The Sociological Effect of Homelessness in United States of America

Abstract

Homelessness is a crisis in the United States of America. The People who lack stable housing experience sociological effects including poverty, unemployment, health issues, family break-up, and lack of education or poor academic outcomes. They struggle to find and keep a job due to issues like stigma and prejudice, improper time structure, and frequent moves. Other factors that undermine employment among homeless people include constant stress, poor physical health, low esteem, difficult family experience, and low education. People with no stable housing are also at a higher risk of myriad of chronic and preventable mental and physical problems due to difficulty in the access and utilization of care. Barriers to healthcare access include socio-economic status, uncompassionate care, and mental health disorders. Family break-up is another sociological effect of homelessness. Children are frequently separated from parents due to longer shelter episodes, child neglect, and domestic violence. Education is another area severely affected by the issue of homelessness and poverty. Poor children face a host of challenges outside the classroom, which include lack of school supplies, inadequate nutrition that cause health problems, and unstable housing. There is need for a coordinated approach towards affordable housing to reduce cases of homelessness. Assistance programs should also be implemented to ensure the homeless access basic needs including food, shelter, clothing, clean water, healthcare, and education.

 

 

 

 

The Sociological Effects of Homelessness in United States of America

Homelessness is a deepening crisis in the United States of America. The disaster finds its full expression in images of thousands people sleeping on the streets across cities in the US at night. However, not all homeless people sleep on the streets: some stay with friends or family while others use temporary shelters. Seattle’s unofficial campsites are one of the worrying indicators of America’s growing problem of homelessness. The camps are all over the city: clusters of cardboards wrestled into shelters, bands of tents in wooded areas, and other forms of temporary structures put up to provide shelter. While the issue of homelessness has gained visibility on the public agenda, policy makers approach the matter with a casual shrug. The attitude has thrown the country into a severe crisis of affordable housing, which has exposed the homeless people to various problems. The People who lack stable housing experience sociological effects including poverty, unemployment, health issues, family break-up, and lack of education or poor academic outcomes.

The State and Causes of Homelessness in America

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 552, 830 Americans were experiencing homelessness in 2018. (2018).  67% of the population comprised of individuals while the remaining portion was families and children. Further details indicate that 7% of the homeless group was youth under 25 years-old living on their own, 7% of veterans, and 18% of chronically ill individuals (the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2018). Gender and racial demographics data revealed that 70% of the homeless population as men while 49% of the total number was Whites. While the number of homeless White individuals was higher than that of minorities, American Indians and African Americans were acutely overrepresented compared to their smaller fraction of the general population (The National Alliance to End Homelessness, 2018). The states with the highest number of homeless people include Colorado, Oregon, California, New York, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. The major cause of homelessness in America is lack of affordable housing and insufficient income (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 2015). People with extremely low income or no income at all are forced to sleep on streets or use temporary shelters because housing costs are too high. The dilemma, however, is the high rates of homelessness when the country is experiencing historically low rates of unemployment. It is important to note that average hourly wages have remained disturbingly flat across workforce in the US. While one would argue that the average hourly wage has been increasing over the years, the gains have been negated by the decreasing number of hours worked weekly and the excessively high cost of living that drains people financially. Other causes of homelessness include domestic violence for women, poverty, mental illness and lack of mental health services, as well as substance abuse and lack of required services.

Literature Review

Homelessness is a multifaceted and complex issue that has sparked great academic interests. The existing body of knowledge associate homelessness to sociological factors such as restricted accessibility to medical services and education, limited access to good nutrition, and increased risk of falling victim to violent crime (Walter, 2016). The effect of homelessness, according to Walter, is beyond lack of a house and associated practical challenges: it denies people the sense of home and belonging and poses significant psychosocial challenges (2016). For instance, when an individual fails to reach a minimum standard of housing, he/she can suffer distorted social relationships, lack of a fixed address, which may inconvenience use of social services, and disrupted social networks due to constant displacements (Walter, 201). Young people in homeless families also suffer poor academic outcomes due to issues like stress, absenteeism, and failure to afford education. Homeless people are at a high risk of a wide range of illnesses like traumatic disorders, disorders of skin like pustular skin lesions, blood vessel conditions like peripheral vascular disease, respiratory illnesses, chronic illnesses like diabetes and hypertension, and mental problems. Below is a synthesis of empirical research on the sociological effects homelessness.

