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Though the economy has been getting better slowly but surely, one issue has been apparent throughout the past years and remains to get much attention due to the need of its solution. The homeless population within the United States has been steadily rising since the late 1970 s when the housing and social service cuts increased and the economy went on a downward spiral. All types of people have been impacted by many types of factors that led them to their homeless position. The U.S. federal government defines homeless individuals as: those who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; have a primary nighttime residence that is: [either] a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill); an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalizes; or a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, (Swick, 2004). Though the number of homeless people in America still climbs, child homelessness seems to be the most prevalent among the rapidly growing group. Policies have been constructed and enacted, their effectiveness is not yet apparent. Many organizations have ideas for solving the problem, but are faced with road blocks due to the long-term process of enacting possible solutions. In a vicious cycle, once one becomes homeless, he or she is likely to remain that way for a long period of time. Some public policies work with the homeless, while others make it harder to get out of the cycle.
Within the U.S. the main cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. Besides that, other factors include mental illnesses, substance abuse, and low-paying jobs. Some minor causes include prisoner release, unemployment, domestic violence, and poverty. Family units are the largest and fastest growing segment of the homeless population. Though homelessness is impossible to measure to complete accuracy due to the lack of communication between all homeless and the surveyors along with the problem of finding the homeless, the estimates still prove to be rather shocking. "According to a 2008 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development report an estimated 671,888 people experienced homelessness in one night in January 2007, (PBS, 2009). Within New York City by itself, officials reported that 6,252 families are lodging nightly in city shelters (NYPIRG). The website also reports that nearly 1 in 5 children within the U.S. live in poverty, therefore the U.S. child poverty rate is much higher than that of most other industrialized nations. In its 1998 survey of 30 cities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that the homeless population was 49% African-American, 32% Caucasian, 12% Hispanic, 4% Native American, and 3% Asian, (NYPIRG). This means that homelessness affects people of all sorts, without regard to race or other factors.
Mental illness is a huge factor in the homeless community. Approximately 20-25% of homeless, single adults suffers from some form of a severe mental illness, specifically one that is persistent. According to the Federal Task Force on Homelessness and Severe Mental Illness, only 5-7% of homeless persons with mental illness require institutionalization; most can live in the community with appropriate supportive housing options, (NYPIRG). This is a rather hypocritical comment mainly due to the fact that the reason those people are on the street is because of their illness, if they don t receive the help they need, they will remain homeless. There are those communities who chose to take care of the problem rather than watch it get worse. Washington County in Portland, Oregon had a huge population growth within the past 20 years. Some of these people though, were traveling homeless people. "What used to be limited to a few homeless individuals known to local residents on a first-name basis, and who were "taken care of" for the most part by the faith-based community and law enforcement, now became a population of more than 1,200 homeless adults," (Spanbock, 2008). No services were offered to these homeless people, so the community felt that something had to be done. Almost half of the county's homeless adults suffered from mental health challenges, so in 2004 a program was established for single homeless adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Luke-Dorf, Inc. thought of the idea due to their experience with adult mental healthcare. Though it took time, the Garret Lee Smith Safe Haven was opened in December of 2006. It went on to serve 10 formerly homeless people at their own level of need. As the success of the facility became more visible, a new center was opened within a year that now serves 25 formerly homeless people. As a result of this, they have seen many improvements and accomplishments: the newly renovated homes that house the facilities improve the look of the town, the facility gets a few homeless people off the streets, and a creation of new social service employment opportunities (Spanbock, 2008). This county is proof that not all solutions to homelessness have to come from public policy, but can stem from small groups wanting to make a big difference.
Apart from the mentally ill, children are another large group within the homeless population. "It is estimated that as many as one in 50 U.S. children (1.5 million) are homeless or "precariously housed " in temporary quarters such as motels and shelters," (Cohen, 2009). In a report about child homelessness specifically, Cohen shows that the ten cities most affected by child homelessness are Nevada, North Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. The National Center on Family Homelessness recently launched the Campaign to End Child Homelessness which proposes initiatives that would help children get into more stable situations and in the end brighten their outlook on life in the future. Some believe that its up to the U.S. government to end child homelessness by imposing policies that can be enacted at all levels of the government. "It is possible to end child homelessness [in the United States] within a decade," (Cohen, 2009) which would mean that if all the right programs and policies were implemented, the trend of growing child homelessness could be reversed even in this recession. Some of the more prevalent recommendations at the federal level include creating new low-income housing units, providing more housing vouchers, temporarily increasing food stamp benefits, raising of the minimum wage, and making it easier for homeless children to attend public schools. An issue that seems to be easily looked over is the idea that if a family is homeless, it makes it hard for the parents to find child care so that they may work. There is an extremely small number of child care facilities that would provide childcare to parents that don't have a fixed income. Yet without the childcare, most of those parents aren't able to go to work to actually have that fixed income. As of right now, only Massachusetts "gives priority to children who are homeless when distributing [child care] vouchers," (Cohen, 2009). If more states did things that way, the homeless population would decline in a major way.
