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How does being homeless affect lives?


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April 20, 2012 5:36PM

Homelessness is a complicated issue that affects a wide rage of people and therefore the effect of a lack of a regular, safe indoor place to sleep can vary.

For a child, for example, homelessness can be utterly devastating and hurt their performance in school. Sadly, according to the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty:

"In 2009, only 34.1 percent of homeless individuals were members of a family experiencing homelessness. However, the percentage of family homelessness has been on the rise; family homelessness increased from 131,000 families in 2007 to 170,000 families in 2009, a 20 percent increase." p.25

I imagine being a parent in that situation would also be nerve racking.

Many homeless individuals are single males. There are a number of reasons for this, but ultimately the effects of homelessness is also quite personal, but here is a list of negative effects homelessness can have:

- The increased criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. leads to legal issues for the homeless and harassment by law enforcement. Ticketing and imprisonment of individuals who are homeless lead to fines, criminal records, police brutality and abuse, and the loss of personal property and vital medication. Run-ins with the law make it even harder for the homeless to change their situations and can make them ineligible for services that they may need.

- Most homeless people don't have adequate access to health care. This means that the homeless can suffer disproportionately form easily solved health problems which ends up in a lower quality of life for the homeless and it also hurts their ability to manage mental health issues as well as addiction problems. Also:

"....homelessness has been associated with higher death rates and shorter life expectancy than average. Some estimates indicate that homeless individuals are 3-4 times more likely to die than people in the general population." p.26

- For homeless women, rape and assaults are under reported, and according to the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault:

"Research has shown that 13% of homeless women reported having been raped in the previous 12 months, and one-half of these women were raped at least twice."

Sleeping outside can make a woman vulnerable to attack.

This is just a small picture of some of the challenges that face homeless individuals in America. But the bottom line is that a lot of these problems, like criminalization and lack of healthcare, could be fixed.

Most people who are homeless at any given time are not chronically homeless.

According to the NLCHP report:

"Only 17 percent of the overall homeless population consists of chronically homeless people. For others, homelessness is a more transitional experience. While not representative of the full homeless population, chronically

homeless individuals and people living on the streets are often the most visible of all homeless people and therefore may be the basis of the average person's perceptions of overall homelessness." p. 25

What this means is that most people who end up homeless end up back off of the streets eventually. This means it is a temporary condition and most people form inncorrect conclusions on homelessness and the homeless because the people that are most visibly "homeless" embody the negative stereotype that exists of the homeless appearing lazy and unwilling to change their situation.

Sadly, in our country our social polices also affect the lives of the homeless in a negative fashion by criminalizing day to day activities such as sleeping and eating in public, and denying access to clean running water and sanitary facilities. In fact, the United Nations has found that the U.S. treatment of the homeless violates international human rights standard, and groups like the NLCHP argue that such activities are unconstitutional as well.

Of course, homelessness can also provide people with a sense of freedom, and perhaps some who come out the other side and change their situation if they choose to and if the help they need to do so is available, they can feel pride and a sense of their own strength. Maybe the homeless can humble us all when we consider that anyone could be in their shoes. It could be just a pink slip or cancer diagnosis away.