On any given night, more than half a million people in the United States are homeless, a humanitarian issue that requires our immediate attention. While many NGOs, foundations, and legislators are striving to address the problem, finding long-term solutions has proven difficult. That shouldn't deter us from trying: by separating fact from myth and analyzing effective ways, we can put an end to homelessness.
Why do people end up on the streets?
FICTION: Homeless individuals are all on drugs because they can't find work.
FACT: Homelessness is caused by a combination of causes, including poverty, a lack of affordable housing, serious trauma (including domestic violence), mental illness or physical disability, and personal crises. Yes, unemployment is a major issue, however the National Coalition for the Homeless estimates that up to 44% of homeless persons are employed: Wage stagnation has been a big issue for the past decade. When it comes to addiction, a common misconception concerning drug and alcohol abuse is that, while it is an issue for those who live in poverty, addictive illnesses are often the result rather than the cause of homelessness.
How Serious Is the Homelessness Crisis?
FICTION: Because the number of homeless people has decreased, we've made significant progress.
FACT: While there are some encouraging signs, the numbers remain concerning. The total rate of homelessness has decreased since 2007. (17 per 10,000 people, the lowest for the U.S. on record). However, unaccompanied children and young adults who were homeless increased by 14.3 percent, individuals experiencing chronic homelessness increased by 12.2 percent, and people living on the streets without access to any shelter increased by 9.4 percent from 2016 to 2017 (the most recent national data available). Meanwhile, over the last few years, cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and New York have all seen increases in their homeless populations.
Although the fact that most localities have reported reductions in the number of homeless veterans (veteran homelessness has decreased by 46% since 2009) is encouraging, we still have a long way to go before we can declare any mission completed.
FICTION: Homelessness has an equal impact on everyone.
FACT: Minorities are disproportionately affected by unstable housing. Despite making up only 13% of the general population, African Americans account for 40% of the homeless population, and LGBT+ kids face twice the risk of homelessness as their classmates.
FICTION: The majority of homeless people live in cities and low-income areas.
FACT: The rising cost of living puts many more people in jeopardy, regardless of where they live. Since 2007, the number of impoverished households facing a difficult housing price burden has increased by 20%. (paying more than 50 percent of their income on rent). During the same period, all but three states showed a rise in the number of low-income individuals living with their parents.
FICTION: All homeless persons are single people.
FACT: Homelessness affects many families in the United States. According to data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), families make up roughly 34% of the homeless population, however there are significant variances between states, as seen in this chart.
Organizations to Be Aware Of If You Are Homeless
Homelessness is addressed by a variety of groups in the United States, both locally and nationally. While not exhaustive, this list can help you with your research and impact donations.
National Alliance to End Homelessness: A nonpartisan nonprofit that emphasizes data in the field.
Funders Together to End Homelessness: A national network of funders that support strategic, impact solutions from the philanthropic world.
Raikes Foundation: Working for an inclusive society with a focus on youth and impact philanthropy.
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans: A nonprofit that aims to shape public policy and encourage collaboration among service providers.
Urban Institute: A nonprofit research organization that uses facts to inform public policies and strengthen communities.
Voices of Youth Count: A national initiative that aims to fill in the gaps in knowledge when it comes to youth homelessness in America through both new knowledge and existing evidence.
A Way Home America: A collection of providers, researchers, philanthropists and advocates that aim to prevent homelessness among the nation’s youth.
Melville Charitable Trust: Looking for lasting, proven and cost-effective solutions to homelessness.
The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation: Working to change the lives of disadvantaged people around the world with approaches that emphasize diversity of people places and needs.