According to Jencks Analysis, it is the mental illness and deinstitutionalization of the mentally sick that caused homelessness rather than poverty (Jencks 24). Jencks argues that the severely mentally sick account for a third of the homeless population since they were released from hospitals in the 1950s. This argument might be true but it fails to account for the rest of the homeless who make up two-thirds of the population. Homelessness is emerging as a chronic problem in many countries as people are increasingly being rendered homeless by the day as a result of rising poverty. There is thus a strong relationship between poverty and homelessness. Poverty has been argued to be both a cause and an effect of homelessness. For example, in the US it has been observed that many of the homeless initially had stable residences until economic factors along with other related factors rendered them homeless (Watson 1). Poverty levels have been rising steadily especially with the onset of the past global recession in 2008. The US government should thus counter the problem of poverty to solve the problem of homelessness in the United States. The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between poverty and homelessness and to prove that to tackle the issue of homelessness the US government must first deal with poverty and its causes.
Relationship between poverty and homelessness
Bad economic times
Jencks argues that chronic homelessness stays on the condition for years while those that suddenly become homeless only stay in the streets for a while but come out of the streets before the end of the year. This points out factors beyond poverty to be the cause of poverty. Poor economic times resulting in poverty are to blame. This argument fails to address the actual reason why these people find themselves homeless. The past recession caused property prices to fall making them more affordable. This might appear true until one considers the effect of the recession on people’s incomes and savings. As a result of the crisis, many could not afford to service rental charges many of whom were evicted from homesteads into the cold. Furthermore, rental prices continued on an upward trend even as the housing values fell. There was a sharp decline in wages leading to a lack of affordability of housing for many employees. In Miami alone, it was reported that a worker earning a minimum wage was required to work for 126 hours per week to afford a modestly priced apartment. Poverty has the effect of drawing people closer towards homelessness (National Coalition for the Homeless 1). The recession has seen a sharp decline in the number of affordable housing unit’s further pushing employees into homelessness.
It can be reliably argued that the two major causes of homelessness are poverty and inaccessibility to affordable houses. According to the National Coalition of the homeless, a record 12.7% of the American population translating to about 37 million people was living in poverty in 2004. This group does not save anything and only lives from hand to mouth. Any eventuality leading to loss of income or inability to earn is a sure recipe for eviction due to the inability to pay rent and service their mortgage obligations. As a result of these factors, foreclosures have become very popular in the current recession. Many of the poor work on part-time employment which is very susceptible to economic changes hence making them very vulnerable to homelessness as a result of layoffs. It is estimated that 15% of the American homeless have jobs but the salary is inadequate to afford to house hence condemning them to homelessness. According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, an estimated 5 million of the households in the United States spend more than half of their salary on rent while others live in badly dilapidated housing (Watson 5).
Failure of government policies towards the poor contribute to homelessness
Some politicians have suggested that the way forward to end homelessness was to construct permanent houses for the chronic homeless (Anonymous 6). This idea was brought forward during the Bush administration but due to lack of political goodwill, the idea was overtaken by events. This idea would however serve to provide a temporary fix to a rising problem that seems to be escalating as time passes by. It is indeed unsustainable in the long run as it occurred in the 1980s when it was tried out unsuccessfully. Even the politicians understand clearly that the permanent solution lies in addressing the causative agent of homelessness whose key agent is poverty. In other words, the argument can be summarized in the following manner: provide the poor with sustainable livelihoods through employment and equitable distribution of resources and homelessness will be history.
It is true that the US government still has provision for low-income housing for the needy but according to available statistics, the number of these dwellings has been shrinking continuously since the early 1990s with no new developments. The government assistance to the poor in housing has decreased by 50% between 1980 to 2003 while a total of 2 million housing units disappeared diminishing the supply further. Some of them were converted into higher-cost apartments as others were demolished. Housing vouchers on the other hand took as much as three years to be processed causing the poor a lot of agonies. This has had a direct effect of forcing the poor to shelter in the cold of the streets as is often the case in many cities. This calls for urgent reforms to save the situation from getting worse which could be catastrophic to the poor and the state at large.
The anti-universal health care crusaders have voiced concern that the bill will only lead to deterioration of the health care resulting in more suffering of the poor. The argument seems reasonable until one keenly examines the effect of high medical costs on the welfare of the mainly uninsured poor. The high cost of health care has worsened the plight of the many poor households already struggling with high rates of rent and the cost of living. A serious health condition depletes their savings leading to eviction from their residences. 47% of Americans have no medical cover which makes them highly vulnerable whenever a medical condition turns serious. Any significant decline in their financial status arising from the high cost of health tends to render them homeless. It, therefore, makes enough sense to argue that reforming health care to make it affordable to all will, in turn, reduce the effects of poverty which in turn will address the problem of homelessness among the poor.
The ever-growing disparity between the poor and the rich
It is possible to live in poverty throughout one life and never become homeless (Barbieux 2). Those that are homeless only find themselves in an environment of poverty as he adds further. The argument is largely valid but it fails to recognize the fact that as a result of poverty the majority of the homeless find themselves in the condition of homelessness. The gap between the poor and the rich has risen constantly resulting in their marginalization by the wealthy and the politicians. Lack of national leadership has led the poverty issues to be ignored among politicians contributing to the shunning of the poor. Indeed, the pilling riches have given the filthy rich dominion of both the political and the media space leaving very little room for the poor (Anonymous 5). The widening disparity in earned income between the rich and the poor is brought about by the enormous inequalities existing by different economic classes in the country (Toksanbaeva 3). This has made it exceedingly hard for the plight of the poor to be recognized leave alone being addressed. As a result, these politicians concentrate their efforts on efforts to please their campaign financiers hence ignoring the pertinent issues of equitable distribution of wealth and the plight of the homeless and the poor. To show the full magnitude of my concern, the Bush administration only allocated $35 million to the permanent housing scheme which was insignificant. The ultimate answer lies in improving people’s living standards and reduction of poverty.
Although the government claims to have a scheme to house the poor, it has largely failed to address the plight of the poor. The government had an elaborate program to house the poor and the jobless by providing emergency shelter and through the initiation of the supportive housing projects where many of the homeless were pulled out of the streets (Anonymous 4). However, the fate of the poor changed dramatically since Congress changed its policy towards the homeless poor leading to trickling back of the poor homeless back to the streets. With that kind of suffering to the poor, the government ought to move expeditiously to reintroduce the emergency housing scheme to save the poor. To the public, this serves as a wake-up call to pile pressure on lawmakers to seek ways of addressing the poverty problem to amicably address the problems of the homeless.
Poverty is both a cause and an effect of homelessness as one leads to the other. Poverty is the largest contributing agent to homelessness while homeless people live in poor conditions as a result of the surrounding circumstances. To solve the problem of homelessness, US lawmakers should aim at sustainable means of addressing homelessness in tackling the issue of poverty and its causes. As a short-term measure, the government should revive the emergency housing scheme to provide housing to the homeless.
Anonymous. “Poverty and the Homeless”, enotes. 2009. Web.
Barbieux, Kevin. “Poverty Does Not Cause Homelessness”. The homeless guy. 2008. Web.
Jencks, Christopher. “Jencks: The homeless in Does poverty cause homelessness?” University of Maryland. 2007. Web.
National Coalition for the Homeless. “Causes of Homelessness”. Camillus House, 2009. Web.
Toksanbaeva, Mira. The relationship between poverty and earned income distribution: Poverty, Income distribution, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2000.
Watson, Stephanie. “How Homelessness Works”. HowStuffWorks, Inc. 2009. Web.