The problem is all too obvious and reaches from coast to coast. More than half a million Americans suffer from this. The federal and state governments have spent tens of billions of dollars to help, but the improvement is hardly noticeable. Meanwhile, the problem is getting worse and no one can think of a solution.
We hear so much about “homelessness” that it’s easy to become desensitized to the word. Statistics give us an idea of what’s really going on, but even they don’t convey the magnitude of the suffering, horror, humiliation, danger, and despair so many people are experiencing.
The homeless come from every racial and religious group, every region of the country, and surprisingly, some who formerly were in upper income brackets. They are made up of men, women, children, families, singles, couples, the young and the aged, veterans, and pacifists. They live in every state and nearly all cities.
In January 2020, a government study estimated that there were 580,500 homeless people in America, which translates to 18 out of 10,000.
The problem probably is much worse than the official statistics, which may not count all of the people living in their vehicles, wandering from city to city, illegals, and others who have slipped between the cracks of official studies. In New York, for example, there are numerous levels of tunnels under the streets of midtown and they are crowded with homeless who make their homes there; the same is true of the subways.
Whatever the exact number, numerous Americans go to sleep every night without a roof over their heads, and with no place to take shelter from blistering heat, polar vortexes, or torrential deluges. They have no way to escape from violent individuals who attack the homeless without provocation, or from other homeless who themselves are violent.
Another problem they face: On average, homeless people have a life expectancy of just 50 years – far lower than the housed population.
New York In First Place
If you walk the streets of New York, you certainly can believe there are an estimated total of 78,000 homeless in the city (including sheltered and those living on the streets) – unless you think this is a gross underestimation of the real number. Bowery.org says 1 of every 106 New Yorkers is homeless.
As a matter of information, Los Angeles is in second place with nearly 64,000, followed by Seattle, San Jose, and San Francisco. Chicago is not ranked in the Top 5, but some believe homelessness there is worse than the official numbers indicate.
How can so many people fall into this predicament? There are many partial explanations, and one of them is that they suffer from an assortment of mental and emotional problems; certainly some of them do, but that’s not the main source of the problem.
According to The New York Times, “The origins of the current homelessness crisis go back decades - to policies that stopped the US from building enough housing,” experts explain.
The mistakes of those policies all too obvious. “Seven million extremely low income renters cannot get affordable homes and neither can they afford soaring rents in cities around America,” according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
NPR reports that there are still other demons driving people to live on the streets, and they include chronic drug abuse, long-term relationships that went sour, loss of employment, huge medical expenses, or the need to escape from domestic abuse.
According to The Amsterdam News, in January 2021 almost 56,000 people slept in homeless shelters each night - an increase of 140% in a decade. It’s estimated that an additional 4,000 or more people sleep on the streets (which apparently is less distasteful than sleeping in a shelter). Numbers of homeless and related costs vary with estimates, dates and other factors.
Obviously, the financial costs also are high. In fiscal year 2014, the city spent $1.4 billion on the homeless, but by fiscal 2020, the cost had risen to $3.5 billion - and since then it has increased even more.
As noted earlier, there is no simple solution. Several years ago, the idea of 3-D printed homes for the homeless began floating around. These homes can be “printed” (actually built, layer by layer) at a very low cost. Several years ago, the cost per unit was $10,000, although this number has undoubtedly gone much higher since then.
Even so, it would still be dramatically less than the $58,000 per homeless person the city paid in 2020, according to The Amsterdam News. These units are tiny and are bare bones, but they still offer a measure of privacy, safety, running water, and dignity. The pandemic, however, has interfered with this idea, and it doesn’t appear to be under active consideration now.
Hopefully, someone will think of a solution very soon, because the problem is on the verge of becoming much worse. Many people didn’t pay their rent/mortgage during the pandemic and were allowed to delay payment. However, pay-up time has arrived, and residents who don’t pay very soon may risk eviction. And millions of people are in this boat. Incidentally, landlords should not be viewed as cold and heartless because they have waited several years to get the rent due them, often have mortgages of their own that must be paid, and cannot hold out any longer.
The economy is not as strong as it appears to be, as many consumers are tapped out. They have little or no credit left because they are charging all of their essentials; their savings are depleted; and the wage gains they may have gotten have been wiped out due to inflation. And many households are already living in energy poverty, and winter is still several months away.
The expression “home sweet home” is certainly true. If only it would not come with so much pressure!
Sources: amsterdamnews.com; bloomberg.com; bowery.org; nationalhomeless.org; npr.org; nytimes.com; zerohedge.com