Unemployment/underemployment and poverty are major sociological effects of homelessness. In studies of homelessness, researchers have majorly focused on unemployment as a cause of homelessness while the issue’s approach as a sociological factor has received scanty attention. Homeless employed people are more likely to lose their jobs compared to their counterparts with stable homes (Health Care for the Homeless, 2011). As a result, this group is struck by extreme poverty. Homeless people struggle to find and keep a job due to issues like homelessness stigma and prejudice, improper time structure, and frequent moves. Other factors that undermine employment among homeless people include constant stress, poor physical health, low esteem, difficult family experience, and low education. In 2011, Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) presented a study report on the state of employment in Baltimore. 478 homeless adults were surveyed. Interviews were conducted confidentially and participants were allowed to write their responses under guidance. It was revealed that only 76 individuals were employed and that most of them had been employed for 3 months to 1 year (Health Care for the Homeless, 2011). The respondents also reported weekly income ranging between $100 and $300 and reduced pay or working hours in the previous 2 years. 97% of the unemployed population reported not to be receiving unemployment benefits and named lack of stable housing, disability, lack of transportation, physical health problems, and lack of job opportunities as barriers to employment (Health Care for the Homeless, 2011). The study reveals the challenges facing homeless people in finding employment.

Health and healthcare disparities are other acute sociological effects of homelessness among Americans. People with no stable housing are at a higher risk of myriad of chronic and preventable mental and physical problems due to difficulty in the access and utilization of care (Andaya, 2016). The homeless, compared to their counterparts, suffer poorer health outcome as well as higher morbidity rates due to the hostile living conditions, lack of proper medical attention, socioeconomic status, and limited access to nutritious foods. This group is subjected to infectious diseases and chronic health conditions including tuberculosis, chronic obstructive lung disease, HIV, and cardiovascular disease among others. The individuals also risk some cancers due to risk factors like sun exposure, smoking, and alcoholism, which are common among the homeless. Access and utilization of healthcare are important in maintaining positive health for the homeless. However, they tend to experience more serious medical and psychiatric diseases due to lack of or insufficient primary care (Andaya, 2016). Socio economic status, which is a combination of education occupation and income, is one of the barriers to accessibility and utilization of healthcare services. Homeless people are vulnerable due to their lower socio economic status, thus, insufficient or lack of resources to access healthcare. While most homeless people desire and search for jobs, they face obstacles due to issues discussed earlier, like negative perceptions. Studies conducted in urban centers in California and Los Angeles revealed that homeless people failed to seek medical attention when required, which exacerbated their conditions (Andaya, 2016). Furthermore, homeless people have a tendency of seeking medical attention only when their condition gets worse. This is because they prioritize “essentials” like food, clothing, and water over healthcare.

Uncompassionate care and stereotype are other barriers to healthcare accessibility and utilization. According to research, homeless individuals face stigma and prejudice about their personality and character in the healthcare sector (Andaya, 2016). As a result, they receive uncompassionate care, which is not only effective but also discourages them from visiting the doctor. When homeless people lack social support and feel isolated, they suffer emotional distress, which aggravates their medical conditions. A 2015 study by Toro & Oko-Riebaui (as cited in Andaya, 2016) revealed that healthcare professionals with lower educational levels tend to blame the homeless people more for their situation. The same group of professionals is more likely to discriminate against the homeless. Mental health and substance abuse also undermine the efforts to access and utilize healthcare among the homeless people. Mental health disorders are common among the homeless due to life stressors (Andaya, 2016). Most of them resolve to alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide as coping mechanism to stressful conditions. Mental illness and substance use undermines the individual’s ability to comprehend the severity of their conditions are cognitively unable to take the appropriate steps towards cure and recovery.

Homelessness has also been linked to family break-up. The existing body of knowledge indicates that children from homeless families are at a higher risk of being separated from their parents. Research shows that slightly above half of homeless mothers live with their children because foster care placements are higher among homeless families (Shinn et al., 2015). Higher rates of child welfare rates are engendered by longer shelter episodes, child neglect, and domestic violence. Shinn et al. conducted a study to investigate the level of child separations in different populations of the homeless. 2, 307 families from 12 sites across the US were surveyed to examine associations of child-parent separations with homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, and felony conviction and foster care placement (2015). The team found out that nearly a quarter of the families were living apart from one or more children. Over half of the sample population reported to have been separated in the past. Mothers were more likely to stick with younger children while older ones stayed with relatives or fend for themselves. Parents, due to hardship in shelters, were forced to make hard choices of protecting their children or sticking with them in the rough environments. Moreover, parental behavior played a crucial role in family separations. Arrests and felony convictions contributed to higher rates of family break-ups. Most separations, according to the study, were arranged informally between parents and relatives while others involved parental agency (Shinn et al., 2015). Substance abuse and partner separations also contributed to children separations. Partners easily separate due to economic hardships and behaviors like substance abuse and alcoholism. Studies illustrate the higher risk of homeless families to family break-ups.

