In the hands of a tattered man are a makeshift cardboard sign stating blatantly, “I am homeless. Any amount will help,” and a drained McDonald’s coffee cup jingling with spare change. According to the National Law Center of Homelessness and Poverty, an estimated 2.3-3.5 million people in America annually experience homelessness. How is such a devastating situation possible in a country that is so economically and socially developed as the United States? There are various reasons for homelessness, all of which fall into two categories: an individual’s choice or an inevitable situation. Both categories have several similarities, but the prologue behind one’s homeless condition is the variable.
The stories of the homeless are greatly diverse; some brought the burden upon themselves due to lack of discernment, whereas others were completely unable to avoid the situation. An example of choice would be a background of substance abuse which resulted in homelessness. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment conducted a survey and found that 85% of youth-related homelessness cases involved some sort of alcohol or drug dependency. In addition, the National Coalition for the Homeless identified that 38% of homeless adults were a product of alcohol abuse and 26% had a history of drug use. On the other hand, mental and physical disability would pertain to the category of the inevitable – the individual’s impairment rendered him unable to work or function in a normal society, therefore resulting in the unfortunate event of homelessness. A study by Samhsah’s National Mental Health Information Center revealed that 13% of the homeless are physically disabled, 39% have a report of mental health problems, along with 36% who are plagued with other acute or chronic illnesses. Sadly, forms of disabilities like these are often the reason that many United States military veterans find themselves homeless. Abandonment due to family conflict is contingent upon situation – if neglect was caused by one’s unacceptable actions, such as drug/alcohol involvement, unwanted pregnancy, or violent tendencies, then this cause for homelessness falls under the category of choice. Granted, perhaps the authority figure responded incorrectly by abandoning said individual, but the offender is equally to blame. Consequences, including vagrancy, for unjust actions are to be expected. Economic inadequacy is often the cause of homelessness; in the case of innate circumstances, job loss, or underemployment, the events leading up to homelessness would be out of the hands of the individual.
Despite the various scenarios, each individual who finds himself homeless share several qualities. Businessmen and tourists alike avoid eye contact when walking by a beggar on an urban street – regardless of the individual’s background, homelessness is looked down upon in society. No one plans to be homeless, and every person in destitute desires for a solution. Whether one is responsible for the situation or the outcome was unavoidable, any homeless individual is qualified to receive government aid and help from various organizations designed to support the homeless. Temporary and emergency shelter, dietary needs, housing advisement, and even career training and placement assistance is available.
Award winning author Wallace Stegner one said, “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.” Many with homes, especially those in the United States, cannot comprehend the idea of extreme financial hardship, the effects of starvation, or living with an unrelieved ailment without medical treatment. Current America is often viewed as a land of greed and thanklessness; rather than fighting up the economic ladder, one should consider the impoverished below him in order to truly benefit society.
visit chicagohomeless.org, lakeviewpantry.org/charity, volunteermatch.org, or any other volunteer website to get involved in your community and make a difference.