Homelessness has been a top priority issue in the United States since the 1980s. Since then, local governments as well as private citizens have attempted to make sense of the issue.
It’s easy to paint a broad brush over the issue, most people will assume drugs and other acts of degeneracy are typically to blame, but the issue goes much further than most realize.
According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, the most common reasons for homelessness include “lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, mental illness accompanied by a lack of needed services, and substance abuse and lack of needed services.” There are several different factors responsible for the homelessness problem we’re facing in this country and even right here in Riverside.
In 2018, The Department of Public Social Services reported that there had been a 4% decrease in homelessness in Riverside County, but there are still over 2,300 homeless adults and children in the county of Riverside.
There are extenuating circumstances that must be considered and treated carefully. Before we can go about remedying the problem, we have to find the root cause of it. Which is unfortunately much more complicated than the American public would like it to be.
All of the aforementioned causes are inextricably linked from unemployment to poverty to the lack of available housing. People typically don’t fall into just one of these categories, putting a band-aid over just one of them isn’t going to solve the problem.
It’s easy to look at homelessness and prescribe it one look or one answer, but the reality isn’t that simple. It’s no longer enough for someone to just go and get a job when so many employed people are struggling to make ends meet. It’s not about laziness as a 2013 study by Hart Research Associates shows that low-wage workers, especially in African-American and Latino communities, generally work harder. “Millions of Americans work hard at jobs that do not sustain them and their families financially..Although 62 percent of those surveyed believe that most people can get ahead if they work hard, 76 percent of them think that, today, it’s more likely that middle-class people will fall into poverty than that the poor will climb out.”
Other circumstances also resulting in homelessness include domestic violence, foreclosure, and traumatic events. These events occur commonly, but are difficult to regulate. Shelters and outreach programs can only go so far with so little support from the government and private donors. Not to mention, homeless shelters are often unliveable or even dangerous.
The issue this country is facing with homelessness goes far beyond the capabilities of working class citizens. There are serious structural issues that aren’t being fairly addressed by elected officials. Blaming the issue on the mentally ill or those suffering from addiction disorders and further criminalizing them isn’t going to provide any answers. It’s time that those with the power to enact change acknowledge the moving parts of the problem, rather than searching for temporary fixes.