The Rise of Homelessness in America

1907 words (8 pages) Essay in Sociology

08/02/20 Sociology Reference this

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Homelessness is an issue that includes many countries around the world; however, it seems to be a constant struggle in the United States. Over the years, homelessness has been associated with many factors like socioeconomic liability, mental illness, substance abuse, lack of employment opportunities, affordable health care, and domestic violence. Even though these factors are used to determine the rise in homelessness, the lack of affordable housing is the main source of homelessness. Property value continues to rise as many still struggle to stay above the poverty line. There are not enough good paying jobs, making it difficult for many in poverty to find affordable housing, “Although popular attention to homelessness has waned since the early 1990s, the current economic downturn and housing crisis are once again bringing the issue to the fore” (Barrett et al. 502). Subsidize home programs need change to help combat the increase in homelessness. Unfortunately, desperate measures are taken that force many to limit resources, covering only some of their necessities. If you are poverty-stricken in the United States, the likelihood of you becoming homeless is high. With a long list of factors that attribute to this crisis, I believe that the continued lack of affordable housing is the reason for its increase.

The economic status of the homeless is one major cause for them not being able to afford decent housing. Another factor is the issues of minimum wages and lack of access to education required for better paying job, “This increasing impoverishment of the bottom fifth conceals the degree to which those in extreme poverty, those making less than 50 percent of the poverty wage, have experienced even more dramatic declines in fortunes” (Wright 31). There is little to no housing units available at prices low wage earners and people on fixed incomes can afford. The supply of affordable housing for extremely low-income households has shrunk considerably in the last few decades. With homeless shelters constantly full and not enough housing units available for those on a low fixed income the reality becomes surreal. Revitalization and redevelopment have increased the price of housing, causing residents of formerly lower-income neighborhoods to find affordable housing elsewhere. Because of the economic restructuring, the loss of manufacturing employment, the rising skill level demands in the new jobs that pay well, and the increasing number of low wage jobs make it difficult for many to maintain their lease for permanent housing.

Our understanding of the causes of homelessness is normally attributed to underperformances in the individual character or ability, and social-structural causes attributed to the lack of human services, affordable living, and sufficient income, “The three social structural causes most often quoted as contributing to a loss of shelter are inadequate income, declining welfare services, and loss of housing” (Wright 30). To understand homelessness, we must understand poverty. We need to understand that poverty is a complicated social phenomenon and getting to the root of the problem seems to be even more complicated. The common explanation is that the poor cause their own poverty.  Homelessness is often associated with capitalism.  This free enterprise system can be strongly linked to conflict theory. Capitalism is to blame for the rise of unemployment and homelessness in America. A well-known philosopher by the name of Karl Marx, classified the meaning of the words capitalism, socialism, and communism. He said that in a capitalist society, there are those who have capital and those who do not. Furthermore, this form of society recognizes the possession of capital as a determining factor in a person’s value both financially and personally, “conflict theorist can point to the increasing gap between the upper class and those below them as proof that the capitalist economic system continues to promote inequalities and favor the haves over the have nots” (Kunz 197).

The functionalism theory has to do with the social organization and how it is handled in society. This theory highlights the importance of stability and participation in a society, “the way society divides people into social and economic classes is a positive and necessary function” (Kunz 197). Homelessness is looked at as nothing more than a social class. It is thought that once one is part of this class they will remain there forever. In the event of change when one moves up in status, the change will be very slow but certain. Functionalism point of view does not support those in extreme poverty or those facing serious financial issues. They are less likely to build stability within their unit and may not be able to participate in society due to their economic challenges, thus creating a new class with little resources and outlets for positive change.

Symbolic interaction is a theory that indicates the role of individuals and through their actions gives meaning when performed in society. Society is viewed as independent and your status and differences are confirmed through status symbols. The individual and society relationships are when the individual and society are both codependent.  Symbols can be many things such as their attires, their demeaner and their diet.  This leads to stereotyping and creating that division between the social classes. 

