There are many different reasons an individual or family falls into homelessness. While it’s usually a combination of things, like losing a job or falling behind on rent, sometimes the cause of homelessness is one tragic incident like losing a partner that changes someone’s living circumstance. So why do people become homeless? Learn a little more about the most common reasons, and meet a few neighbors who you may not even realize are experiencing homelessness. See More See Less
Whether from losing a job, or not being able to find a job in the first place, unemployment is one of the major causes of homeless. No income, no way to keep up with living expenses. While the number of unemployed people fell to 7.4% the past few years, the number of people living in poverty hasn’t declined. At 46.7 million living under the poverty line ($20,000 year for a family of three), that’s 15.8% of the United States.
Personal or family crisis
Individuals with an established support network and steady income can be forced into homelessness if a major health issue or family emergency arises. For people already living below the poverty line, managing everyday incidents such as having a car towed can push someone into homelessness even faster. One major health issue can derail an individual’s life including a family member’s poor health or a death in the family. Even divorce can quickly spin into homelessness as it can be expensive and impact income significantly. Often these homeless experiences are short-term and transitional, especially for families.
In cities like San Francisco and New York, affordable and available housing is in short supply. But even outside these urban areas people are feeling crunched by the rising cost of living. Since 2007, the number of poor households increased by 27% - 11.25 million families are paying 50% or more of their income toward housing. According to The Department of Housing and Urban Development, families with only one full-time worker making minimum wage couldn’t afford rent for a two-bedroom market-priced apartment anywhere in the country.
Demographics: Youth and LGBTQ
Young people are often considered the “invisible homeless” - and there are fewer statistics for this group as they don’t normally engage with services. For them, homelessness may begin as couch surfing or crashing with friends, which is less drastic than sleeping outdoors. What we do know is that youth -- including children and unaccompanied youth -- make up almost 8% of the homeless population - during a year around 550,000 youth and young adults up to age 24 experience homelessness, with 380,000 being under the age of 18.
Similarly, the LGBTQ community faces a unique set of challenges and are often more at risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation compared with their heterosexual peers. According to the Williams Institute, the most common factor to LGBTQ homelessness is from family rejection based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Youth are often met with harassment and discrimination when they try to seek out alternative housing, which contributes to their disproportionately growing rates of homelessness.
No support network
It’s easy to take your support network for granted, when you have one. But those who don’t are sharply aware of the absence. Support networks can come in many forms: a family member, friend, co-worker, or even the greater community. Knowing that someone believes in you can make all the difference.
Mental health or substance abuse
According to the overall U.S. 2014 Point-In-Time Count, on any given night, nearly 20% of the homeless population had a serious mental illness. A subset of this group are homeless veterans, struggling with PTS and mental suffering. Those living with mental illness have challenges with everyday aspects of live like self-care and often remain homeless for longer periods of time. There are major barriers to employment and consistent management of available services.
In 2012, one in five people in the U.S. who experienced homeless also struggled with chronic substance use problems – 131,000 people altogether. For chronically homeless individuals who also suffer addiction, permanent supportive housing is key because it combines stable housing with intensive support and services. This means access to stigma-free, meaningful services along with housing.
Fact 1: Over half a million people are homeless. On any given night, there are over 600,000 homeless people in the U.S., according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Most people are spending the night either in homeless shelters or in some sort of short-term transitional housing. Slightly more than a third are living in cars or under bridges or are in some other way living unsheltered.
Fact 2: One quarter of homeless people are children. HUD reports that on any given night, over 138,000 of the homeless in the U.S. are children under the age of 18. Thousands of these homeless children are unaccompanied, according to HUD. Another federal program, No Child Left Behind, defines “homeless children” more broadly and includes not just those living in shelters or transitional housing but those who are sharing the housing of other persons due to economic hardship; living in cars, parks, bus or train stations; or awaiting foster-care placement. Under this definition, the National Center for Homeless Education reported in September 2014 that local school districts reported there are over 1 million homeless children in public schools. See More See Less
Fact 3: Tens of thousands of veterans are homeless. Over 57,000 veterans are homeless each night, according to HUD. Sixty percent of them are in shelters, the rest unsheltered. Nearly 5,000 are female.
Fact 4: Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among women. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP), more than 90 percent of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse, and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.
Fact 5: Many people are homeless because they cannot afford rent. The lack of affordable housing is a primary cause of homelessness, according to the NLCHP. HUD has seen its budget slashed by over 50 percent in recent decades, resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low-income housing each and every year.
