Writer’s Name: S. F. Hardy
Journal Title: Reaching the Faces of Homelessness
There is a growing issue metastasizing in the United States—it goes by the name of homelessness - defined by the McKinney-Veto Homeless Assistance Act as: “individuals who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” It is reported that 2.5 to 3.5 million people are homeless on any given night. Although homelessness can be seen in rural and suburban areas among various ethnic groups, the brunt of the disparity is overwhelmingly felt in African-American communities in urban metropolises.
My friends and loved ones perceive me as fearless, but what they don't know is that I do have a fear, a big one! I'm terrified of being homeless. I hide my fear because in the past, when shared, my concern was dismissed as being baseless and unreasonable. Perhaps it was due to lack of knowledge to what exactly homelessness is or denial of the economic crisis faced within this decade.
Brace yourself, as we explore the grim reality homelessness bestows revealing that it is diverse in the populations it affects and is not exclusive to a particular group as one Facebook commenter described as: "irresponsible people who make one bad decision after another." Truth is, this crisis extends itself to individuals, families, youth, the mentally ill, and Veterans alike. Like the population it affects, the reasons behind homelessness as well as the characteristics are wide-ranging.
In 2010, my fears where inflamed after discovering that Michigan was host to a homeless population of 100,000 individuals. The fire inside matured as I learned 20,000 of the 100,000 homeless existed in Detroit. Revealing Detroit as the national leader of the homeless population, 82.7% of the 713,777 individuals accounted for in the 2010 Census are African-American.
"Where is that number, I know I saw it when we moved.” Frustrated, that I couldn’t find the number Tonya gave me in case we lost touch, I took comfort knowing that I took the time to get to know her. Many, but not all of our talks took place on the same concrete church porch Tonya often slept on. Tonya has been on my mind lately and it concerns me that the parish as well as the porch remains; but Tonya has disappeared without a word of whereabouts or condition.
The first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of homelessness is chronic homelessness; people living and surviving in places not meant for human dwelling for long periods of time that include but is not limited to: residing outside on park benches, abandoned structures, manhole covers and underpasses. Although the most visible to human eye, due to lack of shelter, the chronically homeless actually represent the smallest group of homelessness in Detroit at 10%. Comprised of individuals who suffer from mental illness, chronic health deficiencies and substance abuse reliance, this group is most difficult to reach in terms of assistance and long-term treatment. As a result, a major portion of resources available to assist the homeless is expended on the chronically homeless.
Who then, makes up the larger portion of homelessness in Detroit, if the people who are thought to make up the higher percentage of homeless are actually the smallest portion of homeless population? It is easy for those who move in with family, go from one home to the next, take up residence in shelters in temporary and transitional housing to go unrealized as homeless. However, homelessness is comprised mostly of those situations invisible to the human eye because they receive some type of shelter.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no one explanation for homelessness. In many cases, the reasoning is beyond the control of those faced with homelessness.
- Fifty-one percent of individuals currently experiencing homelessness are experiencing the crisis for the first time. Foreclosures, evictions due to increases in rent, loss of work due to lay-offs, company downsizing and closures, home fires, and failure to pay property taxes can be attributed to the loss of a place to call home.
- Twenty-seven percent of first time homeless Michiganders are employed but below the poverty rate and cannot obtain or sustain affordable housing.
- It is reported that the majority of Detroit’s homeless population endured by families with children have never been homeless. Forty-seven percent of children who experience homelessness across the US are African-American.
- Runaways, throwaways, who are either forced to leave home due to mental health issues and abandonment, and/or those who leave home voluntarily for lack of acceptance and support as a result of revealing their lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender status account for up to 800 homeless individuals in Detroit.
- Unaccompanied youth who age out of state care make up 15% of Detroit’s homeless.
- Approximately 6000 individuals who experience domestic violence find themselves homeless.
- Individuals with felonies as well as those reentering society from prison make up 10% of Detroit’s homeless population as these individual are not a protected class.
- 13% of Detroit’s homeless is comprised of United States Veterans who suffer from mental illness such as posttraumatic stress syndrome and substance abuse.
There are organizations and agencies who seek to assist and eradicate homelessness in each of the aforementioned homeless populations but the resources are limited even more so in the current economic crisis. Funding has been either depleted or cut forcing many organizations to close its doors. Detroit alone has a little over 5,000 shelter beds all recently filled to capacity forcing organizations to turn just as many if not more individuals seeking assistance away.
As individuals, we can all help in our perspective communities by first acknowledging that the problem exist and has the potential to affect each and every one of us. Volunteering with churches and other organizations and lending our expertise and hand in various events or on a regular basis as needed could all make a big difference. We can also write to community officials taking an active stance against homelessness and the problems it creates for the community as a whole. More importantly, we can treat the homeless like the humans they are because it is the right thing to do. No one ever knows if, when, or why they will face homelessness.
Now that we have unsheltered some of the many reasons associated with homelessness across the United States as well as my own backyard, my fears have not been laid to rest, but more realized. However, I hope that through this article I have shed some light of the disheartening diversity of homelessness and encourage readers to be more sympathetic towards homelessness by gathering together to fight against homelessness in the name of prevention and eradication.
Organizations and Agencies where individual can seek assistance, volunteer, or donate