The issue of homelessness in America cropped up in the 1600s and has been an ever-growing problem since then. The causes of homelessness vary from person to person but the ultimate reasons are related to low income, lack of affordable housing and high levels of unemployment. Initially, homelessness was considered as a question of a person’s moral standing and worth but in recent years, it is more of the looming economic hardships worldwide. The major contributors of homelessness in America range from illiteracy, poor structural housing policies, emotional instabilities, domestic violence, lack of employment, chronic drug abuse, low income and lack of affordable housing among others (Glasser and Eric 1526).
Solving the issue of homelessness in America is a process that will require the government to come up with strategies that aim at reducing and gradually eradicating the problem. In addition, the government will be required to revise the current housing policies that have made it almost impossible for average income earning people to afford housing. In essence, it will be equally of great importance for the government to support programs such as housing first that are mostly geared towards reducing the number of homeless families on the streets. This paper takes an in-depth analysis of the history of homelessness in America, the major causes of homelessness in America, evaluation of the problem today and the necessary policies put in place to tackle the problem of homelessness in America today (Kidd 534).
History of Homelessness in America
Homelessness was first documented in America and other industrialized nations in the 1640s but it was viewed as a matter of public concern in America from the 17th century as a result of wars, civil unrests, the onset of the 1873 panic and during financial upsets throughout the 1870s, the 19th and 20th centuries (Glasser and Eric 1523). Most cases of homelessness in America were attributed to economic depressions and recessions. For instance, the 1893 long economic depression and the 1930s depression as well. As a result of these economic depressions, there were massive job cuts and the incomes for those who retained their jobs were very low which resulted into inability to afford housing and subsequent homelessness (Abelson 1932). The increasing cases of homelessness prompted states like Philadelphia to pass laws that allowed locals to deport the homeless people in their regions and others like New York passed laws that fined the homeless beggars in the streets in response to complaints lodged by farmers coming to the city to seek for employment (Glasser and Eric 1525).
The 1980 recession catapulted the homelessness problem in America due to the massive jobs lost and poor housing policies attributed to the high costs of housing as well as the unavailability of housing to cater to the growing population (Burt 902). Initially, many homeless people in New York lived in skid row areas which were areas that provided cheap housing and entertainment but with the rate at which the city was growing, the cheap houses were replaced by expensive urban housing which forced the occupants to live on the streets. In essence, most of the homelessness before, during and after the 1980 recession is largely attributed to poor housing policies, income inequality in terms of the gap between the rich and the poor, high levels of unemployment and the inability to afford the relatively expensive housing costs.
Homelessness in America today is as much of a problem as it was during the 1930s and has worsened today due to the exponential growth of the world’s population. America is perceived to be a land of opportunities to the world and as such, the number of people seeking citizenship in America is at an all-time high. Subsequently, the levels of unemployment are always on the rise in addition to the rise in the number of low income earners and as a result, the number of people at risk of being homeless is at an increase (Brush 1047). This is due to the fact that most people are faced with the dilemma of choosing between housing, catering to their basic needs and education. In most cases, housing being the most expensive is mostly sacrificed as opposed to food and education. In essence, the question of poor housing policies is always in play when it comes to homelessness in America. Partly due to the 2008 economic depression that was as a result of the burst in the housing bubble, the cost of housing increased dramatically. In addition, several policies put in place by the department of housing and urban development have made it almost impossible for the average American to afford housing due to the cost and scarcity of affordable housing (Howard 121).
Glasser and Eric (1525) note that homelessness in America today is mainly because of the fact that after a series of economic depressions and recessions in America, measures and policies that were established by the department of housing and urban development towards establishing a more affordable housing system did more harm. For instance, the abolition of single rooms occupancy due to urban renewal strategies rendered most occupants of such units homeless due to the fact that they were replaced with comparatively different housing units that were highly priced thus not affordable either due to the low levels of income or due to unemployment (Crane et al 153). The department of housing in America lacks appropriate and effective housing policies that enable poor people access to affordable housing. As such, government integration of services with housing is necessary in order to make housing affordable to the low-income earners (Cohen 510).