Fact 6: There are fewer places for poor people to rent than before. According to the NLCHP, one eighth of the nation’s supply of low-income housing has been permanently lost since 2001. The U.S. needs at least 7 million more affordable apartments for low-income families, and as a result, millions of families spend more than half of their monthly income on rent.
Fact 7: In the last few years millions have lost their homes. Over 5 million homes have been foreclosed on since 2008; that’s one out of every 10 homes with a mortgage. This has caused even more people to search for affordable rental property.
Fact 8: The government does not help as much as you think. There is enough public rental assistance to help about one out of every four extremely low-income households. Those who do not receive help are on multi-year waiting lists. For example, Charlotte just opened up their applications for public housing assistance for the first time in 14 years, and over 10,000 people applied.
Fact 9: One in five homeless people suffers from untreated severe mental illness. While about 6 percent of the general population suffers from severe mental illness, 20 to 25 percent of the homeless suffer from severe mental illness, according to government studies. Half of this population self-medicate and are at further risk for addiction and poor physical health. A University of Pennsylvania study tracking nearly 5,000 homeless people for two years discovered that investing in comprehensive health support and treatment of physical and mental illnesses is less costly than incarceration, shelter and hospital services for the untreated homeless.
Fact 10: Cities are increasingly making homelessness a crime. A 2014 survey of 187 cities by the NLCHP found that 24 percent of cities make it a city-wide crime to beg in public, 33 percent make it illegal to stand around or loiter anyplace in the city, 18 percent make it a crime to sleep anywhere in public, 43 percent make it illegal to sleep in your car, and 53 percent make it illegal to sit or lie down in particular public places. And the number of cities criminalizing homelessness is steadily increasing.
Rural homelessness differs from urban and suburban homelessness. The image of an individual sleeping on the street, clearly visible to those passing by, is much less frequent in rural America.
Literal homelessness, or the condition of living on the street or in a shelter, does exist in rural America, but due to the geographic vastness of most of these areas and a lack of centralized services and resources, it is much more infrequent.
This, however, is not to say that homelessness is any less of a concern in these regions. See More See Less
Individuals experiencing homelessness in rural areas typically face precarious housing conditions or move from one extremely substandard, overcrowded, and/or cost-burdened housing situation to another. These moves often include doubling or tripling up with friends or relatives. Although not homeless in the literal sense, these are individuals that do not have access to safe, secure homes of their own. Just like homeless populations in our cities, these are people who need access to services that will help them find housing and stay housed.
Rural communities struggle to find funding to provide these services.
Before the passage of the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act of 2009, most rural homeless were in fact not even considered homeless by the federal government. The HEARTH Act expanded the federal government’s definition of a homeless individual to include those at imminent risk of homelessness—including those doubled up and those living in extremely substandard conditions.
The passage of the HEARTH Act set forward, for the first time in the federal definition of homelessness, criteria that better suited and described rural homeless populations.
Funding for homeless services is partially contingent upon the ability to enumerate the homeless population at hand. Fewer services aimed at homeless individuals, less shelters, and fewer resources to conduct point-in-time counts make it significantly harder to obtain accurate counts in rural areas. Moreover, substandard homes that would be considered condemned in cities remain inhabited in rural areas where condemnation processes often do not exist.
In other words, someone who would be considered homeless in an urban area is often not considered as such in a rural area, even if the circumstances are the same. This leads to significant undercounts. The challenge in enumerating rural homeless populations increases the difficulty these communities have in applying for federal homelessness dollars.
Due to this, the HEARTH Act included the creation of the Rural Housing Stability Program (RHSP). The RHSP allocated explicit funds for rural communities working towards homeless prevention and re-housing projects in ways that best align with the needs of their homeless populations. The RHSP provides rural communities and regions the ability to focus federal homelessness funding on programs that are more in line with the unique issues and concerns of rural homelessness.
This includes stabilizing the housing of individuals in imminent danger of losing their homes through the rehabilitation of existing dwellings or construction of new transitional or permanent housing. This increased flexibility is critical for rural communities that can now tackle homelessness in new and creative ways that might not be applicable in cities.
Rural communities often struggle to compete against larger, more organized urban areas and Continua of Care (CoCs). As homelessness is much more visible in our cities, the housing needs of urban areas often overshadow the needs of the rural homeless. With the RHSP, rural housing providers and communities are now placed in competition with each other as opposed to large urban centers. This ensures that funding will be used towards addressing the needs of the rural homeless as opposed to being swept under the rug by larger municipalities and CoCs.
