuals and entire families, and all races and ethnicities. According to 2000 statistics published by the National Coalition for the Homeless in 2002, best estimates indicate that approximately 1 percent of the U.S. population (3.5 million persons) experience homelessness each year—more than one third of them children. The rights of these persons have become important societal and legal issues.

— The Free Online Law Dictionary

What Is the Official Definition of Homelessness?

According to the Free Online Law Dictionary:

An individual who lacks housing, including one whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility that provides temporary living accommodations; an individual who is a resident in transitional housing; or an individual who has as a primary residence a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings [car, cardboard box, doorway, etc.].

What Are Some of the Causes of Homelessness?

According to the Salvation Army:

Unemployment, cutbacks in social service programs, a lack of affordable housing, the deinstitutionalization of mentally ill patients, poor physical condition, personal or family disaster such as a fire, accident, or unexpected job loss, domestic violence, family and relationship breakdown, are some of the circumstances that have led to people living in shelters or on the streets.

2. The Cost of All Public Assistance Programs to the Average Taxpayer

In 2012, the average American taxpayer making $50,000 per year paid just $36 towards the food stamps program. That's just ten cents a day! That's less than the cost of a gum ball.

"And when it comes to funding the rest of America's social safety net programs, the average American taxpayer making $50,000 a year pays just over six dollars a year." -The Daily Take, Thom Hartmann Program

How Your Tax Dollars Are Spent

Corporations get far more of your tax dollars than poor people do, yet you don't complain.  Why would you rather give your money to billionaire corporations that don't need anyone's help?

Corporations get far more of your tax dollars than poor people do, yet you don't complain. Why would you rather give your money to billionaire corporations that don't need anyone's help?

Will this woman be arrested, jailed, and her children put in foster care?

Will this woman be arrested, jailed, and her children put in foster care?

3. Families With Children

Families with children make up 43% of the homeless population. Of that number, 23%, which is just over half, are children.

The recent passage of a Congressional bill that will cut food stamps (also known as the supplemental nutrition assistance program or SNAP) by $40 Billion dollars will not improve the plight of homeless families, nor will it prevent more families from becoming homeless.

One of the effects of the passage of this bill is that 900,000 needy veterans and their families lost their food stamps!

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At a time when the economy is still bad for working class people, congress has cut benefits to the most vulnerable people in our society—children—but have taken no cut in their own salaries of $172,000 a year plus benefits.

How could anyone with a conscience who is living a comfortable life deny food to poor people, and especially to children? The majority of our members of Congress have done just that and they want to make even more cuts to public assistance programs for the poor. At least 60% of our Congressional representatives are millionaires and most of them accomplished that condition after being elected to office.

Our veterans come back from war and end up jobless and homeless.

Our veterans come back from war and end up jobless and homeless.

26% of the U.S. homeless population are veterans.  3% of that number are women veterans.

26% of the U.S. homeless population are veterans. 3% of that number are women veterans.

4. Homeless Veterans

About 26% of the homeless population in the United States (which is the richest nation in the world,) are veterans. Female veterans make up 3% of that number. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, “Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley, or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country.”

A high percentage of homeless veterans (including women) suffer from traumatic brain injuries and PTSD (Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome).

The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs reports that most homeless veterans come from poor or disadvantaged communities. Overall, about half suffer from substance abuse problems while nearly that many suffer from mental illness.

Most homeless veterans have served our country for three or more years in one of the many wars since World War II. We thank these heroic people for their service to our country with joblessness and homelessness. As Yakov Smirnoff might say, “What a country!”

Our soldiers and military people are heroes when they are following orders in Afghanistan or Iraq, but when they come home to the so-called "richest nation on earth," there are no jobs or medical care waiting for them. These veterans often end up homeless and they are unfairly considered to be lazy, slothful, and most of all, disposable.

More and More Elderly People Are Becoming Homeless

“The homeless are aging. In 1990, just 11 percent of the homeless were over 50, but now half are that age, and growing older.”

— Medical Daily — Susan Scutti of The Grapevine (Newsweek Media Group)

5. Employment

About 44% of homeless people are employed. Some organizations that keep track of homelessness believe there may be slightly more homeless people who are employed than that percentage suggests. Many homeless people are self-employed for cash and regularly do odd jobs to earn money.

