Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why Are People Homeless?

Homelessness and poverty are inextricably linked. Poor people are frequently unable to pay for housing, food, childcare, health care, and education. Difficult choices must be made when limited resources cover only some of these necessities.

“Often it is housing, which absorbs a high proportion of income that must be dropped. If you are poor, you are essentially an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Low-wage workers have been particularly have been left behind as the disparity between rich and poor has mushroomed. According to The Economic Policy Institute, the real value of the minimum wage in 2004 was 26 percent less than in 1979. Declining wages, in turn, have put housing out-of-reach for many workers: in every state, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment. A recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report stated that in every state more than the minimum-wage is required to afford a one or two-bedroom apartment at 30 percent of his or her income, which is the federal definition of affordable housing. Unfortunately, for 12 million Americans, more than 50 percent of their salaries go towards renting or housing costs, resulting in sacrifices in other essential areas like health care and savings.

Recently, foreclosures have increased the number of people who experience homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless released an entire report discussing the relationship between foreclosure and homelessness. The report found that there was a 32 percent jump in the number of foreclosures between April 2008 and April 2009. Since the start of the recession, six million jobs have been lost. In May 2009, the official unemployment rate was 9.4 percent. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters and 7 million households living on very low incomes (31 - 50 percent of Area Median Income) are at risk of foreclosure.

For families and individuals struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness, beginning with a lost job, depletion of savings to pay for care, and eventual eviction. One in three Americans, or 86.7 million people, is uninsured. Of those uninsured, 30.7 percent are under 18. In 2007-08, four out of five people that were uninsured were working families.

Battered women who live in poverty are often forced to choose between abusive relationships and homelessness. In addition, 50 percent of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness.

The increase in homelessness over the past two decades cannot be explained by addiction alone, according to the NHC. Many people who are addicted to alcohol and drugs never become homeless, but people who are poor and addicted are clearly at increased risk of homelessness. “Addiction does increase the risk of displacement for the precariously housed; in the absence of appropriate treatment, it may seriously impact one's chances of getting housing. Homeless people often face insurmountable barriers to obtaining health care, including addictive disorder treatment services and recovery supports,” said George Braunstein, director of Fairfax County’s Community Services Board.

There is homelessness alongside empty homes because market conditions make it more beneficial for the owners to keep them empty rather than let them. This is par for the course under capitalism where houses are not built primarily for people to live in, but are commodities produced for sale with a view to profit. This is why people have to buy or rent their homes, so realising a profit for the building firms or the landlord – and the middlemen such as banks, building societies and estate agencies. Our present economic system is based on the class system of owners who do not produce but reap the rewards of our labour, and non owners who produce all the wealth but only receive a fraction of it, just enough to get by, or not, as the article shows. Until this situation is rectified, all the good will and reforms in the world will never change that fact and the blight of poverty and homelessness will remain with us.

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