Those that are chronically homeless, are defined as those who are constantly or have been homeless for some time. The homeless become desperate and deliberately put themselves in jails, hospitals, and shelters in search of a safe place to sleep. The government has tried to implement solutions to help tackle the problem of homelessness, but many of their programs to combat the issue have been hard to gauge, despite governments investing large parts of the budget over the centuries. The United States government has set several objectives for ending homelessness. But reaching the set standard solution appears to be much further off, “research on the effect of subsidized housing in reducing homelessness is far from conclusive” (Early 688).  Few studies have been made regarding the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs but it’s apparent that a small fraction of those in subsidized homes is likely to be homeless without the subsidy. This issue motivates them to write a policy that helps solve the concern about the possible reduction in subsidies to rental property. Many have called for an increase in the number of subsidies and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and has proposed the renewing of Section 8 contracts that house 4.4 million low-income people which are a vital proposal that can have enormous implications if not tackled, “HUD argue that if these subsidies are not renewed, the United States would see an unprecedented explosion of homelessness” (Early 687).  HUD’s should be an entitlement that can help those in need but would be fundamentally more reasonable than the current method. Affordable housing is a controlled program and for the most part serves as a first come, first served basis. The system is nothing pragmatic because it provides households with funding that is valued up to the current market rate for rental units, while other similarly deserving households receive very little to nothing at all. A housing strategy intended to achieve a common agreement for providing modest accommodations for all is ideal and would be managed to ensure that all those in need could have their needs met. Housing is a fixed benefit which cannot be redirected to areas of greater needs, the way food or financial capital can.  Making housing assistance more sensitive to local housing conditions would allow for governments to target aid to areas most in need, “Cities where the probability of homelessness is higher are likely to provide more services for the homeless” (Early 691). Many of the studies have resulted that the expanding the current HUD programs would do little to combat this epidemic due to the number of homeless shelters which cost nothing to those who utilize them.  This makes for an easier decision for many with little to no income to pick shelters over programs meant to bring those out of their situation. The need is to increase funds to help the program grow so that more can be assisted.

A temporary solution can be implemented until funding can be increased to help grow the existing HUD programs.  One is the organizing and forming of tent cities in remote areas where homelessness is most evident.  First, tent cities have been popping up in visible areas around the country ever since the housing bubble of 2008.  Amazingly despite the lack of research analysis, these tent cities are thriving under the radar. When many lose their jobs or homes due to economic hardships they find shelter in empty lots which transform into small communities of tent dwellers, “After losing their jobs and homes, the encampment’s residents had found shelter in the only place they could, transforming a vacant city space into a vivid symbol of financial crisis otherwise invisible to most Americans”, (Loftus-Farren 1038).  The reactions to these tent cities are meat with mix feelings. Some look at it as an innovated way to live while others look at it as a concern. Whether innovative or disturbing many, including our government and researchers are taking notice. This is a crucial part of identifying this new epidemic and understanding the dynamics involved and encourages the evaluation needed for change. The concern that needs to be addressed first is with sanitation and habitability, such as the absence of running water to the proper means for sewage disposal. Being opened minded to the situation allows for a provisional solution that can be justifiable with the right changes to address the concern of locals and those living in the tent communities but we are far from that process, “Despite the benefits that can be associated with tent cities, local communities and government officials have frequently responded to the increasing prevalence and visibility of encampments with distaste and threats of eviction, (Loftus-Farren 1040). The argument is that tent cities should be supported to fill the gaping hole in the current government response to homelessness. Seeing the opportunity this can provide should have supporters in government pulling resources and involving policymakers to facilitate or come up with solutions to improve the situation rather than support evictions.  Evictions only cause a bigger problem that governments and communities will eventually have to address in the form of HUD and the development of more shelters.      

Work Cited

  • Lee, Barrett A., et al. “The New Homelessness Revisited.” Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 36, 2010, pp. 501–521. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25735089.
  • Wright, Talmadge. “Resisting Homelessness: Global, National, and Local Solutions.” Contemporary Sociology, vol. 29, no. 1, 2000, pp. 27–43. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2654929.
  • Early, Dirk W. “The Role of Subsidized Housing in Reducing Homelessness: An Empirical Investigation Using Micro-Data.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 17, no. 4, 1998, pp. 687–696. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3325719.
  • Loftus-Farren, Zoe. “Tent Cities: An Interim Solution to Homelessness and Affordable Housing Shortages in the United States.” California Law Review, vol. 99, no. 4, 2011, pp. 1037–1081. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23018618.
  • Jenifer Kunz – Pearson – 2013” Think Marriages & Families 2013”
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