For many of us there is the stereotypical image of a homeless man forever etched in our mind, this image is often of a lazy, dirty, drunken panhandler standing on the corner of any city street asking for a handout. Based on this misguided yet common misconception we might not ever see the real faces of homelessness, listen to the volunteers in New York or hear the first hand accounts from Dallas. We might not take the time to learn the truth about homelessness in our own community.
In America we have what are commonly referred to (if referred to at all) as the hidden homeless. The hidden homeless represents a large portion of the homeless population however; in most cases we will not see them or in many cases even hear about them. To dispel the myth we should ask ourselves one important question: who are the homeless?
Inherent in the nature of homelessness is an inability to accurately determine the exact numbers, the estimates below represent the best efforts of The National Coalition for the Homeless and The National Coalition For Homeless Veterans.
A 2003 report from National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty reported that 39% of the homeless population was minors under the age of 18, 42% of these were under 5 years old. In addition, 5% of the urban homeless population was comprised of unaccompanied minors.
Families with children make up an estimated 23% of the homeless population, they also currently represent the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. At the 2008 conference of mayors those with current data reported an increase in families requesting food assistance for the first time, the increase was most notable among working families.
Although there is no national databank tracking homeless veterans the Veterans Administration estimates that on any given night there are 131,000 veterans homeless. Nearly twice that many will be homeless at some point Over the course of a year. To put these numbers in perspective, an estimated one out of three homeless men are veterans, this represents 23% of the total homeless population in America.
Victims of domestic violence
In 2005 the U.S. Conference of Mayors surveyed 24 cities to determine what role domestic violence plays in homelessness. 50% of the cities surveyed reported that domestic violence was a primary cause of homelessness. On a national level the situation is much worse with an estimated 50% of homeless women and children becoming homeless as a result of an attempt to escape domestic violence.
The mentally ill
According to the 2008 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress an estimated 26% percent of the homeless living in shelters suffered from severe mental illness.
The number of working homeless has been on the rise over the past few years, in 2005 the estimated number of homeless persons who were employed was 13%; this number has now grown to around 25% in the 24 cities surveyed. It is believed that on a national level the percentage of employed homeless persons may be much higher. Insufficient wages, lack of affordable housing, and foreclosures (including foreclosure of rental property) has contributed to the number of people who are employed but homeless.
For many who are homeless and unemployed it is not out of a desire to remain unemployed, these people will often find themselves in a position of having to choose between looking for a job or insuring food and shelter for the immediate future. Shelters and food services for the homeless are usually on a tight schedule, attempting to go to a job interview or even starting a new job can result in losing your only sources of food and shelter. If you accept a job offer, in most cases it will be two weeks or more before you receive your first paycheck. The question now becomes how do you survive until Payday?