"There are 1,800 homeless people in Memphis on any given day — at least that we can find," says Pat Morgan, executive director of Partners for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization attempting to coordinate resources and services for the city's homeless.
Homelessness is a complex problem, fraught with many associated challenges and variables. But for all of its complications, the solution to homelessness is surprisingly simple – Housing.
The Big Picture
While circumstances can vary, the main reasons people experience homelessness is because of unstable home environments, substance abuse issues or they cannot find stable housing they can afford.
By the numbers:
- There are 643,067 people experiencing homelessness on any given night.
- Of that number, 238,110 are people in families, and 404,957 are individuals.
- 17 percent of the homeless population is considered “Chronically Homeless”
- and 12 percent of the homeless population , 67,000 are veterans.
Chronic homelessness is often the public face of homelessness. "Chronic" has a specific definition, involving either long-term and/or repeated bouts of homelessness coupled with disability (physical or mental). People experiencing chronic homelessness often end up living in the streets or shelters.
It’s a common misconception that this group represents the majority of the homelessness population; rather, they account for about 18 percent of the entire homeless population.
Homeless people suffer from high rates of mental and physical health problems exacerbated by living on the streets and in shelters. Approximately half of people experiencing homelessness suffer from mental health issues. At any given point in time, 45 percent of homeless people report indicators of mental health problems during the past year. About 25 percent of the homelessness population has serious mental illness. Substance use is also prevalent among homeless populations. Stable housing and supportive services are critical to help people experiencing homelessness move toward recovery.
Veterans often become homeless due to war-related disability. For a variety of reasons – physical disability, mental anguish, and post-traumatic stress many veterans find difficulty readjusting to civilian life. This inability can translate into unsafe behaviors, including addiction, abuse, and violence. These difficulties, coupled with the unsafe behaviors, can lead to homelessness.
The Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently estimated that 76,000 veteran experience homelessness on any given night.
This population is composed of veterans of different conflicts, ranging from World War II to the current conflicts. Though research indicates that those serving in the late Vietnam and post-Vietnam era are at greatest risk of homelessness, veterans returning from the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq often have severe disabilities that are known to be correlated with homelessness.
Much like for the general homeless population, rapid re-housing, homelessness prevention strategies and permanent housing with supportive services are critical for many veterans experiencing homelessness.
Housing problems, including homelessness, are common among individuals leaving the corrections system. They tend to have limited or low incomes, often due to their criminal history, and lack the ability to obtain housing through the channels that are open to other low-income people. As a result, one in five people who leave prison becomes homeless soon thereafter, if not immediately.
In fact, a California Department of Corrections study found that in major urban areas such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, the percentage of parolees who are homeless can be as high as 30 to 50 percent at any given time. Preliminary studies indicate that those who leave prison and become homeless are substantially more likely to return to prison than those with stable housing.
One effective model for addressing this problem is “re-entry housing,” which is subsidized housing with associated intensive support services.
Young people often become homeless due to family conflict, including divorce, neglect, or abuse. A large majority of young people experience short-term homelessness, returning back home or to family/friends. A small minority, an estimated 50,000, experience long-term homelessness.
Homeless families are similar to other poor families. Typically, families become homeless as a result of some unforeseen financial crisis - a medical emergency, a car accident, a death in the family - that prevents them from being able to hold on to housing.
Domestic violence is the immediate cause of homelessness for many women. Research reveals that domestic violence is one of the most common causes of homelessness for families because it can affect a woman’s risk of becoming homeless. Survivors of domestic violence are often isolated from support networks and financial resources by their abusers. As a result, they may lack steady income, employment history, credit history, and landlord references. They also often suffer from anxiety, panic disorder, major depression, and substance abuse.
About half of people experiencing homelessness suffer from mental health issues. At any given point in time, 45 percent of homeless people report having had indicators of mental health problems during the past year. About 25 percent of the homeless population has serious mental illness, including chronic depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
People experiencing homelessness also have a high rate of substance use. According a 1996 survey, 46 percent of homeless respondents reported having an alcohol use problem in the past year, and 38 percent reported a problem with drug use in the past year.
Mental and physical health problems are exacerbated by living on the streets and in shelters.