SNAP (Food Stamp) Recipients

Despite what most people seem to want to believe, Forbes.com reported in 2010 that at least 30% of SNAP recipients were working.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) administers the SNAP program. The USDA 2011 report (which provides the most recent statistics available) concurred with Forbes.com in that nearly 30% of food stamp recipients have jobs. Many SNAP recipients work minimum wage jobs, which is one of many reasons why the minimum wage rate needs to be raised.

As of June 2011 the USDA reported that 48% of food stamp recipients were children and 8% were elders over 60 years old. About 16% of SNAP recipients are disabled adults. FeedingAmerica.org states that the “average monthly SNAP benefit is $133.79 per person."

Currently taxpayers subsidize businesses that refuse to pay their employees a living wage. Taxpayers provide the low wage workers in these companies with food stamps and often Medicaid too, to supplement their poverty-level paychecks.

No one seems to mind giving welfare to businesses (or farm subsidies to corporate farms, tax breaks to big oil companies, etc.), but they object to helping real people.

6. People Who Cannot Seem to Function in Society

About 20% of the homeless population is chronically homeless. Some of the people in this category have mental disorders and/or substance abuse issues. Despite what most people seem to want to believe, some substance abuse problems originate as a result of PTSD or prescription painkillers for injuries sustained either in the military or as civilians. These are injuries that produce pain that has no remedy and never lets up. Some people actually have reasons why they are hooked on drugs, not just excuses.

Yet many people paint all homeless people with the same brush, calling them all lazy, slothful, mentally unstable, junkies, and worse. Often times, I even hear people imply that they believe most homeless people want to be homeless. I think a person who has ever been homeless and lived on the streets or in their car would never say such a thing or even think it.

To say that people are homeless because they want to be is an excuse to refrain from doing anything to improve the situation. For some reason people who blame the homeless for their condition think that doing so is an acceptable justification for doing nothing except bad-mouthing them. It is not.

Sometimes people do not want to be in homeless shelters because many homeless shelters are dangerous. Some homeless shelters are great places to get beaten up, raped, to have one’s few meager possessions stolen, or all of the above.

Sometimes the people who run certain shelters are dangerous. It is not just some of the other homeless people staying in a shelter who present a threat. So if not wanting to stay in a homeless shelter is someone’s idea of people wanting to be homeless, think again. Taking cover for the night in a homeless shelter is still technically homelessness.

For more information on the dangers of poverty and homelessness check out this article: Poverty Kills More People Every Year Than Either of the Top Killers -- Heart Disease or Cancer.

Once a person is homeless it is extremely difficult to get a job and change their situation.

Once a person is homeless it is extremely difficult to get a job and change their situation.

7. The Dangers of Being Homeless

In the minds of many people homeless people are disposable. That attitude makes it even more dangerous to be homeless because no one cares about the safety and well being of homeless people as a result.

When people are dehumanized, as is often done to homeless people, the people in our society who have poor judgment and who often have undiagnosed mental issues of their own, think it is okay to harass, attack, and do horrendous things to those unfortunate homeless people.

For example, the Los Angeles Times reported on January 15, 2013, that 67-year old Violet Phillips was set on fire December 27, 2012 as she slept on a bus bench in Van Nuys California. Phillips, at last report (LA Times January 20, 2013), remained in critical condition with second and third degree burns over more than 20% of her body and required a ventilator to breath. Information as to whether Phillips survived the attack over the long run or what her status is now could not be found.

There have been hundreds of attacks on homeless people all across the United States in recent years and months. Most attacks do not involve setting people on fire, but often include beating or clubbing them to death – or trying to.

In 2011, ten hate crimes that did not involve homeless people were documented. That same year 32 homeless people were criminally killed out of hate and bias. These statistics come from NationalHomeless.org. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that there were many more violent attacks that did not result in death. These violent attacks occurred essentially because a lot of people seem to believe it is acceptable to harass, abuse, or attack homeless people.

Even police in some cities harass and abuse homeless people and a few of them are now awaiting trial for murder. In Orange County California, three officers have been charged with killing a mentally disabled homeless man. Brutality and harassment by police is another danger homeless people must face, as if they do not already have enough problems.

Violet Phillips, 67, homeless, was set on fire as she slept on a bus stop bench.

Violet Phillips, 67, homeless, was set on fire as she slept on a bus stop bench.

8. Homeless People Die Long Before Their Time

Sheffield University in England did a study that found homeless people die on average 30 years before their time.

“Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, [a charity for homeless people based in London] said: 'It is shocking, but not surprising, that homeless people are dying much younger than the general population.'

