This paper analyzes the social issues surrounding homeless families and describes the extent of the problem within the U. S. community, while comparing the U.S. community to other communities in other parts of the global system. Causes listed in this paper include unemployment, mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, and lack of affordable housing. Three theoretical models guide the analysis: social systems theory, functionalist theory and conflict theory. The data come from statistics of homeless families in the U.S. and global communities. These results deliver some evidence for current explanations for homeless transitions, and they propose probable avenues for additional research on the dynamics of homelessness.
Macro Community Analysis
Homelessness is a significant concern within the U. S. and global community. This situation arises when its individuals are poverty stricken and do not have regular access to affordable housing. In the U. S. in the early 1980s, families with young children became one of the fastest growing segments of the homeless population and now consist of 34% of the homeless population, which includes 23% children and 11% adults (Burt et al., 1999). The issues of homelessness have always been a problem around the world, even though it varies greatly, it has been considered to be one of the oldest social dilemmas in the world. Any day, no less than 800,000 individuals are homeless in the U.S., including about 200,000 homeless families. Most homeless families have incomes below 50% of the federal poverty level that makes it nearly impossible for them to find rental property within their means. To make matters worse, as many as 70% of homeless people struggle with serious health problems, mental and physical disabilities, and/or substance abuse problems (Burt, 2001). Countries have different ways of reporting homelessness, dissimilar measures with which to define homelessness. Some countries have no policy regarding this condition at all and for that reason are unable to report on the statistics.
Causes and Effects of Homelessness
As mentioned, homeless is also a global issue and not a problem specific to the U.S. It is
estimated to be around 3 million homeless individuals in 15 countries of the European Union.
Philip Alston, Chairperson of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights since
1991 states that “on any given night, three quarters of a million people in the United States are
homeless; in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, 6,500 people stayed in emergency shelters on a
typical night in late 1997, a two-thirds increase in just one year” (Unicef, 1998).
Furthermore, abuse and assault appear to be silent characteristics of homelessness. Studies have frequently found, in the histories of both individuals and families who are homeless, high rates of sexual and physical abuse in childhood, frequent foster care and other out of-home placements, and a variation of other family disruptions. Those that are always getting assaulted by their families might choose to run away and seek shelter in the streets than consent to a life of day-to-day abuse from beatings and molestation. The most significant reasons why people become homeless may be due to the inaccessibility of affordable housing for low income people. Studies show that people are likely to become homeless out of unavoidable situations. There are people who do work but they earn too little to pay for rent, electric, gas, and other housing utilities and expenses. If a person becomes unemployed, they will be unable to pay for anything at all.
Homeless Families Demographics
Although homelessness is a difficult number to measure, one way to analyze the extent of the problem is through demographics. According to The National Center on Family Homelessness (2008), the typical sheltered homeless family is comprised of a mother in her late twenties with two children.
Eighty-four percent of families experiencing homelessness are female-headed. This is due to number of factors:
Most single-parent families are female-headed (71%). Single-parent families are among the poorest in the nation and as such, are extremely vulnerable to homelessness
Several family shelters do not take men into their programs, causing families to separate when they become homeless
Families of color are overrepresented in the homeless population. Nationally:
Forty-three percent are African-American
Fifteen percent are Hispanic
Thirty-eight percent are White, non-Hispanic
Three percent are Native American
Families experiencing homelessness frequently have limited education:
Fifty-three percent of homeless mothers do not have a high school diploma
Twenty-nine percent of adults in homeless families are working
Forty-two percent of children in homeless families are under age six (The National Center on Family Homelessness, 2008).
The lack of reasonable housing has led to high rent payments for families that already struggle to pay their living expenses. These issues force many families to become homeless each day. A solution would be to lower the cost of housing, provide more support for those that are in need, and for the government to recognize that homelessness is a large scale problem.
Application of Theory
Social Systems Theory
Social inequality is shown all over the world stemming from situations of race, gender, and age. An individual’s social environment includes all situations a person comes into contact with on a day-to-day basis such as the individual’s home, job, and income level, and the social rules that govern them. Person-in-environment refers to interaction between an individual and the multiple systems surrounding that individual, and adaptation refers to one’s capability to change in order to adjust to new situations. In order to endure, an individual must be able to function effectively within their social environments (Kirst-Ashman & Hull, 2002).
The important factor behind the social selection model is that homelessness signifies the final point in a process characterized by the slow reduction of an individual’s social and economic resources. As an individual’s substance use escalates, the person’s financial reserves are exhausted as they sustain an increasingly expensive ”habit.” They either fall into rent debts that leads to eviction (Bessant et al., 2002), or family relationships break down leading to homelessness (Coumans & Spreen, 2003). Fountain and Howes found that 63% of their sample of homeless people in Britain named drug or alcohol use as a reason for first becoming homeless. The researchers decided that ”drug use is traditionally seen as one of the major routes into homelessness, and this was borne out by our survey” (Fountain & Howes, 2002, p. 10). This compares to the above U.S. percentages that have reported drug and alcohol abuse as one of the causes of homelessness.