Once one is homeless, it's hard for them to become financially stable again. This rings true to homeless children and young adults as well. According to the "social adaptation" hypothesis, "the longer young people are homeless the more they adapt to homelessness as a way of life," (Johnson & Chamberlain, 2008). This is why it is critical to get these children and young adults off the streets as soon as possible in order to lessen the final impact of homelessness. According to their survey of 1,677 individuals who became homeless before they turned 18, Johnson and Chamberlain (2008) found that 75% progressed to adult homelessness.
"It is estimated that between 1.5 and 2 million youth under age 18 are homeless and unaccompanied by a parent or guardian for at least one night," (Dworsky, 2010). The difference between the youth and adult homeless population is that a majority of homeless youth chose to leave their home. Apart from that most are homeless because they are abandoned by their parents or are forced to leave their home. Others grow out of the foster care system or are released from the juvenile justice system. The experiences they have are also different from other homeless elders, "depending on whether they are living on the streets, squatting in abandoned buildings, staying in shelters, or "couch surfing" among family members, friends, and even strangers," (Dworsky, 2010). Though some progress has been made to get the homeless youth off the streets, the major benefactors have been housing-based independent living programs that give the youth a place to stay as well as teach them things necessary to get out of the system. Just like any other young adult, the homeless need specific things in order to transition to their adulthood properly. A safe and stable living environment is a primary need of the homeless youth, when someone is on their own, they don't have the ability to learn things necessary for living successfully. Budgeting, meal preparation, hygiene, conflict resolution, and time management are just some life lessons that the homeless youth does not necessarily receive. An education is just as important as the previous points, if one does not get a degree, he or she is most likely to remain in the homeless system with low chances of getting well paying jobs. The Lighthouse Youth Services in Cincinnati, Ohio, is one of few organizations that helps prevent homelessness among specifically foster youth and juvenile offenders. With its Independent Living Program, The Lighthouse Youth Services has made a huge impact on the youth that has entered it. "Of the 455 youth who entered during the six-year period between 2001 and 2006, 60% had completed high school or obtained a GED, 31% were employed or had completed a vocational training program, and one-half were living independently at the time they were discharged from the program," (Dworsky, 2010). It s apparent that if the effort is made, and the help is offered, the homeless youth will not have as negative results as expected. Though much of the homeless youth chose to leave, it s doubtful they chose to give up the rest of their lives. Given the chance, they d surely pick their life back up and better their living habits and opportunities.
Though the demographic may be smaller, the same issues face the homeless of Springfield, MO as do the rest of the nation. According to Randy McCoy (2010), families are the fastest growing of the homeless population in Springfield. Over three hundred go unsheltered every day. In the winter of 2009, 457 individuals were homeless of which 301 were family units. In a 2006 documentary about the homeless community in Springfield, its estimated that there are 600 homeless individuals in Springfield on any given night. Of those, 250 don t have a place to stay each night. Beverly Tadeja, the director of social services at the Missouri Hotel notes the following: [You can] see people in the dumpsters, that s a perfect example. They stay in there (women especially) in their mental state, they want to be protected. Well, they turn around and go into the dumpster for protection, so they don t get beat up or raped, or whatever. Whatever the situation is. So they find that a security because it s like a shelter to them, (2006). Out of the 250 people that don t have a place to stay at night, many have to make decisions like the above mentioned on a daily basis. They have no protection from the outside world and choose to protect themselves in the way they find most suitable under their conditions.
In 2008, a survey was drafted about 148 people living in Springfield who were homeless during any period of their life. The report was finished, but lacked feedback from the agency giving helpful information in order to fully complete it. The sample was selected by asking homeless individuals if they had spent the previous night in a place meant for human habitation [and] whether they had been without shelter for at least one year in their lives or four times in a three-year period, (unidentified author, 2008). Interviews of the 148 individuals were conducted by volunteers at The Missouri Hotel. Results that were found were rather unexpected and quite shocking. The mean age of participants was 38.67 years, which is comparable to the mean age of 41.32 of summer 2007 participants, (unidentified author, 2008). With the youngest interviewee at 17 years of age and the oldest at 56, the variety of the surveyed was quite broad. Sixty-five percent of the interviewed were male, which may seem large, but the number of females represented was larger in 2008 than in the interviews conducted the previous year. One of the conclusions of this survey that correlated with the rest of the U.S. population was the fact that the homeless individual had a small education level. On average, the time the homeless person received education was 11.16 years. Thirty-seven percent of participants reported having 12 years of education, (unidentified author, 2008). In comparison to the national number of homeless youth, almost 20% of the interviewees in this survey experienced foster care as children. Forty-eight percent reported having a family that supported them, in contradiction to the national standard of children being completely on their own. Though no children were specifically interviewed, 23% of the actual participants spoke of knowing homeless children and families in the area. For Springfield not being a major city in Missouri, its homeless rate is definitely high.