'Life on the streets is harsh and the stress of being homeless is clearly taking its toll. This report paints a bleak picture of the consequences homelessness has on people’s health and wellbeing. Ultimately, it shows that homelessness is killing people.'”

Gavin Allen, Mail Online

9. It Is Against the Law to Be Poor in the United States

Dozens of cities across the U.S. have passed laws making it illegal to be poor. That would seem to mean that it is also against the law to be laid off from one’s job, to not get hired when one has applied for a job, to suffer a great disaster such as a major accident, experience a major illness such as cancer, or to have one’s house struck by lightening and burn to the ground.

It is also against the law (if it leads to homelessness and poverty) to be born into this world with a physical or mental handicap. All of these things contribute to poverty and homelessness, and most, if not all, cannot be controlled by the individual, yet they are sometimes charged with a crime if one or more of these terrible events befalls them because these are the things that lead to most homelessness and poverty.

Having laws that make it illegal to be homeless and poor has not been helpful in either getting homeless people employed, or solving their homeless problem. Yes, homeless people get off the main streets or go to jail and stand trial for the egregious crime of being poor, but everyone has to be somewhere, so homeless people are simply pushed from place to place so that those who are better off do not have to look at them.

The world seems so much nicer when a person can pretend everything is as perfect for everyone else as it is for themselves -- and it saves having to care.

In addition to criminalizing the condition of poverty, jailing the unfortunate victims of this circumstance and giving them a police record, the few meager possessions most of the homeless people have when they are arrested are confiscated and destroyed.

How long before police are not only encouraged, but ordered, to shoot homeless people on sight? If being homeless and poor can be made into a crime, what is to prevent even more egregious and unconscionable behavior towards these unfortunate victims of our society?

Will criminalizing people who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances be the limit of heartlessness? How long before it becomes illegal to be sick? To dye your hair the wrong color? Or to butter your bread on the wrong side? You can laugh if you want to, but who ever imagined being poor would be crimimalized?

Some people care about the way homeless people are needlessly and unfairly condemned, reviled, vilified, and abused. They care about helping and finding long-term solutions, but they are the minority.

If everyone, or even just the majority of people in this country, truly wanted to end homelessness and the dangers that go with it here in the United States, it would happen. Making poverty a crime is not the answer. Forcing people to move on is not the answer. Starving people or letting them die from a lack of healthcare or shelter from the elements is not the answer. In short, hate is not the answer.

10. "Give a Person a Fish and You Feed Them for a Day; Teach a Person to Fish and You Feed Them for a Lifetime"

There are currently many people who are unemployed, homeless, or on food stamps who have college degrees. It does no good to know how to fish if there are no fishing jobs available. Indeed, no amount of education or skill will make up for a lack of jobs.

As my fellow online writer Aunt Jimi recently said in a conversation we were having,

Instead of obsessing about abortion and gay marriage, why not focus on creating jobs? We can always send people to Hell after we fill their bellies with food and provide them with a means to sustain themselves and their families. It is not as if Satan is going to close up shop and we have to meet a deadline for forcing people to share our religious views or forever gnash our teeth because someone escaped Hell and it was all our fault.

Without the grace of God, anyone could find him or herself living in poverty or homeless. It's amazing that so many people who call themselves Christians and who insist this country (the U.S.) was founded on Christian principles and values do not seem to know the first thing about Christian principles and values as stated in the Bible and spoken of in the Red Words.

These uninformed people masquerading as Christians seem to truly believe that Jesus went around healing the sick and charging horrendous fees for doing so, just like doctors do nowadays – and of course he refused to heal those who could not pay, just like doctors and hospitals do nowadays.

People who encourage violence through words, hate, or the passage of laws that criminalize something people cannot control are not behaving in any way that is exemplified as Christian in the Bible.

While I am a strong Christian, I must say I have known atheists who behaved more like Christians are expected to behave, than people who claim the Christian label.

One Campaign shared by Upworthy

One Campaign shared by Upworthy

Sources for This Article

These are the sources used in this article. I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about this issue to read further from the references below.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Being homeless kills people faster by thirty years. I guess that's why homelessness is growing, to combat overpopulation. Is keeping poor Americans locked in prisons in the age of mass incarceration a form of homelessness too?

Answer: There are many reasons why homelessness exists and why it may be growing in some places. Extraordinarily high rent is one of those reasons. Don't forget that some 43% or so of homeless people have jobs, often full time jobs. 26% are veterans. There are many societal reasons why some people are homeless. No, people in prison are not considered homeless at this time.

© 2013 C E Clark

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