According to Cohen (509), as much as the lack of affordable housing programs for low-incoming earning people causes homelessness, other factors such lack of education contribute largely to the problem. He argues that with the changing patterns in employment, it is increasingly hard for low skilled people to get the much-needed employment and as a result, cases of homelessness come up due to the inability to cater for the basic needs housing included. Cases of social problems such as prostitution keep rising as a result of homelessness as a way to cater for food. In their study of the relationship between homelessness, structural factors such as availability of low-income housing and social policies the study findings posit that poor structural policies like scarcity of affordable housing especially among average Americans is one of the leading factors influencing the growth of homelessness. In addition, social problems such as domestic violence is among the leading causes of homelessness especially among women fleeing from abusive husbands or partners but do not have a place to go thus end up in the street due to lack of financial support.
Kidd (143) contends that with the population growing exponentially, the available resources are scarce and cannot fully satisfy the needs of the people and due to the scramble for the scarce resources, only a handful of people are able to access them and as such, the levels of homelessness keep rising. Kidd however details that solving the homelessness menace is a process that requires strategy, revising of the current policies and measures that are aimed at minimizing the cases of homeless people on the streets. Further findings related to homelessness show that in addition to economic hardships, lack of education and domestic violence, chronic drug abuse is another factor contributing to an increase in the number of homeless (crane). Chronic addiction to drugs often times causes disruptions between a drug addict and family members or even friends. In addition, it leads to termination of employment due to underperformance or substandard work. However, different studies differ on the issue of drugs as an influence of joblessness. Some studies argue that drugs are a result of homelessness and not necessarily a cause of homelessness due to the fact most homeless people tend to turn to drugs and alcohol in order to be able to cope with the harsh conditions associated with homelessness.
The most appropriate theory in explaining my thesis is Rawl’s theory of justice “justice as fairness”. Rawl’s theory argues that for justice to be true, everyone in the society must be entitled to the same rights regardless of their class or social standing. Rawl argues that justice is only fair when everyone in a society regardless of race, color of the skin or social standing in the society is given equal rights and measures as those who have influence in society due to wealth or other factors such as skin color or political affiliations. Rawl further contends that people’s differing opinions are as a result of differing social classes and personal interests in the matter at hand. The theory of justice is such that everyone in the society is able to benefit from the liberalization in the society however dismal he or she may be to the society and in the same case, any inequalities in the society should be arranged in such a manner that allows everyone to benefit or lose from it in equal shares.
In essence, Rawl’s theory seeks to ensure equal rights between the rich and the poor and to insist on caring for the less privileged in society in order to reduce the obvious inequalities that arise due to the gap between the rich and the poor in a society. In addition, the theory details that a society that observes justice is one in which there is equal distribution of resources, obligations, duties as well as equal economic distribution. In this theory, Rawl seeks to establish the relationship between good, morality and justice and subsequently concludes that cases of inequalities should not arise in any just society. In the event that such inequalities are present, they should be used towards benefiting the less privileged in the society. In essence, the main idea behind this theory is that inequality is unacceptable in the society except in cases where it benefits the poor in the same society (James 281).
Rawl’s theory gives a critical analysis and explanation on the history of homelessness in America. The increasing cases of homelessness in America are largely due to the imbalances between the rich and the poor. Such imbalances are as a result of the gap between the rich and the poor that is majorly caused by inequalities and as such, the poor continue languishing in poverty and homelessness while the rich get richer. Such is the example of an unjust society that Rawl describes in his theory. This means that any government effort built towards establishment of a more equal society would substantially reduce the imbalance, ensure a balancing in the distribution of resources and eventually lead to a gradual decrease in the growth rate of homeless people in the society (James 282). The question of adjusting the housing policies in order to make housing affordable to the average low-income earning American adheres to Rawl’s idea of the difference principle of redistribution in that resources are equally distributed in a way that is advantageous to the common poor American. Rawl’s theory concurs with the different viewpoints of homelessness today in that it advocates for the integrating and leveraging of resources to enable the common America to be able to access such resources.