Just like in urban spheres, homelessness is more prevalent in some rural areas than others. Counties that have persistently high rates of poverty often have larger homeless populations than other rural regions. Lessening the competition for homelessness dollars will greatly help these regions address homelessness and be more competitive for funding than they were before.
RHSP grants are available on a county by county basis. If any part of a county falls within a metropolitan statistical area as defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) or is considered to be a part of a metropolitan statistical area, they are ineligible and must apply for federal homelessness funding through the Continuum of Care (CoC) program.
As of now approximately $5 million has been estimated for FY 12 and FY 13 each. Although these sums are not huge, they are not insignificant and can have considerable impact on rural communities and their homeless populations. The RHSP just underwent a comment period on its proposed rule and as such no funds have been distributed as of yet.
Although the authorization of the RHSP is a step in the right direction, making sure that it remains properly funded and implemented will be critical in ensuring individuals experiencing homeless in rural areas have access to the services that they need.
(Photo by Swainboat CC BY-NC-SA)
Update: Arise has received their 501c3 status and tax-deductible monetary donations can be made throught the Arise website at:: http://www.ariseogpc.org/donate.htm
It all started with prayer. Three years ago, Evangelist Doug Gochenour folded his hands, bowed his head, and asked God's direction for his minitry. Not long after, signs of a direction began to emerge. See More See Less
"I had the opportunity to help distribute supplies to the homeless in Harrisonburg." Gochenour said, "You'd give someone a pack of hand warmers, and their appreciation was so great, you'd think you'd given them $100."
Not long after, Lois Shaffer, manager of Page One, reached out to Doug Gochenour Ministries for help assisting a Page County family that fallen on hard times and became homeless. In the following days, Gochenour began to learn of other homeless individuals in the county. A man living under a bridge. Evidence of people sleeing behind stores or taking shelter in abandoned buildings. Homeless tent communities in wooded areas.
All in Luray alone.
"I knew right then that God had brought a specific need to us," recalled Gocehnour.
In late December 2015, he organized a small community meeting to discuss homelessness in Page County. This was followed by an early 2017 informational meeting for community leaders, law enforcement and members of the Page County Board of Supervisors. Soon, after a steering committee organized to target specific assistance needs. Under the newly-chosen name of "arise," a Christian-based outreach program for Page Count, was formed.
From April to December 2017, Doug Gochenour Ministries and Page One have distributed $7000 towards shelter and temporary housing assistance for members of the local community. Gochenour estimates that there are 75 to 100 homeless individuals in Page County of all ages and backgrounds.
"people get behind in bills, or have medical conditions that exhaust ther savings." added Shaffer. "their families aren't able to help, and they have nowhere to go."
Page One assists individuals in need of clothing, good, medical care and help with utility bills. But sometimes, even that's not enough.
Shaffer recalls a local man who once came to her in tears. Disabled and single parent, a series of events had left him without a home. Shaffer reached out to several local aagencies. The father and child were finally able to receive help via the Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter, a Woodstock-based organization that provides food, clothing and temporary housing resources for homeless individuals.
"he later came back to thank us," said Shaffer, "He'd gotten a small apartment and was getting back on his feet. He was just so grateful."
With several aspects of the newly-formed Arise program still in the planning stages, next steps include developing additional committees (to focus on specific needs, non-hotel shelter of a permanent central locaton to provide temporary housing.
Care packages, filled with toiletry items and other basic-need items are being assembled, along with a plan for distribution. Additional volunteers, monetary donations and care package supplies are all needed.
Arise board members are awaiting approval of non-profit status (which can sometimes take several months). Since the need for community assistance is immediate, moentrary donations are currently being accepted through Doug Gocehnour Ministries, specifically designated for the Arise program. This account also allows donations to be tax=deductible.
"our goal is to not just provide shelter, but also help people transition back into society," said Gochenour. "It doesn't matter to us how they got to this stage in their lives. What's important is helping them through it."
How you can help: While Arise awaits 501c3 (non-profit) status, tax-deductible donations are current being accepted by Dought Gochenour Ministries, 572 East Maint Street, Stanley, VA 22851. Checks should be made to "DGM, Inc." and earmarked for "Arise." Arise committee members, supplies and additional volunteers are needed. For additional information, call Lana Sours, Arise Chairman of the Board, at 540-746-6350, or call Doug Gochenour Ministries at 540-778-2658. Visit the ministry on Facebook @douggochenourministries.