Education is another area severely affected by the issue of homelessness and poverty. Child poverty is a strong determinant of education achievement. Poor children face a host of challenges outside the classroom, which include lack of school supplies, inadequate nutrition that cause health problems, and unstable housing. Poverty homelessness disproportionately affects children of color, which undermines their academic performance. In 2017, the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies and Miami Homes conducted a study to examine the effect of homelessness on academic outcomes among children in Florida (Ray et al., 2018). 33,889 homeless schoolchildren were surveyed, including children staying in hotels, motels, transitional housing, shelters, and unsheltered locations. Student data obtained from Florida Department of Education was analyzed while phone interviews were conducted with school district staff serving as homeless education liaisons across 29 Florida counties (Ray et al., 2018). The findings indicated that safe, stable housing is a significant factor in not only academic achievement but also later success in life. The findings indicated higher rates of absenteeism among homeless students compared to students with stable housing. The homeless students missed 15 days school days on average while their counterparts missed only 8 days (Ray et al., 2018). The disadvantaged group was also less likely to post excellent academic results, with lower scores in English, math, arts, and science relative to their counterparts. Another important trend revealed in the study was the higher likelihood of homeless students to be subject to disciplinary action. The disproportionate administering of discipline may demoralize students and affect their academic performance. The findings reflect the academic struggles of homeless students in the US.

Homelessness is a persistent problem in the US inducing sociological effects including unemployment and poverty, health issues, family break-ups, and poor academic outcomes. The homeless are plagued by poverty due to unemployment and underemployment. Individuals also struggle to find and keep employment because of low education, inappropriate time structures, and discrimination emanating from misconceptions on personality and characters of the homeless people. Exposure to rough environments, lack of resources, mental disorders, and uncompassionate care increases the homeless people’s risk of health complications. Lastly, homeless students are less likely to demonstrate academic proficiency because they confront challenges such as unstable housing, lack of school requirements, stress, and poor nutrition that causes health issues. There’s need for a coordinated approach towards affordable housing. There should be a shift from the system of a collection of individual programs to community-wide response that is data driven and strategic. This would include identifying and referring homeless people to housing and assistance. Rapid re-housing strategies would intervene quickly to reduce the elevated rates of homelessness. Assistance should be offered to such vulnerable groups to ensure they have basic needs including accessibility to healthcare.  Programs should also be established to assist the homeless group to increase their income. Discrimination of the homeless should be discouraged in society to ensure the individuals live comfortable lives and access equal services.

 

References

Andaya, A. (2016). Understanding the causes of health disparities among the homeless. UC Merced Undergraduate Research Journal, 9(1). Retrieved from https://cloudfront.escholarship.org/dist/prd/content/qt4bp3d5f2/qt4bp3d5f2.pdf?t=oiyw50

Health Care for the Homeless. (2011, July). Employment among Baltimore’s homeless population. Health Care for the Homeless. Retrieved from https://www.hchmd.org/sites/default/files/wysiwyg/HCH%20Employment%20Report_final.pdf

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. (2015, Jan). Homelessness in America: Overview of data and causes. National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Retrieved from https://nlchp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Homeless_Stats_Fact_Sheet.pdf

Ray, A., Gallo, M., Velarde, S., Ibarra, B.B., Airgood-Obrycki, W. & Kleit, G. How does homelessness affect educational outcomes of children in Florida?. How Housing Matters. Retrieved from https://howhousingmatters.org/articles/housing-instability-can-detrimental-effects-floridas-youth-strategies-help/

Shinn, M., Gibbons-Benton, J., & Brown, S.R. (2015, Jan 9). Poverty, homelessness, and family-break-up. Child Welfare, 94(1), 105-122. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5760188/

The National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2018). State of homelessness. The National Alliance to End Homelessness. Retrieved from https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/homelessness-statistics/state-of-homelessness-report/

Walter, Z.C. (2016). Transitions through homelessness: The impact of psychosocial factors on well-being and outcomes in a homeless sample. The University of Queensland, Australia. Retrieved from https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/data/UQ_582262/s4141928_final_thesis.pdf?Expires=1555684102&Signature=WzN4OuvTjk5t~tx56IJfFUrtQOpOPX6ZBVCoTT-ovzWnfIMyYFo8YXVrPfZr0PULrsa6GYpyGdgCyB-6v~vLVEEZaHMhzIyw8WJbyEDkPpPA1VdqfyrcVm-gh4s95mYhqVxRlX4I5GekwxFdiUSwqVAQxJq-uVmQf2UzleRTQ4YBzcx6QB3Yn~lK10GKFJ7LUQn4eCswvnnSOhOBt0u9DXDzI01KFbw1s6s5vF6cHfwUO8eVfFqDkIr-ccx3fKQlS-FWy4-1iYjCkiVdgQOcUl75It0iAOdk5sclvMRN5LKleKIHY5lyPmvdi90qOGZmfdkziNVa898tKusfU30b0Q__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJKNBJ4MJBJNC6NLQ