The second appropriate theory in explaining my thesis is Mill’s utilitarian theory of justice. According to this theory, morality and justice are proponents of the law and as such, they go hand in hand with the law. Mill argues that any actions that lead to the happiness of a majority of people in a society are considered to be good and on the same tone, any actions that lead to the sadness of majority of people in a society are bad. The theory further contends that all actions, goals and activities in people’s lives are either meant to achieve happiness or are a definition of happiness (Donner 386). In addition, the theory argues that the only reasons why rights are present is for the happiness of people and as such, every person in a society is entitled to his or her right. Mill establishes that there is a significant relationship between utility and justice and that happiness is without doubt found in justice and as such, a happy society means a happy society (Donner 385).
The theory largely proposes the absence of workers and owners as a way of ensuring liberalization thus insinuating that divisions based on owners and mere workers tend to inhibit social warfare. It proposes a society that is free in terms of equality in economic distribution, equality in income and other resources. According to Mill, it is a violation of rights when a poor person dies out of neglect due to inability to pay for the hospital bills while at the same time, there is a billionaire somewhere with money sitting in his accounts without any use (Donner 384). The theory applies to the history of homelessness in America in several ways. For starters, homelessness is a violation of a person’s right according to the United Nations due to the fact that it is a basic need. In light of this therefore, the utilitarian theory can be used to highlight the cases of injustices in a society that has a majority of its population homeless. In addition, the utilitarian theory contends that a just society is one where every member is happy and happiness according to Mill goes hand in hand with a person’s rights therefore, ensuring every member of the society has access to housing and eradicating the problem of homelessness is one way of ensuring justice.
In relation to recent views on domestic violence, income inequalities and unemployment as some of the leading causes of homelessness, the utilitarian theory argues that enforcing government intervention in putting an end to violation of people’s rights for instance intervening of domestic violence is a sure way of protecting a person’s rights while at the same time preventing consequences of such an abuse, homelessness being one of the consequences (Donner 385). In addition, Mill posits that a person’s human rights when violated is a sign of injustice in the society and as such, a person’s right to property ownership, right to education and right to social warfare among others should be protected since a violation of such rights leads to cases of homelessness and other social problems.
The process of moving forward on the issue of homelessness is a long one that requires utter commitment from the government, the department of housing and urban development and the society at large. One of the main moves in the abolition of the problem is criminalization of homelessness. Although it is not wholly effective, criminalization of homelessness will make homeless people be rigorous in their search for means of survival to get them off the streets for fear of being put in jail (O’Connor 235). In addition, the government should work towards eliminating the red tapes and bureaucracies associated with housing especially to the low-income earners and average Americans in order to make housing affordable to a majority of the people. Since unemployment is one of the leading causes of homelessness, the government should strive to provide equal opportunities for employment while at the same time encouraging the youth to embark on self-employment and venture into business (Kidd 534).
Low income is arguably one of the many reasons why homeless families are unable to cater to their housing needs. in light of this, the government should work towards raising the minimum federal wage. Programs such as housing first should be encouraged due to the fact that they offer easy affordable housing options to low-income earners and those at risk of homelessness. Due to the fact that the housing first programs are more cost effective as compared to other solutions, more leaders should be encouraged to give funds to such programs as a way of fighting homelessness (Buffalo News n.pag). In essence, housing first is a more decent way of dealing with homeless people as compared to shelters. Welfare support especially to less privileged families should not be halted since most families depending on this support in most cases have no strong financial backings. In addition, the department of housing and urban development should revise some of its policies to friendlier rates in order to accommodate people from varying financial backgrounds. The government should work towards integrating the available resources towards housing in order to limit the issues of scarcity of affordable housing.
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