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The Causes of Homelessness in America

April 2, 2024

While there are a great variety of reasons for homelessness, some issues are much more prevalent in the homeless community than others. In order to solve a problem, it’s important to first understand the issue, and to be educated on its root causes. Here are the most common causes of homelessness in the United States.

Homeless man sitting on blue wall

Income and Housing Affordability

As housing costs skyrocket, people are being forced out of their apartments and homes. To afford a 2 bedroom apartment in the United States, individuals would need 3 times the minimum wage. With these rising prices, typical households are forced to spend more than 32% of their income on rent, which causes many communities to experience rapid increases in homelessness.

This issue of homelessness often occurs in urban areas where housing is more expensive. Rent and home prices increase year to year, causing 85% of a sample of U.S. families to live in units with another family.

At Lifebridge, we aim to help those who face homelessness through our emergency and transitional services and our permanent supportive housing. With Seeds of Hope in Salem, MA, we offer 36 shelter beds for men and women who face homelessness. At River House in Beverly, MA, we have 34 emergency beds for women.

Addiction & Substance Abuse

In a study from 2009, two-thirds of homeless people reported that drugs and alcohol were a big reason they became homeless. When individuals are dealing with substance abuse and addiction, their relationships with friends and family begin to strain and they often lose their jobs. This job loss leads to the individual’s inability to pay their bills, eventually leading to homelessness.

For those already struggling with addiction, homelessness makes it even harder. Individuals who face homelessness often look towards drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate. These people choose to prioritize housing and food before addiction recovery.

Mental Illness

Mental illness is an issue that seems to be causing more problems in our society now than ever before. But as a country, America is still behind in dealing with the issue.

It’s estimated that 250,000 people with mental illness are homeless, landing it in the third spot among leading causes of homelessness. Oftentimes the mentally ill are unable to find the appropriate care for their issues, leading them into a life of hardship, and eventually ending up without a permanent place to stay. Individuals facing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are the most at risk.

Individuals dealing with mental health issues often experience cognitive and behavioral challenges that make it difficult to work and earn an income. Veterans account for a large portion of the homeless population, due to lack of support and resources. Homeless individuals often face a combination of drug abuse, violence, and mental health problems.

Mental Illness in Homelessness vs. General Population

Unemployment & Minimum Wage

Without permanent and reliable work and income, the likelihood of a person ending up homeless is inevitably increased. Losing a job, or even dealing with a drastic cut in hours or wages, can lead to significant hardships for families and individuals.

Even for individuals who have a job, the minimum wage in the United States contributes to poverty. To cover the average cost of living in the United States in 2017, the minimum wage would have had to be $16.07 for a family of four. The minimum wage in 2017 and now in 2024 is $7.25 per hour. This barely covers the average cost of living now as housing prices are only rising.

The Consequences of Homelessness

When an individual becomes homeless, they face threats to their physical health and mental health. Individuals can develop substance abuse disorders which can affect sleeping and eating patterns, More than one-third of homeless individuals deal with mortality rates three to four times higher than the rates of the general population.

The root causes of homelessness aren’t universal. The issues are complex, and the reasons vary, but the most common problems at the heart of the homeless epidemic can, and should, be addressed.

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