No Place to Call Home

Some statistics:

o   29% of homeless families are headed by a working adult, usually the mother.

o   More than half of homeless mothers do not have a high school diploma.

o   Approximately 63% of homeless women have been victims of domestic violence.

o   Homeless children are more likely to suffer from hunger, poor physical and emotional health.

o   Homeless children experience four times as many respiratory infections, twice as many ear infections and are four times more likely to have asthma.

o   They are less likely to attend school, and more likely to fall behind in class.

o   While the number of homeless children in America is estimated at 1.6 million, many estimates suggest the number could be far higher, as homeless statistics are often under-reported at the city, county and state levels.

Some causes:

o   Addiction - 68% of U.S. cities report that addiction is their single largest cause of homelessness. “Housing First” initiatives are well intentioned but can be short-sighted. A formerly homeless addict is likely to return to homelessness unless they deal with the addiction.

o   Domestic violence - Nationally, 50% of homeless women and children are fleeing domestic violence. When a woman is abused, she faces a crisis of safety. If she stays in the home, she’ll be beaten again. If she leaves, she’ll have little means of support. Either choice is a tremendous risk. Choosing homelessness over abuse is both a brave and frightening decision.

o   Mental illness - 6% of the American population suffers from mental illness. In the homeless population, that number jumps to 20-25%. Serious mental illnesses disrupt people’s ability to carry out essential aspects of daily life, such as self-care and household management. Without assistance, these men and women have little chance of gaining stability.

o   Job loss and underemployment - The current downturn in the economy has many Americans barely getting by financially. Many are underemployed at wages that can’t sustain them. Layoffs and job cuts leave individuals and families in desperate circumstances. Unemployment benefits and savings run out, leaving people homeless who never thought it could happen to them.

o   Foreclosure - Even people who have jobs are finding themselves upside down with their mortgages. From 2008 to 2009, foreclosures jumped by 32%. A 2009 survey estimates that as many as 10% of people seeking help from homeless organizations do so due to foreclosure.

o   Post Traumatic Stress - On any given night, as many as 200,000 military veterans sleep on the street. The percentage of veterans with post-traumatic stress is growing among those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Adapting to “normal life” back in the U.S. is proving to be extremely difficult for the men and women who have served us. Unable to cope, some choose to leave homes, loved ones and jobs behind for homelessness and/or addiction.

o   Throw away teens - Homeless teens often become so due to family conflicts. They’re kicked out or choose to run away over issues of drug/alcohol addiction, physical abuse, sexual orientation or teen pregnancy. Mental illness can play a significant role in teen homelessness just as it does in adults. Teens in foster care often end up on the street after they “age-out” of the system at age 18, a sad situation in which many feel alone or abandoned.

o   Relational brokenness - A homeless person is most often a deeply hurting person. By the time they come to a homelessness organization for help, they’ve burned through every supportive relationship possible. Friends and family are no longer able or willing to help, leaving the homeless man or woman very much alone. What relationships they have are usually predatory. In a sense, their situation is less about homelessness and more about unwantedness. A significant barrier to recovery often lies in the ability to restore trust and maintain healthy relationships.

o   Grief - It’s not uncommon to discover that the men and women in many shelters are burdened by grief. Unable to deal with the death of a loved one or other significant trauma, they numb their pain in addiction. Addiction and apathy lead to the loss of job and home. They simply stop caring if they live or die. Grief becomes a roadblock to living.

o   Despair - “Once you get down this low, it’s hard to get back up,” we often hear homeless men and women say. The longer they are homeless, the more difficult it becomes to combat the lies they hear in their heads. They believe there’s no way out. They don’t deserve another chance. They’ll never break free from addiction. They’ll always be a failure. More than anything, these men and women need hope.