Homelessness can be explained by functionalism, a theory developed by Durkheim. Poverty is best understood from a mixed perspective involving conflict, by Karl Marx and functionalist, by Emile Durkheim. Since poverty certainly plays a role in a homelessness community, this theory certainly applies. In my opinion, functionalist theory explains that our country does actually help those in need but occasionally we can be unsuccessful. This theory continues to remind us to live practically and tells us that the social order does essentially work (Meyerhoff 2006).
Regrettably, at this time, scientific studies of family homelessness have been unable to instantaneously reflect all of these probable risk factors. Most of the research can be divided into those studies that present family homelessness as the product of separate faces or of community conditions, without examining both factors together (Shlay & Rossi, 1992).
Conflict theory, which is significant to the analysis of the homeless condition, is the belief that the means of mental capability and mental achievement plays a role in the determination of what interests will be articulated effectively. Conflict theory studies the macro level of our society, its structures and organizations. While functionalists dispute that society is held together norms, values, and a common morality, conflict theorists consider how society is held together by power and coercion for the advantage of those in power (Ritzer, 2000).
Though individuals and groups appreciating great wealth, prestige, and power have the resources needed to impose their values on others with fewer resources, Max Weber, a theorist viewed a range of class divisions in society as normal, inevitable, and acceptable, as do many contemporary conflict theorists (Curran & Renzetti, 2001). Weber’s theory separated the class of individuals into bourgeoisie and proletariat. Bourgeoisie are those capitalist who possess the means of production while the proletariat is deemed as the working class; they are the ones who sell their own labor power. These groupings show how people are classified according to their status in life. It basically defines the society’s state of inequality that is stabilized and reproduced through cultural ideology (Meyerhoff 2006).
Social Ill within Turley Homelessness
Poverty and inequality continues to afflict many residents in Turley, Oklahoma. The best theory that explains the social ill in Turley, Oklahoma, is conflict theory. One of the conflicts impacting Turley residents is the lack of transportation and close health care facilities. Without access to transportation, residents cannot get to work or to doctors or hospitals easily. Weber’s theory separated the class of individuals into bourgeoisie the “haves”, and the “have-nots” were called proletariat. It would be ideal if Marx’s idea of constructing a fundamentally “equal” society where there is no competition for wealth and power (Meyerhoff, 2006). It is known that several of Turley residents have less than other communities. One of the social ills within the Turley community is the many houses that are abandoned, boarded up, falling down or even burned-out by vandalism, which results in minimal to no housing for Turley residents. Also, from low income or unemployment, this may be caused by lack of transportation. This can result in individuals becoming depressed and utilizing drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Prolonged use of drugs or alcohol may result in a mental disorder. People who have complicated life issues related to mental illness and of drug or alcohol use are the most common people who tend to be homeless. There is a common perception that substance abuse and homelessness are linked, but there is considerable contention about the direction of the relationship (Kemp, Neale, & Robertson, 2006; Mallett, Rosenthal, & Keys, 2005; Neale, 2001; Snow & Anderson, 1993).
Many people in Turley, Oklahoma are homeless due to lack of affordable housing and lack of access to health care facilities, both of which makes life worse for residents with mental illness or substance abuse problems. Severe mental illnesses may be caused from substance abuse and affect people’s ability to carry out vital stages of everyday life, such as retaining a job, household management or even self-care. Mental illnesses may also prevent people from forming and maintaining stable relationships or cause them to misconstrue assistance from others’ and react in an angry manner. This often results in pushing away family, friends and caregivers who may be the force keeping that person from becoming homeless. Some studies indicate that substance abuse is a risk factor for homelessness, whereas others suggest that homelessness ”induces drug use” (Neale, 2001, p. 354).
In summary, when comparing the U. S. to other global communities, the causes of homelessness were similar, with poverty being the leading cause. To effectively address homelessness, communities need a clear understanding of the problem and realize that it could affect anyone at any given time. Homelessness continues to be an increasing problem and requires social action to overcome the injustice that those people suffer. A change can be made by building or offering affordable housing units to people with low or very minimal income, as well as shielding families from the abuse they may get exposed to and trying to help guide them in the right path. Finally, through helping communities with programs that assist addicted individuals to overcome their addiction as well as people with mental illness by providing affordable health care programs, the homeless have an opportunity to rise above their current situation.
As a Child Welfare Supervisor, I selected this particular social justice issue because several of the children that come into OKDHS custody will age out of the system without a permanent home or family, which results in most of them becoming homeless; this was learned in our Child Welfare Trainings. I wanted to learn more about this ongoing problem and feel it is very important that we help homeless people obtain a better life.
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